One man, one thousand paintings.
What was it going to be, the thousandth Postcard from Provence? It started, way back in February 2005, with an oyster……
On the eve of the Big Day I came home from Lille. We had forty-eight hours in which to shop – for celebratory food and possible subject matter - and celebrate, whilst Julian painted the subject matter, before it got eaten.
‘I’ve got a lovely moonrise I started last night to finish off for today so we have time..’ said Julian as he hauled my month size suitcase and squashed it into the mini.
Les Halles in Avignon was, as usual, buzzing with gastronomic delights. The oysters came first and this time we weren’t settling for the Fines et Claires d’Oleron. This was a day for the sweet fleshy Gillardeaux. In the cool bag we popped a turbot, swiftly filleted by the blood stained fishmonger. We considered and rejected some past subjects that had been fun and may have begged a repeat on the big day – the silver streaked John Dory glinting like streams on a summer morning, and the blushing rougets – and moved on to the wine section to buy champagne. At the green-grocers there were trompettes de mort, artisanal looking lemons just the right colour and sheen (who made it into paintings number 999 and 1000), There were jammy figs (who almost made it into 999). Around the corner there was a wild duck (‘Il faut en profiter’ said the butcher). There were a couple of goats cheeses wrapped in oak leaves from the man who has never forgiven me for suggesting chutney with pecorino, and we pushed the boat out with two slices of wild smoked salmon….
‘I suppose I could just do a tomato from the garden and explain that you have been away and I haven’t left the house, that I am enjoying painting everything within fifty metres of my front door…’
We arrived home and the mountain bowed in the hot autumn sun. Three hundred tomatoes, a sea of bright nasturtiums and three cats met me and Julian got to work. I cleared up a good many days of pasta and fresh tomato sauce for one, coffee cakes and late night hot chocolate drips, and prepared the surface for the chef. Over the next two days we had two of the best meals I’ve ever had.
Feast number one (painting 998):
Three Gillardeau oysters, a squeeze of a perfect lemon and Ruinart champagne.
Roast turbot on a bed of barley and wild mushroom risotto with a deglazed sauce made from all the turbot bits.
Swiss chard and tomato du jardin garnish.
Too much wine
‘Then again, I could just do the remains of our celebratory meal. These oyster shells are pretty good. An empty champagne bottle or the cork…?’
The next morning we soaked up the autumn colours walking between fiery vineyards.
‘…Or a classic road in Provence…?’
Julian got to work early on 999 so there was time to prepare Feast number two:
Wild smoked salmon and a squeeze of a perfect lemon (no champagne left and we forgot the rocket du jardin)
Pan seared wild duck breast with caramelized figs, potato gratin and watercress and sauce made from the rest of the duck and the giblets.
Not too much wine (tomorrow was a Big Day)
‘Or maybe I should play a joke and not do a painting at all…?’
Brushes were cleaned before bed.
We slept well. Birdsong was infinitely pleasurable after the dawn TGV announcements and late loutish brawls I have been suffering from the Lille Citadines. There was skin, Egyptian cotton, a mattress I could actually relax into, and there was even a cat's face to purr good day!
The next morning had a nervous energy. We had coffee on the terrace. The subject matter was still not decided. I had a run, a shower and packed a week size suitcase while Julian hummed and cleared his studio in a rare ritualistic spree. I had arranged for a friend to drop me at the station, leaving him space and the bowl of cleaned oyster shells and the champagne cork at the bottom of the pile of wobbly bricks that serve as studio steps…..