Therese and I were already approaching the end of our first week in France as we made our way over to Rouen’s major art museum, the Musee des Beaux-arts, on Friday, July 1st. We had a couple things to do on our itinerary for the day; for example, we needed to pay a visit to the car rental office in the train station to make sure they would have a car with automatic transmission for us to rent the following Wednesday for a road trip into the countryside.
To start things off, I delved into one of the cookbooks I brought with us to France, the Norman Table by Claude Germont, for a breakfast of apple pancakes.
We set out right after breakfast, trying to make the most of the day. We had an errand to run before our day’s sightseeing, namely to pick up an sd chip for photo storage (my old phone was saying that the chip I had in it was corrupted). Therese had researched and found an IT store not far from us, on the colorfully-named Quartier Croix-de-Pierre, with its wonderful Fontaine de la Croix-de-Pierre.
Walking down the street to the bus stop, we passed by the Church of St-Vivien, which actually was just next door to our apartment in Rouen.
From there, we took the bus straight to the train station. We waited in line and then had the typical European experience. You see, when we got to the head of the line and began speaking to the rental car agent, he listened to our request, and then very politely explained that he would be glad to help us, but his lunch break was about to begin (it was noon), so he would be happy to meet us in one hour and continue our conversation.
We tried to make the best of staying nearby, going to have some lunch ourselves at the nearby Cafe Le Metropole. I ordered a salmon salad which as I recall may have been the one item on the rather limited menu that was definitely dairy free. In any case, it was very filling.
There was one other item on the menu that sounded wonderful, and inspired me in my cooking – a white sausage and potato tart. I resolved to find the ingredients to create just such a dish in our Rouen kitchen.
After lunch we finished our business with the car rental agent, and then rode the bus back to the Beaux-arts museum. To explain what happened next, I need to go back to our first visit to Rouen, and the museum, in 2014. You see, on that occasion, we only had time to see the special exhibit on display (an excellent exhibit on France’s cathedrals called, appropriately enough, Cathedrales). Now, we were planning on seeing the museum’s current special exhibit, on Impressionism, when our friend Faith visited Rouen during our last week there. As a result, on this occasion, we decided to pursue the unorthodox strategy of only seeing the museum’s permanent collection.
Unorthodox, because the museum is set up with the idea that you will see the special exhibit first, and then proceed from there to the permanent collection, passing through the museum in a sort of counterclockwise fashion. Since we decided not to do that, we went the other way, starting basically at the end and going through the museum backwards. We confused at least one museum docent, but in the end, it worked out just fine for us.
This museum has a wealth of nineteenth century paintings, and passing through the permanent collection introduced me to many artists I’ve never heard of before (for example, Theodore Gericault). There is, for example, an entire gallery of paintings about Joan of Arc (appropriate since Rouen is her city).
As we passed through the galleries, we saw many great paintings. Some of the ones that stood out for me were a painting of the Jumieges Abbey (a Medieval ruin that we would be visiting the following week), a sumptuous painting of Niagara Falls, and probably my most favorite one of all was a painting by Flemish Primitive painter Gerard David of the Virgin Mary in a room full of virgins.
There was one other gallery in the museum that really caught our attention. Earlier in 2016, Therese and I (and our friend Faith) had visited the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia for the first time, seeing the rooms curated by the collector Albert C. Barnes himself. We found some of them rather too crowded, with walls filled with a mixture of late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century paintings, wrought iron work and other artifacts. Well, when we walked into this gallery in the Rouen Beaux-arts Museum, we immediately thought of Barnes.
And sure enough, we read a description on one of the walls saying that this gallery was indeed donated, and curated, by Barnes. Little did we know that there was a connection between Rouen and Barnes!
To finish off the day, I worked on another recipe from the collection of Norman food I had put together. In this case, it was a Veal Scallopine with Apples (and Calvados and cream, the usual Norman accompaniments to nearly every dish), from Chef Jacques Pepin. I’d never cooked veal before, and the scallops of it I bought from the Monoprix were nice and tender. Once again, I used a mix of soy and coconut milks for my “cream” part of the recipe – and while that probably didn’t thicken and adhere to the veal and apples quite as much (or produce as brown a color) as dairy cream would, it produced a very satisfying dish nevertheless.