M. L. Longworth

On food, writing and life in the south of France

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.

 

 

The Oldest Cinema in the World

The Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis, famously claimed ‘the cinema is an invention without any future.’ Born in 1862 and 1864 respectively, that statement wouldn’t have been outrageous at the time. But it is the Lumière brothers, who inherited their father’s photography factory in Lyon, who are partly credited with having invented the moving picture. Louis was a physicist and Auguste the manager, and it was Louis who made improvements to the still-photograph process, the most notable being the dry-plate process, which was a major step towards moving images.

Their first moving pictures were shown in 1895 in the basement of the Grand Café, in Paris, and their most well-known film (50 seconds long), the train arriving in La Ciotat, frightened the Parisian audience, many who thought that the train was coming in through the café’s walls.

Auguste and Louis Lumière

Their moving pictures were very influential, but it was in 1907, when they launched a color photography process to the world, the ‘Autochrome Lumière,’ that their fortune was made. The Lumière family loved Provence, especially the quiet seaside town of La Ciotat, where the family had a holiday home (a château, really) on the sea.

It is appropriate, then, that the first hall designated for watching moving pictures, a cinema, would be in La Ciotat. Last week my husband and I were lucky to be invited to a private tour of the cinema, the Eden Théâtre, which opened in 1889 and showed the Lumière films in 1899.  Closed due to disrepair since 1995, the Eden Théâtre was renovated and reopened this October to much fanfare and joy in the blue-color town La Ciotat. We were given a lecture on the fascinating Lumière family (lumière, funnily enough, means ‘light’ in French), and shown a dozen or so of their remarkable 19th century short films.

The Eden Theatre before renovations; very sad looking…

 

And now, after renovations:

The Eden now; beautiful at night.

 

But what was really fascinating that night was the discourse and slide show of history of the theatre itself, a place dear to the hearts of Ciotadens; the theater, for a century, was used for motion pictures, vaudeville acts, dances, boxing matches, political rallies (La Ciotat, a ship-building town, was Communist for many years), and it’s now back on its feet, proudly showing vintage films to sold-out audiences.

 

Towards the screen…

 

Every week the Eden shows vintage films, for free. Last week we saw a Mélina Mercouri film, La Loi, directed by Jules Dassin. It was sold out, and the atmosphere was magical; the audience gasped and laughed in all the right places, and applauded afterwards, very much how I have always imagined the first cinema goers to have behaved. It’s why you go to the cinema.

In conjunction with the Eden’s opening, an exhibition in the Chapelle des Pénitants Bleus, next door, featured the first autochromes (color photographs made on glass sheets).

Chapelle des Pénitants Bleus


The autochromes were back-lit as they are like slides (positive transparencies); beautiful in the chapel.

A few of the autochromes that we loved:

Quite a few of the autochromes in the exhibition were of ‘poilus’ (WWI French soldiers)

I’ll end this post on another Lumière film, ‘the baby’s breakfast.’ A mother and father feed their baby, outside, during a mistral wind. We were trying to work outside today during a mistral, and I remembered seeing this film at the Eden. Notice that the parents add a little something to their coffees to take off the chill!

 

A Provençal Table

I first became interested in Bandol wines when we were still living in California, pre-1997, after having bought a cookbook that was in the sale bin at Bookshop Santa Cruz:  ’A Provençal Table’ by the venerated food writer Richard Olney. Olney lived in the countryside near Bandol and became good friends with Lulu and Lucien Peyraud, owners of Domaine Tempier wines, and the book is a story, with recipes, of their friendship (Lucien spearheaded the move for Bandol wines to gain French AOC status, way back in 1941, and his wife Lulu was a famously great home-cook). The recipes are elaborate, but I love the book for its stories, and Lulu’s frankness.

Lulu and Lucien were given Domaine Tempier as a wedding present in 1936.

It’s mid-September and the school year has begun at NYU in Paris–to great to see the smiling faces of first year students–and I came back south on Wednesday afternoon, energized by teaching again, to be greeted by the grape harvest! Tractors pulling wagons–laden with red grapes–slowly made their way along the narrow country lanes and I slowly followed, respectfully keeping a distance and not passing, the whole time whispering, ‘Thank you! Thank you!’

I ran inside and got my camera; there are vines across the street from our house.

In celebration of a house full of guests, we bought a bottle of 2011 Domaine Tempier for tonight’s dinner; far more expensive than the wines we usually buy…

Here’s a great article from the Guardian on Olney’s legacy. It’s very informative and features some fun anecdotes, including this one: Once cases of unlabeled wines were found in a sunken ship off the coast of Toulon; no one knew how to identify them, and word got around that the person with the best palate to do so was a shy American living near Bandol (Olney). Olney died in 1999 and a friend now lives in his former house, keeping it just the way it was when the writer died. Enjoy the article, and your autumn, wherever you are!

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/dec/12/richard-olney-french-cooking-provence

Winemakers’ Fête

Parade with participants in traditional dress

 

The 2013 Bandol harvest is quickly approaching, and the last Sunday of August is traditionally reserved for the winemakers’ fête, with a parade, music, and wine tastings in La Cadière d’Azur.

 

I love this detail of the woman’s skirt and apron, and her Provençal shawl.

dancing…

 

Dancing to a pipe band with accordion…notice their full skirts and clogs (sabots). The skirts are quilted; called boutis in Provençal. Below is a close-up:

This was a huge quilt; the woman who made it told me she could never sell it, or even give it a price. It took her three years to make, five hours a day. She doesn’t use a quilting frame, but sews on her knees.

Boutis for baby…

 

Dancers in action…

 

Close-up of the boutis skirts and wonderful cotton hand-printed shawls.

 

close-up of the clogs.

 

The butcher shop, open for business, even though it was a Sunday afternoon. He and his sister were busy selling plates of sausage and paté, a very good choice while wine tasting Bandol’s reds…

 

Wrapping a pole with colored ribbons, for the parade.

 

A fanfare (brass band). The villages are so small around here, it always amazes us that so many locals are talented musicians, too…

 

Part of the horn section gets down, literally…

 

Tattoos, too, if you’re interested.

 

A pretty village house with what looks like a bar on either side of the front door; at least it’s perfect height for setting down a wine glass, although no-one did.

 

 

On our way home: this boy, bored by the music and dancing, got out his book and began to read. Hoorah! some kids still read novels!

 

This village life: Some snapshots of Provence…

Correns, in the Var

 

Here are some photos that I’ve been taking this summer as things amuse or touch me. Above, a hand-painted sign on a store front in the tiny village of Correns, in the Var. We were looking for an art exhibition at a local winery and stopped our car just before a bridge, in order to turn around, realizing that we were lost. Two separate villagers came over to the car to ask if we needed directions. We did! And they pointed us in the right direction; we found the winery, with very very good wine, and awful art!

Néoules, in the Var, July 14th.

 

On Bastille Day morning, after having a late breakfast and settling down with the newspaper, we heard all kinds of chatter out on the village square (we are renting an apartment until we can move into our house; long story!). We then heard some live jazz music, and rushed downstairs to join the party. The mayor of Néoules was treating everyone to a free apéritf (or two, or three…), with pizza and live music, to celebrate the 14th of July.

French break-dancers, the under-five set.

 

This scene made us double over with laughter. The kids had jumped up onto the stage and started to improvise dance moves, to the jazz songs of Cole Porter, Michel Legrand, Billie Holiday, and others. So funny! I love the little girl on the right, who is flat out! It really brightened our spirits, as we settle down for another two weeks before we can move…