I went back to Bar de l’Horloge for Le petit Dejeuner this morning. What a bargain it was at €4.90: freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee, tartine and croissant. Added to this, I had a great view of the food market in Place Richelme coming to life. There were some different stalls today. A wonderful cheese stall with a vast range of little goats’ cheeses and a bright green cheese flavoured with pistou. The stall holder gave me a taste and it was delicious.
My plan for the day was to visit Cezanne’s Studio a little way north of the centre of the city. From where I’m staying and the food market, it wasn’t too long a walk, but a slight incline all the way.
I arrived 5 minutes before it opened at 10am. I was teased about not having pre booked but fortunately it wasn’t really a problem. No photos were allowed inside, which was a shame, though understandable.
Cezanne (1839-1906) was born, mainly lived and died in Aix en Provence. His importance as an artist, bridging a link between late 19th century Impressionism and early 20th century Cubism was enormous, and he strongly influenced other artists like Matisse and Picasso. However, the famous son of Aix was not appreciated by his fellow citizens and he was even disapproved of. When his mother died he was forced to sell the family house and rented a flat in town but created a studio in a house on a hill just outside Aix. After his death the house was left untended and was only saved from demolition by two Americans. Now the town of Aix are more than appreciative of Cezanne and 70,000 tourists visit the studio each year.
Carefully and lovingly restored, to enter the studio is almost as if you’re walking in when Cezanne has just popped out briefly. Coats and hats hang off pegs; looking a little in need of a trip to the dry cleaner. Fruit sits on a table in that unmistakable and apparently careless way that you know would have been carefully thought out by Cezanne. It’s all a little stage set, of course, but moving all the same. I was a little in awe. Because I hadn’t pre booked, there was no English tour for me but the friendly guide said I could join the French and she’d answer any questions I had at the end. In fact the French tour consisted of just one couple. I made a third. It felt that much more intimate. You wouldn’t want to be here in a big crowd.
Nearly everything is authentic. The coats, the hats, the table and even the cafetiere sitting on a shelf that appears in ‘Woman with a Coffee Pot’, currently on display in Musee Granet in the exhibition I went to yesterday, but usually housed in Musee D’Orsay in Paris. The fruit, of course, is regularly replaced and we were told that Cezanne worked so slowly he sometimes made a brush stroke only every 20 minutes, so fruit lasting for a painting could be a problem. A huge, tall stepladder stands to one side. Apparently normally used for olive picking, Cezanne used it to look down on his subject for a still life so that with this 3-dimensional view he truly got into the heart of his painting. The walls are painted a specially mixed grey – black, white and blue – so that light wasn’t reflected onto the painting or subject. Into the huge room, with its massively tall ceiling, light shines, in the artist’s preference, through an enormous north facing window. Original letters lie in glass covered drawers, including a touching one to Matisse when Cezanne was called back to Aix from Paris when his mother became ill, showing the close bond that existed between the two men.
The room started to get busier. It was time to leave. I was glad I’d got there at opening time and was first in when it was quiet. I felt so much more respect for Cezanne. I hadn’t really appreciated his importance before. Well, I knew he was one of the great artists of the 19th century but I hadn’t fully understood his influence. I wandered north, bound for the Painters Ground. Unfortunately I missed it – a sign pointing down a narrow alleyway I didn’t see – but I caught sight of the Sainte-Victoire mountain, a source of so much inspiration to Cezanne, a number of times.
I was pretty tired by the time I got back to the centre of Aix. I stopped at a restaurant in Place des Martyrs de la Resistance for a snack. I should have remembered that the French don’t do salads by halves!
It was good though. Some buskers provided some slightly cheesy but welcome music that added to the southern France ambience. It was all very relaxing. After, I headed back to the hotel for an afternoon by the lovely pool.
On the way I bought some of Aix’s most famous sweet delicacy – Calissons d’Aix – because I promised some to A. First made in 1473 for King Rene’s wedding banquet, they’re a mix of ground local almonds and sugar syrup, made into a diamond shape and glazed with icing. I had to taste one – and it was delicious. I shall go back for more.
I’d booked a table at Le Poivre d’Ane, very close to the hotel and in Place des Cardeurs. They’d been full last night when I tried to get a table and this evening they seemed fully booked too. They were very friendly. ‘Where were we seating Kay?’ the man asked a waitress, as if I was known. Was I happy with the table? (I hadn’t told them I was a blogger!).
Lonely Planet describes the restaurant as ‘Contemporary’ and says it’s creative. Certainly there was nothing straightforward on the menu and I took a little time deciding. Terrine of foie gras with Breton lobster was one of the simpler dishes.
It was superb. The foie gras so smooth and light yet full of that wonderful, extraordinary taste that I love. The lobster, if surprising, worked well. I was told I could eat the flower. I’d never eaten a pansy before but it tasted remarkably good. I chose the daily special for my main. Monkfish with a peanut sauce and some pan fried foie gras (everything comes with foie gras here!) on a bed of beansprouts with little shrimps and an Asian dressing. The cooking of each individual bit was accomplished but the whole thing was a little too over ambitious and eclectic for me.
I found it a little too rich but despite my negative criticisms I was impressed by the restaurant. The cooking, if a too ‘creative’ for me, was of a high quality. This is someone who knows how to cook. And the service was excellent. It was also amazing value: just €36 for the 3 course menu.
Darkness had come but in the clear night air the sky was still an amazing blue. There’s something about this part of France where the sky looks brushed with a deep coating of Prussian Blue. No wonder so many artists have wanted to come here. The lights everywhere highlighted the deep honey-yellow of the buildings.
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