Last week I recalled a Scot from my local rugby club who – this was the late-‘70s – adopted the outward signs of being a Frenchman: Citroen DS, Gauloises, vin rouge, beret. An unusual obsession, but an understandable one. After all, has there been a better time and place for striking product design than mid-20th century France?
To a British eye, some of the classic products from that period look wonderfully eccentric but wonderfully functional; the design equivalent of the odd creatures found in the Burgess Shale Sands, filling the same niches as our own objects but in quite distinctive ways.
Three favourites: the Citroen DS, generally reckoned to be the most beautiful car ever made but surely with something of the jolie laide about it; a bit like Brigitte Bardot, incredibly sexy – but then the gap in her teeth and the slightly wall-eyed look gives you pause… (Beatrice Dalle is touched by this brush too).
Second, all-white Gauloises cigarettes in their soft pack, cornflower blue with logo in capitalised, block typeface. Here’s Robert Motherwell, New York artist, expressing what attracted him to incorporate these fag packets in some works of his from the late-60s:
I remember when in the last few years I made a series of aquatints with the Gauloises blue cigarette package—because I love that blue as part of the image—Helen Frankenthaler looking at me with stupefaction and saying, “I can’t imagine you being a Pop artist.” And certainly from the French point of view it must look like Pop Art. To me it looked as exotic as Tahiti must have looked to French travelers…
A certain ultramarine blue became for some people in New York … ‘Motherwell Blue’.
Finally, there’s those ceramic pastis-branded water jugs, which somehow manage to combine a modernist aesthetic – they’re almost aerodynamic – with a rustic tactility. I also like how they come up with so many solutions to reserving the ice when poured, from slits to spouts to holes. They overflow with character and, as with the DS, it’s one that looks slightly odd to us.
I can think of a few more items that have the same je ne sais quoi: there’s the 2CV, of course; then the motorised Solex Vélo, the Orangina bottle, the Duralex Picardie glass beaker. I wonder how such an aesthetic arose? It must have something to do with a characteristically French desire to be distinctive, original and innovative, l’exception Française. But I also wonder whether the look has something to do with the sensibility of a rapidly urbanising peasant society, one that was eager to fall in love with the fantastical possibilities of the modern?
There are probably a number of intriguing consumer designs emerging from some of the 21st century’s rapidly developing societies. China’s probably hobbled by its obsession with building factories and its accompanying reluctance to develop a consumer culture. Brazil is very interesting I hear and I look forward to learning more, which is bound to happen as Rio is hosting both the World Cup and the Olympics in the next four years. And I bet there’s lots bubbling away in Africa.
In her last post, Susan asked us what Christmas foods we enjoyed. I find the biggest satisfaction is in defeating the turkey. It’s a down and dirty struggle requiring stamina and a degree of resourcefulness. This year victory came relatively quickly, in just a week – the Christmas Day roast was followed on successive days by sandwiches (with all the usual trimmings), a curry, bagels, a pie (with ham), and, finally, the boiling up of about half-a-gallon of stock which was worked up into a huge stew (some of it destined for the freezer).
I happen to be a confirmed stew person, whilst my wife is more of a soup person. Did you know that preferences in this area happen to be an important and under-researched indicator of divergent approaches to life?
The stew person is a Romantic, who enjoys nature’s rough and tumble, revels in happenstance, seeks the serendipitous and spontaneous, with craft being preferred to technology. The soup person, on the other hand, is more refined, a Classicist who tends to adopt a careful and systematic approach, embracing technology and the rational and preferring a certain predictability and order to events. (The fact that you don’t have to wash the food mixer if you leave in the lumps is neither here not there.)
On reflection, the France of the 2CV was a stew society trying to become a soup one. This was interesting whilst it lasted.
In my family, the turkey traditionally meets its final end through being boiled up for stew. Whilst our French friends have nearly as many recipes for stew as they have varieties of cheese, we, being Welsh, only really have the one. The only variation is which animal’s bones you start with.
Anyway, what our methods lack in variety they gain in reliability. It really is consistently delicious stuff. So it would be unfair not to share it…
Boil up your stock using bones with a bit of meat still on them, tipping in any leftover gravy. Fish the bones out after a couple of hours and pick off the meat, which you should put aside (it breaks up if you simmer it too long off the bone)
Add a finely-chopped leek and a handful of split peas or red lentils to the liquid. Simmer for about twenty minutes – the leak should go translucent and the split peas almost disappear.
If the stew needs further thickening or has some fat floating on it sprinkle over a dessert spoonful of flour using a sieve, cover and simmer for ten minutes or so. Don’t stir until the flour has merged into the liquid.
Add carrots, potatoes and – if you like its nutty flavour, not everyone does – some parsnip. Season. After about five minutes add the meat and, if you feel the need, some dumplings (to make these just follow the instructions on a packet of suet or Knödel mix).
The dumplings should be ready in about 15-20 minutes by which time the meat will be piping and the veg nicely cooked.
Eat from a big bowl using the biggest spoon you have (this is important though I’m not entirely sure why). The experience is not unlike gorging on the nectar of the gods, ‘bloody ambrosia’ as my Dad would say (especially if made with neck of Welsh lamb). It must be jolly good for you too – it’s pretty much your recommended daily five portions of veg on a single plate. Bon appetit!