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Posts tagged ‘Picnic’

An Extraordinary British Summer, Part 1: Glyndebourne

I have been to Glyndebourne, the wonderfully bucolic Sussex opera house, many times. Yet I have never, ever enjoyed the kind of idyllic summer weather which is promised by all the archetypal postcard shots. Many a year I have struggled to pin down a picnic blanket in ferocious blustery winds, cowered in marquees to avoid sudden rain showers, or taken refuse in the covered balconies of thered-bricked opera house building. This year couldn’t have been more different. For we are enjoying an exceptional summer in England, with a sustained period of heat the likes of which has not been seen for decades. Just reward, one might say, for a hellish winter that saw snow storms in March and a cancellation of Spring, but another sign that the world’s weather has all gone a bit mad.

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So finally this was the year for the sunny Glyndebourne picnic which I have long been pursuing like a Templar Knight seeking out the Holy Grail. While the concept of donning a dinner jacket in 30 degrees was far from pleasant, we were at least able to benefit from the shade of drooping willows and the light breeze rolling off green Sussex hillsides. In fact the weather was easily good enough to picnic in style, and we went all out – gone was the bobbled blanket in favour of foldable furniture, a Mallorquín tablecloth and fine china tea cups, all setting the scene for a lakeside picnic which beat the very best of Glyndebourne idylls.

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As for the opera – Pelleas et Mélisande by Debussy – it offered a suitably dreamlike fantasy whose imagery could have come straight out of a painting by the Pre-Raphaelites. Known for its highly symbolic qualities, the narrative was not always one which could be easily followed, but Debussy’s score – at times elegantly impressionistic and at others dramatically Wagnerian – was so exquisitely moving that all one had to do was sit back and enjoy the waves of rousing orchestral crescendo wash over you like water crashing over the eager Sussex shoreline.

Best of all was the the moment when the curtain fell, and we wandered out into gardens still lit by a sky tinged pink from a recently departed sunset. The heat of the sun was now dissipated and a fresher yet balmy breeze enticing us to enjoy the Sussex landscape in this most pleasant of summer hours. If only the British summer was always like this.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorised 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.

A night at Glyndebourne Part 2: Damp Grounds; Delicious Dinner

When you attend the opera in most theatres, doors will open half an hour before. No sooner have you arrived that the bell will go and you’ll hurry to your seats. The interval will provide at most, the opportunity for a rushed glass of something bubbly before your brisk return into the theatre again for the second half. Once the curtain goes down, it’s home as quick as your legs can carry you, avoiding the waves of leaving attendees wherever possible.

Going to see an opera at Glyndebourne is very different. It’s an event; it’s practically a day trip. Before the start of a performance, you can stroll around the grounds, walk around the dammed stream and look at the sheep, enjoy a glass of champagne on a bouncy lawn, or take high tea in one of the restaurants. There is even a small art gallery in the basement of the opera house for your entertainment, and walled gardens bursting with multi-coloured blooms. When it’s finally time for the Opera to begin you watch the first half followed by an interval of 80-90 minutes. It’s during this time that the spirit of Glyndebourne really comes alive, as picnics, already set up by opera-goers all over the perfectly maintained grounds are enjoyed, with time to sit back, sup, and discuss the first half of the performance.

A dammed stream in Glyndebourne’s extensive grounds

It’s the picnics that are, for me, emblematic of Glyndebourne, and offer a wonderful insight into a slice of English society. It’s hilarious to see how people subtly compete with one another. Far from picnicking out on a mere blanket, the Glyndebourne picnickers bring practically their whole dining room with them. They’ll be those who bring a fold up table and deck chairs which are fairly easy to carry and unpretentious. Of course they’ll have a Fortnums hamper with them, but then who doesn’t? They’ll be the ones with the plastic plates and food wrapped up in foil. But on the table next door they’ll be no such shortcuts. For those proud picnickers, the presentation of the picnic is a status symbol. So they bring chairs which are sturdy and firm. Their table is covered by a linen tablecloth with matching napkins. They’ll bring china plates and glass champagne flutes. And who could picnic without a crystal vase of flowers to set off the contents of the table? I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these picnickers bring a Butler too. I adore the charming pretention that comes with these picnics, seen equally as guests vie for the best spot on the grounds, marking their claimed territory with grand extensions of blankets and umbrellas, huge picnic baskets and other tokens of home. All done of course with a broad smile and exchanged pleasantries with the picnic table next door.

Flowers in the walled gardens

Sadly, of my four trips to Glyndebourne, I have never once been able to picnic in the grounds. I’m clearly cursed, as on each of my visits, it’s been either raining, perilously windy, or both. Such is the instability of the English summer. On good days it must be amazing in those grounds. Sadly I am yet to find out. On this visit my mother and I had long given up the hope of picnicking. We were travelling from London with minimal time to prepare, so we booked a table at the Middle & Over Wallop restaurant. As the day approached, we did not regret our decision. True, the rain just about held off, but with a keen wind and grey skies, picnicking conditions were not ideal. Yet still the majority of guests braved the conditions and stuck with their picnicking plans – another apt demonstration of Englishness – to stick it out, no matter what.

For we, perhaps more cynical diners, the Middle & Over Wallop restaurant, run during the season by Leiths with chef Albert Roux overseeing operations, provided a delicious mid-Opera feast in opulent surroundings (the restaurant must be hung with about 50 or so separate chandeliers) which was, most importantly, cosy and dry. What with time being on the short side, everything was chosen in advance, so a swift service was guaranteed.

The Middle and Over Wallop Restaurant

We both started with Hure of organic salmon, smoked salmon, crab and quail egg with watercress dressing. That dressing was light and peppery, and the smoked salmon delicate and moist. It was a fairly simple arrangement but full of flavour.

Next up for me was a blanquette of veal with mint, baby onions, Chanteney carrots and basmati rice. It was exquisite. The cheesy crumb on the top of the veal was to die for, while the meat just fell apart under my knife. Meanwhile my Mummy had a loin of Cumbria fell bred lamb wrapped with saffron couscous, and cumin rataouille. She too was aptly impressed, and this once can even be recreated at home – bonus!

Blanquette of Veal

Saffron couscous encrusted lamb

Dessert was a raspberry triple – a millefeuille of Kent raspberry, raspberry mousse and raspberry coulis. It tasted as good as it looked.

The raspberry triple

Luckily the food, while swiftly served, was light with fairly small portions – I was wearing a waist-repressing cummerbund after all!

So you see, Glyndebourne ain’t all about the Opera – it’s very much an occasion, and one which I cannot wait to repeat again. You never know, next time the sun may actually come out, and I might get to enjoy that picnic after all. But just watch me coming fellow picnickers if I get out on that lawn. Competitive is my middle name.

Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe Part II – A Norm Re-imagining

Yesterday I explored how Manet’s enigmatic masterpiece, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, innovated an entirely new artistic mindset, setting a path towards impressionism, expressionism and beyond. In recognition of its important place in the history of art, countless artists have drawn inspiration from the work, and now I can add myself to the list. In today’s Daily Norm, I exclusively reveal to you my re imagining of Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe…Norm style.

At 40″ x 30″ it’s a large canvas and one that has taken me a lot of work since I begun painting shortly after Christmas. The detail of the picnic, the hampers and the clothes certainly took some doing, not least because I chose to work in oils, with multiple layers which needed to dry before adding the next. Nonetheless, the work was a joy to paint, because Manet’s original provided a template, but not a precise blueprint which meant that I could really explore my own imagination when interpreting the original.

Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (after Manet) 2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, Oil on canvas

As a result, my luncheon is on the grass, but the Norms have a picnic blanket to give them more comfort. Meanwhile the picnic itself is a more civilised affair. Manet’s basket of food is replaced by two hampers from the premium Piccadilly department store, Fortnum and Masons, while the spread of food on offer ranges from traditional pork pies and scotch eggs to a seafood platter, sardines and a cheese board, as well as a number of sweet treats. To drink, the Norms enjoy a bottle of Veuve Clicquot while in the hamper behind them, a flask of earl grey tea lies ready and waiting.

Because I made something of a feature of the picnic in the centre of the canvas, I decided to replace Manet’s spilling basket on the left of the canvas with a spilling Chanel handbag set amongst the nude female’s discarded clothing. Naturally, as well as a compact and nail varnish, the Norm’s handbag contents also include a much needed Oyster travel card, perfectly balancing the canvas with the real oysters within the seafood platter. A pair of Chanel sunglasses and a discarded bra add even more sex-chic to the scene (and yes, Norms do appear to have breasts!).

There are plenty of details in this painting, so below I include a gallery of detail shots for you to enjoy. And with this I leave you to feast your eyes upon this new Luncheon on the Grass, the latest interpretation of a painting which will continue to inspire throughout this next Millennium.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2005-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work 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.