There is a warm breeze blowing in the open door to my balcony and it is Sunday morning in Paris. I am not talking about singing birds early. It is technically still morning, but late enough that I can already hear the long cool moan of a street performer’s saxophone drifting its way down rue Mazarine from the Buci Market. I will have to grab some change off of the counter to drop in his hat to thank him for serenading my breakfast.
Yesterday was an extraordinary day from that train ride to Auvers-sur-Oise in the morning to visit my old friends the good Doctor Gachet and Vincent van Gogh all the way to that late night dinner at Freddy’s on rue de Seine. So I slept in. I did not plan to sleep in, I just did.
It was the third time I have visited Auvers-sur-Oise and it never gets old. I always feel like I have entered a time warp. A strange feeling comes over me when I walk out into Charles Daubigny’s backyard and turn around when I reach the fence and look back at the house and realize that this is exactly where Vincent must have stood before his easel when he painted “Daubigny’s Garden” or I walk up behind the church and imagine him creating “The Church at Auvers” from that very spot and a visit to Dr Gachet’s house is always special.
Then there is that room in the Auberge Ravoux that Monsieur Ravoux rented to Vincent for 3 ½ francs a day including meals. It always gets me in the gut. Can you imagine that it is mid July of 1890 and you walk into that tiny little 70 square foot room with a small skylight, but no windows. The air would have been heavy with the smell of oil paint and instead of wallpaper you see “Wheatfield with Crows”, “Dr. Gachet”, “Daubigny’s Garden”, “The Church at Auvers”, “Wheatfield Under a Clouded Sky” and “Thatched Cottages at Cordeville”. The walls are pockmarked with nail holes and you can only imagine those crows teetering back and forth as he sat back on his bed to study them. He probably smiled at the gentle swaying as the painting caught its balance and remembered those crows flying as he painted them up on the bluff, but think about the utter terror that would course through the veins of a museum curator today if they saw those crows swinging on that fragile nail.
Vincent was only in Auvers for 70 days before he died in that little room on July 29, 1890 at the age of 37 at the height of his genius. He painted 77 paintings while he was there and most people agree that the Wheatfield paintings and “Daubigny’s Garden” were among his last and also, some of his best works. One cannot help but wonder what would we be looking at if he lived just a few more days and produced a few more paintings? Would I be saying I love “Thatched Cottages at Cordeville”, but that painting he created when he climbed the bluffs above the town to the wheat fields in the dark on July 31, 1890, turned around and looked up at that full moon and created his true masterpiece, “Moonlight over Auvers”
There was a full moon in Auvers on July 31, 1890, but Vincent never did get see it. Sorry, no picture available because he never got to paint “Moonlight over Auvers”.
Then there was the visit to the grave. Although it was fitting, no one decided that Vincent should be buried next to the wheat fields. The Auvers-sur-Oise cemetery just happens to be enclosed on two sides by those very fields he painted. Six months later his younger brother Theo died of complications from syphilis and he was buried in Utrecht, but in 1914 his widow Johanna had Theo’s body exhumed and reburied next to his brother. Jo van Gogh-Bonger published Vincent’s letters and controlled his estate. Many do not know much about her, but those who know will tell you that she single-handedly made Vincent van Gogh famous in the years after his death.
Well it was back through the time warp and back to Paris for that late night dinner at Freddy’s. I know it doesn’t sound French, but it is and it is just around the corner from my apartment. It suits me well with bar stools, tapas style portions and great wine by the glass and the food is incredible. I started with the asparagus and the Salmon. I am betting that you think you have some idea what that asparagus tasted like. I know I thought I did, but after that first bite I had to look back at the plate to confirm what I was eating. The flavor and the tenderness combined with the béarnaise sauce gave new meaning to this vegetable for me. Then there was the Salmon. I simply have never anywhere, anytime had Salmon that approached the creamy texture and flavor of this morsel and yes, I just used “creamy” to describe Salmon. I asked Mathias how it was prepared and he said it is grilled over the wood coals (as is most food in this place) and it is really fresh and they marinate the Salmon in miso paste for three days. I mean who thinks this stuff up?
I asked Julie to pick a light tasty dessert for me and she smiled and brought the bowl of Pavlova Grenade you see below. Chantilly cream with a little touch of chocolate flavored sauce on the bottom covered with pomegranate seeds. Then there were a few buttons of something from the patisserie. I am not sure what they were, but when you bit into them they seem to disappear in thin air leaving a delightful subtle flavor behind. What a wonderful ending to an incredible day!