The castle is situated in Picardy, more specifically the Somme, department in the Picardy region. It is north of Île-de-France, French heartlands, and south of Pas-de-Calais.
Picardy, region of rivers and canals, of cargo boats and barges, of early mornings, as silent and still as a Flemish tapestry – smoky haze above the water, hunters, mallards leaving the reed, dogs.
Just east of Picardy is Champagne-Ardenne, the Champagne district, the only place on the planet with the right to call its sparkling wine Champagne. The name is listed.
The Somme is named after the river that flows out into the English Channel. It is the region’s most northerly department. The residential town of Amiens is famous for its 13th century church, a cathedral with truncated towers. The Great War broke in 1914. Here, in the immediate vicinity, bitter feuds took place in the summer and autumn of 1916. The British and the French on one side, and the Germans on the other.
More than a million men died in the mud. It is hard to imagine. The terrain of the old battlefields is hilly, often due to trenches and grenade explosions. Today it is a pastoral idyll with braying sheep and the clang of bells.
In the verdant landscape, the war cemeteries are scattered like picnic blankets, the British ones with rows of white headstones behind brick walls. On every other stone it says Known unto God, no name. Great trees with foliage in British Racing Green stand guard along the walls. Here and there, you find German cemeteries with their cross-stitch patterns.
The small towns and villages are still where they once were, towns and villages on either side of the frontier, with little castles and inns where the high-ranking officers dined while explosions lit up the night sky – oysters, lobster, pâté de foie gras and partridge, the orderly standing to attention and the dry Vintage Krug cooling – above nine degrees and below eleven. But that’s a different story altogether.
In a Ford Model T, christened Aunt Pauline after an elderly relative of Gertrude’s, the ladies drove all over France with food and medicine for the wounded soldiers. On their Tour de France, the two sharp Americans had breakfast, lunch and dinner in small hotels and inns, where they probably toasted in champagne with the high-ranking officers; a votre santé, Mesdames!
The ladies’ ravenous appetite was a form of civil disobedience, a manifestation of peace. After the war it continued at the same pace. Their lives had turned into one long picnic. In Paris, the rustic couple held a famous literary salon. Picasso and Hemingway often dropped by the ladies on 27 rue de Fleurus. Once, Picasso painted Stein’s portrait. ‘That’s not what she looks like,’ someone spitefully remarked. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ replied the artist. ‘She will look like that’.
The kitchen was Toklas’ domain. In her minor classic The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, harsh recipes are mixed with biographic paragraphs and anecdotes from her own kitchen, garnished with trips around France. A selection has been published under the title Murder in the Kitchen. There’s an awful lot of stuffed duck, pigeon and carp. Mr Carp was her first victim. But that is a different story altogether.
Again, this is about a kitchen, a different one. The castle in the Somme once served as a hotel, but has now reverted to being a private residence. The king of the castle is a highborn, Danish gentleman. The family has resided in England for years. His wife, the Countess, tells of how she happened to read about Kvänum in an interior design magazine. Beforehand she hadn’t heard of the Swedish brand. But her friends had – and she was not disappointed.
It is a big house with a small kitchen. The surface, that is. The volume is considerable; there is plenty of space height wise. The Countess quickly decided on Kvänum. The company’s wide range of high cabinets made quite an impression. She chose Broby, hand painted in pearl green, and planned, as well as designed the kitchen herself. It was imperative to finish on time, as it had to be completed for an important family event.
She is very fond of her kitchen, although an aluminium ladder has to be used at all times. And another thing – had she known that Kvänum make jalousie cabinets, the Countess would have ordered one in pearl green with Johnny Håkansson’s roll mechanism. She didn’t know. And that’s her one complaint.