“Baldrick, I’ve been meaning to ask. Do you have any ambitions in life apart from the acquisition of turnips?”
“Err…no”. –Blackadder The Third.
Though I’ve been in Paris but a matter of weeks, already I seem to be putting the “broad” in year abroad. The guilt of knowing that my waistline is widening faster than my French vocabulary is starting to set in; the eyes and abs of Davina McColl stare out penetratingly through the glass of the empty Nutella pot that props up my dust-ridden aerobics DVD. Ok, Davina, I may have been neglecting “Body Buff”, but at least I’ve been resolving to walk instead of hopping on the metro. It’s just that all too often I hardly have time to quietly congratulate myself on making the healthier choice before the inevitable happens: I pass a boulangerie, and stop to have a butchers at the bakers.
It’s the smell of freshly baked bread that hits you first. Then comes the agonising walk past the window – I’m hopelessly enticed by the seductive flan fatale, by the éclairs that have my name written all over them. Fromageries are even worse; never before had I truly empathised with Tim Minchin’s seven-minute fully orchestrated song “Cheese” (definitely worth a listen if you’ve never heard it) in which he describes the all-too-familiar pre-cheese temptation and post-cheese self-loathing. The time may have come for me, like Tim, to be “trying to replace my fondues with fon-don’ts”.
But a couple of days ago, after going to the market at Place Monge for the first time, I stumbled upon what could be the perfect solution. Incidentally, the fact that I thought it was Place Mange reveals not only my newfound obsession with food, but also my poor command of the French language, since apparently there’s a clear difference in pronunciation between Monge and mange (Who knew, eh?! Oh - everyone? Ah. Ok, never mind…). I’d bought some fruit, cheese, and picked up a baguette on the way back for lunch, which was, of course, really tasty. But what was left looked so good that I thought I’d get the easel out and do a quick still life study (the one at the top of the post). This proved to be a great exercise in self-discipline; I wouldn’t be able to snack on what was in front of me else my wheel of cheese would soon disappear before my eyes (cue Countdown theme tune). But equally, and perhaps more importantly, having delicious food in front of me stopped me agonising over the painting – what a waste if I spent so long on it that the bread were to go dry and the cheese mouldy (mouldier, rather). A few hours later and I was finished, allowing myself to eat my inspiration as a balanced evening meal – the Still Life Diet was born.
But as well as stopping you snacking, the Still Life Diet also goes some way to regulate what you eat. This is the rule: Do not put into your mouth anything you would not put onto your canvas. By this, it should be pointed out, I do not mean to encourage a diet of oil paint. That would be ridiculous – do you know how many calories there are in oil?? But generally, if food looks nice, looks “right” in a still life, it’s probably quite good for you, or at least natural, simply because of the way we continue to interact with still life paintings. Their timelessness, stillness, the presence of nature but absence of human form puts us at ease. That’s why Chardin’s work, for example, often has a slightly blurred quality about it, as if you’re looking at the subjects not directly or intently but through your peripheral vision. It’s an ingenious way of making the viewer feel chez lui.
I’d been nervous about doing the whole blog thing – and that nervousness turned into sheer terror after reading a frightening popular article on the Tab (http://oxford.tab.co.uk/2014/10/05/why-i-hate-the-year-abroad/) that screamed “So what?!” at the concept of a year abroad blog. But I reckon the YAB loves “So What?” just as Still Life painting does. “Yeah, so what.”, they both retort. Neither of them needs justification – it is enough for them to say “this happened”, or “these things were there”. No hidden meaning, no great raison d’être. Write about whatever you want and enjoy it. The mundane, after all, can be delicious.