Tag Archives: provence

The French Cheese Culture

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France is a culture of cheese, chief amongst the reasons we get along so very well. One of my favorite stops each Saturday at the market is with my local fromager, Clement. His wife’s family raise sheep and have been making cheese for generations. He attends five different markets each week, selling only the finest fromage, has been utterly sweet to me, and is extremely passionate and knowledgeable about his products.

For this particular cheese plate I created on an unexpectedly balmy December afternoon I asked Clement to recommend a variety of cheeses from different regions of France with different textures, colors, and flavor profiles. Some young, some aged, soft, firm, creamy, cow’s milk, goat, sheep.  His suggestions of 5 cheeses (4 of which are available in the US from Murry’s Cheese, my FAVORITE cheese store in New York, and linked below!) led to the most beautifully decedent platter mixed in with a symphony of dried fruits, nuts, olives, tapenades, honey and saussions (cured meats) from the local market.

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A Provencal Holiday Party with Ecco Domani Wine

If there is one thing to do in Provence it is to eat. The food and especially the ingredients in the south of France, combined with the nearby wine regions both here and in Italy, are insanely good. After being here this past May I swore I could never eat strawberries from anywhere else in the world again. It was a transformative experience and made me rethink the power of good food.

The farmer’s market… NYC vs. Provence

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On Learning French…

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One of the first questions everyone asked me when I told them I was going to France for an extended stay was, “Do you speak French?” My reply: “Non.”

When I was growing up in Texas and it came time to learn a second language I declared I would be taking French, to which my parent’s reply was “no, you’re taking Spanish. You live in Texas, after all.” But in my mind, I wasn’t going to stay in Texas and wherever that life was taking me I was sure it would have much to do with Paris. I lost that battle and I regret not fighting back harder for what I wanted now, while reflecting back from a small French village where 90% of the population only speaks the local vernacular.

I took private lessons (if you are in NYC and want my tutor’s info, email me. He was fabulous!) before arriving which was barely enough to make me appear to be not a total idiot. Perhaps the most important thing he taught me was Je suis désolée… I am sorry. I think a lot of people would be terrified to live in a country where they can’t communicate but this sort of thing doesn’t bother me, it’s part of it. It’s part of the opening yourself up to new experiences and putting yourself in unfamiliar situations to test your character on how to survive each day and make it the best it can be.

When I arrived at my little apartment in the south there was an old stack of books on the fireplace mantel, faded from the sunlight streaming in the window on those gloriously quiet afternoons and dusty from years of idle use. Sitting there, just the size of my palm, was an old french language handbook from the late 1960’s. I sat in the sunlight that afternoon practicing the unchanged phrases of French culture and wondering as I felt the texture of the old thin paper between my fingers, what wary travelers had held this book in their hands and fumbled through the phrases as I am today. I imagine them filled with hope that each line of expression will unlock another door in my journey through this foreign land. Where did this book, stuffed into a back pocket, take them and who will possess it after me? What is it that brings us all here, to France, weaving an invisible thread between us?

I have for most of my life been an incredibly social person. My mother always called me a social butterfly. Living in a place with no one to talk to was a release of an invisible social responsibility I had given myself. I don’t know anyone and I can’t really know anyone. There are no parties to go to, no friends to call upon to meet up for drinks. I can’t check in with the neighbors or commit myself to random photoshoots.

It was a relief.

Taking socializing off the table opened up so much time for myself to focus on other things, and to think about photography. It was in a sense a freedom from obligation and made me feel invisible. When you are invisible you are free from the definition you have created for yourself, or has been created for you, and can become a truer form of what you are destined to be.

As the days have turned into weeks people have begun to recognize my face around town. I keep a pretty set routine. I go to the patisserie first thing each day for my baguette. Then to the café for my cafe créme. I buy my cheese at the market from the same man and my eggs from this adorable older couple. Then this marvelous thing started to happen. They each started trying to teach me words. Always with an expression of amusement they say it slowly to me, I repeat it back to them, they say it again back to me. I try to remember it the next time we meet. In these moments I feel what a 2 year old child must. My cheese monger taught me plus and minus, my little vegetable grocer taught me rosemary, the woman at the fromagerie taught me Bon Dimanche (Good Sunday), which is used around town starting Saturday afternoons. This past weekend the organic grocer emptied out my coin purse onto the counter and sat their teaching me how to count change in French. Connecting with another human though their kindness and patience of sharing their knowledge with me has been one of the most generous gifts I’ve received.

I can’t believe I could have possibly lived my life without ever knowing these human experiences, the freedom from myself and the beauty of kindness in others to want to help you learn and participate in this shared life with all walk through together.  Though for the most part I have no idea what these people in my little village are saying to me, I feel more a sense of community with them through their kindness toward me than I have ever felt before and the opening up of my brain as it makes room for new words.

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Studied.

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I was watching the U.S. Presidential debate live last night, in bed with a glass of red wine, around 4am French time. As I listened to Hillary Clinton speak (looking chic as F in Ralph Lauren, IMO) I was so impressed with how knowledgable and studied she is. Dedicating your life to anything, especially in her case of public service for 30 years, is a huge statement to passion, purpose and incredible knowledge on the subject. I was contemplating how that related to my own purpose.

Change makers start by first learning, then with doing. The power is in knowledge. The expertise is in experience. That’s what I took away. If you have been following my Snapchat this week I have been sharing what I’ve learned about photography. Quick little daily tutorials on knowledge I’ve gained either in the class room or from experience in my breathe thus far as a photographer which is and will be my life’s work.

On Photography

My journey started when I was 13. My mom handed me her 1970s Pentax 35mm film camera. The kind that is so basic and manual all you can do set the shutter and aperture. A far cry from the endless options and controls we now have with digital.

My first lessons in photography started with basic balancing of the camera’s built in light meter and a LOT of trial and error. I learned quickly that I like to overexpose my images by a stop, especially when shooting faces. I learned how slow I can set the shutter before the image begins to reveal the shake from my hand, or breathing. I learned how to communicate movement, not just freeze it. This is knowledge I still use today when I want the image to feel alive. From there I read books, I took every class I could for the next 10 or so years. Post college, I still study. I watch youtube videos, I take classes in alternative photography, I buy random cameras and learn how to shoot with them. I play, experiment, challenge myself and discuss daily.

The Continued Study

I’ve studied photography. I loved photography. I still love the history of photography, btw THIS is the best podcast on the subject. We are now all photographers. We all take pictures, communicate through imagery and share with the world. For those of you who want to make it a profession… take a lead from what inspired me about Hillary. Be studied, do the work. Take your time on the journey. Here I am 20 years later and I am still doing just that. She makes me excited for who I will become as an artist (and business woman) in the later years of my life.

Please, this is not a political post but one about being inspired about another human’s knowledge and commitment to what they belive in, if you belive in it with them or not… #ImWithHer

Above self portrait, in Baukjen dress & wrap coat,

inspired from the painting “San Gerolamo” by Caravaggio

 



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