I wasn’t really naked.  I simply didn’t have any clothes on…
~Joséphine Baker

Gotta love her guile — “I was not really nude, but was clad in nothing.”

Well, welcome to zany Bastille Day (July 14), and the chaos that ensued on le Tour de France on Mont Ventoux today — with the yellow jersey farcically running up the mountain on more than ludicrous shoes with rigid carbon fiber soles and underneath clips. Well done, childish and irresponsible spectators. Mayhem, where it should not be.

I deeply adore lamb shanks, as you might note from just perusing this site.

These opulent, yet bourgeois, lamb shanks somehow remind me of and even obsoletely yearn for  Joséphine Baker’s savory, almost sugary brown legs, loins, oh so fine buttocks and breasts, and my country’s (France’s) mutual passion with her.  I do have an American passport, but call France “home” especially during these baffling and bewildering Drumpfesque days.

Of humble beginnings in St. Louis (born Freda Josephine McDonald), she was a hit in New York City, but sailed to Paris and became a divine, silken, and often sensual even erotic, African American captivating dancer.  Mlle. ou Mme. Baker hit her apex, her pinnacle in Paris and perhaps was bisexual.  She also performed for troops and was even a spy for her adopted land, France, during World War II. She hid weapons and smuggled documents across the border, tucking them beneath gowns and other undergarmets.  After the war, she was bestowed upon with the Croix de Guerre, Rosette de la Resistance, and Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur.

Before and after she also took Europe by storm, was adored by so many, often referred to as the Black Venus, Black Pearl and Creole Goddess.  Ernest Hemingway dubbed her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.”  Who could forget the Danse Sauvage or the bananas and plumes she so scantily and exotically wore?  Due to rampant racism at home, Joséphine Baker became a legal denizen of France, speaking two tongues, and ultimately gave up her American citizenship. There, she became perhaps the most renowned ex-pats of France.

With so many children (she preceded and far exceeded Angelina Jolie — Joséphine had 12 children.  Baker raised two daughters, French born Marianne and Moroccan born Stellina, and 10 sons, Korean born Jeannot (or Janot), Japanese born Akio, Colombian born Luis, Finnish born Jari (now Jarry), French born Jean-Claude, and Noël, Israeli born Moïse, Algerian born Brahim, Ivorian born Koffi, and Venezuelan born Mara, the group of 12 that was called the Rainbow Tribe along with a harem of monkeys, a chimpanzee, a parrot, parakeets, a pig, a snake, a goat, several dogs and cats and a pet cheetah.  Mme. ou Mlle. Baker (depending on when and with whom you spoke) even benevolently employed some one half of the citizens of the nearby village and had a restaurant built in the neighboring countryside.

Even though Josephine Baker was believed to be then the richest woman in the world, she underwent the shame of bankruptcy at a later stage in life despite help from Princess Grace of Monaco and Bridgette Bardot.  This beloved and dazzling parisian artiste was rudely foreclosed upon at Château des Milandes near Dordogne in the Périgord region by creditors, and she was exploited by so many others.  She was literally locked out of her beloved home by the new owner, little doubt un nouveau riche. Soon afterwards, she died from a cerebral hemorrhage.  Alas, we all die — but, we commonly do not have statues, bas reliefs, sculptures, plaques, places, halls of fame, piscines, parcs, boutiques, hotels, photos, films, and are lavished with so many honors, commendation letters, medals, processions, parades in our honor, named and created for us, upon our demise.  Joséphine Baker did them all.

GRILLED LAMB SHANKS

2-3 lamb shanks, about 1 – 1 1/4 lb each
3 T extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 C cognac or brandy
1 C port
1 C or so, chicken stock or broth
6-8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled & smashed

1 T balsamica di modena
1-2 dollops of whipping cream or crème fraîche

Combine lamb shanks, port, stock, salt and pepper and garlic in a Dutch oven with some olive oil. Turn heat to medium high or high and bring to a boil. Cover and adjust heat so that the mixture simmers gently. Cook placed downwards, turning about every 30 minutes, until shanks are tender, about 2 hours.

Remove shanks, tent them, and strain the sauce.  Skim fat from top of sauce and preheat a charcoal grill so it makes you restrain your hand from the grill at about 3 seconds: so, medium high.   Then, place the braised shanks on the grill, rolling and moving, until nicely browned and crusted, with a total cooking time of about 15 minutes.  While grilling, heat the sauce from the previous braising by simmering quietly with a dollop or two of whipping cream or crème fraîche, and add red vinegar (balsamica di modena).

Serve sauce with shanks, eat with risotto, egg noodles, smashed potatoes or polenta, and they all go swimmingly well with a fine French côtes du rhône, bourgogne, bandol or Oregon pinot noir.

Pourboire:  nor should callous carnage and chaos ever exist again on the Promenade des Anglais, a storied boulevard on Nice’s coast during France’s national holiday, Bastille night.  Une vraie honteun énorme calamité.   Tant d’enfants sont tués et estropiés.  Quel dommage, pour ne pas dire plus.  Je suis tellement attristé — mon coeur vous tend la main. Mon dieu!

Very much unlike Joséphine Baker, you will be remembered forever as nothing but a psychotic, murderous butcher, especially of children…whatever your name is or will be.

 

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Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.
~Edgar Degas

Several months after the fall of France in 1940, four teenagers and a dog, Robot, stumbled upon the now renowned Upper Paleolithic wall paintings in the Lascaux valley. With that chance find brought a wondrous era of knowing prehistoric art, touching our origins and realizing the awe of humanity and nature. The timing seemed ironic.

This complex of decorated limestone caves, La Grotte de Lascaux, is located in the Vézère river drainage basin in the département of the Dordogne. Magical messages from the depths of prehistory are encoded on these walls. Stunningly, there are nearly 2,000 painted figures, which can be grouped into three basic images: animals (bulls, bison, equines, stags, felines, et al.), human figures and abstract signs. Rooms include The Hall of the Bulls, the Passageway, the Shaft of the Dead Man, the Nave, the Apse, and the Chamber of Felines.

Many of the painted animals are depicted with multiple heads, legs or tails, which according to Marc Azéma of the University of Toulouse–Le Mirail and Florent Rivère, an artist based in Foix, intended to give life to and show beasts in action. Flickering torches and flames which passed over painted scenes would have heightened onlookers’ sense of seeing animated stories. The Lascaux cave has the greatest number of cases of split-action movement by the superimposition of successive images. These Stone Age images were likely the precursors to comic strips, motion picture cartoons, and modern animation — even cinema — according to their research which was published in the most recent issue of the journal, Antiquity. News of these findings has taken the art history world by storm. “Prehistoric man foreshadowed one of the fundamental characteristics of visual perception, retinal persistence,” noted Azéma and Rivère.

This is a canonical French potato dish originating in the gastronomically flush southwest (Le Sud-Ouest). Duck fat, a pantry staple in the Dordogne, imparts silkiness inside and golden crisp edges to the spuds.

POMMES DE TERRE SARLADAISES (POTATOES IN DUCK FAT)

1 lb fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise or Yukon Golds, sliced about 1/4″ thick

1/2 C rendered duck fat
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary

Fresh parsley leaves, chopped (optional)

Rinse potatoes whole under cold water, then dry thoroughly and slice. Heat a large, heavy skillet or Dutch oven (une cocotte) over medium high heat add the duck fat until just melted. Then add potatoes, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme, and rosemary. Toss together to coat well over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium and gently sauté, stirring occasionally, until fork tender, about 20-25 minutes. Remove and discard thyme and rosemary sprigs. Finish with optional chopped parsley.