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Soller lemon posset with gold-covered raspberries and a ginger crunch

It’s been a long time since I shared a recipe on The Daily Norm, but the recent occasion of a dinner party with special friends Alejandro and Maria in our new Mallorquin home meant that it was time to take out my pots, pans and finest dinnerware and to show my Spanish friends what the English do best. And with that in mind, and after a locally-inspired starter of Mallorcan tumbet on puff pastry, and a main of pistachio-stuffed chicken with caramelised oranges, I decided to give the final course an English twist, with a theme characterised by the delicacy of afternoon tea, all brought together in a bone china tea cup.

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The dessert was a lemon posset, certainly an English favourite, although given the Mallorquin twist thanks to the abundance of citrus fruit grown on the island (I used lemons from the lush mountain valleys of Soller).  It’s awfully simple to make – in a small saucepan you simply bring 300ml double cream and 75g of caster sugar slowly to the boil, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar, and allowing the cream to bubble for 3 minutes, while stirring, once it has come to the boil. This mix should then be removed from the heat, and the juice of 1-2 lemons added (adapted to your taste – sweet and tangy is best) while continuing to stir. At this point the mix should thicken slightly and can be poured into containers of your choice and refrigerated over night.

I gave this indulgent creamy dessert a much needed crunch with some crushed spiced ginger biscuits, and topped this with a few golden covered raspberries. Refined English elegance for a sultry Spanish summer’s evening.

The Honeymoon Suite III: Bedroom at the Arai Barcelona

My Honeymoon Suite series was never intended to be a suite of paintings as such – it all started with a moment’s inspiration at La Colombe d’Or which then led to a second manifestation when we moved hotels to Cagnes-sur-Mer. Having therefore established, in that second work, something of a trend, I knew that a third and final addition to the series was inevitable when we moved from France to our final honeymoon destination of Barcelona.

With its beautifully designed bedrooms characterised by exposed brick walls and classic detailings, the Aparthotel Arai Superior in Barcelona certainly provided the perfect backdrop for this third part of my Honeymoon Suite series. However in this painting the real action comes from the Plaça George Orwell, a bustling triangular square set in the heart of Barcelona’s historic gothic quarter, and positioned right outside our hotel bedroom. With its countless elegant buildings, shuttered windows and small balconies, together with its leafy trees filling the space, the square made for an inspirational view to match the indisputably chic interiors of our final honeymoon suite.

The Honeymoon Suite 3: Bedroom at the Arai Barcelona

The Honeymoon Suite 3: Bedroom at the Arai Barcelona, 2015 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacy-brown.com

The Gaudi which eluded me: Palau Güell

While I am as familiar with the works of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi as the next Barcelona aficionado, there is one Gaudi masterpiece which has managed to elude me in all of the years I have been visiting the city: the Palau Güell. For many years this was due to extensive renovations of the property which saw it closed to the public both partially and entirely for some 7 years. But latterly I just never seemed to be in the city when the palace was open to the public. But no longer is this unsatisfactory position the case! As soon as our Barcelona trip was booked, the first thing I did was to reserve our entrance to the Gaudi masterpiece, and within hours of our arrival in the city, we had entered its impressive lofty interior. 

The Palau Güell

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Built between 1886 and 1888 in the El Raval neighbourhood of Barcelona, the Palau Güell was in fact one of Gaudi’s earliest works, and the first major collaboration with the industrialist Eusebi Güell who was to become Gaudi’s most significant patron. Although its sombre interiors show somewhat more restraint from the man who was later to go on to design such fantastical masterpieces as the Sagrada Familia and the Casa Mila, the exterior of the house already showed the young architect pushing the boundaries of socially acceptable architecture, filling his facade with magnificently twisted wrought iron, animal forms, and his terrace with his now iconic multi-coloured tile chimneys. 

The famous terrace

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That is not to say that the interiors were boring. Far from it. Past the initial somewhat gloomy entrance which was intended to be the preserve of carriages, the upstairs rooms showed every sign of the virtuosity for which the architect would become know, with magnificently intricate woodwork, wrought iron and personalised furniture heavily influenced by the Moorish design which is so prevalent in Spain as well as the innovations of line and shape which were becoming modish in what was to be known as the modernist or art nouveau era. By far the most spectacular feature of the house is the main atrium: a dazzling space which cuts through the entire height of the house, topped with a dome into which little holes cut are like stars twinkling in space.

The impressive central atrium

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So the house which had long eluded me did its best to impress, and certainly received from me the admiration it deserved. I did however leave somewhat concerned by some of the renovation works undertaken, not least the extent to which staircases have been modernised, for example, with swish inlayed lighting which is clearly out of character with the original house, and worst of all the adaptation of the roof’s famous chimneys such that on one, a contemporary artist has shamelessly attached a tacky toy lizard as some kind of new interpretation of an otherwise perfect Gaudi icon. Why this was allowed I will never know. As they say: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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The Honeymoon Chronicles, Part IX: Barcelona

The Honeymoon Chronicles have been long and mighty: 4 weeks of photographic reportage of an 8 day holiday which could so easily have gone on for longer, before the blissful bubble of our own private paradise was burst by the onset of reality. Nonetheless, we were given a small opportunity to extend our trip just a little longer, when the necessary flight change from Nice to Mallorca presented us with the idea to stay two more nights in the place of that change: Barcelona.

Barcelona is not new to either of us, but it remains one of our favourite of all cities. Exhibiting all of the modernist charm and coastal advantages of Palma de Mallorca, coupled with the cosmopolitan buzz of London, Barcelona is for me probably the most perfect city in the world, and certainly in Europe. And while our time there this time was short, it gave us ample opportunity to stroll the iconic streets of the gothic and Eixample districts, to attend the controversial Beasts and Sovereign exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary art, and to seek out the shade in the roasting sun of the beach.

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The photo collection which follows is something of a miscellany, with shots taken from our perambulations and from the highlights of our visit: the assault of multi-coloured produce at Santa Catalina Market; the elegant facades of the Plaça Reial and the gothic quarter; the magical atmosphere which diffused the Plaça de Sant Felip Neri; and the modernist brilliance of the Exiample. A small selection of photos offering just a hint of the many fantastical faces of one of my favourite cities, and the perfect ending to our honeymoon.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown ©2015 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

My travel sketchbook: The beach at Antibes

We didn’t spend long in Antibes… no more than 5 hours in fact, but that was time enough to sample the essence of the place, and it wasn’t all time spent on the move either. Sometime after lunch, when the sun is at its height and the heaviness of lunch feels like it is pulling your eyes closed for a siesta, we took a break on the little beach we found nestled in the rampart walls of the old town. There, sitting on a rock, I felt that I may as well get the most out of the sketchbook I had been dragging around with me all day, and opened its pages to make this simple sketch of the beach, and the familiar Antibes skyline behind it.

The beach at Antibes (2015 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

The beach at Antibes (2015 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacy-brown.com

The Honeymoon Chronicles, Part VIII: Antibes

Of all the places we visited on the French Riviera, I think Antibes was most probably my favourite. Drawn to the old coastal town by its arty reputation, and in particular by its well known connection with Picasso and the museum which now bears his name, we didn’t ultimately end up going to the Picasso museum at all, such were the alternative attractions the town had to offer. For Antibes was all about the atmosphere of its street life – its bustling covered market place, its squares full of cafes and its ancient city walls today imbedded with art galleries – and to enjoy this, one could do no better than to simply stroll. And that is precisely what we did.

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Beginning our visit in the more modern spread of the town, we gasped in delight as we walked along the sandy beach to see the old town in the distance, its silhouette characterised by the rising tower of the Picasso museum, by the old roof of the terracotta and yellow Church of the Immaculate Conception, and by the ancient ramparts which encircle the town. Moving inside those ancient walls under a series of arches and along various beautiful streets, we entered a centre teeming with life, colourful houses, and cafés spilling out onto the pavements.

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Having sampled one such elegant café all decorated in soothing shades of grey, olive and white, we moved out of the town slightly to tour its amply sized marina, full of yachts and sailing craft, and then spent some time on the little beach which is perfectly nestled within the curve of the ancient walls, like a mother’s arm, scooping up sand enough for her child to play in. It was back to the cafés after that, via a multitude of art galleries, colourful shops selling local produce, and sandy squares where locals played pétanque. In the Place Nacionale, we found Antibes’ beating heart in the form of a shady square lined with cafés, bistros and brasseries, and playing host to a busy antiques market, and there, around a fountain which reminded me of the stunning street fountains we had discovered in Aix, we ended the day with a well deserved ice coffee and a glass of wine. Santé!

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown ©2015 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The Honeymoon Chronicles, Part VII: Biot

Admittedly there wasn’t all that much to see in the tiny little Riviera village of Biot in the South of France. We were drawn to the area by the magnificent retrospective museum of Fernand Léger which was located just down the road, and would otherwise have likely overlooked this little hilltop village as we ventured along the coast to the more prominent neighbours of Cannes and Antibes. We had very little interest in the famous “bubble” glass which is made in the village and is at least partly credited with placing the village on the map (the glass has not quite made it into the kind of style echelons that would make it vaguely chic in a contemporary interior design). Nonetheless, we considered Biot worth a quick stroll.

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And indeed it was. For in common with so many others of its neighbouring Riviera villages, Biot is eye-achingly picturesque with its little coloured shutters, village squares and a cute little church to match. Certainly worth a few camera shots, not least because this village distinguishes itself from the masses with a collection of vibrantly curvaceous papier mâché  sculptures placed throughout the town.

Once again, the artistic spirit of the Riviera was omnipresent, and disarmingly beautiful.

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2015 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The Honeymoon Suite II: Bedroom at the Château Le Cagnard

The inspiration which, at La Colombe d’Or, had filled the artist within me with a renewed vitality to paint did not leave me when we departed. Having painted the view from our bedroom there, complete with a small slice of our abode, I became intrigued by the prospect of doing so afresh each time we moved hotels and so, when we moved to the hotel Château Le Cagnard in Cagnes-sur-Mer, and when we discovered to our delight a room with an equally stunning view over the mountains north of the Riviera, I started work immediately.

The second of what I have now termed my Honeymoon Suite is therefore painted in the same line as no. 1 of the series, with a unity between the bedroom in which we stayed, and the view we enjoyed daily. From the cosy sage-tinted armchair happily appointed alongside the window, one could enjoy a view not only of the surrounding landscape, but of countless terracotta rooftops upon pastel-coloured houses. It was the very definition of the Provençal landscape.

Honeymoon Suite II: Bedroom in the Chateau de Cagnard (2015 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

Honeymoon Suite II: Bedroom at the Château Le Cagnard (2015 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacy-brown.com

The Honeymoon Chronicles, Part VI: Cagnes-sur-Mer

Sadly our stay at La Colombe d’Or could not last forever, and for our last remaining two days on the French Riviera, we packed up our things and moved a 20 minute ride or so towards the coast to the unique little old town of Cagnes-sur-Mer. As the name suggests, it’s a town which is well appointed alongside the sea, and also handily close to Nice airport. Split more or less into three parts, it has a coastal town, and upper main town, and an ancient little old town atop a hill (le Haut-de-Cagnes). We had no interest in the first two parts of the triptych, these having been very much ravished by the overdevelopment which in my opinion has cast a horrible shadow over the French Riviera. But the old town, which could never be easily redeveloped such is the character of its ancient steep streets crammed into ramparts hanging on precariously to the edge of a rising highland, was certainly worth further exploration. And luckily it was also where our hotel was situated.

The cemetery of Cagnes-sur-Mer

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We entered Le Haut via a beautiful cemetery, also clustered steeply up hill in rising tiers of decorative stones, crosses and angels. We knew that there was something familiar about it, and were excited to discover that this was the very same graveyard used for scenes of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. Having then explored the site, and had our fill reenacting said scenes from this, one of our favourite films, we headed steeply up hill to the old town.

Le Haut-de-Cagnes

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Le Haut-de-Cagnes is a uniquely medieval other-worldly kind of place whose streets appeared even narrower and steeper than those we had enjoyed in Vence and St-Paul. Somewhat shedding the Riviera vivacity of pastel colours, the houses here were altogether more sombre, with stones and beiges dominating with an innately historical result. At times it felt like we were in the world of King Arthur, not least when we got to centre of town, whose huge square castle can be seen for miles around. However lighter relief could also be found in the main Place Grimaldi, which offered beautiful views Northwards to the stunning mountain range which dominates the region.

Rosy views as the sun went down

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However all in all, this historical richness was somewhat spoilt by the inevitable creep of modernity and development, not in the old town itself, but by the views looking south, west and east. For the French Riviera is nowadays far from the wild paradise which tempted the likes of Auguste Renoir to move south to the Riviera, and in fact to the town of Cagnes where he later lived. Today, it is a sprawling metropolis of busy roads, hotels, and villas crammed one upon another. This did not feel like a coast of luxury, but rather one of the busiest tourist destinations I have experienced outside of London. Sadly, the golden years of the world’s greatest artists discovering a ripe Riviera seem to be long past. But at least we have their paintings, to look upon that lost paradise once more.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2015 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

 

Art on the Riviera: Musée Fernand Léger

I would be the first to admit that I largely overlooked the work of French artist, Fernand Léger. Although I was aware of his uniquely colourful works characterised by simplified figures painted with shaded tones and outlined in black, I had never really seen enough of them to heed Léger much significance. That grave error was to come to an abrupt end on my honeymoon when I attended the Musée Nacional Fernand Léger in the little town of Biot on the French Riviera. Seeing this artist’s magnificent work en masse, grouped together in a chronological retrospective of his life’s work, left me feeling uplifted and awashed by colour, and deeply, deeply satisfied by the sleek finish and positive subject matter depicted in his work.

Enjoying the Biot museum

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Born in 1881 in Normandy, Léger’s early work was characterised by a personal form of cubism, and human forms were reduced and simplified; curling curvaceous hair became what looked like undulating metal sheets, and his paintings drew clear influence from the Futurist movement. Gradually losing people from his works, Léger’s paintings became even more abstractive before an about turn saw the reintroduction of the figure alongside often floating disorientated objects such as keys and blobs of sky and clouds.

Early cubist work leading back into figurative depictions

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From this point onwards, Léger adopted a gradually more figurative, populist style as he sought to use art as a means of attracting not just the cultured set, but the whole of society into galleries, attracted by paintings depicting every day life in bright, happy colours, as well as working life, for example in his masterfully conceived works featuring labourers on scaffolding.

Later works

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Beyond the galleries, the Biot museum offers an immersive grand-scale opportunity to discover some of the artist’s incredible sculptural, ceramic and mosaic works as demonstrated by the immense mosaics which envelop the building, constructed shortly after the artist’s death by his wife and business partner. In a garden laden with pine trees, Léger’s candy coloured sculptures are dazzling in the Riviera sunshine, while the mosaics explode in the landscape with all of the force deserved by this brilliant 20th century artist.

The museum’s exterior and its gardens

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With his boldly simplified treatment of modern subject matter, Léger is rightfully regarded as a forerunner of pop art, and for me an absolute inspiration. I will never underestimate the work of Fernand Léger again.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2015 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved.

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