May 28, 2015

"Found Meals of the Lost Generation"

Sometimes you start reading a book and you realize right away that it is something very special and you should really slow down and savor every chapter.  This just happened to me with a charming little volume that combines three of my very favorite topics - food, Paris, and the Roaring Twenties.

Intrigued by the title, "Found Meals of the Lost Generation:  Recipes and Anecdotes from 1920s Paris", and looking for something light but not fluffy, I opened the front cover and then found myself gobbling it up far too quickly.

Well researched and engagingly written by Suzanne Rodriguez-Hunter, the book brings to life the personalities of the expat community through thirty short chapters each featuring an event and a memorable meal.

Like, for example, the 1925 road trip taken from Paris to Lyon by two of the greatest writers of our time - F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.  It was early in their relationship when Fitzgerald's literary star was shining brightly and Hemingway's was yet to rise.  Fitzgerald was known as a prodigious partier while Hemingway was struggling to make a name for himself and support his wife and child when Fitzgerald suggested they take the train together to Lyon to pick up a car that his wife, Zelda, had left behind.  The trip was bedeviled from the start but the two shared a meal of Escargots à la Bourguignon and a Sautéed Chicken with Morels that was not so much memorable for the food but for the fact that Mr. Fitzgerald passed out at the table with his head on his hands!

Sometimes the event was not a unique experience but a regular occurrence like the salons hosted by Gertrude Stein in her apartment at 27, rue de Fleurus.  Attended by the who's who of the artistic and literary communities, these salons were a chance to mix and mingle while enjoying Lapsang Souchong Tea, Black Currant Liquor and a selection of Alice B. Toklas' cookies and sweets - recipes for which are at the end of the chapter!

Clearly an aficionado of the Jazz Age (and good food), Ms. Rodriguez-Hunter celebrates the vitality of the era and some of its key figures who had flocked to Paris seeking fame, artistic stimulation, personal freedom and a good time.  The so-called "Lost Generation" including Josephine Baker, Sylvia Beach, Cole Porter, Gerald & Sara Murphy and Man Ray to name just a few, rebelled against the past and embraced Modernity with a vengeance.  Painters, writers, dancers, journalists, singers, poets, socialites and wannabes lived it up in 1920s Paris and we can almost imagine ourselves in the thick of the action, eating and drinking with some of the greatest legends of the 20th century!

May 05, 2015

"Man Ray - Human Equations" @ The Phillips Collection

It's been a long time since I've visited Washington D.C., so when French colleagues asked if we could go together to see the Man Ray exhibition now on at The Phillips Collection I went straight to the Amtrak website and ordered train tickets for the trip.

I've been to quite a few exhibitions where Man Ray takes center stage or at least plays a starring role, but this was a new look at the artist and his work.  "Man Ray - Human Equations:  A Journey from Mathematics to Shakespeare" targets a specific series of photographs, paintings and objects created by Man Ray during the 1930s and 40s that are referred to as his "Shakespearean Equations".

Born Emmanuel Radnitsky in Philadelphia in 1890, the artist who came to be known as Man Ray was a pioneer in the avant garde worlds of Dada and Surrealism.  A friend and collaborator of such legends as Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, Man Ray was a major player in the art scene first in New York and later in Paris where he lived from 1921 until his death in 1976.  But during World War II, Man Ray lived in Hollywood, California, where he met his second wife, the dancer and model Juliet Browner, and focused his attention on the Shakespearean series that is the topic of this exhibition.

I found it rather surprising that an artist best known for truly "out-of-the-box" thinking could be so inspired by two such diverse and exacting disciplines as mathematics and Shakespeare.  But evidently Man Ray was fascinated by both themes and drew upon antique mathematical models for a pictorial interpretation of Shakespeare's most famous plays.  The exhibition now on view at The Phillips Collection, displays side-by-side the original 19th century plaster, wood, papier-maché and string mathematical models from the Institut Henri Poincaré in Paris - the very models that Man Ray studied and photographed in the 1930s - and the Shakespearean paintings they inspired.  The comparison was uncanny.

For example, here is a mathematical object representing the "Imaginary and Real Part of the Derivative of the Weierstrass-Function", made of plaster, circa 1900...

And here is Man Ray's 1948 oil painting "The Merry Wives of Windsor"...

I'm by no means a mathematician, nor an expert in Shakespeare, but I found the influence of science on art fascinating.  Here's another example.  Below is a mathematical object made of wood called "Algebraic Surface of Degree 4", 1900...

And this is Man Ray's interpretation of "All's Well That Ends Well", 1948...

To be perfectly honest, it took me a lot of looking and reading to figure out what was going on but in the end it was a unique and very informative look at the genius of Man Ray and added a new perspective to his always engaging œuvre.  It was also a great excuse to finally get down to D.C. and enjoy the last of the magnificent cherry blossoms!