M. L. Longworth

On food, writing and life in the south of France

Celebrating a rosé wine made in…Paris

A wine made from Parisian grapes? Yes! And it’s for sale this weekend in Paris at 50 euros a bottle (friends who have bought it tell me it’s more to celebrate the occasion and the history of Paris’s famous Montmartre vineyard than for the quality of the wine). There are 2,000 vine stalks (mostly Gamay and Pinot Noir) planted in a gorgeous vineyard located at the foot of la butte, the first vines having been planted as early as 944 A.D.

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The harvest has been celebrated since 1934, always during the second weekend of October. All kinds of festivities are taking place over the weekend, organised by hard working and passionate volunteers who make up the many Montmartre community groups. There’s even a Harvest Choir made up of 200 singers; they began singing this morning at 10:30 in the vineyard and then made their way down the hill to begin the parade. Our daughter lives not far from this lively neighbourhood (quickly becoming my favourite place in Paris, in particular the north side of the hill, where the vineyard is located) and she sent us some photographs of today’s parade:

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There are 1,000 bottles of rosé made each year; the vines are taken care of by the City of Paris and its Espaces Verts department (the equivalent of Parks and Rec). The wine is made by the city’s chief eonologist, Sylvaine Leplâtre, a woman 🙂 and a harvest ball ends the weekend, held outside in the Square Louise Michel then overflowing into the streets. Here’s an old photograph of the bal:

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Whatever you are doing this weekend, have a great time enjoying the fall weather, and if you open a bottle of wine, pretend that you are in Paris.

 

 

Four days in Krakow, and a Wedding

We have been to Poland twice, each time for a wedding. The first wedding was a few years ago, near Warsaw, that reconstructed city whose destruction by the Germans during WWII the Russians watched in silence from the east bank of the Vistula. 98 % of Warsaw’s Jewish population was murdered, as were 25 % of the Poles, many who were trying to hide their Jewish friends and neighbors. (Those statistics come from a great book about Poland I’m reading, Michael Moran’s A Country in the Moon, published by Granta in 2008). This summer’s wedding was in the countryside (a gorgeous old barn) just outside of Krakow. A friend and colleague from New York, who teaches with me at NYU, was marrying a local beauty (and brain).

Our French guidebook referred to Warsaw as the “brains” of Poland, and Krakow the “heart.” Seems right. I love both cities, Warsaw for its contemporary art and pride at being both old and very new. Krakow was relatively undamaged during the war, has an ancient university and many museums, and its old town is splendid:

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We had a day to walk around the city before the wedding (which was a two day affair, as are many French weddings). Given the joyous occasion we were there for, and our limited time, we decided to go to Auschwitz on our next visit. Instead, we stayed downtown, visiting a museum of 19th Century Polish art (which like many countries had their own branch of Impressionists, painters who had been to Paris, falling under the magical spell of painting en plein air). Then, off to a museum of history of the city, which my husband and I both found drab and uninteresting (we later discovered that the more interesting history museum is underground and just a few steps away!).

It was very hot (31°C–88°F–with high humidity, which we’re not used to), so we got away from the main squares, where there are many touristy restaurants, and fell upon by chance Albertina, a restaurant we would almost travel back to Krakow to eat in. Contemporary cuisine with Polish ingredients, including trout caught in rivers in a nearby national park. Oh, and each dish came paired with wines, two of which were Polish whites!

This was our favorite, Solaris, from up on the Baltic coast.

This was our favorite, Solaris, from up on the Baltic coast.

After lunch we visited a 16th century Gothic-Renaissance palace built for the Bishop Erazm Ciolek that now houses sculptures and paintings from the 14th to the 16th century. We were the only visitors. Below, a 14th century wooden sculpture of Jesus that we found very striking:

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In Warsaw the museums and art galleries we visited were charged with excitement. Museum workers would follow us around and ask if we needed help. Gallery owners jumped up from their contemporary-designed desks, welcoming us and explaining the current exhibition. In Krakow, the museum employees could barely even look up at us. That’s part of the reason we got mixed up in locating the underground history museum, as our questions were usually answered with a shrug of the shoulders. In Michael Moran’s book he has the same experience in 1992, just two years after the fall of Communism. He writes, while trying to buy a car, “There is never an official reply in Poland, just a series of non-answers.”

When in Warsaw I fell in love with the paintings of Edward Dwurnik, a national treasure. Born in 1943, Dwurnik studied art in Warsaw and is known for his provocative but sometimes humorous paintings. He now paints almost exclusively bird’s eye views cityscapes, a series he calls “Hitch-hiking”, but I prefer his politically charged earlier work from the 1970s and 80s.

A cityscape of Edward Dwurnik. They are really big, and impressive, when you see them in person.

A recent cityscape of Edward Dwurnik. They are really big, and impressive, when you see them in person.

An earlier painting from the 1970s, below, which focussed on the Communist everyman (and in the 80s the tragic destinies of Polish people caught in the political turmoil of the age):

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Well, after our religious art museum, and a cocktail on the Planty (the park that rings Krakow’s old town) we met up with our daughter who had just arrived from Paris and went out for dinner. The restaurant Pod Baranem (“Pod” meaning something like “Chez”) got great reviews from our Michelin guide, and also from the Guardian. But Pod Buranem also had an added attraction: the restaurant is full of Edward Dwurnik paintings!

A bit of Pod Baranem's interior. I had the Beef Stroganoff; delicious!

A bit of Pod Baranem’s interior. I had the Beef Stroganoff; delicious!

The next morning we got up early and took a tram to the south side of the Vistula to Krakow’s newly opened contemporary art museum, the MOCAK, then raced back to our hotel for the wedding shuttle pick-up. The wedding, in the countryside 45 minutes south of the city, began at 4:30pm and we got back to the hotel at 6:30. AM!

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The lit-up LOVE sign amongst hay bails, were the children had a grand time.

The lit-up LOVE sign amongst hay bales, where the children had a grand time.

The food was endless (the last dish, a cold beet soup, was served somewhere around 3:30am) and delicious. As was the vodka. (no one was drunk from what I could see, helped by all the food and dancing).

We were out-dressed and out-danced by our Polish friends.

We were out-dressed and out-danced by our Polish friends.

We slept a few hours and the next afternoon dragged ourselves to Wawel, Krakow’s hilltop royal castle. After a guided tour of the grounds, we paid for tickets to see Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine,” one of the four female portraits painted by the artist in his lifetime. The subject of the portrait is Cecilia Gallerani, painted at a time when she was the mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, and Leonardo was in the service of the duke. Unlike visiting the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, there were only six of us looking at the painting. I love the black background; it sets off Cecilia Gallerani even more (she was an accomplished poet too). The painting was stolen by the Nazis and rescued in 1946 by Americans, who returned it to Krakow.

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That night those of us who had energy and were still in town, including the bride and groom, met up on one of the restaurant boats that line the banks of the Vistula. Our view that evening, as we drank Polish wheat beers and re-hashed the wedding:

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And this photo seems like a good place to sign off! Here also seems like a good place to announce that the Polish rights to my books have been sold, and I’m thrilled! The publisher is Smak Slowa, located in a small town, Sopot, on the Baltic Sea. The publishers know that I live in Europe, and asked my agent if I could come to Poland once the books are released to do a promotional tour. Could I? Would I! Twoje Zdrowie!

My Own Cannes Film Festival 2016: Youth, and 45 Years

May is always exciting in France (along with asparagus and strawberries in the market, and the first cherries!) as the Cannes Film Festival opens and the newspapers are flooded with photographs of stars, and news of films that wowed the jury, and films that went bust (this year, Wow’s are going to Romanian director Cristi Puiu’s Sieranevada and Boo’s to Jodie Foster’s Money Monster).

The Festival always gets my husband and I back out to the cinema and talking about which films we loved this year (we are lucky as Aix has two theatres that show art-house films from around the world in their original language). Here are my two favorites.

Youth

directed by Paolo Sorrentino (filmed in English)

Our daughter, when she began studying Italian in junior high, introduced us to the films of Paolo Sorrentino. Back then (our daughter is now 23 years old) Sorrentino only had one or two movies, and we adored, and were amazed by, his 2005 film, stylish and yet meditative, The Consequences of Love. Youth, released at the end of 2015, is stylish like Sorrentino’s previous films, and admittedly less profound; “an entertaining but minor work,” wrote my favorite film critic, Peter Bradshaw, in The Guardian. But I LOVED it anyway!

Music plays an important part in Sorrentino’s films, and Youth begins with a band playing a fantastic upbeat song while on a turning stage (the film is set at a luxurious Swiss hotel). I was glued from the beginning seconds.

Sorrentino didn’t cast his usual leading man, Toni Servillo (if you haven’t seen Servillo in The Great Beauty, please do now!), but Michael Caine is elegant and thoughtful as Fred Ballinger, a retired conductor staying at the hotel with his daughter and best friend. Ballinger is visited by a representative of Queen Elizabeth, who would like Ballinger to conduct his Simple Songs for Prince Philip’s birthday. Ballinger obstinately refuses, for reasons we find out later on.

Michael Caine as Fred Ballinger.

Michael Caine as Fred Ballinger.

The many close-ups of the faces of the cast are visually stunning. Sorrentino likes faces (and bodies) of all kinds, from the beautiful to the grotesque. It’s one of the things I admire about his films. There’s an obese former soccer star, obviously at the hotel to lose weight; and a skinny, very odd-looking masseuse who gracefully dances in front of her television at night; a Miss Universe who’s smart and well-spoken; and Jane Fonda who has a great cameo role as an brash street-smart famous actress. Those wonderful faces—combined with the ennui the characters (and staff) experience at that Swiss hotel, the stylish music, and breathtaking cinematography (beautiful mountains, including a gorgeous and heart-breaking flashback to Venice, where Ballinger once conducted)—made this one of my favorite films this year.

And yes, you do hear the Simple Songs at the end of the film, played before the Royal Family. It gave me goosebumps, as I had never heard Sumi Jo sing, nor did I know anything about the music of contemporary Los Angeles composer David Lang. I found this video clip, not a trailer, of David Lang, Sorrentino, and Sumi Jo explaining the importance of music in the film and what it meant for them. Sumi Jo said that the music gave her goosebumps, too. You can see that, and feel it, when she sings in the final six minutes of the movie.

45 Years

Directed by Andrew Haigh

Well, if there is any film more opposite to Paolo Sorrentino’s films, then this must be it. Or is it? As both films deal with the past, and with aging. Both are set in quiet places where people live out their routine lives (albeit Sorrentino’s cast in a super posh hotel, but dull all the same). In 45 Years Kate and Geoff Mercer are planning their 45th wedding anniversary party. They are retired and live in beautiful but flat and bleak Norfolk, in the east of England. Geoff is working class; a former union steward. Kate was the local school’s headmistress, and even the postman, a former student, is still in awe of her. There are lovely details of their days: breakfasts together, taking walks with the dog, sneaking cigarettes out by the back shed. But, in the same role as the Queen’s messenger in Youth, a letter from Switzerland arrives one morning and turns their quiet life upside down.

Ever since I saw Tom Courtenay in the 1960s film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (as a teenager with my best friend Bev in the late 1970s) I’ve longed to see him in another role as interesting and well written. And this is it! Geoff (Courtenay) receives news that the perfectly-preserved body of his first love, Katya (sounds just like Kate, right?) has been discovered in a ravine, where she fell to her death while on holiday with Geoff in 1962. Geoff has to reveal to his wife Kate (played with a wonderful severity by Charlotte Rampling) that he has been contacted because the Swiss believe that Geoff is Katya’s next-of-kin: he admits to Kate in a chilling scene that he and Katya had pretended to be married while on holiday so that they could share the same hotel room.

The film’s stress mounts as the party date gets closer, with both Geoff and Kate, but especially Kate, reexamining their lives, and marriage, and all of its secrets, even after 45 years.

Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay

Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay

When I began writing this blog I laughed to myself, thinking how different these two films are. But now I’m not so sure. Have you seen either of these films? What did you think?

 

 

When in…Aix-en-Provence

The following post was inspired by the feature in The Economist’s cultural magazine Intelligent Life:

When in…

Aix-en-Provence 

Do begin your visit at either end of Aix’s tree-lined main street Le Cours Mirabeau (the bottom is at the fountain, La Rotonde; the top at the statue of Good King René). Walk up and down it once or twice, before settling in on the terrace of Le Grillon (Le Mazarin in my books) to people watch.

Don’t eat meals in any of those cafés or restaurants on the Cours Mirabeau.

Do, later in the day, drink a much better coffee at Aix’s only coffee roasting house, La Brûlerie, on the Place Richelme. If you’re not a coffee drinker, they make a delicious hot chocolate.

Do visit Cézanne’s atelier, left exactly the way it was found in 1906 when the artist died. Thanks to funds collected in the United States, the studio was bought from private owners in 1954 and given to the University of Aix-Marseille, passing onto the city of Aix in 1969. In 1955 Marilyn Monroe wrote in the visitor’s book, “a wonderful visit.”

Do visit the newly opened Hôtel Caumont Centre d’Art in the chic Mazarin neighborhood. Their temporary exhibits have been quite good (including a Canaletto) and the restaurant is a wonderful place to eat, either inside the early 18th century restored rooms, or on the terrace overlooking the manicured French garden. Beginning in May, the exhibit will be on Turner!

Do try to get same-day cheap seats for the Opera festival if you’re visiting in July. If you can’t get an opera ticket, find out from the tourist office (at the Rotonde) what free music concerts are being offered over the summer.

Don’t think that the more expensive, or Michelin-starred restaurants, are the best places to eat in Aix. I think that one of the city’s best is an inexpensive Moroccan restaurant on the Rue Van Loo. Write to me for the name.

Do try and get east of Aix to see Cézanne’s obsession, Mont Ste-Victoire. If you don’t have a car, check the local bus schedule (available at the tourist office).

Don’t waste any time or money walking around Aix’s latest mistake, a shopping mall called Les Allées de Provence, located at the foot of the Cours Mirabeau. It’s full of chain stores that can be seen in any city, including probably yours.

Do wander into some of Aix’s mom-and-pop stores, greeting the employees with a “bonjour” when you enter and an “au revoir, merci” when you leave. The best ones are on the rue Thiers, rue de Montigny and the rue Boulegon.

Do buy picnic food at the market. There’s a market every morning on the Place Richelme, and on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday is the giant market on the Place des Prêcheurs. Avoid the fruit and vegetable stands selling asparagus in December or strawberries in October. The organic stands are marked with the word Bio, short for biologique.

Do go to an Aix rugby game (no hooligans in sight), if you like sports and want some local color. Or, go to the Stade Yves Blanc (on foot from downtown) to watch Les Argonauts, Aix’s amateur American football team.

Don’t resist the temptation to buy baked goods and sweets from Béchard on the Cours (Michaud’s in my books). Their brioche glacées are melt-in-the-mouth goodness, as are their calissons, an almond-shaped candy invented in Aix. Calissons make a great gift to take home, too.

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Paris or Rome? Which is Better?

At a recent dinner party in Aix (the menu: a starter of scrambled eggs topped with black truffles on artichokes, followed by a lamb ragout), we got into a discussion (it’s never an argument in France) over which city is superior, Paris or Rome. Our hosts had just been to Rome for the first time in many years. They were struck at how multicultural and international Paris is while Rome felt like, to them, a small provincial town. They were smitten.

We talked about many things that evening, but kept coming back to the Paris vs Rome discussion. We were split down the middle of the table, with most of us wafting back and forth between the two. Here are some bits of our discussion/analyses:

Rome is physically more beautiful, thanks to its colorful façades.

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I love this photo, with the statue's foot in the foreground.

I love this photo, with the statue’s foot in the foreground.

 

And yet, at night Paris is stunning:

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and its wide Haussmannian boulevards don’t make Paris a claustrophobic megatropolis:

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We all agreed that Paris is more cosmopolitan. But for me, this was a negative. Do I need Oregon-style craft beers, or Australian-style drip coffee, when in Europe? I love that Italy, and even Rome, sticks to what it knows best, and stays very local (especially when it comes to food). Most of my French friends disagreed with me on this point. Below is the window of a Parisian (Brooklyn-style) bakery, the food offerings written entirely in English. Urgh!

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A plus for Paris, for tourists, is that it is lovely any time of year, even in the summer, when it can be cooler than other parts of Europe, and in August the Parisians are gone (but, that also means that many of my favorite businesses are closed that month). Rome, on the other hand, is impossible for me in July and August: too hot, and too many people. I have definitely felt like these girls below, in Rome in the summer:

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Paris has more contemporary art and architecture. Yes, for sure. But Rome is catching up.

Richard Meier's Ara Pacis in Rome.

Richard Meier’s Ara Pacis in Rome.

When Meiers won the competition for the Ara Pacis, he said, “Rome has not seen a modern building in half a century. It is frozen in time.”

Zaha Hadid's MAXXI Museum of Contemporary Art.

Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome.

 

And in Rome, the churches are full of Renaissance masterpieces, for free.

Caravaggio's "The Calling of St Matthew", part of the St Matthew cycle of paintings in Rome's San Luigi dei Francesi.

Caravaggio’s “The Calling of St Matthew”, part of the St Matthew cycle of paintings in Rome’s San Luigi dei Francesi.

 

By now, you must think that I am routing for Rome…but it’s not that simple! As we ate dessert, we kept talking…

Paris has more parks, and they are outfitted for everyone.

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The Seine is more user-friendly than the Tiber.

I walk along this bit of the Seine, a sculpture park, to and from the Gare de Lyon train station and NYU's campus on the blvd St-Germain.

I walk along this bit of the Seine, a sculpture park, to and from the Gare de Lyon train station and NYU’s campus on the blvd St-Germain.

Bars and restaurants along the Seine (most of them are closed during the winter months)

Bars and restaurants along the Seine (most of them are closed during the winter months)

 

Both Rome and Paris have a long way to go to catch up with London: 47% of London is green space, accessible to all its citizens.

The bike-sharing program in Paris, Vélib’, has been a resounding success. I think that says a lot about its citizens. In Rome, it was a disaster:

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I recently read an article in Bloomberg Business which tries to understand the failure of the bike-share program in Rome. The city has 978 motorized vehicles — cars, motorcycles, and scooters — per 1,000 inhabitants. That compares with 398 vehicles per 1,000 Londoners and 415 per 1,000 in Paris, which has over 20,000 bikes and 1,800 stations. I laughed out loud when one Roman was quoted as saying, “Romans don’t like to show up for work sweaty.” I totally agree! To be honest, that’s one of the reasons I walk to work or hop on a bus.

Rome has better coffee (I’m talkin’ espresso here). No contest.

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We moved into the salon for digestifs, and I tried to remember the The Venerable Bede quote, “Rome will exist as long as the Coliseum does; when the Coliseum falls, so will Rome; when Rome falls, so will the world.” I still have my university copy of Bede’s book somewhere on the bookshelf. And then a slew of quotes followed about Paris, from Montesquieu to Hemingway to Gertrude Stein, who said, “America is my country and Paris is my hometown.”

I’m never bored by Paris, even having worked there now for eight years. Every time I walk out of the apartment, or NYU’s doors, I discover something new, like the Perigord restaurant around the corner from the school where a generous home-cooked two-course lunch with a glass of wine costs 15 euros. As I paid the bill at the zinc bar I noticed about fifty wooden cubby holes, each one labelled with a name: inside were linen napkins belonging to regular customers. At that moment Paris felt like a small town, or a hometown as Stein called it.

It was late, and time for coffee… Illy, from Italy, of course!

What are your thoughts about Paris and Rome?

 

 

 

 

 

Civilized Burgundy

One of my favorite all time films (even with its faults; that would take another blog post) is the documentary Mondovino, perhaps because I’m so thankful that Jonathan Nossiter managed to capture so many great quotes from Burgundian winemaker Hubert de Montille. There’s a tricky scene in the film when Montille’s daughter Alix describes Hubert’s wines as ‘difficult to get to know’ and ‘unfriendly’. She stares at her father as she speaks. Gulp. Hubert de Montille laughs off her remarks, probably because he realizes the truth in it, for the bald, suspender-wearing old man is very clear and uncompromising in his convictions: that low yields make the best wines; that the French are in danger when US imperialism imposes its culture and tastes, exactly as the Romans did; and that wine growing/making is a sign of civilization.

 

on our first walk; moss-covered vine trunks.

on our first walk; moss-covered vine trunks.

I had chills down my spine on our first walk. All around us—the nestled villages each with a low, hunkered down Romanesque church to the moss-covered vine trunks—spoke of centuries of civilization and hard work, at the hands of people like Hubert and Alix (she makes stellar white wine that I cannot afford).

Dézize-les-Maranges

Dezize-lès-Maranges

Our gîte (the best way to travel in France…the original Airbnb!) was in the village of Dezize-lès-Maranges, just southwest of Beaune. The villages in the hills of Maranges make great white and red wines, less expensive than their neighbors Santenay, Meursault, Chassagne Montrachet (which we had to drive through whenever we went to the highway or get on the road to Beaune), and the Montille’s village, Volnay. From the gîte we could walk in any direction and rarely come across cars (impossible in Aix-en-Provence), and on our second day there we discovered the voie verte, unused railway tracks paved over for walking and biking. On one walk we visited the chapel of Saint-Jean in Santenay:

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A smiling carved face on one of the corbels.

A smiling carved face on one of the corbels.

The chapel was closed, as they usually are in France, but the walk was beautiful, part of it through Santenay’s upper village:

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One of the many winemakers in the area; we never made it back to buy wine here, but loved their sign.

One of the many winemakers in the area; we never made it back to buy wine here, but loved their sign.

 

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A winemaker's mural.

A winemaker’s mural.

The vineyards in Burgundy, especially the Premier Crus, are split up into small plots, each owned by different vintners, and each with their own gate leading up into the vines:

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The Maranges hills are favorites of hang-gliders.

The Maranges hills are favorites of hang-gliders.

Luckily some churches are open to the public, and one of our favorites is Saint-Philibert in Tournus, which my husband jokes that I always remind him was on page one of my art history textbook. Begun in the 10th century, it’s a beautiful Romanesque church with great thick stone columns running up the nave, lots of carved figures perched high up on those columns, and an exquisite cloister.

 

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Saint-Philibert

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Saint-Philibert's cloister.

Saint-Philibert’s cloister.

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Saint-Philibert’s cloister and steeple.

I don’t think there’s ever been a trip to Burgundy when we haven’t visited the Romanesque church in the village of Chapaize, or not eaten at the Relais d’Ozenay just down the road. Florian Giraud is a fantastic chef, and his midweek lunch menu at 22 euros is an unbelievably good deal. Giraud also sells some dishes to takeaway, and we bought 200 grams of his terrine de foie gras which is the best foie gras I’ve ever had.

The last church we visited that day was a tiny chapel in an equally tiny village, Burnand. The caretaker lives next to the church, and so every time we’ve visited it has been open. There are remains of 800-year-old frescoes near the altar (I did not take photos for fear of damaging them), and I love the church’s interior furnishings, untouched for decades:

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There are so many things I still haven’t written about Burgundy and that trip, for example a lunch we had at the Bernard Loiseau restaurant in Beaune, younger sister to his three-star shrine up the road in Saulieu (Rudolph Chelminski wrote a super biography about the late Loiseau in 2006, The Perfectionist, published by Penguin). Or the many great wines we drank and bought, in barns and centuries-old stone cellars and modern tasting rooms, all great. Monsieur Montille, you are right; those who make wine are civilized, but especially Burgundians :-). Even Napoleon, thoroughly Corsican, loved Burgundy and its wines, “Nothing makes life look more rosy than to contemplate it through a glass of Chambertin.”

Hubert de Montille in a scene from Mondovino, in his Volnay vineyards.

Hubert de Montille in a scene from Mondovino, in his Volnay vineyards.

Hubert de Montille died in 2014 at the age of 84 whilst having lunch with friends, a glass of his own wine in his hands.

A Canadian Wine Tour (of sorts)

When we left Canada, in 1989, there were only a handful of Canadian wineries: in southern Ontario, and a few in a valley in British Columbia known as the Okanagan. There are now over 800. We went back to Canada this summer, and in between spending wonderful times with family and friends we spent two days visiting wineries in the Niagara region of south-western Ontario. Wow. Were we impressed. So is Jancis Robinson, my go-to critic and favorite wine writer. She was recently paid a visit by Janet Dorozynski, an official of the Canadian High Commission, who came to Robinson’s London home with dozens of bottles of Canadian wine. Robinson writes that she has always thought Canadian whites more impressive than the reds, but thanks to what is probably global warming, the reds are “no longer pale apologies for wine…” We agree! Here’s a quick look at some of our favorite Niagara winery visits:

THIRTY BENCH

Winemaker Emma Garner

A beautiful location, the winery buildings clad in barn board, with a charming woman serving. Wonderful reds and whites. Jancis Robinson rated highly their Steel Post Vineyard Riesling, 2010.

The view from the tasting room at Thirty Bench. Most of the wineries we visited had lovely picnic spots.

The view from the tasting room at Thirty Bench. Most of the wineries we visited had lovely picnic spots.

 

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Lake Ontario as seen from Thirty Bench's vineyard. Toronto is on the other side.

Lake Ontario as seen from Thirty Bench’s vineyard. Toronto (if you squint you can see it on the left) is across the lake.

 

TAWSE WINERY

Winemaker: Paul Pender

In March of this year England’s prestigious Decanter Magazine named Tawse’s Chardonnays one of the world’s (outside Burgundy) best five (Tawse is in the middle in the photo below).

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We were at first offput by the Napa Valley-styled building and grounds, but loved the wines, especially the Chardonnays. The tasting room is very elegant, and the wines served in big Riedel glasses. Love it!

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FLAT ROCK CELLARS

Winemaker Jay Johnston

Super friendly staff (especially Ted!) and good, reasonably-priced wines, both red and white, although we loved the buttery non-oaked Chardonnays. Wines in Ontario are, alas, expensive (even with our Euros), so Flat Rock was a welcome visit.

The tasting room at Flat Rock.

The tasting room at Flat Rock.

 

We spent the evening in Niagara-on-the-Lake, home to the George Bernard Shaw Festival Theatre. As you can see from the photos, the houses and streets have retained their 19th century (and earlier) charm:

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Back to the wines:

LAILEY VINEYARDS

The winemaker, Derek Barnett, renowned for his Burgundy-style wines, has just left Lailey. Friends tell me that it was as if, for Ontario wine lovers, he had died. The new owners have unfortunately decided to concentrate on ice wines. Such a shame. If you are in the region, I’d suggest going to Lailey and stocking up on the remaining Barnett Pinot Noir and Chardonnays. They are sublime. The building, contemporary and clad in wood, was my favorite on the wine route.

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Former winemaker Derek Barnett.

Former winemaker Derek Barnett.

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FIVE ROWS

Winemaker: Wesley Lowrey

Our desire to visit Ontario wineries partly stemmed from a Globe & Mail article about Five Rows. One of the highlights of our trip. This is a small family-run winery not open to the public as their wines sell out the year before, when still in the barrels. If you book ahead, and order your wine ahead, they will greet you with warmth and generosity, as we were treated by the winemaker’s mother, Wilma. The Lowrey’s have always been grape growers, selling their fruit to big Ontario wineries. Wilma told us, “we finally got tired of our grapes winning awards for other people’s wines” so in 1984 her husband planted five rows of Pinot Noir for their own bottling. Their son Wes is now the winemaker, and they continue to win awards, but now with their own wine; Jancis Robinson would be pleased to know that the Five Rows Syrah is a blockbuster (and I live in Syrah country!).

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RAVINE VINEYARDS

Winemakers: Peter Gamble and Shauna White

This is a big estate, with an award-winning organic restaurant, elegant tasting rooms in  200-year-old house, and even a shop selling epicurean delights. Great place to eat, or stock up for a picnic. In the tasting room you are served by your own knowledgeable host. Very good Rieslings, and heavy reds. Bring lots of money.

The tasting room.

The tasting room.

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A gorgeous old barn next to Ravine.

A gorgeous old barn next to Ravine.

 

SOUTHBROOK VINEYARDS

Winemaker: Ann Sperling

As you can see from the pictures, Southbrook is worlds away from the Lowrey family’s modest farm, but their outlook is the same. In fact, Southbrook has biodynamic status (not to be confused with ‘biologique’ which is French for organic). Biodynamic is one step beyond organic, where the whole farm is treated as a single living entity: the balance and interrelationship of the farm’s soil, plants, and animals are carefully kept in balance to grow low-impact vibrant crops. Developed by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), biodynamic farming is popular in France (especially Burgundy) where it includes understanding the ecological, the energetic, and the spiritual in nature. Some farmers also follow the lunar cycles, especially when harvesting and bottling.

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Southbrook’s servers are called ‘wine lovers’ and we chanced upon one who studied French at our university Aix in 1968, just in time for the student riots!

Here’s a look at the turbulent Ontario summer sky, just as we headed off, the trunk full of wine, to eat dinner back at home. The Niagara reds were just fine for the thick Ontario steaks! Not a pale excuse for a wine in sight.

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Summer pleasures: The Ile de Bendor

I’ve never liked beaches: too hot, too crowded, too sandy. But swimming in the sea feels so good; the French say that it’s ‘tonique.’ We (I’m including my husband and daughter in the ‘we’) really like finding flat rocks and jumping off of them into the sea. We’ve found some good spots on the Ligurian coast, but that’s a bit far! In Provence, those rocky spots are either very hard to get to, or are almost as crowded as the beaches. But now we’ve found one. And it’s a fifteen minute drive from our house.

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Two years ago we sold our house in Aix and moved into the Provençal interior, in the vineyards, and closer to the Mediterranean. There’s a seaside town near here, Bandol, which gives its name to the local wine. In 1950 Paul Ricard–who made millions from pastis–bought the Ile de Bendor, a mere 300 meters off of Bandol’s seaside boardwalk.

An aerial view of the island, and Bandol. The boat ride takes about three minutes.

An aerial view of the island, and Bandol. The boat ride takes about three minutes.

The Ile de Bendor has 1,5 kilometers of coast, a luxury hotel (the Delos), five family-run restaurants, and the Côte d’Azur’s smallest marina. In the 1960s it was used by friends of Ricard’s, very jet-set: Salvador Dali, Josephine Baker, and scores of French actors. I love the bar in the Hotel Delos, which inspired me when writing ‘Murder on the Ile Sordou’. Thank goodness the Ricard family haven’t touched its 1960s loveliness!:

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A vintage Ricard poster (the island has a small Ricard advertising museum):

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The island hosts various art exhibitions throughout the warm months; many of the small townhouses, all pastel colored, are used by visiting artists.

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A look at the marina:

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If you’re coming to Provence, the ferry leaves Bandol every half hour in the summer, and the island has a useful blog: www.bendor.com.

One last look at our swimming spot (it’s at the rear of the island, not the harbour-side).

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On our way back to the car, walking through Bandol, we came across this real estate agent’s sign. Verlaque, just like the main character in my books, Antoine Verlaque. I hadn’t seen the sign before (I got the name ‘Verlaque’ from a sign in the countryside just east of Aix).

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Wishing you good swimming this summer, wherever you are!

 

A new museum in Aix

We lived, for five years, in a wonderful old apartment in the Quartier Mazarin (it’s now Marine’s apartment in my books), and around the corner was a former mansion (the Hôtel Caumont) that since 1964 had been used by the city of Aix as its conservatoire de la musique. Its façade, built from golden stone that shimmers in the sun, was still in good condition, but the interior was faded and surprisingly dark, having undergone various poorly-executed cheap renovations over the past forty or so years. The main colors were brown and mint green. I used to take my daughter there for music lessons (which she hated) and each time had to build up my confidence to speak to the mean-spirited civil servants who worked in its shoddy offices (albeit in rooms with 12-foot high ceilings, frescoes, and gorgeous multi-paned windows that looked out over the neighborhood). In 2010 the city of Aix built a shiny new music conservatory on the edge of the downtown and gave the Hôtel Caumont to a French organization called Culturespaces. The Hôtel Caumont underwent four-plus years of serious renovations, and has just reopened to the public. It now has a large exhibition space (the inaugural show is a Canaletto), a gift shop, an 18th century music room and bedroom, and a surprisingly good café. I love it!

Hôtel Caumont's façade.

Hôtel Caumont’s façade.

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The first stone was laid on April 4th, 1715. The hôtel was commissioned by François Rolland de Réauville, and built by Robert de Cotte, the first architect of the King’s buildings. After Réauville’s death in 1718 the mansion passed down to his son, and then his grandson, finally being bought by the wealthy Bruny family in 1758. Jean-Baptiste de Bruny was a friend and patron of the arts and sciences, a collector, a botanist, and a member of Marseille’s Academy of Painting. It’s his spirit that lives on in the building, and his tastes that guided the renovations:

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I was told by a friend who knows the director that even the curtain swags (une fronce) were made to measure, by hand, in Paris.

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The Canaletto exhibition was fantastic, with very good information on the painter’s life (often lacking in exhibits in Aix, although we’re getting better!). They even had a number of paintings that Canaletto did while he lived in England. I had never seen these before. I finished the exhibition around 1:00 and then ate in the garden: a very good sword fish carpaccio with salad, a glass of local white wine, and then two scoops of sorbet (it was hot out!).

A view back to the café's terrace, taken from the garden and fountain.

A view back to the café’s terrace, taken from the garden and fountain.

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The garden was also designed by Robert de Cotte, a typical jardin à la française that combines three essential elements: elegant geometry, an open perspective, and water.

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In the back stairs of the museum are a series of black-and-white framed photographs showing the renovations. For anyone who had ever set foot in the old music conservatory, the transformation at the Hôtel Caumont is quite unbelievable. Here are more photos of the interior:

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The pastries, which I didn’t have because of the heat, and a bouquet of flowers that greets visitors. The flowers match the cakes in color and extravagance!:

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If it’s too hot, or too cold out, there are two dining rooms inside, one just off of the lovely salon chinois:

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There’s also a thirty-minute film about Paul Cézanne that will permanently run in the museum’s auditorium, and across the street is France’s finest English-language bookstore, Book in Bar. The girls at Book in Bar sell my books, of course! including the fifth in the Verlaque and Bonnet series, The Mystery of the Lost Cézanne (release date September 15th, 2015). In the meantime, let me know if you have the chance to visit the Caumont!

Eating on a Monday evening, in Paris

I just wrote a blog on what to do in Paris on Tuesdays, when the national museums are closed. Same problem for eating out on Monday evenings, the traditional day that restaurants close (and who can blame them? I can’t think of any harder business to run, where you work like crazy cooking and serving lunch, and then repeat it all over again in the evening. Every day. All year long).

My friend Barbara Fairchild (she was the editor-in-Chief of Bon Appétit Magazine for years) was in Paris this week, and we met up after work on Monday night. The website Paris by Mouth recently published a list of Parisian restaurants open on Mondays (thank you!), arranged by arrondissement. I poured over it after class, made a phone call, and we got a table at Yannick Alleno’s (three star chef at Le Meurice) new restaurant, Terroir Parisien, in the 5th arrondissement.

The interior of Terroir Parisian. Very chic.

The interior of Terroir Parisian (with an open kitchen at the back). Very chic.

Sadly, although we had a great time catching up, we both left the restaurant a little disappointed, and exchanged notes the next day. The plat du jour was very pricey at 35 euros, but we both decided to get it, since we love truffles (it was a roasted and stuffed pintade–guinea fowl–covered in truffle slices). It was perfectly cooked, not too much, and was juicy and tender. But neither of us could taste or even smell the truffles. Weird. Our dishes also got cold very quickly, and I now think that the plates hadn’t been heated (we were so busy talking that I hadn’t paid attention).

Barbara then told me about her new favorite Paris restaurant, FAUST, with its amazing location under the Alexandre III Bridge.

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I can’t wait to go. Here’s an inside shot of the interior, with chef Christophe Langrée:

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A summer night, at Faust:

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Stunning! Alas, it’s closed on Mondays. 😉