Saturday, June 09, 2007


Charlotte Wilton - 1963


About a year ago a friend who lives in France recommended ‘Hunting and Gathering‘ by Anna Gavalda to me, I wrote down the details and promptly lost the piece of paper I’d noted them on. Typical. So it was with whoops of delight that I spotted a copy on another girlfriend’s kitchen table and shamelessly asked to borrow it immediately.

It is a delightful book, tender, wistful, and funny, and concerns the lives of four misfits in French society whose lives become entwined. Camille Fauque is a 26 year old artist who is virtually anorexic, hasn’t drawn or painted for some years and works nights as a cleaner in Parisian office blocks. Philibert Marquet de La Durbellière (aka Philou) is a shy, stuttering aristocrat with obsessive-compulsive tendencies who sells old postcards outside Parisian museums. Franck Lestafier is a feisty working-class chef who feels terrible guilt about his ability to care for his elderly grandmother who he has to put into an old people’s home. Paulette, his grandmother, becomes the fourth member of this unlikely quartet of characters, and eventually all four are living together in a vast ornate Parisian apartment which Philou is caretaking for a family trust.
A simmering sexual tension
develops between Camille and Franck, but the other two seem oblivious to it, even when the two start sleeping together. Philou has to deal with and ignore the scorn of his arrogant father, and find self- confidence in what he does and those he loves. Paulette has to come to terms with the fact that she can no longer live in her beloved house and tend the garden which has meant so much to her, and that she is slowly but steadily coming to the end of her life even though there is still much to be enjoyed on a daily basis.
Gavalda weaves all four characters into a fascinating ensemble, never sentimental or mawkish even when bringing the whole to a satisfying conclusion
In addition to characters who I really found interesting, I felt that I was getting a more realistic picture of modern France, unlike some other, usually British, writers writing about the country.

Allison Anderson has done a wonderful job translating the book into English, the language is so natural and feels so fluent that unlike some other books translated from French I completely forgot it was a translation.

I am not surprised that the book has already been turned into a movie by Claude Berri starring Audrey Tautou.

Rated 4*


I've never given a great deal of thought to the Venice Biennale; that said, I'm not a complete philistine, I draw and paint, visit museums and galleries ,and even got a distinction in History of Art at Matric many moons ago. However the Venice B has always been one of those events I've read about in the papers that has sparked mild interest for about ten seconds.

A day or two ago I read that Tracey Emin ( she of the unmade bed) was this year's British entry into this prestigious (pretentious?) modern art festival . Oh fine, quite interesting, so what.

Today I discovered that we, the British Taxpayers, have paid £250,000 for her work for this show. Hells bells, thats a lot of dosh for stuff that we won't even own at the end of the whole shebang.

According to The Times: "The British taxpayer has paid £250,000 for the show, staged by the British Council. But profits from any works sold, for between £12,000 and £325,000, will go to the artist and her dealer, Jay Jopling, of the White Cube. Having been chosen for the Biennale her prices will rise dramatically."

If we were show-casing unknown artists who required funding to have the honour of representing the country at one of the world's most celebrated art festivals I would probably say "fine, lets go for it". However I'm not so sure I feel fine about funding one of our most financially successful modern artists to do the same, knowing she will make a whole lot of extra money for herself out of it into the bargain - and the British taxpayer gets what?......

oh alright then, obviously I AM a philistine.


Cold soups are not everybody's cup of tea ( if you will excuse a mixed metaphor). Personally I can take 'em or leave 'em - with two honourable exceptions which are so delicious I can never resist - Gazpacho and Vichysoisse. Vichysoisse was the first cold soup I ever tasted; my mother used to make it regularly as a dinner party starter - and in the heat of central Africa it was always a winner. Cool, velvety, palest green with a subtle swirl of cream and a few freshly chopped chives, it was - and is - elegance personified.
I vaguely remember being told by Mum that it was an American soup, but never paid much attention. The name sounds so French that I'm sure many people think it is a classic French recipe. But Mum was correct, it IS an American soup; Louis Diat the Chef at the Ritz Carlton in New York invented it in the 1920s and called it Crème Vichysoisse Glacée. Basically it is a sieved leek and potato soup, thinned down with cream and given a garnish of chives. Diat named it in honour of the spa town in the Auvergne close to his original family home in France.


Serves 6

1 litre chicken stock
4 leeks, cleaned, trimmed and finely sliced

6 spring onions, cleaned, trimmed and finely sliced

500g potatoes, peeled and finely diced (if you can use Jersey Royals, so much the better)

Salt and pepper

280 ml milk

280 ml double cream

Chives for garnish, plus a little extra cream.

Put the leeks, spring onions and chicken stock into a large pan and simmer together for 15-20 minutes; then add the diced potato and salt and pepper. Cook for a further 20 minutes until the potato is soft. Use a hand blender, or liquidiser, and whiz the soup to a puree. Pass the soup through a sieve, add the milk and cream, check the seasoning and re-heat . Sieve the soup for a second time. Pour into a container and chill in the fridge until wanted - at least 4 hours.
Serve in cold bowls with a swirled teaspoon of cream and a garnish of chopped chives. If it is a very hot evening, an ice cube can also be floated in each bowl at the last moment.

This is good served with Melba Toast.


Ash said...

I love vichysoisse and dislike gazpacho. Well, I don't dislike it if I make it, I dislike what some other people do to it!

The book looks good! I've given the name to hubby to put on his movie list as we both love Audrey Tatou.

The Tracey Emin thing - I agree with you! It's not like the woman comes from an impoverished background either!

Oh, I finally did your tag :0

Teuchter said...

Tracey Emin?

The expression "emperor's new clothes" comes to mind.
It may be art - but not as I know it.
I hope she has the decency to put back into the system some of the money she makes.

Jeanne said...

I don't get the Tracy Emin phenomenon any more than I get the Damien Hirst hoo ha. And I *like* modern art!! I also object to my tax money funding stuff that really does not need funding while NHS trusts are denying people drugs to prevent blindness (see today's press for material for future rants!!).

I have never been a fan of cold soup but lately I have started seeing the point of homemade gazpacho on a hot day - it just tastes like summer. Your vichysoisse sounds lovely & maybe it's time I broadened my cold soup horizons.