M. L. Longworth

On food, writing and life in the south of France

All Saints’ Day

My fifth book was sent to Penguin in New York on Friday (just before the deadline) and in time for an important French holiday weekend–All Saints’ Day. It felt great to get the manuscript delivered, and turn my attention to the house and garden. First project: pruning the lavender:

Last year I made a dozen or so lavender sachets, but this year I may just take the cuttings to the recycling center. That sounds like a terrible waste, doesn’t it? and I was once shocked to see a woman at the center throwing away her lavender. But I still have sachets left over from last year and I’m not sure how many more I can make! One thing I will do is make lavender sugar, which is fantastic in shortbread for Christmas. This is the recipe I use, from Geraldine Holt’s “Recipes from a French Herb Garden”: Take 30 g (1 oz) of dried lavender flowers and alternate with layers of 225 g (8 oz) of white sugar, putting it in a dry glass jar. Cover tightly and store in a warm room for 1-2 weeks. Give the jar an occasional shake. Shake the sugar though a nylon sieve before use.

After lunch, and more gardening, we took a walk to the village cemetery which, on All Saints’ Day, is full of fresh flowers, and visitors. This is the weekend that graves are cleaned and plants tended to. I overheard a very old woman telling her family of her wedding day, which took place in the village chapel. There was a funny anecdote about her husband being late.

 

On our walk neighbors were harvesting their olives:

Other neighbors obviously got tired of people stealing their cherries, and so attached the ‘private’ sign to their tree:


We walked via the vineyards on the way home. They were gloriously red:

Happy November!

 

A Revolutionary Wine

It’s harvest time in Provence. The vine leaves are turning orange, soon to be bright red, and I’m back commuting up to Paris to teach at NYU. And despite having lived here for seventeen years, every time I see a wagon full of bouncing grapes I grab my camera and run outside.

In the fall, perhaps because of the harvest, I really get excited hearing about new wines, and tasting them. We recently met a couple from Washington DC whose son and daughter-in-law make wine in Calistoga, California: The People’s Wine Revolution. Their motto is: “Ruling class wines at working class prices.” By using other people’s grapes they keep the cost down (besides, who besides famous film directors or bankers can afford to own a Napa or Sonoma vineyard?). Between the two of them they have enough experience to make a great wine (Matt Reid has an MA in enology from UC Davis and his wife Marcy Webb is a scientist, and they have both worked for prestigious wineries).

Marcy Webb and the couple’s daughter, Beatrix.

PWR wines sell for $18.00 a bottle and can be shipped to states that allow alcohol to go by mail (CA, WA, CO, FL, and DC). They also sell in wineshops in NY, CT and NJ (see their friendly website for a list).

One of their reds (Grenache, a grape well known in Provence!).

When we lived in California (we left in 1997), paying $18.00 for a bottle of wine was a splurge: in that price range we loved Meeker wines (Sonoma) and Bonny Doon in Santa Cruz; and from Oregon, Adelsheim. I just looked up Adelsheim’s website and see that their Pinot Noir now sells for over $30.00 a bottle, and some of their reserve wines are over $100.00. Naturally, prices go up, as they have in France.

I’m intrigued by The People’s Wine Revolution and would love to try their wines, but I’ll have to wait for our next trip to the States. In the meantime, please write to me if you’ve had some, and let me know how you liked it!

Is Arles the most beautiful town in France? Part One

Whenever I go to Arles I see something new. It’s one of those places (we all have them) that calls me back a few times a year, and when I don’t go, I miss it. It’s a small town–population just over 50,000–and yet it has so much to discover, and love: fantastic Roman ruins (a theater AND an arena, both still in use); medieval and Renaissance buildings still lived in; lively, opinionated citizens who are fiercely proud of their town; a fine traditional of literary festivals and publishing houses, including one of my favorites, Actes Sud; gypsy music and dancing; and of course, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, who roomed together here, both searching for the perfect Provençal color and light.

Every August we come to spend two days looking at photographs, as Arles has hosted, for 45 years, a photography symposium (Les Rencontres de Arles) and the town loans its galleries, churches, and even apartments to renowned photographers to show their latest work. We ditched our car on the far side of town, knowing we wouldn’t need it, and in doing so discovered a neighborhood called La Roquette.

Two shops in La Roquette, both with vintage store fronts (the first 1960s and the second Art Nouveau):

Gauguin said a lot about his time in Arles with van Gogh, but I love this quote: “Oh yes! He loved yellow did good Vincent…When the two of us were together in Arles, both of us insane, and constantly at war over beautiful colors, I adored red; where could I find a perfect vermilion?”

Perhaps here is a vermilion that Gauguin would like (again, in La Roquette):

A great front door in La Roquette, featuring a bull’s head:

Knowing that we had to check into our hotel and hit the first exhibitions, we dragged ourselves away from La Roquette and found our hotel, Hôtel du Cloître, perfectly situated just around the corner from Arles’ main square. We don’t like to spend a lot on hotels, as we prefer spending our money on eating in good restaurants, so this, at 125 euros a night, was a splurge for us. We weren’t disappointed! Parisian designer India Mahdavi has just refitted this centuries-old building:

The breakfast room.

It gets its name from the Cloister of St-Trophime, which we could see from our daughter’s room:

Great mixes of old and new, ancient and modern:

A coat rack inserted into a former Renaissance window frame…

I’ll leave you with this final photo, walking out of the hotel to see the photo exhibitions, which I’ll continue in a few days with a second post!

Aïoli for 350 villagers

Aïoli, a Provençal dish (the Provençal word aïoli is a cross between garlic and olive oil) is composed of seasonal fish, boiled potatoes, carrots, artichokes, beets, eggs and green beans, all garnished with garlicky mayonnaise (aïoli). It is a summer favorite. Most restaurants will feature it on their lunch menu, usually on Fridays. But the village of Le Brûlat, between Marseille and Toulon, cooks it up once a year for 350 people. And Corinne, who was born here, and who’s on the committée des fêtes (party committee), promises me that it’s all home made, nothing industrial.

My daughter and I stopped by on the day of the lunch, cameras in hand, thinking we were late, but by noon there were hardly any people (Corinne later explained that those in-the-know show up well after 1p.m.). But a four-year-old boy was singing the national anthem on the stage, microphone in hand. He didn’t miss a word.

Waiting for the lunch…

Corinne saw us and gave us a tour of the recently renovated olive oil mill, which is now the village’s town hall. Inside, volunteers had been preparing the food since early that morning: 100 kilos of calamari, 30 kilos potatoes, 30 kilos carrots, 350 boiled eggs (one per person!), and I don’t know how much cod.

L to R: boiled potatoes, calamari soaking, and artichoke hearts.

The main ingredient! Cod!

Boiled veggies waiting, and fresh fennel for the fish.

The party committee used industrial-size buckets used by bread makers for the 100 kilos of garlicky mayonnaise, made next door at Corinne’s mother’s house as she’s the only one in the village with the high voltage industrial electrical service needed to run the beaters!

Beer kegs? and a lovely stone arch. The mill was built in the mid-1800s.

Washing and preparing the mussels in the village fountain. Despite the fact that the fountain is labelled ‘non potable’ it is very good drinking water. Those signs were put up during WWII to dissuade German soldiers from filling up their gourds.

The mustard, salt and pepper arrive by shopping cart.

Waiting for the crowd.

Corinne told us that in the mill were 20 men waiting for the signal to begin preparing the fish. When they had finished, they’d send word to the villagers (who were busy having an aperitif) and they’d have just a few minutes to find their spots at the tables. I asked Corinne how long the aïoli party had been going on and she laughed. “Oh,” I said, “I guess a long time.” Corinne replied, “Since before my grandparents’ time.”

Alas, my blog about the aïoli has a sad ending: we hadn’t booked far enough ahead (I called Corinne a few weeks ago) but the aïoli party was already full. So my daughter and I, starving for lunch, couldn’t wait for the party to begin to take more photos; we headed home and had a BBQ!

Fête de Saint-Eloi

The village of Le Beausset has been celebrating Saint-Eloi since the 17th century. Born in 588, Eloi is the patron saint of blacksmiths, and a protector of horses. On the first Saturday of July members of the Corps du Saint Eloi walk through the village to collect the Curé, who will bless a statue of the saint and lead a procession through the streets that will eventually end up at the new shrine (it changes location every year).

This year, the hosts are my husband’s colleague’s in-laws, M et Mme Martin. They signed up ten years ago for this honor, but before doing so had to fit certain requirements: their house had to be downtown (for the procession), and the hosts have to have a garage on the street, half of which will be transformed into a shrine for two days. After Saint-Eloi is placed in the shrine, M and Mme Martin must offer an apéritif to everyone; meaning, the whole village (well, almost). My husband’s colleague estimated that the Martins bought 3,000 Euros worth of pastis, and for months Mme Martin had been making dozens of bottles of homemade orange wine.

Here are a few photos:

The Provençal pipe and drum band that follows Saint-Eloi through the streets.

The costumes are made-to-measure in a neighboring village.

Once the procession has gone down the main street, it’s off to the church to collect the priest:

Then, a longer walk through the back streets ensues, on the way to M and Mme Martin’s house (who had raced home and were busy preparing the apéritif).

There was a bit of a traffic jam when we all gathered in front of the Martin’s garage to see the shrine (and get ready to pounce on the free pastis):

The Martins spent a full day decorating the shrine with the required red, white and pink carnations. Carnations are a popular historical flower in Provence, and they always make me think of Ugolin (played by the actor Daniel Auteuil) who steals precious water from a spring to grow his own in the film Manon des Sources.

Then, pastis (or orange wine) and the traditional pompe à l’huile (a soft, orange-flavored bread made with olive oil) was served.

A bal musette (dance with live accordion music) was offered by the town at night. We couldn’t go, but before leaving the apéritif I snuck a photo of a detail of one of the Provençal skirts. So lovely:

Nashville

On my website’s bio page I was asked to list my favorite cities and towns. Well, I missed one. Nashville! Like the Country star Faith Hill, I didn’t know what the town would be like. Hill said this of Music City: “Nashville was totally different than anything I ever dreamed. I had only seen the music business on television and been to a couple of concerts. I had no clue.”

We were really excited to finally go, but were almost expecting that it would be too touristy, and the music not to our liking (too Country). Wrong we were! Nashville surpassed all of our expectations. The main street, Broadway, is lined with small bars, each with their own live band (all kinds of Country: honky-tonk, folk, blues, fiddle, ballads…). Bands are paid by passing the tip jar, or through c.d. sales (so we bought four, and have been listening to them non-stop).

backstage at the Tequila Cowboy

We didn’t have time to venture out into the outskirts, like East Nashville, or Music City (where dozens of recording studios are located). But there was plenty to do right downtown.

A new discovery: this great American beer. A very tasty amber-colored ale from Colorado.

The musical talent amazed us; most of the musicians we saw are locals, and most record in Nashville’s studios, then play live when they’re not recording.

Slick Joe Fick on bass, whom another bassist told us was “America’s most talented guy on bass” Joe had a small role in the film ‘Walk the Line.’

On a rainy Sunday we happily spent the afternoon at Robert’s Western World, listening to two great groups.

And we spent an hour here (three floors of handmade cowboy boots, hats, and shirts):

A fantastic band playing at The Benchmark. The fiddler was very high-energy, and at one point the hipster bassist took his guitar outside onto the window ledge and played to people on the street.

We found the locals friendly and polite (no big surprise there; it’s the South!) and can’t wait to go back. No one batted an eyelash when, in the Wheel Cigar Bar, I lit up a cigar (in France it’s frowned upon for a woman to enjoy a cigar). It’s the kind of city where everyone happily mixes together. The great singer-songwriter, and Nashville resident Janis Ian explains, “I see interracial couples all the time in Nashville. I’m a Jew in Nashville. I’m a gay person in Nashville. It’s a non-issue in most of the time. That’s a huge leap forward.”

Would love to hear about your Nashville experiences!

PLA 2014

It was an honor to have been invited to speak at the Public Library Association’s conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. It was even more of an honor to share the stage with five great mystery authors: Jeff Abbott, Sophie Hannah, Frank Lentricchia, Peter Swanson, and Laura McHugh.

Over 200 librarians crammed into the Wabash Ballroom in the enormous Indianapolis Convention Center to hear us speak, and then get their books signed.

An inspiring, and fun, weekend!

Oh, and if you find yourself in downtown Indy, here’s where we ate: Cerulean Restaurant:

Late at night (earlier it was full, so reserve).

The food was imaginative, and where possible cooked using local ingredients. But, too salty for our tastes (and I LOVE salt). The wine was wonderful, a California central coast Syrah/Cab mix from Barrel 27:

Now, back in rainy Paris, and soon off for a book signing at WH Smith on the rue de Rivoli. Drop in if you’re in Paris! Have a good weekend!

Public Library Association’s Meeting: March 2014, Indianapolis

I arrived in downtown Indianapolis last night, direct from smoggy Paris, just in time to book into the hotel and grab a Smithwick’s ale in the hotel’s sports bar (with an order of spicy chicken wings, which I haven’t eaten in years! so yummy!).

It was indeed a pleasure to be invited to speak this morning as part of the Public Library Association’s Mystery Authors Revealed panel discussion. My honorable partners in crime were the esteemed mystery writers Jeff Abbott, Sophie Hannah, Peter Swanson, Frank Lentricchia, and Laura McHugh. I loved the opportunity to meet some fellow writers especially since I don’t live in the US, and sometimes feel a little cut-off from you all. I also relished the chance to speak before one of my favorites communities, librarians.

We each spoke for ten minutes (everyone on the panel strictly stuck to their allotted time limit; I always get so frustrated when at faculty meetings some professors take too long to speak!). We then signed books; it was great fun, chatting with librarians from all corners of the US, and even a few from Canada!

The line-up for getting books signed wrapped around the room; a very impressive turnout! But it moved quickly and everyone stayed in good humor.

The next PLA conference is in two years; no idea where! But I hope to be there!

Cheers from the US. Next stop, tomorrow: Nashville!

Happy in Marseille

Over two weekends, 163 Marseillais–most of them friends–filmed this great version of Pharrell Williams’ HAPPY. According to an article in La Provence, they come from all walks of life: train drivers, journalists, students, bartenders. Their joy is infectious (as is the song, hence its world-wide success), and I think that these amateurs did a great job of filming, editing, dancing, and just being the gregarious Marseillais that they are!

The city is shown off, too: its beaches and sea cliffs, parks, colorful streets, architecture (both old and new, shabby and pristine). Boats and pastis also play a role in the clip, as they should!

Enjoy!

 

Stranger than Fiction: the power of documentary films

The other day one of my NYU colleagues posted an essay on his Facebook page from the blog The Millions. The author, an American university creative writing teacher, laments on teaching writing to students who read less and less and watch television (and to a lesser extent, films) more and more. Friends replied to the post, suggesting ways that we can teach non-readers the craft of writing. I’m a firm believer that you don’t teach poetry by using, for example, pop-song lyrics. You use Wordsworth, Larkin, and Dickinson.

But there are times when I do use film–as the medium is such an important 20th century art form–as an aid in the writing class. But I use a genre that most students still associate with high-school science class, and one that they freely admit they would never spend money on. The documentary.

In the first semester the students write a  memoir. For many, it’s the first time they’ve been permitted to use  ’I’ in a paper. We read memoirs by Adam Gopnik, David Sedaris, Ernest Hemingway, Ariel Levy, etc. We talk about memory, and how difficult it is to write about something that happened even only a few months ago. We forget some details, while others are still looming, in technicolor, in our heads. And then, part way through their drafts, we watch Sarah Polley’s film Stories We Tell. Real life is so much more interesting and bizarre than anything you could make up, and Polley’s story unfolds before you, with all the ups and downs of a classic novel.

You can watch the two-minute trailer here, and then run to your public library and get the film: http://www.storieswetellmovie.com/

Canadian director Sarah Polley at work.

The memoir finished, the students then visit one of Paris’s museums or art galleries and write an essay on any art work of their choice; how it moves them, and why they are so attracted to it. Many have never written, or thought that much, about art. I try to show them how vast the art world is, and how it’s about more than just paintings. For that unit, we watch The Artist is Present, Matthew Akers’ documentary that follows performance artist Marina Abromovic as she prepares for her solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The students are silent at the end, and many are crying. Documentaries like The Artist is Present engage you; they’re an emotional, not cerebral, medium.

http://marinafilm.com/view-trailer

Marina Abromovic (in red) sat for over 700 hours in the MoMA, gazing into the eyes of whoever wished to sit in front of her. Towards the end of the exhibition people slept outside of the museum to ensure their spot the following day.

 

Like Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, part of what Abromovic teaches my students (I hope) is that any successful artist is completely dedicated to their craft: they’re disciplined. And some, like Abromovic, physically pay for it.

Term two’s essays are more researched-based, and we begin by writing about people, once again: the biography. I have time to use a film here, too, and could take the easy way out and show any one of the dozens of biopics that are released every year: The Social Network (on Mark Zucherberg); The King’s Speech (King George VI); Motorcycle Diaries (Che Guevara); or Nowhere Boy (John Lennon). But I want to challenge the students–that’s what you go to university for, right?–and so we watch a documentary, My Architect.

Most architecture critics agree that there are five essential twentieth century architects: Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Louis Kahn. Louis Kahn’s life, like any life, was full of happiness and sorrow, success and failure. His illegitimate son, Nathaniel Kahn, searches for answers in this heart-wrenching documentary. The students are divided after seeing it; some like it, others not. Is the theme of an absent father too difficult? Or are Kahn’s massive concrete buildings too stark for eighteen year old’s to appreciate?

Nathaniel and Louis Kahn, just a few years before the famed architect died, penniless, in Penn Station.

French filmmaker Jean-Xavier de Lastrade says that, “The real challenge for a documentary filmmaker is to take a story that seems banal and tell it in such a way that it becomes exemplary.” These three films do just that, but perhaps Sarah Polley’s the most. Just and ordinary suburban-Toronto family. How can that be interesting?  But it’s about so much more: memory, family, longing, and fidelity. And like any great story it’s a puzzle, too, and it takes you on a ride.