“The Disappearance of Alice Creed”, directed by first-timer J Blakeson is a thriller about a meticulously planned kidnapping, and is the type of constricted genre piece Brits are traditionally good at. Throw three actors on a single set, in this case a bolt-fitted, soundproofed apartment, and watch the lightning. The tension is crackling and nobody can get away with a flawed performance since Philipp Blaubach’s cinematography relies heavily on a powerful command of space, gloom and close-ups. Tension is visually sustained so well one can almost sweat with both the victim and the perpetrators. In a taut power-play of greed, ruthless efficiency, duplicity and survival we discover that sometimes even disappearances can be deceptive. Snarling and heavy, with dark sadomasochistic innuendo, it sits uncomfortably enough before bedtime. Yes, it is Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Prince of Persia:The Sands of Time). Rated sixth at Toronto last year. Eight out of ten.
Just to tick off almost everyone I know, the Avenue des Champs-Elysées at night is, in fact, everything it’s cracked up to be. Steak tartare with Aubrac beef for dinner at an out-of-the-way place around the corner, mercifully liberated from tourists. Popping into the iconic Virgin building, yes, it’s huge and virtually everything an audiophile or bibliophile could ever ask, need or want is to be found, hence unearthing an album I’ve been after for months, well, years actually.
By way of a change, a picture of a concept car – there’s a Renault garage almost next door. I had to barge my way past toothy Japanese tourists carrying cameras the sizes of their smiles. Not something one sees every day.
English is a curious language. There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats is an old English word for what the Americans like to call ‘candy’ while sweetbreads are neither sweet, nor do they contain bread. The thymus of a calf, or sweetbreads, is highly prized, I gather. Having thought of myself as a quite sophisticated foodie, I have recently begun to realise that what I really know about food could comfortably be inscribed on the back of a relatively modest shirt cuff. Differences between ‘traditionnel’ and ‘nouveau’ have effortlessly passed me by. Eliciting gales of laughter, having disingenuously informed people here that I had never tried sweetbreads resulted in an ‘OK, let’s educate the boy’ approach. Within five minutes, fried sweetbreads a la crème, flambé in Cognac with puffy pommes dauphines was placed in front of me.
Oh, what a fool I felt. It was, of course, screamingly, meltingly, outrageously good. I almost licked the plate clean. OK. I lied. I did. Feverishly.
I admit it. I suck at barbecuing. I know people, usually men, who don an apron with some ridiculous motif on it like a woman in bra and knickers, brandish the barbecue implements like ceremonial samurai swords and banish the women to the kitchen to make salad. People like me stand and watch, feeling wimpish.
It is educational therefore to watch a French peasant woman at work, first manhandling a 30kg hernia-sized cast iron barbecue into the right position then tearing up cardboard, woodchips and other flammable material by hand and setting fire to it. I was surprised she didn’t rub two sticks together. Supremely confident that the charcoal and wood mix was going to catch, she set about dismembering poussin with industrial sized secateurs, throwing together a marinade of fresh lemon juice and whatever was to hand in the garden, sage, fennel, oregano and lemongrass, then padded off to put together everything else, including dessert. Dinner in fifteen minutes. Or, it would be, were I wearing a watch.
Three hundred kilometres from Paris lie the lush farmlands of Burgundy. Culturally and agriculturally rich, the land was fought over by a succession of royal houses who left behind landscapes of incomparable beauty, tiny unspoiled villages and a culinary tradition to die for. But, more of this anon. The sense of sheer bounty overlain with the thread of history is overwhelming. Pilgrims travelled through these places en route to St Jacques de Compostela, Armies were raised for the Crusades and evidence of the Templars is everywhere. The basilica at Vézelay allegedly contains relics of Mary Magdalene and the monastic tradition is carried by the Brothers and Sisters of Jerusalem, a contemplative order with a musical tradition reminiscent of Taizé. Sung Mass was awesome. It’s a long way from the desert and not a Starbucks to be found.
Sleaze, delicious, short-lived and tempting appropriately sums up Place Pigalle – the French make sexe a vendre an art form. Behind it, however is the rue de Douai, where every wannabe picker, slapper and axeman finds whatever his heart desires and wallet permits. It’s all here. Antique guitars ( I was particularly taken with a very chirpy 1971 Gibson Blue Ridge) to the finest modern instruments the USA can provide. It’s a while since I saw an Eric Clapton D45 surrounded by almost all of its family. This is not a place for the ingénu or even the arriviste. In every store, those sampling the merchandise were serious players.
Qualified or not, I joined them, listening for the one with my name on it – a little number born in Tacoma, Washington.
We found each other.
HandyMan has a knack of saying almost nothing yet leaves burrs on one’s emotional pullover that simply will not come off. He has mentioned this three times to me. Once, I can ignore, but the second or third time means I am supposed to sit up and pay attention. The Artist’s Way is a workbook ( Ah. Instantly defensive…) for anyone who is creative, feels blocked in their creativity or wishes that they were more creative. The book begins with the statement that everyone is creative and has an artist within them, and the point of this course (is there an exam to pass and will I get an A grade?) is to recover that inner artist.