"You can’t just push the door and walk in; no… here you ring a bell, and wait for the door to be opened and for you to be greeted. It sets the tone." My French Country Home
This is the current page of my French Country Diary - the one for Christmas week. And this is the text that accompanies it:
"Antique treasures and custom elements embellish a Parisian host's Christmas table, among them a jewelled silk tablecloth from Jaipur, gold-rimmed goblets from Baccarat and a fruit-themed centrepiece from Au Bain Marie in Paris."
I find it all somewhat repulsive - completely over the top and shouting, 'look at how much wealth I have'. It's not just the value of all of those items, though it's the over abundance of everything. Do people really dine like this? It puts one in mind of the decadence of the dying Roman Empire - well any dying Empire really.
This desk diary has been a major disappointment to me. I left my diary search a bit late last year and all the best ones were gone. Although I have to say that I think desk diaries are a disappearing thing. David scoffs a tiny bit at me for having such an old world thing as a diary into which I write my appointments. With an actual pen, although I'm not so old-fashioned as to use a fountain pen. Anyway I saw this in Readings - French Country Diary 2022 and I thought it might have nostalgic pictures of country France - there was one small one on the outside of the sleeve that contained the diary.
But no - it's really full of interior decoration stuff - like my picture at the top of the page - and this one from last week - and all of it opulent. And the photographs are not that good either. I could take better I think. And I just point and click. The problem was that you could not see what you were getting. It was all wrapped in plastic and slotted into a cardboard sleeve and there was only one tiny picture on the cover to give a clue. I shall never buy one of these again.
For next year I have bought an Australian Geographic diary of prizewinning nature photographs, which should be different. And I could look at that one properly too.
In a way the French Country Diary buying experience is a bit like that quote at the top of the page. Quality guaranteed without being allowed to look or try. And the quality, I think, just means expensive but really not beautiful. Well not to me anyway. Although I suppose I have to admit that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder and this is a really good thing. If we all liked the same stuff the world would be a very boring place. Maybe it's me that has the bad taste. As I wrote this post I discovered that there are plenty of people raving about it all.
It rather reminded me of a comment my friend Monika made when we went to her place for lunch the other day. The food was, as always, exquisite, and one of the dishes was sourced from a book whose name I cannot remember now. No - Google is wonderful - just type in 'french cooking book chateau jane' - I remembered her name was jane and up it comes. This is it and as you can see at least the photographs are pretty professional. And as, I said, the food was great. However we both agreed that although Jane - her surname is Webster - talked about her modest French home, when you see a photograph of the home, then you see she is not talking about your average cottage in the country - a renovator's delight. It's a pretty large chateau.
Although it may indeed have been a renovator's delight which makes it worse because it would have taken a fortune to renovate this. I mean it's pretty massive. Owned by someone from the Toorak set as Monika said. And as you can see the partial table setting shown here is somewhat in the same style as the one in my diary - although perhaps a tiny bit more tasteful..
I also had a slightly different but related experience today in Coles - the other end of the spectrum. I thought to buy some real prosciutto to supplement the smoked salmon and prawns I was talking about yesterday. There were two to choose from - one was Australian made and cost one dollar more, the other was Italian. As I dithered, the very helpful young girl told me that they tasted very different although both tasted of prosciutto. When pressed as to what was the difference and which was better, she quite rightly agreed that it was really a matter of personal taste, but that people probably thought the Italian was better, because it was, well, Italian. When I said - 'oh snob appeal', she laughed and sort of agreed. So I bought the Italian version - not because it was Italian but because it was a dollar cheaper (why?) - and also because it had less fat. But now I am thinking I should have bought some of the Australian one too to compare - and I think I will when I go and buy the bread for the turkey stuffing.
The comment about today's diary photograph mentioned a shop in Paris Au Bain Marie which, of course I had to look up. Here is a shot of the interior. Apparently it is a small shop absolutely crammed with what all the commentators I found, described as treasures, but which, frankly to me look mostly like tat. The interior is very similar to some of those brocantes places you find everywhere in France where everything is displayed in a higgledy piggledy fashion. There you are searching for treasure amongst the second hand dross but here it is all theoretically treasure. Expensive treasure from genuine antiques, to modern expensive stuff like Christofle cutlery and stuff designed by the owner and various other notable designers - nay artists.
The shop was opened in 1977 by Aude Clément - well not this particular shop - another one, which I think still exists:
"Aude Clément, architect, designer, stylist and gastronomical journalist, has created a cultural shock by bringing together the antique and the contemporary (Memphis, Swid Powell, Cindy Sherman, Salvador Dali...) in a truly legendary venue situated rue Boissy d'Anglas in Paris, one of the very first concept stores! ...
Over time, Au Bain Marie has become the go-to meeting place for an international elite who delight in shaping their meals into exceptional moments." The World of Interiors
And there you have it - the international élite. If you have to ring the bell to get in I doubt I would be allowed in. I mean look at the kind of thing you can buy there - I'm sure that every knife or fork in the first picture costs a small fortune and yet it's all crammed together as in an op shop:
The name of the shop is slightly strange too. A bain marie after all is used:
"to heat materials gently or to keep materials warm over a period of time." French La Vie
I suppose it means that the objets of the past are preserved in a gentle fashion, although I would have thought that cramming all those expensive knives and forks together is neither gentle nor tasteful.
Christmas is, of course, a time of excess, which is ironic really as it is a festival to celebrate the birth of a man who spent his life telling people to give their wealth away and live with virtually nothing. Nevertheless at Christmas we spend large amounts of money - or as much as we can afford anyway - on food, drink and presents galore for our loved ones. Excessive giving I suppose.
Now is that a bad thing? Maybe it's just that the giving is going to the wrong people. Anyway our Christmas table will not be dripping with gold - or even silver - although the crackers are gold and silver. In colour anyway.