Saturday, 26 April 2014

Tuscany-Lifted into Gothic splendour to fly with the Angels!

Hi, everyone! So glad you dropped by. Just this week, I came across an e-mail from my daughter. Nothing strange there, I hear you say, and you would be right, as we often keep in touch this way. This e-mail, however, is different; it contains something of a first for me - a link to a recording of a piece of organ music. On first inspection, the subject matter of the e-mail is entitled, 'Memories of Tuscany' and below, the only text reads - 'Remember hearing this music playing in the little chapel we went into?'

The air inside is still, its coolness pouring over our sunburnt shoulders, feels like cleansing holy water, as we step inside the little chapel, out of the relentless heat of the mid-day Tuscan sun. Around us a heavenly silence hangs in the dark, damp air, so quiet that its assault on our senses is as profound as any cacophony of noise one can possibly imagine. Gradually, our eyes adjusting to the light, we focus on marble pillars, drawing our gaze upwards to the Gothic splendour of a deep-blue roof, dotted with golden stars. On either side of us simple wooden chairs face the altar, where a painting of the Virgin Mary gazes down lovingly. Her face illuminated by the light from the many ornate candles on the altar below, reflects the light of Christ in a tranquil corner of our busy world. Suddenly, the emptiness of this holy place is filled with organ music and, as our souls rise on the notes of Bach, we find ourselves lifted into Gothic splendour, to fly with the Angels.

Unbeknown to me at the time, Katie had taken out her phone and recorded the moment and playing it back today, here in my 'empty nest', I stepped out of the Tuscan sun once more, into the beauty of that magical place. You can read about our adventures, a mother and daughter enjoying 'La Dolce Vita' in the Italian sun, in a blog post I wrote some time ago now, entitled - ' Nesting in a Medici Hunting Lodge in the Hills above Florence'.

Perhaps you too enjoy visiting churches on your travels? Please do feel free to share your magical moments!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Art of French Eating!

Welcome back, everyone! I hope you enjoyed our trip to 'Parfums Sucrés' in my last blog post. Since writing it, I have just finished reading, ' Mastering the Art of French Eating' by Ann Mah. It got me pondering my own years living in France and the profound relationship I developed with food, learning at the table of my wonderful French neighbours and sampling regional dishes from Paris, to the shores of the Cote d'Azur.  

Ann Mah, the wife of an American diplomat is a lifelong foodie and francophile. When she learns of her husband's new posting to Paris, she begins plotting the gastronomic adventures they are going to have. Shortly after their arrival, as they settle into Parisian life, however, her dream of a romantic sojourn in the City of Light is brought to an abrupt end, when her beloved husband is unexpectedly posted to Iraq for a year and Ann finds herself alone in Paris. 

 Faced with isolation, Ann must make a life for herself and it's not long before her love of food draws her out in search of comfort.  She sets off on a journey around France, looking for the signature dishes of each region, delving into their history, how they are traditionally made and at the same time meeting the amazing characters involved in their production. Dishes like cassoulet, boeuf bourguignon and the infamous andouillette sausage, are just a few of the recipes to give up their secrets. Temptingly, Ann ends each chapter with a regional recipe for us to try at home. 

My own French food experience can be summed up in a word, which Ann explains very clearly towards the end of the book. The word is 'gourmandise'.  It is a wonderful word, for which there is no exact English equivalent, but it sums up the attitude of the French to food, an attitude which is ingrained in them from birth. It is basically the cultivation of an educated palate, the art of fine dining, the enjoyment of a good meal. It originates from the French word for taste, 'gout' and is all-encompassing in its description of the art of food appreciation.

In our little village in France, when you pass the school gates, the menu for the week is printed each Monday morning for parents and children to eagerly anticipate. There will be starter, main course, a cheese course and of course a dessert. Also from an early age the curriculum will include lessons in food appreciation and education of the palate. I know this all sounds a bit extreme, but what it has done for the French is to equip them with the ability to really enjoy good food.

Next time, I will talk more about the food in my region of France, La Charente.  In the meantime, if you too are a francophile, with a love of good food, why not get hold of a copy of Ann Mah's book, 'Mastering the Art of French Eating' and enjoy!

My Favourite place to eat - 'Chateau Talleyrand', Chalais France