22 November, 2010

In black and white.

It’s getting colder in fits and starts here and there's far too little daylight for my liking. What to do, when it's raining cats and dogs outside and your house is filled to the brim with children (five to be exact)?
If you live in the Cévennes you bundle them into the car to go take part in the 13th edition of the annual “Contes en Balades,” a regional festival built around story-telling and the arts going on now. The festival takes place over some ten days in far-flung villages all over the Cévennes/Gard.

Each event is highly original—and free. Talented performers receive funding from the region to put on high-quality performances centered around oral history-- for the very youngest to the oldest among us. This year, the theme is myth and mythology.

These black and white illustrations are all taken from the sumptuously designed program. I do wish I could take credit for any one of these; failing that, I wish I could properly give credit to the actual artists, but though I looked, I couldn’t find any information on their origins.  Aren't they marvelous though?
The shamanic owl man above, with the magical ray-book, illustrated the program page describing our afternoon of entertainment.  We saw a dance company that deeply and beautifully wove sign language into the story and choreography of their performance.  The lead was a young deaf person with a killer smile and stage presence. He played the role of a hermit sorcerer misunderstood and feared by the nearby village, and who, as it turns out, was deaf.    
The simple but surprisingly engaging piece was followed by some virtuoso break-dancing, again with lyrics about sign language and signs built into the performance.  It was so cheering to see how he embodied a positive, hip, and fun deaf role model for the kids, who were eating it up (we mothers weren't displeased either, for the record).  Because really, how many well-balanced positive role models for the deaf can you think of?  Perhaps a third of the children in the audience were deaf--and their excitement about understanding the show, about the performers--was moving to witness.

If you're in the area, the shows (each one quite different in their approach to myth) go on for another week or so.  You can find out more, although both the information and the performances themselves are in French. 

If you aren't in the Cevennes, you can do part of what I did, which was to bake an old-fashioned treat from up north, on the Moselle River, a feather-light crème fraîche-raised cake, flecked with grated chocolate, for the children's gouter (snack), using a recipe I'd plucked from a cookbook at the library, Le Grand Livre du Chocolat (the Big Book of Chocolat), by Bertrand Meyer and Sylvie Boizet.  What caught my eye? Chocolate.  And easy as all get out. I asked the children whether they liked it; as their mouths were full...but they signed their approval.

Gâteau de Metz (Metz Cake)
Serves 8-10.

4 eggs
1 heaped cup (or 225 g) fine granulated sugar
3/4 scant cup (or 125 g) dark chocolate
1 1/4 cup (or 125 g) flour
3/4 heaped cup (or 2 dl/200 g) crème fraîche
1/3 cup (or 50 g) confectioner's/powdered sugar

Preheat oven 190C.  Grease and flour a 9 inch (22 cm) round pan.  

Finely grate the dark chocolate (if the shavings aren't fine enough, they will settle to the bottom in a bit of a clump).  Beat the eggs and fine sugar for 10 minutes, using a wooden spoon, or use an electric mixer for 5 minutes,as I did.  Add the grated chocolate, flour and crème fraîche, beating well after each addition. 

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool completely and sprinkle with confectioner's sugar.


  1. Sounds like a magical event. I've been really interested in the art of oral storytelling lately.

    I'm intrigued by the gateau, and I love that you served it to children as their snack. I know so many American moms who would have a fit if their kid ate chocolate cake for a snack.

    And I believe that the third illustration is by the art nouveau artist Aubrey Beardsley. Just a guess, I've never seen that piece in particular, it just looks like his style.

  2. I love the idea of the age-old art of storytelling - combined with break-dancing!

  3. Hi Rose,
    I enjoy Beardsley's work, it's certainly in his style, but I've never noticed it before either, and I've a couple of books on his art. Hmm, if I had more time I'd go back through them...

    As for the children, I say let them eat cake! Ha. Seriously, moderation? So key. For all of us. These kids are active, and have no regular/extensive access to television, computer games and such, so there's no "vegging" going on.

    I think oftentimes the outright banning of a substance (whether chocolate or alcohol), makes it that much more attractive...

    This is a very light-textured cake, no butter, just dotted with good-quality dark chocolate. So hardly even a chocolate cake in the standard American sense, especially if you cut it in French proportions. You make it in a snap (did you notice? NO baking powder, soda or other leavening aids!), they help. Oh, it was fun--and delicious for old and young palates!

    Hello Rosy,

    I know, I laughed too, because they even incorporated some 1970s soul into the (old) story telling part, and it all came together so beautifully for the youngsters, who ate it (and the musical energy) up! We just sat back and enjoyed their physical dexterity...and how beautifully they integrated the sign language.


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