by Rob Silverstone
again, we have the pleasure of a visit to Normandy through the eyes of
British chef and writer, Rob Silverstone,
whose books take us on
unique visits to a region of France he knows intimately and where he is
always quite at home .
I identify with La Haute Normandie,
the Eastern half of the old Viking fiefdom. Stunning white cliffs
out the coast and rise along the Seine as it loops its way from
Honfleur to Giverny ~ verdant countryside undulating between river and
sea. I once traveled to the western border post at
and looked out onto Basse Normandie, stretching towards Caen, Bayeux
and Mont St-Michel. I was not drawn to explore this unknown
and returned to my hilltop nest in the familiar Gothic architecture of
Well, the division
between Upper and Lower exists no more. Normandy is now one
entity. The intention is to streamline activity, dispense with
cluttered tiers of government comprising two regions and three départements,
and create a dynamic Northern powerhouse. I am rather
skeptical of success, knowing the French capacity to devise new
labyrinthine bureaucracy more arcane than anything dreamt up by Franz
Kafka. For every Pont de Normandie soaring over the Seine estuary there
will be 100 worthy projects mired in form filling.
So, I remain an
aficionado of the former order of things, and I offer some glimpses of
life from this cradle of Impressionist art and scallop capital of the
The little River Cuckmere
winds its way through a gateway to The Downs
and embraces a tranquil sea. A procession of waves march in,
their petticoats and peel away, like troupers at the 'Folies
'The Seven Sisters' shares its name with the ferry that carries us to
Dieppe. The four hours pass easily, time lost between slumber and a
cheeky bottle of Macon Blanc Villages. The cliffs of the Côte
d'Ivoire draw into focus, the harbor walls are breached and a
gauntlets that last did service at Agincourt, lassoes the ship to the
quay. Bikes mercifully disembark before the army of container
can summon up the toxic fog that propels them up the ramp, over the
cliff and away. The sister ship, La
Côte d'Alabatre, lies
redundant on a desolate dock where conveyor belts disgorge scallops
amid a mountain of stinking shells. This unpromising spot is home
to La Chaloupe, an
outstanding 'Routier' restaurant. Join the
jovial barney around the hors
d'oeuvres table, then tuck into a main
course that might be lapin au
moutarde or local skate. Savor a
choice of Normandy cheeses, find room for a pudding, and help yourself
to as much Longueville cider as the onward journey permits. All
just 12 euros. The clientele are solid working men, wearing their
overalls like a badge of pride. One humongously muscled brute
barbells bouncing off his biceps, accompanied by a divinely pretty boy
with sensuous mouth and strawberry blond hair. Madame leads them
exclusive little room out the back; Notre-Dame-des-Pêcheurs.
Booked into l'Hôtel de la Plage in
Dieppe with a room looking out
onto La Rue du Haut Pas.
Twenty years ago a couple of houses simply
collapsed in heaps of rubble into the street, but they have been
faithfully restored, each brick glowing with terracotta paint, chimney
pots pointed, patrolled by an imperious breed of seagull. Every
to 'La Plage' reveals some new improvement, and the completion of a
quarter designed for guests no longer fleet of foot has bestowed a
worthy third star. The hotel celebrated with still more lavish
furnishings, a regal cummerbund across the bed, only lacking the two
lions insignia of old Normandy for full opulent effect. A clarion
from minstrels as you enter and leave the water closet. Red is
theme of my room, poppies scattered across the bathroom tiling, a deep
crimson shower curtain redolent of that Hitchcock movie, and a chunky
red poof by the bed.
At breakfast a new
coffee machine has replaced the fleet of women in
house coats who used to ferry pots of coffee to each table. Beans
ground with a pneumatic pounding, then an interlude of mechanical
consternation before a wholesome cup of coffee is finally dispensed.
lunch at Le Newhaven
restaurant which serves consistently attractive
food. Even when serious building work was being conducted in the
body of the restaurant, the cloud of brick dust partitioned by a flimsy
sheet, the remaining tables were filled to capacity, the solid Norman
clientele undeterred by the notion of food flirting with
little animation as each couple gets installed, the adjustment of bib
and cutlery, spectacles donned to peruse the menu and apéritifs
with crisp efficiency. Then a quaint habit takes hold, in the
of any conversation, hands wringing gently together in a vague gesture
of contentment. Eyes glance outside, taking in the spectacle of
elements of the blue bridge, rising like a giant clothes peg, saluting
the fishing vessels making for harbor, a centipede of traffic on
either side, powerless and exhausted. Attention returns to the
features sat opposite, light drains away, hand wringing subsides, eyes
drift askance; a desperate chasm of time before the first course
Last year Le Musée
d’Education in Rouen held an open air
exhibition on La Rue Eau du Robec,
depicting scenes from a century ago.
This photo depicts La Grande Guerre
in an idyllic pastoral setting.
Nothing could be further removed from the carnage that actually took
place with 162,000 French killed at Verdun alone. The scale of
horror probably explains why there was no appetite for a fight the
time around; in 1940 only one tank on a single bridge faced the
invading army at Rouen.
This summer, Le Musée
des Beaux Arts hosts an exhibition on the
theme Scènes de la Vie
Impressioniste. If it is as good as Eblouissants Reflets, held to
coincide with the ‘Armada’ in 2013, it
would definitely merit a trip to Rouen. Just behind
l’Église St Maclou, Galerie
Bertran shows wonderful canvases
from lesser known Impressionists such as Fréchon, Pinchon,
Delattre and Couchaux. The collection changes regularly, and if
Impressionist masterpiece is beyond your means, there are lovely
posters and cards to be had. The gallery can be found in an old
sloping, timber-framed building, at 108 Rue Molière.
All aspects of Le Patrimoine Rouennais can be
discovered on the site www.rouenhistoire.com,
updated daily by local chronicler Jacques
Tanguy. Jacques can also provides tailor made tours.
can find out more about Rob’s books on www.normandymule.co.uk
Across the Water - Real Food in Sussex & Normandy, 2014.
A Mule in
Rouen - a Discovery of Upper Normandy, Second edition 2014.
Copies can be obtained directly from the
publisher Pegasus of Cambridge -
write to Claire-Rose at
Order Rob's books
by clicking on the Amazon banner.
EBEN: En Blanc et Noir -
Festival . . .
by Robert Turnbull
introduction by Anita Rieu-Sicart
In July 2013,
Robert Turnbull, professional journalist, graduate of the San Francisco
Music Conservatory, and keen amateur pianist,
long-cherished dream: to create a piano festival in the village of
Lagrasse, some 30 kilometres south-east of Carcassonne,
precious opportunities to several young Americans and Europeans
launching careers as concert pianists.
Described in the
London Times as ‘the most beautiful village in France’, Lagrasse
attracts an unusual diversity of people during the summer.
The original idea behind the festival was to provide a major
opportunity and a beautifull venue for young artists to perform in
This has been made possible thanks to the hard work and
dedication of a small organizing team and good support from the
and several generous donors, attracted to the festival because of its
unusual combination of emerging international talent, setting and
Turnbull wrote the following about the 2015 Festival.
When a few friends and I created the
Piano Festival En Blanc et Noir
in the Aude village of Lagrasse, in 2013 our principle aim was to
provide opportunities for young pianists at the onset of their
careers. The festival began as a humble affair. With a
stage just big enough for two grand pianos, minimal lighting and no
amplification, it was really a salon en
plein air, en pleine lune, a stone’s throw from the Abbaye de
Lagrasse, one of France’s most romantic monuments.
Musically, we were all
surprised by the results. One or two pianists, you could tell,
were still finding their form, but the standing ovation inspired by
James Kreiling and Janneke Brits’ piano duo version of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps gave us all
the sense that we are onto something. The talent of over a dozen
gifted musicians radiated long after the sounding of the final
notes. The experience, we began to realize, must be repeated!
James and Janneke, both
Guildhall graduates, returned last summer on July 15 for a four-hand
arrangement of Debussy’s tone poem La
Mer, and - perhaps the most exciting item of the entire festival
– the French premiere of Gustav Holst’s recently-discovered arrangement
of The Planets Suite. Of
course, Holst adored France and spent many days walking in the
Auvergne, dreaming up cosmic melodies.
2015 marked the centenary
of possibly the 20th century’s most mystifying composer.
Alexander Scriabin is perhaps most famous for his eccentric and
unexecuted plan to mount musical extravaganzas in a temple in the
Himalayas. But for pianists, the technical challenges demanded to
conjure his unique sound world are very real. Having written a
dissertation on the composer while recording a CD of his music, James
Kreiling shared his insights at EBEN this past summer before performing
the composer’s 6th and 10th sonatas. The Serbian-American pianist, Ivan
Ilic, won multiple plaudits for his recordings of Godowsky’s fiendishly
difficult left-hand ‘studies’ on Chopin’s Etudes. He opened
2015’s EBEN with a selection of Scriabin Preludes, sharing the stage
with his pupil Paul Salinier, who played Debussy’s Estampes. Together they ended the
concert as a duo – for Schubert’s Overture in F minor and Debussy’s
rarely heard Divertissement.
Responding to the
suggestion that the 2014 festival was too Anglophone, I scouted more
French talent. François Moschetta, a pupil of Michel
Beroff, played Schubert’s great A major Sonata and some Ravel.
Guillaume Sigier ([photo), a former RCM student, has also chosen Ravel
along with Brahms’ Opus 118 Intermezzi and something by the
contemporary British composer Thomas Ades. Louisa Counarie has
decided on a program embracing 200 years of the classics: Schubert,
Bach, Mozart and Mendelssohn’s sweetly affecting Songs Without Words.
Lagrasse has its own resident concert pianist: Charley Felter’s debut
for EBEN assembled Preludes by the Catalan composer Mompou, a handful
of Chopin Mazurkas and two of his own waltzes.
The festival aims to
showcase other pianistic skills, which included
accompanying. Nestor Bayon returned to accompanying his
compatriot, baritone Alex Vicens, in a program of Catalan folk songs, Tosti, and a group of
operatic arias ending with Puccini’s bloodcurdling Nessum Dorma. Maybe one
of the most attractive aspects is that the concerts are free ~ no
conflated prices ~ people just doing it for the love of
it, but raising enough money to pay the young
musicians. Everyone contributes.
This year the Festival is
July 2 to 7, 2016, and below are some highlights.
EN BLANC & NOIR PIANO FESTIVAL
FOURTH EDITION 2016!
- Anniversary tributes to Granados (100),
Dutilleux (100), Feldman (90)…
- Schubert’s last two piano sonatas in
- Bartók’s Sonata for 2
Pianos & Percussion in the round – our most ambitious
- Candle-lit concert of Morton Feldman in
the Église Saint-Michel…
- The work that gives the festival its
name: Débussy’s En Blanc et
Noir has its Aude début in the opening 2-piano concert.
- New event: Piano à Volonté –
not all great pianists are professionals! Everyone is invited.
Wrong notes allowed – up to a point!
- International flavors: this year we
have more French pianists, two Catalans and our first Hungarian…
- For the first time – a Cabaret evening!
- For the first time – Piano workshops
. . . and so much more!
- Return of favorites Bobby Mitchell,
François Moschetta, Guillaume Sigier, James Kreiling &
The Catalan composer
Enrique Granados drowned tragically on his return from the
première of his opera Goyescas in
New York a hundred years ago. EBEN commemorates this great
composer by inviting the Barcelona-based pianist Luis Grané
López to play his original solo piano version of Goyescas.
The work takes inspiration from images by Goya.
also mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of French composer Henri
Dutilleux. The Belgian pianist Stephanie Proot makes her EBEN
debut by playing part of his demanding solo piano sonata, balanced by
the bewitching charm of the A major Schubert sonata, D.664.
The piano is bigger than
the classics, all the same, and this year EBEN is thrilled to launch
a Cabaret Evening featuring singers Kate Symonds-Joy and
Alexey Gusev and violinist Lev Atlas. Accompanied by Yshani
Perinpanayagam and Stephen Adam, they will
“welcome-willkommen-bienvenue” us through a selection of
French chansons, as well as German and British cabaret songs by
Weill, Poulenc, Brel and Britten.
But the whole point is
young musicians, Americans, French, European, are getting a
chance to get lift off, exposure, in the very competitive professional
world of concert performers. The black and white backdrop to this
incredibly, country style, under the market canopy is by a British
artist Jonathon Brown, a friend of Robert Turnbull. If you go to
the web site there are details on how to contribute: www.enblancetnoir.com and
Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/En.Blanc.Et.Noir.Lagrasse
The En Blanc et Noir piano
festival has been gently expanding at a time when many French festivals
are closing down. Run by local villagers, the yearly host
to a dozen
or so international musicians on the cusp of exciting careers, EBEN
boasts perhaps the most ravishing venue in the South of France in the
14th century Place de la Halle, smack in the middle of what the
Times described as “France’s most beautiful village’’.
Lagrasse is famous for
its warmth and conviviality (and the Abbey of St Mary of Lagrasse
dating from the 7th century), and our festival has
rightly acquired a reputation for its family feel between the artists
themselves as well as with the loyal audience. Guest artists and
audience members mingle freely, while village volunteers put on lavish
banquets in what has become a celebration of local pride and endeavor
unparalleled in this region of France.
Anita Rieu-Sicart, a frequent
contributor to FRANCE On Your Own, is the editor of
The Var Village Voice in
Provence, the local English-language publication that covers
everything of interest and importance in the Var
Visit her web site to subscribe!
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