A picnic is more than eating a meal, it is a pleasurable state of mind.
— DeeDee Stovel
It is in the coldest days that our soul feels the need for refection under the warm rays of the sun.
After briefly showing up unexpected, the first days of cold weather forced us to get the warmest and fuzziest sweaters out of our wardrobe, but at some it just gets lazy and lets us enjoy the last days of tepid sunlight. It is in that exact moment that we feel the unquenchable desire to leave our homes to witness how the whole world around us turns red and burnt orange, right before dying in order to be able to sprout again in spring. A glorious spectacle that’s always vaunted in poems but never predictable.
A perfect place to take delight in fully living a beautiful and relaxed autumn afternoon is in Kyoto, on the banks of the Kamo River, just across the street from Wife&Husband Café, a flawless gem from a different era, allowing its customers to set up a very vintage-feeling picnic. Maybe even an impressionist one.
The exteriors are immediately revealing of a simple and timeless place, with baskets and stools hanging in front of the Café window, in a practical and aesthetically pleasing order. The Café is small and intimate, with wooden furniture, quaint jugs and saucers, the scent of fresh coffee and dried flowers in the air. They produce their own blend (called Daughter) starting from whole grains, but they also offer single origin coffee options, hot or cold tea and juice, as well as toast and cakes (just a couple choices, but absolutely delicious and very light).
To allow customers to enjoy the sun and the nearby park, the owners decided to offer a unique service: with a few yen it is possible to rent stools, chairs, wooden tables in different sizes, straw hats and parasols and to fill a picnic basket with their products, which means that customers are only left with the heavy duty of walking peacefully along the river in the search for the perfect place to stop.
The unexpected atmosphere of the Café and the custom of the picnic recall places and eras far away. The picnic as we know it is a custom developed in England in the Eighteenth Century: English nobles used to make a frugal meal in the open air after a hunt. The term, however, has a French origin and derives from pique-nique, where piquer is to be intended in the sense of “nibble” and nique as “thing of little importance”. We know that this word was already used by the English in 1748, when it first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary.
From that moment on, the picnic has spread among the well-to-do European classes, detaching itself from hunting and becoming increasingly recognized as a convivial meal in itself. The period of maximum fame was undoubtedly the Nineteenth Century, when landscape painting regained vigor, studies on light and color deepened and the genesis of the Macchiaioli and the Impressionists occurred, with both styles of painting being very interested in this habit of the picnic.
In Kamogawa you can rediscover yourself as in Claude Monet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe, lying under the foliage of the trees, with sun rays running through the leaves to reach the placemat and the picnic basket. With a thermos full of hot coffee and good company, even the joyful indolence painted by Tissot in The Picnic (Holiday) does not seem far, even if the distance between us and the scenes painted in these masterpieces is both physical and temporal. The flow of time seems to lose meaning on the banks of the river and it is almost possible to believe the perfect serenity can be reached with the only help of a picnic set and a clear day.