Friday, March 11, 2011

March 11, 2011: Grenoble - Musée de Grenoble, Canadian Baking, French Dining

This morning I stopped in at Les Halles Ste Claire market - it's very much like St Lawrence market in Toronto, although a smaller building. And yet I think it might have just as many vendors and food - it's densely packed and must be quite the scene on busy market mornings on Saturday and Sunday. I didn't buy anything (yet) - just enjoyed browsing around. There's an outdoor market here as well on weekends, so if we can tear ourselves away from our own local market it would be worth a visit.

I finally visited a museum (it's hard to believe I've held off so long) - the Musée de Grenoble. This is the major art museum in town. It has a good collection (lots of French, plus other European historical work, contemporary international work, and some ancient Greek/Roman/Egyptian artifacts) and is housed in a very interesting modern building built into some of the old stone ramparts of the city.

The main exhibition was Chagall and Russian artists. It was more interesting than I expected - I hadn't really known all that much about Chagall, but had kind of written him off as a bit of a fluffy artist, based on paintings of figures floating in the area over Russian villages. But he had some darker Edvard Munch-like paintings that showed a wider range of emotion that was intriguing.

Among the other Russian works was a great film from the 1920s; it was sort of a film about film - often filming the cameraman, showing the editing process, with a fascination with unusual angles, cities and speed. One fun effect reminded me of the recent movie "Inception", in which duplicate film reels were used to split the image and fold city street scenes in two. At the time the film would have been all about modernity, but now it's an anthropological record of the time period - most striking are the incredibly busy wide boulevards, packed with people and the occasional car and horse carriage.

In the afternoon I attempted to make some variation of apple crisp as squares for Monday for Mark (he's presenting at the group meeting and found out that he's supposed to bring homemade baked goodies). I tried using the Canada apples, although I didn't think they were that fabulous as their reputation claimed (maybe they'd be better as applesauce). For the crisp I had to use a boxed mix - I'd read about how tricky it can be for expats to find baking supplies in France, and it's true. There doesn't seem to be anything that resembles brown sugar, I've read that baking soda, baking powder (if you can find it) and French forms of flour can behave differently from expected, and there are no muffin tins to be found (and muffins are really the only baked good I can claim expertise with). Unfortunately the crisp came out tasting like it came out of a box - really not that great. We'll have to find some other superior option at the grocery store.

For dinner we went to a restaurant I'd spotted earlier in the week, La Cotelette, which features local and traditional Grenoblois food. It's on one of the charming downtown pedestrian-only streets, and is in a stone building with lots of antique farm-type items decorating it (unlike last week's seafood restaurant, which had an odd 80s Miami vibe). We started with an appetizer of fondue (local Saint-Marcellin soft cow's milk cheese and toasted bread); Mark had the lamb and I had steak (very tender and rare - and from a local farm); for desert I had crème brulée (a better caramelized crust than last week's dessert, but the custard was too cold and uneven in texture). Still haven't had great vegetables in a restaurant here - they're overboiled or a bit bland. But the atmosphere really was fantastic - very lively and cozy - just what I hoped it would be like eating out in France.

There was a room full of huge paintings of local Alpine scenes - this one is by Charles Bertier

I was transfixed by the over-the-top dramatic sunbeam in the painting behind, until I came around and saw the statue of the man just hanging out on a pharoah's head - what a crazy tableau

An instance of where the new modern building joins the old stone ramparts

A box by Joseph Cornell, a favourite of mine...

...installed nicely on a plinth so that you can see the back too!

Intricate shadows from the trees in the courtyard on the blinds in this gallery are a contrast to the starkly modernist art within

A simple and beautiful installation of wood, entitled "Flanders Fields", by Carl Andre 

The mournful inscription on the frame reads: Her memory is like a perfume. 

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