Wednesday, November 20, 2013

T'is the Season of the "Black Diamond"

The season of the black truffle is officially opened.  This “black diamond” of the gastronomy world is a subterranean fungus (tuber melanosporum)  that grows at the foot of oak trees.  

The region of the Vaucluse in Provence produces the most truffles  in France (80%)  and the Friday market in Carpentras at the foot of Mont Ventoux is the center for trading this prized fungus. Restaurant chefs, brokers and wholesalers  from all corners of the world meet here to deal directly with the truffle hunters.    Trading is done in ushed tone, tubers are wrapped in small bags, they are weighted on hand-held scales,  and money is discreetly passed from buyers to sellers.

The going price this year is 150 euros per kilos.  No wonder, it is to be used  sparingly.  

On my recent visit in Provence I tasted black truffle at a luncheon at the Maison de la Truffe in Menerbes.   As an appetizer shavings were sprinkled on a tender green salad with chanterelles and for the main dish, finely chopped truffles were mixed with scrambled eggs.   The luncheon was delicious especially served with a white wine from the Luberon.  Truffles are also used to flavor olive oil.

Scrambled eggs with Truffles at the Maison de la Truffe

The truffle season runs from November to March.

Tag: Provence, black truffle, Carpentras market

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hospices de Beaune Charitable Wine Auction

Today and since 1859, on the third sunday of November the wine auction of the Hospices de Beaune takes place. It is a tradition to auction wines from the prized vineyards of Burgundy to raise funds for  Beaune hospital and other charitable organizations.

Hospices de Beaune
The auction event takes place at the Hotel-Dieu, a former hospital built in 1443 by Nicholas Rolin ( the wealthy chancellor to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy)   and his wife Guigone de Salins to treat the poor, the disabled, the elderly, the orphans and anyone in needs.  The building in the center of Beaune is considered a gem of medieval Burgundian Flemish architecture, remarkable for its colorful patterned glazed tiled roof as well as its ornate carved gables and pinnacles.

Salle des Pauvres
The Hospices served as a hospital till 1971 and is now a museum.    Inside, the Grande Salle des Pauvres (Paupers' ward) is impressive for its size (more than 160 feet long) and its barrel wooden ceiling more than 50 feet high. The length of the room is  lined on each side by a row of re-created crimson curtained hospital beds.  In the Apothecary room, where the hospital nuns used to prepare potions and  special unguents using plants grown in the hospital garden you can view  copper alembics, bronze mortars and  a collection of 1782 ceramic medicinal jars.  

But the main attraction at the Hospices de Beaune is the masterpiece of Rogier van Der Weyden -the polyptych of Last Judgment dating from the 15th century and commissioned by Nicholas Rolin to be displayed in the chapel for patients' edification
Rogier Van Der Weyden- Last Judgment
Nicholas Rolin also donated vineyards to the Hospices ; subsequent benefactors enriched the estate and today it totals 57 hectares of grand cru and premier cru wines.  The profits from the wine auction is to benefit the modern hospital, maintain the historic buildings, museum and vineyards.  

The wine auction this sunday raised 5.7 million euros ( a record from last year 5.3 million euros).  Among the wines being auctioned were cuvees from Corton, Pommard, Batard-Montrachet, Echezeaux, Meursault) .  The charity piece, 456 liter Meusault Genevieres 1er cru fetched 131,000 euros.

Tags: Beaune, Burgundy wine, Beaune wine auction, Hospices de Beaune.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Paris as seen by Brassai

A new exhibit of the works by iconic photographer, Brassai , just opened at the Paris City Hall.  This Hungarian born photographer (ne Gyula Halasz) came to Paris in the early 1920's, fell in love with the city and set out to photograph it , particularly at night and at the wee hours of day break.

He documented streetwalkers, brothels,  bistro life, scenes from the central market Les Halles and the Parisian High Society's night partyings.  Brassai was part of   the intellectual elite of the Montparnasse of the 20's and 30's and counted among his friends and admirers  Picasso, Henry Miller, Surrealist Andre Breton, Salvador Dali and  poet Jacques Prevert.  For lovers of Paris of yesteryear this is a treat not to be missed.  

Brassai, Pour l'Amour de Paris on view at Paris Hotel de Ville from November 8-March 8, 2014. 

Brassai- Les Escaliers de Montmartre
Brassai- Notre Dame Gargoyles

tags: Paris, Brassai photo exhibit

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Art in Provence

 When you think of Provence what comes to mind?  olive groves, pretty villages, medieval towns,  lavander, olive groves, markets etc...  Yes it is all of that and more .   Provence is also a destination for art lovers. On my most recent trip, I enjoyed visiting familiar places while making new discoveries.  Here are some highlights:

Avignon Musee du Petit Palais

Madonna and Child
 Tucked away at the northern edge of the square where the Popes
 Palace stands is the Musee du Petit Palais.  This was the private residence of the Popes in the 13th/14th century.  This handsome building of warm colored stone has the most exquisite collection of early Italian Renaissance art as well as paintings and sculptures from the 15th century Avignon school.   Some 300 work of arts adorned its uncrowded galleries and exhibit walls including works from the major Italian schools of Siena, Florence, Venice.  Its most treasured piece is an exquisite Madonna and Child by Botticielli.   To view this masterpiece, I highly recommend a visit of this gem-like of museum when visiting Avignon.  (closed on Tuesday)

Menerbes Musee du Tirebouchon (Corkskrew museum) 

Peter Mayle no doubt put the village of Menerbes in the Luberon on the map when he wrote his best seller "A Year in Provence".  In season, the village is invaded by hordes of tourists and for good reason as it is classified as one of the most beautiful villages of France.  The village sits high on a ridge overlooking vineyards of the AOC Cote du Luberon. Before entering the village, you can stop at the Domaine de la Citadelle, a winemaker producing highly respectable white, red and rose wines.  Visitors are welcome to  visit the cellar, taste the wines and tour a most unusual museum dedicated to the corkskrew.  Some 1200 pieces from the 17th century to the present are displayed. They come from around the world and their shapes range from purely functional to imaginative and artistic.

Musée du tire-bouchon
Domaine de la Citadelle
F-84560 Ménerbes
Tel. : +33 (0)4 90 72 41 58

Chateau la Coste- Wine, Art and Architecture
Chai at Chateau La Coste
Designed by Jean Nouvel
In Puy Saint Reparade, just north of  Aix en Provence is a wine estate of 125 hectares surrounded by oak trees, almond orchards and olive groves.  The Chateau la Coste vineyards managed by winemaker Mathieu Cosse
 produce red, white and rose using the grape varieties:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Vermantino and Grenache.  However, this estate is not your typical winery.  Paddy McKillen, the  owner , is a wealthy Irish
real estate investor whose vision is to produce fine wines in the midst of  a unique artistic and architectural setting.  For that he has called on world class architects to design the estate buildings-- the chai  (designed by Jean Nouvel) an arts center and chapel ( by Tadao Ando) and a music pavilion (by Gehry Partners).  To complement  the permanent architectural structures, is an  assortment of contemporary art installations by Calder, Bourgeois, Scully.  Chateau la Coste  makes for a most enjoyable visit where visitors taste wines, visit cellars and enjoy the natural setting while contemplating works of art.

Louise Bourgeois
Alexander Calder

Look for the upcoming Cezanne to Picasso- In the Footsteps of the Painters of Light  Tour .

For you next vacation to Provence, visit me at

Tags: France, Provence, art in Provence, museum, wine , travel France