Monday, April 7, 2014

Following Vincent

Let's go to Arles today.  My favorite French town.  Where I feel at home, even if I don't run into anyone I know or anyone who remembers me from 2007-2008.  Let's go with Vincent Van Gogh.  The city of Arles has put these plaques in the sidewalks to point you to the spots that Vincent made famous in his paintings done around town.

I visit this spot every time I visit Arles.  I pay homage, so to speak.  It is only about a 3 minute walk from where I lived in Arles during my sabbatical.  It overlooks the Rhône with a magnificent view of the center of town.

I wish that I had left this flower for Vincent.  But I am thankful to the anonymous person who did. Starry Night Over the Rhône is my favorite painting.  Not just my favorite Van Gogh, but my favorite painting period.  Unfortunately, it was not on display at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris last month.  It was on loan to another museum.  The Orsay was getting ready for a special Van Gogh exhibit.  I just missed the opening.

While in Arles, I also took my students to see the Hôtel-Dieu, the site of the hospital where Vincent was taken after cutting off his ear.  The flowers have been replanted there and it was his painting that gave the landscapers an idea of what it looked like while he was a patient there.

We also visiting his bridge.  It is a bit outside of the main part of town.

The Fondation Vincent Van Gogh reopened today in Arles.  I so wish I could be there.  The Fondation has been closed for the past three years in order to do renovations and prepare the new space. There will be several of his paintings on display during this exposition.  Before, there were none. According to the Fondation's website (this is my translation)--

Vincent Willem van Gogh (30 March 1853- 29 July 1890) lived in Arles between February 20, 1888 and May 8, 1889.  That was nearly 15 months or 63 weeks or precisely 444 days.  During his stay, he produced nearly 200 paintings, 100 drawings and watercolors and he wrote more than 200 letters.  Most of these have been preserved.
... The Arles period is often called the zenith, the highest point, the greatest blossoming of Van Gogh's ten-year artistic career.
                                       --Ronald Pickvance, Van Gogh in Arles

Vincent wanted to start an artists' colony in Arles.  Gauguin joined him there and lived with him in the yellow house.  His dream never materialized, though.  He packed up and left to head back north in 1889, spending the last part of his life in Auvers-sur-Oise.
I fell in love with Vincent when I read Lust for Life written by Irving Stone.  I've also read The Yellow House by Martin Gayford, about the nine weeks Van Gogh and Gauguin spent together in Arles.  I have Van Gogh's Women by Derek Fell in my bookcase but haven't read it yet.  Arles Lucy, who shares my love of Vincent, gave me Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith for Christmas.  I saw them on 60 Minutes one Sunday night talking about their book.  Their theory is that Vincent did not shoot himself, that he did not commit suicide.  Lust for Life is also a movie, starring Kirk Douglas.  I also watched Van Gogh, a French film starring singer Jacques Dutronc.  I've read about one by Paul Cox called Vincent but I haven't seen it.  I have only scratched the surface of the books written about Vincent.  I have the song Vincent by Don McLean in my iTunes library, of course. One of the reasons I decided to travel to Arles in 2005 was because of Vincent, so yes, I suppose you could say I am a bit obsessed.  I prefer to call it fascination with such a talented man whose life ended before he could even sell one of his paintings.  I have been to his grave, where he is buried beside his brother Theo.  It is due to Vincent's prolific letter-writing, particularly to Theo, that we know so much about him, his work, and his thoughts.

Time to leave Arles for the time being.

So, what would I cook for Vincent if he stopped by to see me?  I have found the perfect recipe.  I think it would have warmed him up on a chilly Arles night.

Beef Daube Provençal
adapted from Cooking Light All-Time Top-Rated Recipes, June 2014 edition

1 Tbsp olive oil
12 garlic cloves, crushed and minced
1 (2 pound) boneless chuck roast, trimmed and cut into bite-sized cubes (should fit in a spoon)
1 1/4 tsp sea salt, divided
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 c.  red wine  (I used a Pic St. Loup)
2 c. chopped carrots
2 shallots, chopped
1/2 c. beef broth
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 tsp. Herbes de Provence or 1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary and 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
Dash of ground cloves
1 (14.5 oz) can petit diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
3 c. cooked medium egg noodles (about 4 c. uncooked noodles)

Preheat oven to 300˚F.
Heat a small Dutch oven over low heat.  Add oil to pan.  Add garlic and cook for about 5 minutes or until garlic is fragrant, stirring while it heats.  Remove garlic with a slotted spoon and set aside. Increase heat to medium-high.  Add beef to pan and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper.  Cook about 5-7 minutes, browning on all sides.  Remove beef from pan.  Add wine to pan and bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits.  Add garlic, beef, remaining 3/4 tsp. salt, remaining 1/4 tsp. pepper, carrots and next 8 ingredients, ending with bay leaf.  Bring to a boil.
Cover and bake at 300˚F for 2 1/2 hours.  Discard bay leaf.  Serve over noodles.

Serve with the rest of the wine.  I found this one in Montpellier during the March trip.  I discovered Pic Saint Loup one fine fall day in 2008 with Chef Érick.  It's his favorite red.

Bon appétit, Vincent and to all who also love him and his work!

1 comment:

MPK said...

So many special memories.