This year, the show that drew us to the Tate Modern was the exhibition of Matisse's Cut-Outs. These are magical, many of them monumental, works, produced by an invalid artist in his last years, stunningly vibrant for all that. Matisse created these now-iconic images by cutting shapes out of paper he'd painted, then having assistants (female, for the most part, if my memory serves) place them to his satisfaction on the wall, the assistants often up on a ladder or chair, the aged artist gesturing from a bed. (I know, there is clearly something here about the gender politics of the art world, particularly at that period -- but that's an argument for another day.).
If you saw this show, you'd surely recognize the play of strong colours -- that blue, particularly, but also a striking cerise, the way it dances with a red or a paler pink or an orange or, again, that blue. But seeing each piece "in person," up close, you'd be thrilled to spot the scissor marks around the edges of the cut-out figures. Certainly, those of us who made our way around the long display arranged, under glass, in the room that held the pages of Matisse's Jazz book, were captivated. Frustrated, too, with the physics of a crowd pushing us on before we were quite ready, but keen just to be here.
And amused by that part of the crowd comprised of school groups. The children, some as young as 5 or 6, in their green felt ball-caps, yellow safety vests, sitting on the floor earnestly drawing their own version of what Matisse had cut out decades ago. Many of these little ones already showed familiarity with the principle of contour drawing, looking up at the work intently as they moved their pencil on their own page. One or two were so absorbed in their efforts that they had to be urged onto the next room by their teachers, Their resignation, I hoped, wouldn't harden too quickly into a cynicism about a system of education designed for the many rather than the few gifted. . . .
I have pages of notes about the exhibition in my tiny Moleskine notebook, reminding me of colours or of scale, or speculating on links with other artists, other works, notes to myself about what to research later (I felt a link, for example, between Les Abeilles/The Bees and some of Keith Haring's figures, farfetched as that connection might seem).
Eventually, though, we'd taken in as much as we could profitably enjoy in one visit, and it was time to head upstairs. The Tate has a very nice cafeteria, but we've been splurging on its restaurant -- one of the only galleries where we indulge ourselves this way. Should you go, I can assure you that the splurge will be very worthwhile. We enjoyed a lovely Bordeaux Rosé, that beautiful pale apricot I can almost taste even in memory. . . . My starter of three perfect asparagus spears, enhanced delicately by a light vinegar, were topped by a poached duck egg, hollandaise sauce, and a shaving of Parmesan -- brilliant! Paul meanwhile was enjoying scallops paired with bacon and watercress. His main of cod he pronounced perfectly cooked, and he's very particular about fish not being overdone. The simplicity of the accompanying boiled small potatoes and grilled asparagus had him smiling as well, while across the table I was equally pleased with my rabit on its bed of veggies -- baby artichokes, tomatoes, onions, fava beans and tiny, thin green beans.
And yet, with all that succulent goodness, what is it that he and I consistently return to The Tate Modern for? Why, the olives that we order as we sit down, enjoying them with our first glass of wine before even considering the menu. We've never found their like (although for the first time, we came very, very close at the restaurant Alyson of That's Not My Age met us at -- Pizarro). They're a meaty green olive, but not too chewy, a mellow, full flavour, very little bitterness, salty enough but not too, with a citrus accent, but of orange more than lemon. We've found crude attempts, in various places, at the ideal these represent, but after bringing home countless varieties in various containers from many markets in numerous cities. . . . we're doomed to returning to The Tate for our fix.
It's a sad fate. . . .
When I joke that it's a sad fate that these olives must be eaten in this splendid setting, I'm not minimizing the reality that we can thus only enjoy our treat once every few years, at best. But that they have taken all this splendour, all this sensory memory, and rolled it into our tastebuds? I can't be sad that the taste is thus so heightened, so concentrated, in its preciousness. Like the grilled sardines we loved in Lisbon, whose remembered taste recalls to both of us the gritty feel of a narrow alley brightened by the classic blue-and-white Moorish tiles splashing on a graffitied, dirty pastel wall . . . Not everything can be brought back home in its material form. Some tastes belong in the places they were experienced, and remembering them together enhances our shared connection to those places, those recollections. . . .
Do you agree? Do you also have some elusive memories of foods you'd love to taste again, if only. . . ? Do some foods, for you, signal particular places? I'd love to read your thoughts on this -- you might also want to extend the conversation by reading Kristin's mouth-watering descriptions of the food she's enjoying in Arles. Custard flan, anyone?