Thursday, 31 May 2007

An Adventure Begins!


We are travelling down to Brest by train as Chief Patissier feels it might be too onerous to drive such a distance. Far easier to go by train than trying to navigate ourselves through the desolate uncharted wilds of Finistere and risk getting horribly lost in some God forsaken hamlet where only an obscure Gallo dialect is spoken. Finistere has always been a somewhat backward disreputable and barbaric area of Brittany.

I am inordinately pleased at the prospect of travelling by train although I have little previous experience of that mode of transport having to the best of my knowledge only ever utilized it twice before, both times as a very small child. Once, having stowed away in a laundry hamper to Calais and the second on the return journey to Bordeaux in the luggage wagon accompanied by a somewhat elderly gendarme. I seem to remember the return journey being far less comfortable. However I sincerely doubt whether Chief Patissier and I will be travelling as luggage. I understand they have rather fine first class carriages which travel between Paris and Nice but whether we will be able to avail ourselves of this level of service on the Rennes to Brest route is, I am certain, an entirely different matter.

I am in a vexing position of great indecisiveness regarding what I might require for the sojourn. I will of course need to equip my self with suitable travelling clothes but as we are to be away for two nights I am at a loss as to whether I might require two sets of full evening dress , we shall naturally dress for dinner. Or whether one will suffice.

Finistere is, by reputation ,incredibly generously endowed in terms of annual precipitation, so much so it makes the Cotes D’Armor seem positively arid by comparison! Added to which Brest is notoriously windswept and therefore warmer clothing may be sensible even for this time of year. I have no intention of packing my galoshes, however as I am sure Brest has perfectly respectable pavements and I have no intention of cavorting about in the mud.

We are leaving the chateau and children under Madame Grognonne’s direction and, providing that youngest does not yet again attempt to dismantle the engine of the motorcar unsupervised, I am sure all will be well. Madame Grognonne has promised to ensure all firearms are kept out of the children’s grasp and Chief Patissier has ordered very specific instructions regarding their archery practise in our absence to avoid any possibility of accidental damage to his portrait. Sensible precautions on his part I am sure however, I find It is incredible how resourceful small children can be and who can say what we shall discover when we return. He did not after all forbid the use of firecrackers in the salle and accidents will happen even in the best regulated households I fear.

It is for such a reason I have been very clear with both Madame Grognonne and Jacques previously known as Henri, that if the weather proves to be inclement whilst we are away that they are, at the first sign of a storm to seek out Loic and ensure he is safely stowed indoors. With his reaction to loud bangs it is quite possible without such precautions ,should it become thunderous I may return to discover him rigid and sopping wet having been caught unawares and rooted to the spot , unnoticed in some neglected corner of the garden for the entire duration of our absence. The poor man having given an arm and a leg to his country I think it is the least we can do , added to which having had Madame |Grognonne struck by lightening twice I think to allow a second member of my household to suffer the same fate might well be considered to improvident.

Having recently reviewed the household finances Chief patissier has also taken the precaution to speak with our local bar tabac and wine merchants and left strict instructions that under no circumstances is Jacques, previously known as Henri, to purchase either Absinthe or Cognac on our household account whilst we are away. He had every intention of taking the cellar key with him for safe keeping but I pointed out that should there be some sort of emergency, access might be needed to the cognac for medicinal purposes and he therefore relented reluctantly. I must say I find his attitude a trifle excessive on this point after al lit isn’t as if Jacque, formally known as Henri , is likely to use the alcohol for any thing other than horse liniment is it?

We intend to commence our journey demain matin at an early hour so I fear that I may well be unable to write my journal tomorrow or even, Quelle horreur, for the entire length of my absence form Chez Nous. After all I always transcribe my thoughts at my dear Louis XVI writing desk that Chief patissier presented me with on the occasion of our marriage and I can hardly be expected to carry that with me on a such a short expedition!

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The photograph above is an image of one of the grande rues in Brest and shows it as a thriving and busy thoroughfare well equipped with mercantile establishments, as I can see at a glance that there are at least 2 milliners and a purveyor of ladies vetements I have high hopes of adding some much needed refinements to my wardrobe which has become of late rather rural in aspect for want of the opportunity to augment it without anything resembling haute couture . I realise bien sûr that the purpose of the visit is the advancement of the patissiers industry but it would be an unforgivable sin not to take advantage of decent shopping emporiums whilst we are there.
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Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Un Peu and the great step forward!


This is indeed a momentous day for the exciting world of French patisseries for my husband has decided the family biscuiterie is to lead the march forward into modern times. Since the unfortunate incident in 1914, when Chief Patissier’s Elder brother was horrifically killed having got his braces caught in the ancient dough mixture whilst supervising the preparation of gallettes for our brave French troops , all the dough has been mixed by hand as a mark of respect. However he has declared that grief must not hold us back any longer, for he has learnt of an innovative new mechanism which is suitably equipped to pound the butter sugar, milk and eggs necessary to make an acceptable dough without risk to life and limb.

I suspect he heard it discussed whilst at the Moulin Rouge by other biscuit manufacturers there buying flour, I am certain a great many things are discussed amongst the men meeting at such places which are far beyond the understanding , and dare I say interest, of ladies such as myself!. Apparently a young American Aviator stationed at the village of Pontanezen near Brest has made important technical developments and produced a vastly superior dough mixer using only the remnants of a captured German maxim machine gun, an abandoned plough, six bayonets and a large metal container traditionally used for cooking alimentation for pigs, It is the vanguard of industrial development and Chief Patissier, having apparently seen the young mans photograph, is intent on meeting him. I have not seen him so exhilarated since Antoine came back from the battle of Verdun miraculously unscathed!

Chief patissier wrote to the young man, whose name I believe is Elmer bucket or something equally bizarre, only last week and has already received a reply and thus is eager to travel to Brest at the earliest opportunity to see his splendid tool.

Much to my surprise and elation my husband has suggested I accompany him to Brest, although he is understandably dubious that a foreign troop encampment of battle scarred young soldiers awaiting repatriation to their home country after the unspeakable rigours of warfare may not perhaps be the ideal place for a woman of my refinement, he can not deny that my English is far superior to his own and hence, if he is to make progress with the young inventor he needs must have me at his side! My only fear is that his American accent may be so strong as to render his English indecipherable, however by talking loudly and annunciating clearly I am sure I shall be perfectly able to make myself plain.

I need hardly say I am thrilled at the prospect, it certainly is not Paris but it is undoubtedly an adventure ! Who knows what inspiration I may glean for future works of art ? Quelle Chance pour moi!

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The illustration is entitled « PATISSIER, TOUR A PÂTE, BASSINES, MORTIER &c” by Robert Benard. It is a copper plate engraving showing a kitchen scene, and drawings of various utensils, which together form the accoutrements of the Patissier’s craft. Although this may be dated 1760 I hope you will appreciate that little has changed in the world of biscuiterie, hence a dough making machine, even if it is constructed from a machine gun, an abandoned plough, six bayonets and a large metal container traditionally used for cooking pigs swill, may only be viewed as an advancement in technology!

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Un Peu Loufoque and Henri's return


Henri has returned this morning, appearing in the kitchen unannounced and surprising Madame Grognonne from behind whilst she was in the middle of preparing the breakfast tray for Chief patissier and myself. As a result Chief patissier’s café was cold and his pan au chocolat a trifle on the hard side but thankfully my tea did not suffer. He has for some bizarre reason cropped his hair exceedingly short and dyed it an arresting shade of red, which is a trifle startling at first sight but I am sure one will grow accustomed to it, eventually.

After a long discussion in the study with Chief Patissier, to which I was not privy, they have or so it would appear, come to an agreement. Henri is to have an official place in our household and a livery of sorts, to which he has conceded , providing the coat has a high collar and the hat a large brim. Poor man he is obviously so painfully shy that he does not wish to be recognised. Although quite frankly I doubt whether even his dear mother would recognise him with his present coiffure.

We shall accord him board and lodging and a small remuneration annually and in return he will have sole care of the horse, stables and upkeep of the governess cart and help with any odd jobs that might occur around the estate. For some reason I can not quite fathom, he now wishes to answer to the name of Jacques, I do hope nothing in the hair dye has addled his brain, one must be so careful with those chemicals. Chief Patissier also informs me he has discussed the husbandry of horses with Henri, who is now Jacques, and together they have agreed it is highly possible he may be administering too much horse liniment and that in future I shall not be required to purchase quite so much Absinthe, which is a relief as I am not sure how much our local bar owner has remaining secreted in his private hoard in the cellar!

Madame Grognonne tells me that, although the missing horse has not been found, rumours are rife that he was last seen travelling towards the Belgium border with a band of Romanian gypsies disguised as itinerant clock makers and that the two Gendarmes who called chez nous yesterday are in hot pursuit. It appears also that Henri’s sister has fortuitously received a letter from Henri which releases him from any suspicion regarding his part in the missing horse vanished.

The letter is postmarked Paris, and dated by coincidence on exactly the same day as the disappearance of the horse. According to Madame Grognonne the letter advises Henri’s sister that he has left the stables at St Juste and is making a new life for himself as a juggler in a travelling circus. This is all very odd as I know perfectly well he is at this very moment mucking out my stables. I informed Chief patissier of this new information which he appeared to find highly amusing.

There is however no news of my missing oils but I have chief Patissier’s word that he will send for extra supplies from Paris and I shall be able to resume my painting as soon as it arrives. Meanwhile , since I cannot continue without Titanium white , I shall have to bide my time. It really is frightfully frustrating, I have nought to do but sit and stare at my completed canvases as they dry in the studio, and there is nothing quite as dull as watching paint dry. I suppose if I get too tiresomely bored I may always entertain myself by moving my contemplation down to the salle to regard Chief Patissier’s portrait for a change of scenery. I am at present trying to avoid the salle as I have an unaccountably strong urge to get my brushes and turpentine out and smudge his nose a trifle. If it was not for the fact that I am sure he would notice I am certain I would not be able to curb myself. I understand it may take as long as twelve whole months for a canvas to dry completely, which, I think you will agree, is an unthinkably long time to expect a person, no matter how well bred, to restrain her urges.

Our anniversaire of our nuptials did not go quite as expected yesterday what with the being shot at before breakfast and then manhandled onto the bed by my husband when I least expected it. However Chief Patissier was obviously touched by my wedding Anniversaire gift to him and it seems to have quite softened his heart, not only did he kiss me fleetingly on the forehead at breakfast but he has promised to take me to the Opera in Rennes as soon as something suitable appears on the programme. I am rather hoping to see Bizets Opera Carmen, The story of a fickle Spanish factory girl of loose morals who ends up stabbed to death by her lover having rejected him for a bullfighter which I think might be positively tranquille after life chez nous over recent weeks.
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The illustration today is “Offering the Panal to the Bullfighter” and was painted by Mary Stevenson Cassatt in 1873.You probably don’t know this but a panal is a sweet honey biscuit which when dipped in water makes quite a refreshing drink. Why they can not merely make a drink from honey and water in the first place and serve the biscuit separately is a mystery but then the Spaniards are strange people. It rather reminded me of the story of Carmen, although she was of course interested in him dipping something quite different in her honey pot little strumpet that she was!

Monday, 28 May 2007

The Gendarmes come to call


One does not expect ,perhaps, to be woken on ones wedding anniversaire by the sound of gunshots close at hand, however being the mistress, as I am, of Chez loufoque I am not easily surprised and therefore the retorts from a the rifle did little but startle me in an untimely manner form my slumbers. I presumed naturally that it was Madame Grognonne shooting rabbits from the kitchen window comme d’habitude. However when the returning volley came from a different direction I realised something was amiss and kicking Chief Patissier sharply in the shins to wake him leapt from the bed to the window to investigate.

Down below in the stable yard crouching behind two large cider barrels and an abandoned plough I espied two gendarmes guns pointed in the direction of the hayloft. I was understandably horrified what if they accidentally shot Madame Grognonne in her good arm , who would make my breakfast tea! Calling to my husband to stir himself immediately I bravely opened the window and demanded of the officers of the law what they thought they were doing hunting in my domain at this unearthly hour! This it tuned out was a rather silly mistake as they were unaccountably nervous and one standing up swiftly to see where my voice was heralding from inadvertently let off a bullet which lodged itself in the shutters by my right hand!

I stepped back hurriedly and Chief Patissier chose to take the opportunity to grab my waist from behind and fling me on the bed, which was most unexpected and under other circumstances might indeed have been quite welcome but I reprimanded him instantly explaining this although the appropriate place was most certainly not the appropriate time as it would appear to be under attack form the local guardians of the law! His sharp reply was unnecessary hurtful I felt, it would have been sufficient to reassure me that he was in fact acting to protect me from harm he need not have added that he certainly had no intention of doing anything else with me, especially in such a horrified tone. It was after all our wedding anniversary a day when a lady might reasonable expect her husband to be even a trifle gallant towards her.

Chief Patissier crawled across the floor towards the window on his hands and knees a not unattractive sight in his purple silk pyjamas and carefully raised his head above the sill, waving as he did so a something flimsy and white from the window ,the better to attract their attention and calling upon them to cease fire immediately. I am certain there are more embarrassing things that might happen to a wife than to have one’s husband reveal the intimate secrets of ones lingerie to the local gendarmerie , for he was indeed gesticulating with a pair of my best silk slips, but at that precise moment I could think of none. I was mortified!

After a rather bizarre conversation conducted between Chief patissier and the officers hiding behind the barrels, it would appear that the police thought it was we who had been shooting at them. However, it was established to the satisfaction of both parties that neither intended to shoot the other, and both parties agreed to put down their arms and to make their way to the front door where the matter could be cleared up. Although what harm the gendarmes believed my husband could do them clad as he was and vigorously waving a delicate item of white silk and lace I have no idea, he did however very sensibly leave my undergarments behind when he left to go downstairs. As he departed I tiptoed to the window to watch the proceedings in secret and noticed the diminutive figure of Henri creeping out of the stable door and away in the direction of the wood and Madame Grognonne watching him go armed with her rifle . No doubt Henri, as unaccountably shy as ever, was beating a hasty retreat in order to avoid having to endure the social small talk he finds so difficult.

Satisfied my housekeeper was unharmed and no one of the household had been injured I dressed hurriedly and directed my steps down to the kitchen in the hope of discovering what had occurred to merit such a commotion. At the bottom of the stairs I encountered Madame Grognonne now stowing her firearm safely in its rack in the scullery, and asked her in hushed tones to divulge all to me, which she did most succinctly! It appears that waking early to muffled sounds in the yard Madame Grognonne had spotted two shadowy figures approaching the stables and in the gloom not seeing their uniforms had presumed them to be villains of some description and had therefore taken the wise precaution of shooting at them as any sensible person would.

Vexed at the prospect of l my housekeeper being handed over to the care of the Gendarmes I felt my best plan was to handle the matter swiftly, which I did , cleverly asking my husband to direct the policemen into the salle where the imposing portrait of Chief patissier the original standing underneath put them at an immediate disadvantage as I had hoped! Acting the martinet I bade them remain standing and commanded imperiously that they explain themselves, all the time shaking behind my brave mask!

It would appear that a rather fine horse went missing some weeks ago from the stables at St Juste and that hearing we had acquired a horse which matched the beasts description had come searching for it, thinking it prudent to do so at day break before the house stirred so as not to alert our staff whom they believed to be caught up in the matter.

It would appear that they had information that led them to believe we had in our employ a new groom who was somehow mixed up in the matter and had come to interview him . I assured them in my most imperious tones that we did in fact employ no such servant and ordered Madame Grognonne to fetch the household account books from my desk where I was able to prove that our only staff were Loic the one armed wooden legged gardener and Madame Grognonne. We do of course have Henri but as we have still yet to pay him or persuade him to wear livery I don’t really believe he counts and therefore did not think it necessary to mention him.

My husband stood stony faced through out the proceedings and when they gendarmes asked to see our new horse accompanied them briskly to the stables despite being unsuitably clad in only a brocade dressing gown over his night attire. Madame Grognonne and I exchanged anxious glances as the description of the missing horse did indeed seem to match that of our own Marron, all excepting of course the fact that Marron has a rather distinctive white flash across his forehead and the missing horse does not.

The gendarmes left soon afterwards having extended their apologies with sincere assurances that they would not disturb us again, I thought it wise not to lodge a complaint regarding the bullet lodged in my window shutter in case it alerted them of the fact that it had been my undergarments waved in their general direction which I am sure we would have all found rather embarrassing.

The gendarmes were adamant that our dear Marron could not possibly be the stolen horse as he has as I mentioned a very distinctive white marking on his forehead, In fact my husband noted with some interest he now appears to have several more white markings than he had the night before, which would seem a tad unusual . However for all I know it may be quite normal in horses, as I have stated before I know little or nothing about equestrian matters. Chief patissier tells that our visitors commented upon a very strong smell of turpentine and oil in the stables but he explained to them that, as a prolific painter, I had very likely been working in the stables and no doubt the aroma was lingering from that. I am quite certain I have not being painting in the stables however I can not see it is of importance.

I was more than a little perplexed when I was preparing my palette for my magnum opus which I plan to call “The disgruntled bride” in honour of the anniversaire of our nuptials ,that it appears I am missing all of my white paint. This is particularly irksome as obviously I wished to depict the bride arrayed in white. I an not for the life of me imagine where I have mislaid it!

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This is a photograph of the gendarmes going about their business outside the bar tabac in the village having retired there for a petite aperitif after leaving Chez Nous. The man in the dark uniform sitting between them is Monsieur le facteur who delivers the post and the one in the large sun hat is Claude who has rather a thing about hats , normally his sunhat is decked in flowers but one of the Gendarmes suffers from hay fever so Claude has taken the flowers off so as not to exacerbate his condition. The one in the beret is Olivier who has come to complain to the Gendarmes that someone has stolen his trouser belt in the night, he is very sensibly holding his pantaloons up with his hands and waiting patiently until Claude finishes talking. Claude is demonstrating exactly how big his breakfast baguette was this morning. It is an unspoken rule here in France, never to disturb a man engaged in boasting about his baguette.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

UnPeu Loufoque the blushing bride


On the eve of our the anniversary of our nuptials I rest amidst memories , pensive and pondering on all that married life has held for me here at Chez Loufoque. The brooding portrait of Chief Patissier watching me from the overmantle colluding in my cogitation.

It is many years since I arrived as a blushing bride here at the ancestral residence of the Famille Loufoque in the heart of the French countryside, deep in rural Brittany. I remember the day well, it was raining hard, something that I perhaps should have taken heed of as a warning, and there on the steps to greet me stood the formidable figure of Madame Grognonne the chatelaine of the house. I thought at first she must be suffering form chronic indigestion but later upon knowing her better realised that she was in fact attempting a welcoming smile. The effect achieved falling somewhere between rigor mortis and dyspepsia. She was much younger then of course, but then so were we all.

The house itself was, and is still today, quite charming, a solid structure covered in clambering roses and wisteria. Hewn from the local granite and slate and designed to withstand the intemperate weather for which this part of France is so renowned. Having spent my later childhood years in the intense heat of the South, the thought of living amongst the lush fields and woodlands of Brittany with its flowing rivers and wild flowers, so much like England, sounded terribly enticing. However, a few short months of constant rain and unpleasantly damp clothes is bound to take the shine of such illusions and the appeal has at time worn horribly thin. One was taught however to do what one could no matter dire ones circumstances and to rise above such things, and thus after almost fifteen years it has become my home.

My husband, Chief Patissier, is the sole surviving heir to the family fortune built entirely upon biscuits, his brother having died just after the start of La Grande Guerre when he suffered a fatal injury after his braces became entangled in the dough mixing machine whilst supervising the making of Galletes for the troops. He was, of course, accorded a full military funeral. Thus my husband was called upon to take over the family business. Sadly his Parents died of grief soon after. He had little experience nor inclination to work, having, as a younger son, been somewhat indulged , disporting himself as a gentleman of some considerable independent means in Paris and the South and knowing nothing whatsoever about biscuits .

So it was that we learnt the intricacies of the enterprise together and I like to think that I have held a firm hand on his tiller on those odd occasions when the rashness of his youth threatened to run away with him. Our first child arrived soon after our marriage and was born here at the Chateau which had, until their deaths, been the abode of his paternal grandparents and their grandparents before them. Chief Patissier’s brother and parents preferring to live at a more modern abode next to the biscuiterie. There was some gap between the safe arrival of eldest daughter into the world and that of her two brothers some years later. However now our family is complete and suffice to say there is thankfully no likelihood of expanding it further.

My own childhood was not I suspect a happy one although I have few memories of it, I believe myself to be, like Chief patissier, an orphan with, to the best of my knowledge, no surviving siblings . We are then all alone in the world excepting of course Antoine, Chief Patissier’s dearest and most intimate friend who is practically a member of the family

As befits a house of stature, Le chateau Loufoque stands outside the confines of the village and is surrounded by substantial grounds. Before La Guerre we did have, as one would expect, several servants both inside and outside but sadly many of them did not return from the fighting and we are left now with little more than Madame Grognonne and Henri Jacque Le Cravacher the groom who does odd jobs when necessary and our dear old gardener Loic, who despite having one arm and a wooden leg and being badly shell shocked in the trenches is perfectly safe as long as you do not surprise him. Regrettably, Middle and youngest have developed the unfortunate habit of launching firecrackers in the general direction of the greenhouse so our vegetable production is not always as reliable as it could be.

I doubt there is a woman the world over whom, upon reflecting back on her married state, has not found some small regret to mar her connubial bliss. I wonder perhaps if I would not have been better joining a nunnery or even heaven forbid, going to live in Lisle, both unappealing prospects I warrant but none the less potentially less vexatious than life Chez Nous has proved to be at times.

On mornings when I find we are yet again out of Absinthe for the horse or Madame Grognonne has accidentally harpooned Monsieur le Facteur delivering the post or inadvertently set fire to the laundry I do wonder briefly if I did the right thing in agreeing to Chief Patissier’s proposal of marriage.



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The portrait by Gari Melchers, entitled simply “, The Bride” was painted in 1907. Note it is not the smiling bride nor the happy bride. I have in my art research of recent weeks tried my utmost to uncover a picture showing a bride in any state other than pensive, anxious bored or at the worst peeved with her impending fate. Whilst, as a mother, one may appreciate that one does not want to frighten the young bride with ones superior knowledge of what life holds before her but do wonder should each girl on her engagement be handed a small portfolio of portraits of brides by famous artists whether she might upon reflection be able to divine for herself that the estate of marriage is perhaps not all she has been led to believe.

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Un Peu Loufoque and the surprising package


Immediately after Breakfast today the carrier arrived from the railway station bearing an extremely large parcel wrapped in Hessian and oil cloth and tied securely with rope. Madame Grognonne and I both vociferously denied having ordered anything of such dimensions however the carrier was adamant it was for Le Chateau Loufoque and it did indeed, on closer inspection, have a label adorned with our address and the name of the Chief patissier in person, thus we conceded defeat and let him in.


It appears to have been sent down form Paris and at first I thought perhaps it might be nothing more than a new canvas for my studio, yet , bearing in mind the size and considerable weight and Chief Patissier’s present mood decided this to be unlikely. It stands a good three metres tall and appears to be in some sort of frame but whether this is merely protection or instrumental to the piece is impossible to say , secreted as it is, within its burlap shroud.

I hazarded a guess that perhaps my husband had purchased a replacement mirror for the salle. The last over mantle having been sadly destroyed recently as a result of a freak accident when youngest became distracted whilst practising archery in the jardin. . His arrow over shot the Butts and hurtled through the open doors from the garden grazing Madame Grognonne’s right ear and knocking the nose clear off a bust of the Emperor Napoleon before lodging itself in the centre of the mirror and shattering the glass. We were terribly fortunate as another centimetre to the left and it would have decapitated the roses in the epergne.

All day we busied ourselves about the place , Madame Grognonne going about her household chores and I following close behind her with paints canvas and easel, at various times finding our occupations sent us unexpectedly into the study for a swift prod at the package but to no avail. The children, fetched from school in the governess cart, were equally enthused and enthralled by our mysterious package. It was all the more intriguing, arriving as it did only a short time before the anniversary of our nuptials.
Regrettably, we all were forced to curb our curiosity until well after eight in the evening when the sounds of the motorcar on the drive alerted us to Chief patissier’s return.


In that most annoying manner of his , my husband ,protesting tiredness after his long day at the biscuiterie,, ignored the children’s pleas to open the package forthwith and wishing them, “bon nuit” sent them disappointed to bed . Indolent to the extreme he stretched his legs out on the chaise and proceeded to ask me about my day, to which I responded with false jollity , knowing full well as I did that he knew full well that I knew full well that a better part of my time had been divided between painting Madame Grognonne at work and hazarding wild guesses as to the contents of the mysterious delivery.

Unbecoming though it is to say such things, it is at times like this, when he is being so deliberately tiresome with the sole purpose of irking me , that I could quite happily beat the man to death with a poker without pausing to give my actions a second thought. Madame Grognonne as loyal as ever has made it perfectly plain to me on several occasions that , should I ever fall prey to such a temptation, she would happily dig a suitable grave for his body in the hot beds under the melons where she assures me it highly unlikely anyone would search.

After dinner Antoine arrived unexpected ly , he and Chief Patissier having apparently repaired whatever rift had marred their friendship earlier in the week, and yet more cognac was imbibed whilst still no mention of the parcel being made. I was just approaching a state wherein I was seriously considering whether the melon beds might be big enough to contain two cadavers, when suddenly they disappeared into the study and shut the doors behind them, ordering me not to enter under any circumstances as they needed to attend to something in private

There was a great deal of banging and huffing and panting to be heard from inside the room and not a little groaning and gasping, so much so, that I did wonder should I fetch Madame Grognonne to help them in whatever they were doing. However this proved unnecessary and after sometime the doors were flung open to reveal the two men rather red faced and sweating from their exertions, standing amid a pile of discarded wrappings and holding between them the now unveiled parcel that had caused the household such pent up excitement today.

There before me stood unveiled my wedding anniversary gift from my husband. A life size portrait of himself in evening dress.

I must admit to being more than a trifle disappointed. I had been hoping rashly that the occasion of our anniversaire might have been considered important enough to warrant some pretty bijou from my husband, diamonds perhaps or emeralds to match my eyes. I might even have accepted with gratitude a long string of amber beads or even pearls which are quite the fashion these days so I am given to believe. Be that as it may it really would have been childishly churlish on my part to appear anything but delighted and grateful. To say nothing seemed the most prudent path.

Luckily having consumed sufficient alcohol to slay an elephant my dear husband was totally oblivious to any feelings of dissatisfaction I might have been harbouring and mistook my silence for shocked delight. I went to bed soon afterwards overcome as I was with a headache which was interpreted as understandable over excitement at his magnificent cadeaux.

The portrait is to have pride of place over the cheminee in the salle. I fear that unless I can persuade Youngest to engineer another mishap with his bow and arrow it will, for the remainder of my married life, gaze down on me, a daily reminder of my own artistic ineptitude and that after so many years of marriage to him my husband did not feel I merited diamonds. Needless to say I shall not be executing my own planned portrait of Chief patissier.

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This is the portrait by Tamara de Lempicka, of Chief Patissier’. I understand that they met in Paris and that he was so impressed with her he commissioned this portrait. She is, I believe from all I have heard, a woman of somewhat dubious moral character and part of the Bohemian set. Regardless of what I may think of her personally, I would be the first to admit that she has captured a look in Chief patissier’s eye that I know all to well. It is indeed an extremely good likeness. I would be far happier if the woman had been less adept with facial features. The mere fact that she is able to portray noses is salt in my wounds.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Un Peu Loufoque and the disgruntled husband


Chief Patissier is at present ,not a happy man, what with being woken yesterday by the dogs and then having to be taken to the biscuiterie by Henri in the governess cart when he had planned to drive himself in the motorcar. he has been unpleasantly disagreeable to all and sundry all day and most unfair to boot.

I appreciate fully that he would have preferred to travel by motorcar however, this was utterly impossible since Loic was frozen to the spot in the front of the doors to the garage as a result of Madame Grognonne accidentally letting off a volley of shots whilst cleaning her gun after breakfast. A perfectly understandable incident which could have occurred in any well run household where the one legged one armed gardener suffers from shell shock. It would seem though as in all things he has decided it is entirely my fault that such things are allowed to happen and that in normally regulated establishments they would not!

He is, I fear, becoming a trifle unsupportive of my forays into the artist world and blames my painting for his bad temper. He even went so far as to suggest over diner last night that I might consider needlepoint as a pastime being as it is , he insists, more appropriate and less disruptive to the general running of the household. I found this attestation most unfair since it was he who had insisted I take it up in the first place having decided that chairman of the public health committee for the commune (with special responsibilities for fosse septique ) was not a suitable diversion for a lady such as myself.

I pointed out that, despite my being an artist for only a very short time, I was well underway to completing my first portfolio of portraits of domestic staff going abut their duties and he rejoined that perhaps I might like to contemplate taking my brushes elsewhere to capture servants in oils, so that at least our own household would remain undisturbed and he might get his routine back to some order. I felt this to be a rather uncalled for and unkind remark and therefore retired early to bed with a headache.

I am certain his bad humour can in reality be no way laid wholly at my door, and is partly due to Antoine who has, since their return from Paris , spent not an inconsiderable length of time with the new young curé in the village which the Chief patissier finds tremendously aggravating as he has never been a great supporter of the church.

I dare declare I find it impossible for me to even attempt to understand the machinations of a husbands psyche as it would seem to be so deep and fathomless as to appear positively murky at times. I imagine all of his sex are the same in that matter except of course those of the serving classes, which goes without saying.

As Pentecost and the anniversary of our marriage is fast approaching I would suggest a vaccances by way of marking the occasion in some way but feel it may be unwise to suggest the idea since it may be seen as rather an erroneous expense at present. I am hopeful that he may honour the event in some small way by perhaps a gift of some sort, I am of the opinion that a ring or a necklace would be most appropriate. In anticipation of the event I have ordered him an exquisite silver cigarette case engraved with the image of two doves entwined with a single rose between their beaks and the words “Sempir fidelis” inscribed on a ribbon beneath their feet. I intend as well to paint a portrait of him as a captain of Industry with which I am certain he will be so impressed it wil undoubtedly change his present attitude towards my art .

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The picture is of a young woman sewing and was painted by an American Artist in 1916 , a gentleman called Gari Melchers, a strange name I concede but then aren’t all colonial names? I am certain in his present mood Chief Patissier is of the opinion that this is how I should gainfully fill my time. One supposes that I should be grateful that he allows me to venture out of the house at all he is so excruciatingly bourgeoisie at times. Goodness only knows what he would do if he ever discovered I had taken the children camping in a Bedouin tent in the woods, I would very possibly find my self committed to an asylum with our dear friend the king of Spain!

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Un Peu and the artist's models


The day Chez Loufoque did not start well. I had intended to be up with the lark and to commence my painting of Madame Grognonne preparing the petite déjeuner in the kitchen and therefore had left my easel canvas and paints in the hallway ready to plunge in as the muse caught me.
Sadly I had negated to alert other members of the household to my plans and therefore when Madame Grognonne entered the hall, in search of some tapers to light the fire, she tripped over my painting stool and fell down the stairs into the wine cellar. Luckily Henri Jacque Le Cravacher was at the bottom fetching absinthe for the horse and broke her fall.

Unfortunately the ensuing commotion woke the dogs who in turn awoke chief patissier who was furious at being disturbed and immediately demanded coffee and crepes without delay. This was a trifle awkward as, it being exceptionally early, Madame Grognonne had not yet lit the stove and therefore was forced to attempt to hastily prepare breakfast using nothing but a candle and a small griddle.

I am sure given time she would have succeeded admirably but we shall never know for, at a vital stage in the proceedings, youngest rushed into the kitchen to discover what the uproar had been about and his opening the door blew the candle flame rather alarmingly which caught Madame Grognonne’s apron strings alight, which in turn set fire to the oil cloth on the table. Youngest, showing great sense for his age and size, grabbed a container of water from the dresser and threw it at Madame Grognonne intending to extinguish the flames.

Sadly, unbeknown to him, the container was filled with kerosene for the lamp which rather exacerbated the situation and I am sure if it had not been for Henri having the good sense to throw Madame Grognonne to the ground and stamp on her we could have had a very nasty accident. As it was we discovered once the place had been set to rights and the stove lit that Chief Patissier had in fact retuned to his slumbers totally unaware that his ill temper had nearly cost us our housekeeper and our home. I can not help but feel that if only Madame Grognonne had shown the sense to turn on the electric light before venturing into the dark hallway all of this could have been avoided. I do sometimes wonder if domestic staff are not far more trouble than they are worth.

The unnecessary incident in the kitchen meant that I had to reconsider my plans for the day as I could hardly paint “servant preparing breakfast” as Madame Grognonne now had a bandage around her head and one arm in sling which I found most vexing. I therefore took my equipment out to the stables to commence instead on a study of “the groom at work” . However Henri was for some strange reason unwilling for me to paint his likeness citing Fatima’s excuse of his religion banning the depiction of the human face in art which I found most unbelievable. I know for a fact he was baptised a Christian and one has only to visit the village church and see the many depictions of saints in various stages of diverse forms of martyrdom to realise that it is out and out rubbish. Nevertheless there is no point in attempting to paint someone who refuses to stand still so I therefore went in search of another subject.

The children having gone already to school and Chief Patissier not being at his best in the mornings, I sought out Loic le Boiteux our gardener whom I knew was in the greenhouses tending to his cucumbers. Although regrettably Loic lost an arm and a leg during the war he remains an excellent gardener if a little slow at times. Sadly, having been rather shell shocked in the trenches he has somewhat of an unfortunate reaction to loud bangs which cause him to freeze in terror sometimes for hours on end. Although this does nothing for our vegetable production it had the possibility of being quite an assert for me terms of my paintings. Having crept up upon him in the far glass house I slammed the door hard and yelled loudly at the same time thus causing him to go rigid mid stoop. Thus I was able to spend a productive morning in the warmth of the glass house merrily painting Loic as “ The one legged gardener tending his plants” without interruption.

Despite all expectations to the contrary I therefore was lucky enough to spend a productive morning and complete another canvas before the midday repas. This afternoon I am contemplating seeking out Loic again as I have asked Madame Grognonne to tell him that I would like him to do some work in the flower garden, thus, providing I am able to startle him, I hope to add my composition of “One legged gardener pruning the roses” to my growing portfolio before dinner.


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The painting above is of the martyrdom of St Peter of Verona a copy of which hangs in our village church in between a painting of St Tremeur having his head cut off by his father, and another Breton saint suffering a similar fate. Proof if ever it were needed that it unwise for a child to anger their father. This painting obviously took some time to paint as one can clearly see that the models have become bored with the proceedings. The priest on the left of the picture seems to be holding some sort of discussion with his attacker which I suspect relates to what they planned to do after the sitting as he has the same expression as youngest and middle have when discussing whether to go hunting for birds nests or frogspawn after luncheon. Either way the fact remains that this is proof that Henri was , as I thought. in fact not telling the truth and the Christian church has no aversion to the depiction of the human form. Perhaps he is as I have suspected for some time merely shy.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Un Peu Loufoque - A woman inflamed!


You see before you a woman inflamed by her muse ! On entering the kitchen yesterday I discovered Madame Grognonne in the process of skinning and gutting a rabbit and the sight so caught my imagination that I immediately dragged her up the stairs to the studio where I sat her, bloodied apron and all to pose for me. She was not awfully enthused with the idea pointing out that she had better things to do other than sit holding a dead lapin whilst Chief patissier’s repas required preparing, but I was insistent and promised that if she sat still and did as I directed then I would give her a half day holiday at Pentecost. This seemed to do the trick. Although what she would do with a half holiday I have no idea

This whole art business is far more difficult than one might think. I have had considerable trouble with Madame Grognonne’s mouth and eyes, despite several attempts she always seems to look frighteningly deranged rather than serene and contemplative. But have decided that this should not deter me unnecessarily. Therefore, I am following quickly in the footsteps of Picasso and Jean Crotti in deciding that being unable to paint facial features with any degree of realism should be no draw back and therefore like them leaving out any physical features which I find too arduous.

Although I do quite admire their work, it is after all extremely clever of them to choose to ignore the attributes they couldn’t master, my preferred style would be that of Renoir or Degas. however it is important in all things to recognize ones limitations and I am beginning to think that perhaps since realism appears to elude me in my paintings I must tend towards the abstract and Dadaism which is apparently the new thing and certainly seems a good justification for not attempting to capture Madame Grognonne’s face on canvas again.

I feel a serious theme is needed in my work and have toyed with the that of markets and the purveyors of goods therein, but even with the governess cart to transport my equipment, painting a market scene might prove a trifle impracticable, I think it highly unlikely that I would be able to persuade all the traders and shoppers to stand still for the few hours necessary to captured their Images in oils. The peasants here have no understanding of art at all. I have therefore turned my gaze Chez Nous and, having almost completed my first large canvas entitled “servant woman gutting lapin” , am considering making it one of a series depicting Madame Grognonne in a variety of domestic poses, including” servantwoman hanging out the laundry” ,” servant woman washing dishes” and “servant woman clearing the table” so as to prevent my artistic endeavors interfering too greatly with the generally smooth running of our establishment.

I am certain Chief patissier will fully understand that he will have, on occasion, to await his lunch or eat elsewhere, after all many have suffered far worse than a delayed call to table in the name of art. However someone must do the chores and I am more than happy to sit and paint Madame Grognonne whilst she does so.

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The painting above is a portrait by Jean Crotti. I think it is of a man but it is rather hard to be too sure on that matter . It may of course be of a rather flat chested young woman wearing a bath sheet. Who can say? The delight, of course, with this style is the freedom it accords the artist. If one says ones canvas portrays a particular thing then who is anyone else to argue! As you can see he bravely had a stab at the eyes but gave up with the mouth which was probably very wise considering his rather unflattering attempts at the nose.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Un Peu Loufoque the artist


This morning I launched myself upon the world as an artist! The children are returned to their educational establishments, after what seems like an inordinately long vacances, Chief Patissier set off to the Biscuiterie and Henri has taken Madame Grognonne into town to attend to the households purchases of comestibles, including I note yet more absinthe for the horse.

Having dispatched all in their various directions I took the makings of coffee with me to the upper realms of the west wing and set my self to work. Madame Grognonne had lit the small stove to warm the room and I very daringly put the pot onto the heat to brew, feeling quite excited by this wanton act of domesticity! I need hardly say that I have never had cause to make my own beverage before but am sure it can not be too difficult. Madame Grognonne having left me written instructions, and providing I am able to interpret her somewhat idiomatic spelling and erratic hand writing , I am certain all will be well!

Finding myself faced with a large virgin canvas on my easel I thought it best not to unleash my creativity too hastily and therefore stood for sometime contemplating its white face in search of a suitable subject. After our camping expedition I had been inspired to paint Fatima in all her glorious finery, sadly she informed me her religion disallows the portrayal of the human form which is most unfortunate. Madame Grognonne has declined to take her place, at least not until the weather improves ,which, in hindsight, is probably quite wise as I can see that it might be a trifle awkward should she be called upon to answer the door mid pose. It would, I suspect, be excruciatingly difficult to get her to return to precisely the same position on her coming back and taking deliveries clad only in a diaphanous veil might well arouse consternation amongst some of the more impressionable tradesmen.

Over a late dinner last night, our whole day having been thrown out of routine by their unexpected return Chez Nous, Chief patissier and Antoine regaled me with tales of the artists salons in Paris, and exhibitions at the Grand Palais. They tell me the quarter of Montparnasse is full to bursting with Bohemians and avant-garde writers and artists of every description from all over Europe and the Americas. I must admit my initial reaction was to find this a trifle galling as, despite my request, I had been denied the chance to visit Paris with them. I am quite convinced that neither of them have any artistic leanings whatsoever and therefore have no doubt the experience has been totally wasted upon them. However on hearing of the influx of Bohemians I felt quite relieved at having been left at home. I really do not think I am up to any more Slavs after the treacherous behaviour of ,Alexi Vlodaflodavodavitch. Although I note Madame Grognonne seems to have recovered herself remarkably quickly, as only the lower orders can.

Amongst the many delights adorning my studio Chief Patissier has kindly endowed it with a small library of books and journals depicting the wok of artists such as myself. I have been therefore perusing these in search of my muse but find myself rather at a loss as a result. I have always been of the school of thought that great art should in some form mimic nature and wherever possible improve upon it. However I discover that “au contraire” in this age of modernism it is no longer so. Apparently, judging by the illustrations in the more recent Art Reviews and journals, one no longer needs to be able to paint to be an artist. Not only that but it would appear to be all the rage for women artists to dress as men and men to dress as artisans and peasants, At this I must draw the line. I am of the opinion that no matter how talented an artist may be there is no reason they should not be respectably dressed! Personally I blame the Bohemians.

I can see from my window that Madame Grognonne has returned from her errands ,and ( since lost as I was in the contemplation of my art I had forgotten the coffee was brewing and therefore as a result boiled the pot dry) I now intend to seek her out in the kitchen and call upon her expertise to furnish me with a grand chocolat chaud to drink whilst I consider further which direction my art should take me. Having seen some of the subjects portrayed in the abstract style presently in vogue it is highly possible I shall find inspiration there, no doubt a still life of a sink plunger some haricot vert and the remains of yesterdays Cassoulet would be considered suitably dispirit to be al la mode!.


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The portrait above is by an artist called Amedeo Modigliani and it is apparently meant to be Mademoiselle Jeanne Huterne ,with her Left Arm Behind her Head. I am not sure who this young lady is but I am certain that were I to portray Eldest in such a manner she would not be at all amused. Flattering it is not ! Added to which the poor creature has obviously dislocated her neck and very possibly her shoulder. I suspect as a result of the artist requiring her to hold the same position for far to long.One can only imagine how disappointed her mother must have been when she saw it.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Un Peu Loufoque and the callers in the night



There was great excitement last night Chez Nous prompted by the unexpected return home, in the early hours, of Chief Patissier and Antoine from Paris, their arrival being heralded by much honking on the car horn and hoots and hubbub from the two travellers as the automobile drove up the lane, thus setting the dogs off a barking and waking us all up and no doubt the entire village aussi. It was a delight, of course, to have them back ,but really 4 am is not a terribly convenient time to be stirred from ones sleep by such a loud commotion and I was not at my best. I could not help but feel it might have been more considerate had they stayed in Paris a few hours longer, allowing us to welcome them at a respectable hour and for me to gird my flagging enthusiasm a trifle.


The whole household , alerted by the commotion, ,stood at the door to greet them. Henri rushed out, hurriedly buttoning his breeches, to unload the luggage and Madame Grognonne bustled behind him adjusting her robes and went straight to the kitchen to prepare warm soup and a late supper for all who might be hungry. The children ecstatic to see their father returned in such good spirits, clambered over the motor and its occupants and were carried in by him shoulder high. All of course except Eldest who is at that awkward age between childhood and womanhood, and stood slightly at a distance watching, until Antoine, ever the gallant, offered her his arm , and led her regally out of the nights shadows and into the light of the kitchen, where the boys were already fighting amongst themselves to be the first to discover their presents.

Madame Grognonne presented Chief Patissier with a welcome glass of cognac, at which my heart missed a slight beat and she and I exchanged furtive glances. I need, of course not have feared, for I had been perfectly right in my supposition, He and Antoine could no more tell the difference between the best cognac, which they presumed themselves to be imbibing, and the rough mixture we had hastily concocted to replace that inadvertently knocked over by the chickens, than our wine merchant himself. Sometimes I do wonder that such a vast fortune was spent on his education yet his palate remains that of a pig.

However at least I may now, with clear conscience, instruct the wine merchant to supply us with a less expensive cognac and save on housekeeping. The fact of which I shall keep secret , in case I should have occasion to require some funds of my own to call upon if necessary without having to account to my husband. Although I have never really considered it before I have of late found it a trifle irksome that, despite bringing a not inconsiderable dowry to the family coffers upon our marriage, I am afforded no control of the purse strings and am wholly at the whim of Chief Patissier when it comes to finance. Alas that is the lot of a married woman of stature in our society!

As always on such excursions Chief Patissier had procured lavish gifts for all and the air was thick with thrilled ejaculations from every quarter.

Our treasure trove included, a small chest of Ceylon tea, assorted chocolates and sugared bonbons, a rather exotic perfume called “Chu Chin Chow” for me, Several cases of notable champagne. A monstrous wooden crate , which turned out to contain a crocquet set for the garden, A set of lead farm animals for youngest and for middle a metal clockwork toy in the form of a motorcar which when wound traveled across the floor at a rapid speed. And for Eldest a traveling vanity set, with silver brushes, mirrors and accoutrements with bottles of silver topped crystal , all presented in a large black leather case lined with purple silk. Strangely enough there was no sign of either flour or oats despite the length of time they spent at the Moulin Rouge, perhaps he had sensibly heeded my advise and decided to remain with our local supplier. There were numerous other things besides , but nothing amongst the remaining packages as yet to be unwrapped that might conceal art materials.

In fact despite a few inquisitive glances on my part, there was no mention of my painting supplies at all and I began to think he had completely forgotten why he had gone to Paris.

By now all awake and with very little hope of returning to our slumbers we proceeded with our day as best we could after such an unexpected interruptions to our anticipated routine. Madame Grognonne ushered the children off to hot chocolate and bread in the kitchen. Henri retired to the stables and Chief Patissier and Antoine consumed a restorative breakfast of chilled white wine and oysters which they had brought down with them. I declined gracefully and retired to my boudoir there to enjoy a cup of tea and to ruminate.

At lunch for which Antoine stayed, Chief Patissier, complimented me quite unexpectedly me on my far sight in obtaining a fine horse such as Marron and declared it a splendid idea all round that I should have a pony and trap, pronouncing that he intended to maintain Henri to care for the horse. After this display of bonhomie he and Antoine and Henri disappeared out in the aforementioned trap for a jaunt into the village at which I felt just a trifle peeved that they had done so without even a by your leave as it is after all my governess cart.

I felt an irrational melancholy as I watched them depart together in such high spirits, and a yearning to be gadding off myself , abandoning the cares of married life and domestic duty. Wearily but with the forbearance of a stoic, I took myself off to the Grenier to stare a while out across the view and imagine myself doing just that.

As I opened the door I was instantly distracted from my despondency to find not the empty space I had left the day before but a room filled with all the trucs an aspiring artist could ever dream of laid out in my once bare studio for me like some great box of delights! I do not think I could ever love the Chief patissier more than I did at that moment! The dear thoughtful man, he must have instructed Henri and Madame Grognonne to transport all the heavy and cumbersome painters paraphernalia up the four narrow twisting flights of stairs to my fledgling studio whilst we lunched! Did ever a husband go to such trouble for his wife! I am, I vow, a terribly lucky woman to be thus blessed!



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The illustration shows a the rather flamboyant woman scantily clad and advertising champagne. Although we purchase our wine at the local merchant Chief Patissier always endeavors to stock up with several cases of champagne whenever he visits Paris. He attests it is impossible to procure decent champagne in Brittany. One imagines that, the local populace preferring cidre as they do, there is likely to be little call for it in our village. That being the case, it is wise to remember that, although what is available hereabouts may be perfectly serviceable for cleaning ones teeth, it might be rash to consider it potable.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Un Peu Loufoque and the broken spell


It was such a delight to wake this morning with the birds song and feel the gentle warm breeze against my skin, lying with my eyes closed I sensed the tent about me and smelt of the women’s jasmine perfume mingle with wood smoke in the air. If only I had already commenced my forthcoming activities as a lady painter I might have captured the bright images within my head on canvas for posterity!


I bestirred myself thrilled with the knowledge that we had camped “au savage” by the river and looked up to see towering above me , Who else but Marron who had been left to roam free last evening and finding the night a tad chill had taken it upon himself to share our shelter! A lesser woman would have screamed but not I ! I merely pulled my rug around my shoulders and taking his bridle led him quietly down to the river to drink, my hair lose down my back like a gypsy princess and my feet bare. It was such a delicious experience that I was quite lost in revelry imaging myself to be Gertrude Bell leading my steed across the Wadi, oblivious to the figure standing regarding me from beneath the overhanging oak trees.


With a gently cough to alert me of his presence, Henri Jacque Le Cravacher stepped out of the shadows, come to check on the well being of the horse and us too it would appear. I soundlessly handed over Marron not a little flustered to be caught so in my nightwear by a man and a servant at that, even if he is as yet an unpaid and un-liveried one, and walked back towards our tent far too self conscious, like some befuddled schoolgirl, to continue on to the river and wash myself in the cool water as I had fully intended.

As if by the breaking of some magic spell the camp came to life, the fire was re lit and a petite déjeuner prepared of strong black Arabian coffee, fresh fruit and yesterday’s cold chicken accompanied by flat unleavened bread baked on a stone by the fire. Such simple but exotic fair. I would that I could take up our pony trap and piling the children there in, set off with Madame Grognonne and Henri like some potentates caravan onwards across Brittany southwards to the regions of the sun where we could camp each night under the olive trees and lie awake in the warm star filled night listening to the songs of the cicadas.

Alas as ever propriety beckoned me back and reluctantly we returned Chez Nous to our daily lives and to civilization such as it is. For surely it would not do for Chief Patissier to return unannounced and find me absent disporting myself like some sultans dancing girl in a tented harem amidst the Arab folk. Bearing in mind his rather austere traditional French bourgeoisie background he can at times be remarkably bohemian but even in his wildest moments of excess I can not imagine he would countenance my behaving thus! His first thought would be of the effect upon his biscuit sales and our social standing in the locality. Such are the responsibilities of the upper classes alas!

On our return I was relieved to find the cellar still intact and the silver untouched, although it would appear that Henri experienced some minor difficulty with the shutting of the hen house and had therefore wisely taken the flock into the kitchen for safe keeping over night where they had evidently roosted upon the clothes drier above the range , which unfortunately had left the place in rather a deplorable state.

However after Madame Grognonne had been at it with a mop and broom for an hour or so no one would have been any the wiser except perhaps should they have chanced to notice the foot prints in the butter dish. In their excitement the poultry do seem to have also managed to somehow knock over several bottles of Chief Patissier’s Best Cognac but by a judicious mixing of a concoction of eau de vie, cheap brandy and cooking sherry and cold tea I am sure we can refill the bottles and he will never notice.

It would appear that Henri may have been slightly overcome with the fumes from the spilt cognac, and suspect the poor considerate man may well have been up until the early hours attempting to clean the floor himself. He must had done a passable job for although still covered in chicken excrement there was not a drop of cognac left on the floor at all !He certainly seemed a trifle unsteady on his feet, which I can only presume to be fatigue, so I therefore sent him off to his corner of the hayloft to rest. Madame Grognonne said very generously that she would accompany him in case he had trouble navigating the stairs. She returned briefly ten minutes later looking rather dishevelled and prepared a hasty cold buffet lunch for myself and the children then asked to be excused herself as she said he felt the fumes so from the cognac may have effected her too. I must speak to the wine merchant regarding Chief Patissier’s cognac, I am sure at the price he charges it should not have such noxious after effects.

After lunch I left the children to recapture the poultry and shoo them outside into the orchard whilst I took myself upstairs for some moments of quiet contemplation. As I stood in my bare studio looking out across the meadows and woodland I caught a glimpse through the distant hills with the old road passing over it and the blue haze of the sunshine shimmering on its warm surface. Ah how my heart years for the open road!

I do hope Chief Patissier returns soon with my artists supplies I fear if he does not I shall find me flown south like the birds of the winter!

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The illustration is a painting of a landscape by Degas, entitled “landscape with hills” painted between 1890 and 1893. It reminds me of my view from the studio. I do hope I do not take as long to complete my works of art, perhaps he was so enchanted by the view he spent too considerable a time staring at it, which one can not help but feel marks a distinct lack of self discipline on his part. I wonder if that is why he rarely painted landscapes? One imagines that is one took such time painting a portrait eh sitter might well complain at being expected to hold the same pose for an entire year,and quite justifiably too in my opinion.

Friday, 18 May 2007

UN PEU LOUFOQUE AND UNEXPECTED DELIGHTS


If you remember my saying yesterday to you, Madame Grognonne had sent the children off to collect a barrel of sherry from the next town claiming we had run out so that we might the better secretly prepare for our surprise camping adventure, disguising our trip by telling the dears we were to go hunting for violets in the wood.

On hearing that we might all go out in the governess cart pulled by Marron our new pony in search of spring flowers the children rallied themselves beautifully, despite having dropped the sherry barrel on youngest toes several times during their walk back from town, and being chased at one time by Yannick’s bull whilst trying to negotiate a shortcut through the meadow.

After they had washed and refreshed themselves with a cool citron presse they all climbed into the cart and settled themselves down whilst Madame Grognonne kindly helped me into the driving seat behind the reigns. There was a slight moment of panic as Madame Grognonne climbed in herself and the cart tipped violently backwards nearly taking myself and poor Marron with it, but this was quickly rectified by her moving to sit directly in the centre of the cart on the floor, looking I admit not awfully elegant but providing perfect ballast for the numerous hampers that lay hidden under the seat.

At one stage, youngest, who has always been far too intelligent for his own good, enquired as to why we had so many wicker hampers with us, to which Madame Grognonne retorted smartly that we were hoping to pick very large quantities of violets to preserve in sugar and if he did not mind himself it would be him who would be doing both the picking and the preserving all on his own. After which he sat quiet as a mouse and did not move a muscle. She really does have an extraordinary way with children.

Marron trotted on in his high stepping way, his shoes clattering on the cobbled lane and we soon turned off the public highway down a leafy track towards the wood and the river. Chattering gaily of inconsequential things whilst desperately trying to recall the directions to our hidden camp, I guided Marron and the trap under the overhanging branches of the beech trees heavy with new life and under the green shade of the wood along the less frequented paths until there in a clearing we came upon a scene transported straight from some school room book of the tales of the Arabian nights. There beneath the trees a bright jewel tossed in the grass stood a low Moroccan tent al set about with carpets and cushions.

The children gasped with delighted surprise to see such an unexpected thing here in the woods so close to our home, who can it belong to? They asked, how could it have arrived here? Could it be some Arab traders who had somehow taken a wrong turning en route to Istanbul? Or perhaps, some visiting potentate, seeking local delicacies for his table or travelling far from home in search of some beauty to be his wife? Knowing as I do so much about our region, I thought this suggestion highly unlikely unless he had an unusual appetite for sausage made entirely from pig’s intestine and young women of dubious virtue, however I thought better of saying so!

Feigning ignorance I climbed down from the trap and, tiptoeing across the grass, bade them peek their little heads inside the tent to see what was hidden there in! Being admirably well brought up children they immediately recoiled in horror at my suggesting such a thing but nonetheless they did as they were told and gently pulled back the curtain that veiled the entrance.

And who should at this signal rush forward from the tent , arms out stretched and shrilly shrieking and warbling with delight but Fatima and many of her numerous cousins and sisters and aunts to welcome us, with much kissing and hugging, welcoming us all like long lost family and dragging us into the interior to recline on silken cushions amid the jasmine scented air whilst they busied themselves with drinks and delicacies to eat draped us in exotically fashioned garb of their culture swathing Madame Grognonne eldest and myself in sheer veils of transparent silks and adorning the boys with Bedouin cloaks and headdresses tied with cord.

As darkness fell the lamps were lit and the women sang to us strange songs of the desert until the children fell asleep where they lay. Someone led Marron down to the water to feed on the lush grass and drink at will, whilst another emptied our cart and stowed it under the shelter of the trees. The strange exotic sounds drifting into the night and calling me far away to the desert lands I had never seen.

I do not think I can ever be as content as I am tonight, watching the sparkling happiness in my children’s faces and sipping champagne cooled in the river as Madame Grognonne performs the fan dance in the adding light of the campfire. I thank God that I am alive.

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The illustration is an early depiction of a Bedouin tent, not terribly realistic but it does I hope capture perhaps a little of the spirit of the thing.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

UN PEU LOUFOQUE QUEEN OF THE DESERT,


As there is no school for the remainder of the week due to the feast of the ascension, and we are still foot loose and free in the absence of the chief Patissier, I planned a petite surprise pour les enfants by way of a diversion.

Madame Grognonne, who can be incredibly resourceful when one least expects it has procured for us, from Fatima and one of her many and numerous relatives a genuine Moroccan tent and we are to go on an expedition and camp overnight like the Bedouin of the desert!

Since reading her book “Persian Pictures” I have been a great follower of the splendid British writer and traveler Gertrude Bell. I feel we have so much in common. I myself being both a scholar and a linguistic, and having like Gertrude,(such an unfortunate name!) from childhood a yearning to explore the world beyond my horizon. Why, I recall, as a small child being returned by train, accompanied by a rather elderly gendarme, to Bordeaux having stowed away in a large hamper filled with clothes and linen being sent to my mother across the channel. It caused an awful row and my dress had the aroma of camphor for weeks afterwards. I was in hindsight immensely fortunate that I had been discovered and that the luggage had not been lost or misdirected in transit otherwise I might have ended up somewhere terrible like Alsace Lorraine never to be heard of again!

Sadly of course my position denies me such freedoms now, but the world is changing and perhaps if I am able to instill even a small sense of adventure in my children it may enable them to take flight themselves and see places I may only ever dream of. A nights camping is but a trifling thing but may not even a tiny spark, if it is nurtured well, grow to set the world ablaze ?

Fatima and Abdul Fahide and several of their cousins, brothers and sisters will go on ahead and set up camp in secret and Madame Grognonne and I shall follow later in the day with the children in the governess cart, under the jolly ruse that we are off to hunt for late violets in the woods.

Henri Jacque Le Cravacher has kindly volunteered to rest Chez Nous to tend to the dogs, cats and chickens and guard the cellar in our absence. I know we are going for only a very short time but one can not be too careful as there are some awful rogues about. Whilst Chief Patissier is away I feel responsible for Chez nous’s safe keeping, I am sure he would be furious if on his return he was to discover the silver gone and the cellar empty. I pondered briefly with idea of leaving Madame Grognonne behind but swiftly realized that would be ridiculous for me to be left in sole charge of the children and the catering, which, I am sure you would concur, is an absurd idea to consider even in jest!

Madame Grognonne has gone to great pains to aid me in my cunning plan and has assisted me in the deceit by sending the children on foot some four miles into the next town on some spurious errand thus allowing us plenty of time to pack and secrete all that we shall need by way of provisions. Although Fatima has assured us that all has been provided for in the way of bedding and catering , we have packed several blankets,4 roast chicken a half case of burgundy, some cognac, champagne and plenty of profiteroles just in case. One can never be too sure one has enough and I do find children tend to eat far more heartily out of doors than at the dining table.

Hush! I think I hear the little dears returning now their grumbling voices carried on the breeze and the faint sobbing of youngest as they trudge down the lane bearing a full barrel between them. How clever of Madame Grognonne to think of pretending we had run out of cooking sherry! She really is quite irreplaceable!

I do hope they are not too tired to enjoy our evening of delights!

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The photograph is of Gertrude Bell, If your education is somewhat lacking in the history of Great Women of our times you may like familiarize yourself with her exploits by reading this simple synopsis http://www.flatrock.org.nz/topics/money_politics_law/gertrude_margaret_lowthian_bell.htm
For those who are better equipped to cope with the written word I recommend your perusing “Desert Queen “By Janet Wallach .

UN PEU LOUFOQUE TAKES THE REINS


You find me in an exuberantly buoyant mood this morning fully exonerated in my choice of locomotion apropos the governess cart and quite the amateur equestrian already!

I have fallen absolutely in love with our new horse. The creature is a delight and looks quite unbearably noble between the shafts. He is a splendid burnished nut colour with flashes of red in his shiny coat and a cream mane and tail which the children have plaited and decked with red ribbons. On his forehead he has a very distinctive white mark so that he appears, at close quarters, to have been splashed with whitewash and his ears stand to attention like a palace guard. We are all quite besotted with the thing.

The children have christened him “Marron” which is a far less ostentatious name than “L’esprit deTempete”, their original choice and it suits his chestnut colouring well.. Le Cravacher has advised that we would be wise to maintain a low profile with our new acquisition, at least for a few weeks, presumably in case our fine friend arouses jealousy amongst others less well equipped in the equestrian stakes and therefore one really does not wish to draw too much attention to ourselves with too flamboyant a name.

After a few false starts and a potentially lethal incident involving youngest a snaffle and the horse whip we seem to have mastered the business of harnessing and un-harnessing Marron to the governess cart and spent yesterday trotting about the grounds in and out of the stable yard taking turns at driving. It was tremendous fun and we were all quite exhausted by evening! He is a very even tempered animal and stopped and moved on as directed. He did not even flinch the few times we accidentally turned the trap over nor when Madame Grognonne over balanced and fell backwards into the raspberry canes, which I think shows a great deal of self control on his part, and am sure many a lesser horse would have bolted.

I have written to Chief Patissier care of the Moulin Rouge and informed him of all our exciting news concerning the governess cart and Marron, and given him detailed instructions as to which extra items we shall need as a result of our latest acquisition. I am sure he will be as thrilled as we all are when he sees how splendid our horse and rig look together. I have also taken the bold step of retaining Henri Jacque Le Cravacher as a groom on a temporary basis as it appears that he is somewhat reluctant to return to the stables at St Juste for some reason. Madame Grognonne is quite happy to make over a corner of the hayloft for his sole use and he volunteered kindly to stay without salary at least until Chief Patissier’s return providing we feed and water him.

I am off now to take the governess cart out for our first journey on the public highway. I intend to trot down to the post office to post my letter to Chief Patissier and plan to surprise the children by stopping at the boulongerie to indulge them with gateaux for dessert.

Au revoir my friends! A toute a l’heure !

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The painting is of a horse not unlike our own Marron being held by his groom , and it is entitled “ Lord Rivers's Groom Leading a Chestnut Hunter towards a Coursing Party in Hampshire 1807” the painter being Jacques Laurent Agasse. I did suggest to Henri Jacque Le Cravacher that, should he stay with us for any length of time he might like to be fitted for a similar grooms outfit but he seemed rather reluctant. He feels apparently it might make him a trifle conspicuous. I think he is at heart a rather shy person despite his apparent bravado.


Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Un Peu and the Parisian Flour sellers


I feel quite refreshed this morning entirely better for my day “au lit”, my sleep untroubled by wild horses or anything else. So much so that I am tempted to wonder if, perchance , Madame Grognonne may not have inadvertently slipped something soporific into my champagne at lunch yesterday to induce slumber. I must check the laudanum bottle in the medicine cabinet.

The threatening storm of yesterday seems to have subsided and we are apparently to be without rain once more with a promise of sunshine later this après-midi so today I shall go and make my acquaintance with the new pony secreted in our stables. The kicking and snorting seems to have finally died down a little so one must take that as a good sign I feel.

First however I have duties to attend to , correspondence and paper work and suchlike with which to deal, , including I note, an invitation to take a sojourn at le chateau Lasserre en Famille, so delightful, One must consult ones diary, and a carte postale from Chief Patissier and Antoine in Paris. He informs me they have been to see a burlesque twice already, how gay!

It would appear that apart from searching for my artist equipment they have visited a mill several times, one can only presume to organise flour deliveries for the Biscuiterie of my dear Chief patissier and intend to stay longer than anticipated as they have made some interesting contact there. Although I know nothing of these matters I would have thought it might be more appropriate to buy local flour from our own farmers than have it transported all the way from the capital.

What a mill is doing operating in the centre of such a large city I have no idea, and where they might have fields to grow grain is quite a mystery. There was always quite a large open space around base of la Tour Eiffel as I remember or perhaps the Champs d’Elysée has been turned over to agriculture, one can never tell these days. I must ask Chief patissier to elaborate upon his return.

Apparently he tells me the mill is called “La Moulin rouge” which I sincerely hope refers to the colour of its sails rather than the political leanings of the owners as, what with Alexi Vlodaflodavodavitch and Nicolas Fartoocozy, we have had quite enough Bolshevists to last us a lifetime without resorting to purchasing quantities of flour from the communists!

I seem to recall that the Russian steppes are almost entirely taken over with grain production so perhaps the wheat is not French at all but imported. I do hope not. We have enough trouble with Breton farmers without upsetting them by buying foreign grain. I wonder if Chief Patissier might be able to get some oats whilst he is at the mill ? Perhaps it might be a good idea to enquire if he can get a good price since he is there anyway as we shall obviously be in need of a supply for the horse.

Henri Le Cravacher has provided Madame Grognonne with a list of the horses requirements, I was quite surprised to see rather an inordinately large quantity of Absinthe included. However, I have checked with Madame Grognonne, who appears to have a broader knowledge regarding equestrian matters than myself, and she assures me that it is used as a liniment of some kind so I have therefore have given her permission to place an order with the village bar tabac for a regular delivery, as I know, from previous experience the owner keeps a private supply in his cellar.

There would appear to be all sorts of hidden expenses that I had not taken into consideration when rashly purchasing a horse, not only Absinthe but other essentials such as a suitable driving outfit for myself, I think perhaps a cocked hat with a feather set at a jaunty angle and perhaps a long fitted coat with a wide velvet collar and of course buttoned kids gloves. Rugs for the children and I should we go out in colder weather and shoes, perhaps something in the line of the boots that Le Cravacher and his horsey friends wear but in a softer leather might be appropriate ,possibly in a deep red. I dare say there are copious other things of which I am as yet unaware.

I do hope Chief Patissier will not prove to be overly cantankerous by my purchasing of a horse without first consulting him. I am in two minds as to whether it might not be wise to forewarn him regarding the matter before he returns. To that end I am off now to the stables to view my valiant steed so that I may adequately describe the creature to him in my missive. I do hope it is not the great wild black stallion from my dreams, despite my day in bed I really do not think I am quite up to that yet. I wonder, with hindsight if a velocipede might not have been more sensible?


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The illustration is the Carte Postale I received today from Chief Patissier and Antoine, as you can see he was absolutely right there in the centre of Paris quite clearly is a windmill. I can only begin to imagine the traffic problems that the slow moving carts carrying the grain must cause to other road users, not to mention the dung on the road from the horses, hardly the right sort of image for a thriving metropolis to cultivate one would have thought.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Un Peu Loufoque and the Black Stallion

I was aroused this morning ,when it was still dark, from my fitful sleep, disturbed by vivid dreams of black stallions and myself riding bareback, plunging deeper and deeper into dark forests, the pace ever quickening as we moved together as one, faster and faster, until I emerged panting and exhausted into startling sun light.

Goodness only knows why I should dream of such things but it has left me quite agitated and with a slight headache. It is most unlike me to dream at all, I have far more decorum. Perhaps it is the artist awakening in me? Or, possibly merely, the noises emanating from the stable block in the early hours as Madame Grognonne and Henri Le Cravacher attempted to swiftly and quietly manoeuvre its new resident into the stalls. I use the terms “swiftly and quietly” in the broadest possible sense as there was little evidence apparent, from where I lay listening, of them attempting to employ either. There was however a great deal of agitated whispering and clattering of hooves on the cobbled courtyard and several muffled “gros mots” when the horse in question trod on its handler's toes.

I have the latter information from Eldest who brought me my tea this morning as Madame Grognonne is feeling a little bruised and unable to make the stairs, nor apparently, sit down for more than a short period at a time, as a result her last night's escapades.

The day is dark and damp, and heavy with thunder reverberating around the hills and the sky full of rain. Neither a day for a picnic nor, apparently, a day to make one's acquaintance with one's new horse. Monsieur Le Cravacher has advised we leave him undisturbed in the stables so that he might settle and become accustomed to his new home. Meanwhile he and Madame Grognonne are planning to be close at hand in the hay loft above to meet any needs he may have. It is hoped that once the storm has passed and he has calmed down we may be able to harness him and take him out for a jaunt tomorrow either very early in the morning or late in the evening so as to avoid meeting other traffic.

I am reliably informed by Eldest that Monsieur Le Cravacher feels it is better we take things gently at first in case he becomes unnecessarily agitated. I do hope I have done the right thing in purchasing this horse! He does sound, to my non equestrian mind, a trifle flighty and highly strung for a carriage horse. I am not utterly convinced it is an awfully good sign that I can still hear the rhythmic sound of his hooves drumming against the stable floor and kicking out violently at the closed doors.

Eldest has brought me luncheon in bed, thoughtfully prepared in advance by Madame Grognonne before she took up stable duty for the afternoon. A simple repas of quails eggs , veal in a white wine sauce and a junket together with a restorative glass of champagne and brandy for my nerves as I am feeling slightly jaded.

What with the absence of Chief Patissier, the worrisome rollicking in the stable block and the unseasonable weather I have decided I would de eminently better off in bed languishing on my pillows for the remainder of the day with the blinds drawn. Thus I may perhaps sleep, perchance to dream of wild black stallions once more.

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This illustration a sketch of a horse by Leonardo de Vinci. The image speaks for itself. I need say no more.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Horse whisperings Chez Loufoque


Madame Grognonne arrived back Chez Nous shortly after our picnic luncheon yesterday, smelling slightly of alcohol and accompanied by none other than Henri Jacque Le Cravacher himself , who had , it would seem, come to inspect our petite cart in order to properly ascertain which horse might be best suited to our needs. Happily they appeared just in time for Madame Grognonne to clear the debris of the repas away, which was most agreeable, as I find it incredibly jarring on the nerves, watching the children making endless journeys to and from the kitchen teetering awkwardly, their arms full of china and glass. I am always anxious they might break something irreplaceable .

Although one does, of course, not wish to make personal remarks one can not help but notice that Henri Le Cravacher is a frightfully strange little fellow, diminutive even by Breton standards, with a look of an slightly deranged under nourished child about him, He was, for many years apparently, an exceptional jockey with a glittering career ahead of him until that fateful day when he was discovered “in flagrante” with a rather fine filly belonging to Le Duc de Bourgogne, a bottle of absinthe, and a pair of too tight jodhpurs. It was all rather sad really, and I shan’t elaborate here, but suffice to say he was banned from racing for life and has been reduced to cleaning out the stable at St Juste. A terrible waste of talent evidently, but when one is cognisant with the story in its torrid entirety one can fully see why such harsh steps were necessary .

Monseuir Le Cravacher walked briskly about the governess cart inspecting it from all angles and tapping its wheels with the tiny toe of his long brown boots. He hunched down, balancing upon his heels, and popped his head between the shafts to inspect its under carriage. He tipped it backwards and forwards and ran his hands over the brass and woodwork and clicked his tongue between his teeth. I have never seen a more thorough inspection although I would be the first to admit I have no idea at all what it was he was looking for. Finally he had the children climb in to the back of the cart and Madame Grognonne trotted off between the apple trees at great speed pulling it behind her , the children cheering and hollering with glee, whilst he ran along beside encouraging her to greater momentum. It was a most impressive sight believe me.

Whilst Madame Grognonne was recovering her breath, and the children were rushing to fetch water and towels with which to rub her down, Le Cravacher crouched down at my feet and, sitting cross legged like some tiny Korrigan , proceeded to inform me that he felt, not only had we in our possession a very fine little trap but that he was confident that he could, this very day and for only a very nominal fee, lay hands upon a fine little steed which would quite admirably fit the bill as a carriage horse for us. It was, he informed me sincerely, a jolly creature with a high prancing step and a amenable temperament which would, he was sure, perform very impressively between the shafts. As you might imagine I was very excited.

The horse in question is a retired harness racer or “trot monté” in French, and he assured me was a bargain as it had raced several times at the prestigious Vincennes hippodrome near Paris. I am still a trifle unclear as to how he has this valuable horse in his possession and why such an excellent animal is available for such a small sum but must presume that he and Madame Grognonne have struck a bargain of some sort over the price.

Whilst I took the opportunity to retire to my room for a period of relaxation and contemplation, a daily routine to which I do try to adhere whatever distractions manifest themselves, Monsieur Le Cravacher instructed the children and Madame Grognonne on the care and husbandry of horses and, generously bestowing upon them the depth of his technical and professional knowledge, aided them in preparing the old stables for their new occupant.

I , to my utter shame, have no equestrian experience what so ever having only vague childhood remembrances of the governess cart and a rocking horse in the day nursery. However, Monsieur Le Cravacher has promised to be on hand if ever it necessitates and assures me that there is nothing to the business of caring for or harnessing of a horse that a child can not swiftly learn. Recalling my brief meeting with the rather imbecilic farm boy in charge of the beast who towed our automobile home the night of le fete de muguet, I think I can see his point.

Having accepted a few bottles of eau de vie and a sum of money in small coins , he being rather eager not to have a cheque written to our account, Monsieur Le Cravacher has promised to deliver the horse after dark this evening together with food and bedding and all its other accoutrements. It would appear the horse has as yet no name, rather odd bearing in mind its apparent pedigree but then, as I mentioned previously, I know nothing of these matters, so the children have decided upon the name “ L’esprit deTempete” and are going to call it “Eclaire” for short. Delightful names if a trifle dramatic for a pony who will no doubt turn out to be have a docile and plodding nature.

Tomorrow morning, weather permitting, we are planning to launch ourselves upon the world at large and perhaps travel as far a field as the river to bathe. I am even, under the circumstances, reconsidering my idea of painting Madame Grognonne as the Goddess Athene and wonder whether Lady Godiva may not be more appropriate as a theme, although perhaps I had better wait until I see whether the horse is up to carrying her weight before I come to any final decision.

For the first time in a many months I can truly say that I retire to my bed ce soir feeling certain that my life holds the promise of adventures to come. It is all terribly exciting!

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The Illustration is by a painter named Degas and is entitled “race horses”, hardly an imaginative title I dare say but nevertheless not a bad little picture. To my amateur’s eye I feel although the horses are fine, the jockeys seem a trifle large for young men who live almost entirely on fresh air and eau de vie and probably haven’t eaten a proper meal since they were apprenticed aged 7 years old to the racing stables.