Buying a charming house in the countryside is not an easy thing in France. Not that there’s a shortage of charming abodes; they’re everywhere. But when it comes to the best old houses, folks tend to hold on to them. And the most charming of all are often owned by artists.
Why? Because the beautiful countryside and lovely light here are like candy for the artistic crowd. And a few decades ago—when there was little work, and the villagers were abandoning the countryside for the city—you could buy any house you wanted around here for a song (think “Pennies from Heaven”). When you have the combination of beauty, a rural environment where you can work peacefully at home, and it’s a bargain to boot, that’s when the artists move in. They snagged some fine real estate before the region was discovered by the expats and French retirees, and before the days of the internet and improved transportation made it possible for many French workers to return from the city as well.
Our village social committee decided on a new event this year: an expo of just the painters who live in our commune (a village and its surrounding hamlets). But could so few artists fill the huge barn that is the public space for our village? We only knew of three. It turns out there were 12, and yes they did cover those grand stone walls from top to bottom with paintings as diverse as our international population. Photos from the exhibit. Above: The Abbey at Cluny, by André Guizard. Right, admiring a work by Tony Mathews. Below, Marion Madec's abstracts.
An art exhibit means there will be a vernissage (an opening). We knew lots of our friends would be coming to support Marion, who took up painting only a couple of years ago and does wonderful abstracts with mixed media; and Tony, a professional painter who does large oils that celebrate antique handmade French tools, works of art in themselves.
So I thought, why not a salad buffet chez nous afterwards, since many of our friends would be attending? And 26 folks showed up (yikes, what was I thinking?). The weather was fine and It was a magical evening of art, food and wine, and good friends.
The artists arrived in Burgundy first, and even though they nabbed the best houses, we’re glad they did.
RECIPE: An Easy Summer Menu when Toute le Monde Turns up
My summer dessert this year is make-ahead, dead-easy, and a crowd pleaser. I make my favorite cookies du jour, which are Renee Dobb’s Chocolate Pecan Bourbon cookies (find this recipe plus lots more at her blog, Magnolia Days). I make them in advance and throw them in the freezer. To go with them, I found at the supermarché some cute little individual cups of Haagen-Daas ice cream. They look pretty piled up in a basket, to pass around so everyone can choose their favorite flavor.
RE artwork featured: Please contact me if you’re interested in knowing more. Marion has a website in progress, you can preview her work at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also see more of Tony and Marion's work at this post.
Merci to Mariella for the photo of our party, above.
(NOT) Favorite Reads: Two sad articles on the state of French food, unfortunately all too true: Mark Bittman's French Food Goes Down, and Elaine Sciolino's Made in House? Prove It. The government is trying to fix it, but the French beauracracy is getting in the way. What we can do here: ASK in every restaurant, which are the freshest, homemade items? Let them know we care!