Nothing to say and Blanc continued …

As said earlier I started writing this particular blog from fear of never having anything to write about again and feeling that what I wanted to write about, which is what I am writing, required super-ego censorship. One of the privileges of writing a blog is that I am writing for myself and without vision of publishers throwing up hands in exasperation at the con-fusions, or disorders of my writing, which does not take well to categorisation.

Back to the Blanc anecdote…

I omitted to say that the friend with whom I was in conversation has mesmeric blue eyes that never cease to astonish; it is not surprising that I had not been at all distracted by the pacing man. Once she identified him as Raymond Blanc it was different. My eyes wandered back to his pacing presence. Blanc has played a meaningful role in our marriage. His cookery books on our shelves, (along with Nigella’s) are the most battered and stained. Cooking with Friends is my all time favourite. Throughout our life John and me have saved to go to the ‘Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons.’ My diet is now compromised to the extent that I am almost reduced to bitter leaves, but I still love restaurants as long as nobody makes a fuss about my restrictions.

I have admired and been intrigued by Blanc for many reasons. Firstly, if his publicity is to be believed, he has no time for abusive kitchen regimes and he is known to be a mentor of the young. I feel privileged and a bit surprised every time a young person trusts me. He has recovered from a stroke and resulting paralysis. Rumour has it that he married his psychotherapist, which inevitably intrigues. Blanc revers the ‘elders’ too. The Manoir feels as though the ghost of his grandmother is busily at work amongst the copper pots. And, he has cultivated one of the most beautiful English and potager gardens which delight me even more than the restaurant. The last time we visited the restaurant was a midsummer July day. As we wondered between lavender pathways we happened upon Blanc returning from the vegetable beds with a young sous chef. Both wearing floppy sun hats, Blanc was reclined against the young man; both carrying wicker baskets filled with vegetables and bunched herbs. It was a pastoral image. Blanc’s continuing joy of cultivating and gathering vegetables was visible at the same time as having presided over a restaurant empire that has retained its reputation for over thirty years.

When my friend identified Blanc I had a spontaneous impulse to go over to him and say how much I admired him. As I was about to move out of my chair she remonstrated. I was not to do so! She was appalled by what she saw as his celebrity behaviour. How dare he feel entitled to intrude on our meeting by using his mobile so openly. So noisily. Why did he feel entitled by his celebrity status to behave so… We had hitherto been in conversation about her fury at the intrusion of ‘Google’ into her private life and her exasperation at how impossible it was to remove unwanted references from printed matter. She is many years my junior but I felt as though my autonomy and authority had been subdued. Not subdued but castrated. I was not angry with her but more intrigued by my submission and also my private reflection – now a substantial if invisible distraction from the external conversation – on the pleasure that feelings of admiration inspire in me. I had been censored! Even when she departed to the loo I did not disobey. I would have enjoyed the childish experience of spontaneously approaching a stranger, albeit an icon and blurt or babble how they had influenced my life; had been a source of pleasure. Naive I may be, but Blanc is among the gods who inhabit my private pantheon or acropolis. The world is so full of disillusion and suffering that I revere pleasure and play.

So often I have had to fawn admiration. I have done so in order not to cause offence. Fawning is one of the most indigestible sensations of the authenticity of self. There are thankfully also times, often in my consulting room, when unimpeded I do offer admiration, which is not at all the same as flattery.

In fact what I want to write about is the binary opposition of envy and admiration and the inevitability of celebrity status creating masquerade. Another time perhaps, as the mood, or winds might take me.

There is a post-script to this silly story.

Sitting in the corner of the lounge was an elderly man with an older and decrepit dog curled up on a tartan rug. (The only reason I belong to this club is because they welcome dogs and children. By another coincidence the building too has another magical Wren stairway leading up to its common rooms. I can never ascend these stairs without thinking of that first meeting on the crossroads of my life.) The man and his dog tend to be there most weekends, or rather whenever I visit. A man and his dog. Always alone. When Blanc managed to get off his phone he approached the man and asked if he could join him. He sat down and chatted. Perhaps, like me he smelt his loneliness but unlike me thought to heal it. For a moment I thought they were related but as I eavesdropped they turned out to be strangers. After talking about the time of day and the dog, and the world Blanc got up, smiled across at us. At least I thought he did. And departed.

John does not have many pictures of the restaurant although he has a picture of my celebratory strawberry martini cocktail, and the Manoir’s ancient cedar, possibly a Cedrus Atlantica, as well as the beautiful lake statuary which includes a heron. Or two.

Gardens at the Manoir
I am always drawn to water lilies which like the lotus flower feed on muck, mud and sludge.

Raymond Blanc, I celebrate you from a distance with my strawberry Manoir martini. Photos by John Haynes

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