The Chef Diaries (Entry Number 43): The Artist in the Window

oldest street in lyon

3 January 2015 - Lyon, France

Quickly finishing a tepid cup of several-hours-old coffee, I walked to the back of the apartment to escape the sound of motorcycle engines, car horns and bicycle bells tinkling on the busy streets of downtown Lyon. On my way, I paused near the children’s room; the clicking sounds of Legos being shuffled around by my 3 children and their adoring father persuaded me to keep moving towards the kitchen and pour myself another cup – this time a hot one. After catching a whiff of lamb surrounded by two dozen garlic cloves, slow-roasting in its own juices, in the oven (the most recent class-favorite from my studies in culinary school at L’Institut Paul Bocuse,) I lovingly cradled the mug of fresh coffee and sat myself down by the second-story kitchen window overlooking the atelier of “The Artist-Who-is-Truly-Googleable!” (as my husband and I endearingly refer to him.)

“The Artist” was exactly as I had seen him last – standing perfectly still in front of his most recent masterpiece, scarf and arms both wrapped tightly around his body. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw him pick up a brush. Sipping on my fresh coffee (mmm) I wondered if he had memorized it in its entirety. I began to have mental images of him crawling into the artwork itself in order to dissect every corner, inspect every color, touch every brush stroke and feel every single, last thread on the entire canvas. (Another sip of coffee – mmm.) How perfectly and simply brilliant of him, I thought. I then considered all the subtlest of nuances he would see and the feelings he would experience in that particular piece of artwork; nuances and feelings that no one else would. I thought about his depth of understanding of which complexities no one else, quite possibly, would ever take the time to notice or understand.

I realized that the relationship “The Artist-Who-is-Truly-Googleable” had with his masterpiece was the exact relationship and the perfect example of how my family and I were attempting to live out our transient time in Lyon; he was treating his work precisely how I wanted to treat the amazing opportunity we were given. We had exactly three years to fully immerse ourselves and to delve completely into the culture, to inspect every corner, memorize every color, touch every feature and experience every thread of life with the French.

Epilogue: 14 September 2017 - Hampton, VA

In my humble opinion, France is unparalleled; she has the exceptional way of imprinting herself and her culture on your soul - a way of finding a place in your heart - no matter how close (or not) you are paying attention to her. Remembering myself sitting at my kitchen window watching “The Artist,” and sitting here now, writing this while surrounded by moving boxes back in Hampton, VA, I could and can still conjure up the precise, early-morning, yeasty smell of each family-owned bakery on our street in Lyon, I could and can still hear the confident click-clack of the heels worn daily, in rain or shine, by the impeccably dressed French women of the 6th arrondissement, market bags in hand, promenading up the street, and I could and can still imagine that I see smartly dressed children scootering past tiny yipping dogs while their grey haired masters shake their heads in dismay at the youth of today.

It is the seemingly insignificant moments that fill our memories of France. It is the stories, the history, the colors, the smells, the tastes and flavors, the innocuous sounds of everyday life, and of each arrondissement; the cabbie whose taxi is covered in American flags because his father watched the American tanks roll into Lyon and taught him “America above all else,” the fourth-generation chocolatier, the sweet taste of delicately flavored macarons, the feel of cobblestones under your feet and the sound of church bells ringing. It is these little moments, simple memories & rich stories that make France, well France. And it is these little moments, simple memories & rich stories from France that I want to keep alive by sharing them with you.

- Libby Oroza

   co-founder À Table Ensemble