In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.
At the bakery today, the choices were difficult. Epiphany is upon us, and it's time for the traditional galette des rois, or "kings' cake" of France and Quebec: made of puffed pastry with almond cream inside. They're always sold with a crown on top, and a little favor is hidden inside: the person who finds it wears the crown. The favor used to be a broad bean, but now the bean has been replaced by little figurines - in Louisiana, they are plastic babies said to represent Jesus.
Since there were only two of us, a whole cake seemed like a great over-indulgence.
There were, of course, smaller cakes and confections, each one more tempting than the last: those fruit tartes looked absolutely fantastic.
And above the array of Napoleons, how about these square pots of three chocolate mousses in layers, crowned with kingly triangles?
But reason prevailed, and we came home with just one treat: an etoile aux pommes, a star filled with apples, which seemed perfect for the day, and perfect for Quebec. You'll see more of why I thought that, tomorrow.
Her fingers draw the most beautiful patterns, but they're definitely of the don't-touch variety. Montreal hasn't gotten the recent snows that have hit the Atlantic coast, but it has been absolutely frigid here: -11 this morning, the kind of cold that prickles and then freezes the hairs in your nostrils when you go outside and take a breath. It's brilliantly sunny on the white snow, and makes me think of those fairy tales of alluringly beautiful but deadly Snow Queens.
We bundle up and dash from car to studio, studio to car, trying to avoid errands that require extra stops. Usually up early and quickly out of bed, we huddle under the duvet, making the warmth last as long as we can. I'm feeling especially sympathetic with our friends M. and E. who spent three weeks in L.A. over the holidays, house- and cat-sitting for a friend, but just flew back last night. What a shock!
Montreal isn't really back to work yet, though. I still can't get used to the cultural difference in attitudes toward work; here the emphasis is on family life and joie de vivre; back in the U.S. hardly anyone except school employees were off during the entire holiday week, not to mention several days after January 1st! But with Christmas and New Year's falling midweek this year, I guess a lot of businesses decided to just stay closed here until next Monday. In our studio building, it was absolutely dead during Christmas week, with a few people just starting to trickle back to their studios and businesses yesterday and today. I should try to learn from their example, but it's not so easy: I've got a painting to complete and send off to Iceland, an illustration to do for a friend, and a new CD that's just come out at Phoenicia, with lots of associated marketing to do. There's the year-end accounting, emails from clients, and several orders of supplies that needed to be placed. It will all get done, but this is the reality of self-employment, and actually I wouldn't have it any other way. Later in the winter we'll probably take some time off in a warmer place, but right now the afternoon sunshine is sending long rays treaming all the way across the studio, the cat's here at my side, the water's boiling for tea, and we're cozy and warm for another couple of hours, before that last dash across the parking lot, under the gaze of the Snow Queen.
The outdoor vendors were still selling exotic fruits, from pomegranates to pineapples and cactus pears. Aren't they beautiful? It wasn't until this past year that I made the connection between grenade and grenadine.
Late in the day, prices are reduced...asparagus for $1.00 a bundle is pretty cheap. But these won't last longer than a day; I know, I've bitten the bait before.
There were fresh olives. Unusual.
But I headed inside, to where there are more prepared foods and specialty shops, like this vendor who sells all sorts of olives, marinated in different flavors, stuffed with different things, or dried and cured with spices.
A more local product: cranberries, or canneberges in French.
There were soft fresh farmer's cheeses...
and lovely women selling pastel-colored macarons to little girls. These cookies are in exotic favors: the labels I can see are apricot/black tea, and tire d'érable, which I think we could translate as "pulled maple taffy" -- it's what the French call "sugar-on-snow."
And it's oyster season; these huitres are different prices depending on their origin, all from the Atlantic coast. I wish I could eat them, but I can't! I was amused by the name for the specially-priced box.
But this is where I ended up, after buying a tin of black cumin from Uzbekistan from a spice merchant who gave me a wonderful lecture, illustrated with scents, about the different origins and types of black cumin seeds.
These cheese are all made from sheep's milk; my favorite, along with goat's milk cheeses. Ideally I would have liked one of those white pyramids -- but $9 each? -- instead I bought a small slice of one of the hard, aged rounds at far left after the maker gave me a petit gout -- incredibly delicious. We made it last two evenings, with a glass of wine.
And then, in the twilight, I rode back home on this bike/walking path that goes along the Canadian Pacific tracks at the top of the Plateau.
There are lots of warehouses and old factories along the tracks, like the one where we have our studio, and on the track-side, they ae often covered with graffiti and tags. It looks like a rather unsavory place, but it's actually quite safe, and people are using the path all the time. You can get quickly from the eastside, near de Lorimier and Iberville, over to Mile End, without ever stopping for a traffic light.
And at the end of the path, I was treated to the rising full moon, pink and beautiful over the city, and not made of bleu cheese at all.
While the Midwest was being pounded with violent storms, we had an unseasonably warm weekend, and I took advantage of it to bike up to the Jean-Talon market, late on Saturday afternoon, as a break from work that has been occupying us pretty much every day. Lots of other Montrealers were there too, soaking up the precious rays of sunlight and enjoying the colors and flavors of the late harvest. We all know what's coming!
A maison de torrefaction is a cafe that roasts their own coffee. As I've mentioned before, street photography is not really legal under French privacy laws; I'm not sure if this fellow resented having his photo taken, or was just giving me the eye. Most people don't care, especially at a place like the marché, where lots of people are taking pictures. Nevertheless, on to the inanimate objects of interest:
The outdoor parts of the market were pretty much shut down, but there were cabbages and peppers...
more apples than anyone could count...
choux de Bruxelles, $5 for a huge stalk...
all manner of cauliflower and cabbages...
...and of course, potatoes. These are tiny new ones, which I would have bought if I weren't on my bike and trying to keep the carrying weight down.
Everyone was in a good mood. This fellow is dressed in a typical Quebeçois way, with his short jacket, scarf, and knitted toque. He reminded me of a man I like very much, the father of my friend Eric D. (A toque, by the way, is a knitted watch cap in Quebec. The word comes from the Arabic words for "Round" and "Hat" [taquia, which originally meant something round with an opening.] It's been known in English since 1505, but came through the Medieval French toque (15th century), probably from the Spanish toca "woman's headdress", also via the Arabic.) Like a lot of Quebeçois French, the word is a holdover from terms used by the early explorers and colonists of New France.)
This artisanal product was something new to me: gingras, "very old (aged) cider vinegar."
This musician is a market regular, accompanied by his fine chat.
After her long day I think she deserves some of this, don't you?
That's duck foie gras, and I didn't buy any of that either, though I'm sure it's delicious! Tomorrow I'll show you what I did buy, and some more photos from the interior of the market.
This is why it's worth it to buy high-quality watercolor paper. This surface was scrubbed and scraped and dried it with a steam iron, and it held up. And now it's time to move on...
As I said to Andrea and Jean in the comments on the previous post, I seem to need to do a realistic version of a subject before I can start exploring more abstractly. But I also just like the act of painting; it's absorbing, challenging, and fun; the hours go by and I hardly notice them.
What do you like to do that's absorbing in that way? I read an article recently called "12 Things Happy People Do Differently" -- a rather annoying title, since we all do some of these things some of the time -- but most of what it said rang true. Engaging often in "Flow Experiences"-- those activities that really absorb us and take us out of ourselves and our small, worried minds -- was one of the twelve points. For me, art, music, cooking, and gardening can all be like that; skiing used to be too; writing is sometimes, but tends to feel more like work. What are yours?
Here's the list from the article. I'd add another one: "Don't try to change other people."
Mont St-Hilaire, Quebec. Watercolor on Arches cold press, 21" x 14."
We went hiking on Mont Saint-Hilaire about a month ago, and I was struck with its iconic shape against the fields of the flat St. Lawrence floodplain. This painting was started before I went away, and finished up during the past two days. I learned quite a bit in the process. It's larger than most of the watercolors I've done lately, and that was good: it helped me splash the color on with big brushes and work more freely. The foreground was especially fun to paint. This scene would also work well as an oil painting, but I enjoyed trying to approach it using watercolor. It's also a good precursor to some of the paintings of fields and hills that I want to do from my trip to central New York.
Here are a couple of details, approximately life-size, and an earlier stage of the painting.
Last Friday we went for a hike on Mt. St-Hilaire, not far outside the city of Montreal. St-Hilaire, at 411 metres/1348 ft in height, is one of a series of mountains in the region between Montreal and Vermont, called the Monteregie. All of them are isolated, standing above the flat floodplain of the St. Lawrence; once this was the Champlain Sea. These mountains include Mont Royal, Mt St-Bruno, Mt. Gregoire, Mt. Rougemont, Mt. St-Hilaire, Mt Yamaska and some others. Geologically, they're part of the "Great Meteor Hotspot Track." About 125 million years ago, a volcanic hotspot called the New England Hotspot led to
upflows of mountain-forming magma when the North American plate moved
westward over it. At that time, the hotspot was here, and the Alantic Ocean was just beginning to open up. The Monteregian Hills are made of very hard volcanic rock that did not fully erode under the pressure of the glaciers, and now they're all very distinctive landmarks in an otherwise extremely flat landscape. About 25 million years later, the White Mountains of New Hampshire were formed in much the same way; by then the hotspot was located further to the east. Today it's inactive, in the center of the Atlantic Ocean, where it's been overridden by the Mid-Alantic Ridge, but the age of the associated mountains and seamounts created by the New England hotspot has been used to track the movement of the North American and African tectonic plates.
Friday was my birthday, and the weather was beautiful -- so I suggested a hike and a picnic to this place we'd never visited close-up.
We ate our lunch on the shore of this lake, which is a short way up the mountain (see aerial view below.) McGill University owns Mt. St-Hilaire and uses it as a teaching site. The whole mountain is a nature preserve. Half is open to the public year-round, with well-maintained trails for hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The other half, which contains primeval forest, remains an untouched reserve. This lake is a backup reservoir and no swimming, fishing or boating are allowed -- but it held a big flock of migrating Canada geese. Mt St-Hilaire also contains a great number of rare minerals -- over 300 -- as a result of alkali-rich agpaitic pegmatite igneous intrusions that only occur in a few other locations, most notably Agpat,Greenland; and sites in northwest Russia and Norway. (Forgive the geo-babble, but I find rocks fascinating!) On to the hike:
The beech-maple climax forest at the lower elevations. I don't think I've ever seen so many beech trees as the dominant species!
It felt good to be out of the city, surrounded by trees and silence. Even though there were a lot of cars in the parking lot, the trails were pretty empty, and the further we climbed, the quieter it got. No airplanes, no traffic, and only the occasional human voice.
The terrain got steeper near the top.
And from the summit, a view of the flat, rich farmland stretching in every direction, a quarry just below, and the widely-separated little towns of the Monteregie. Around the base of this mountain and several others are vineyards and apple orchards: something to explore another time. Here's an aerial view from the McGill site: (copyright 2013 McGill University; I'll take this down shortly.) The non-public reserve is the side of the mountain closest to us; we hiked from the lake up to the larger peak behind it, the same one shown in my top photo.
Those are the kinds of fields we used to drive along, on our frequent trips back to Vermont, laid out in the long narrow rectangles characteristic of the early French settlements. A house usually stood at one end, along the road, or rang, with the land stretching back toward a mountain or a river, thus affording each farmer different types of terrain for his use instead of granting all the best land to the wealthiest.
I've become fascinated by -- and fond of -- the distinctive shapes of these mountains and the landscape, so different from New England, and am working now at my first painting of it. More to come...