I was French again for three weeks. Granted, I'm a French citizen, and have been for a third of my life, but even so, it is when back on French soil, living in France, that my French me comes back to the fore.
It happens slowly. First I had to get in a car and depart snowy Northern Michigan, in a lake effect blizzard no less, and drive to Chicago where I spent a lovely evening with dear friends and voracious travelers. We shared my cheese, my venison pâté, their good wine. The next morning I stepped out into perhaps the coldest morning I've experienced in my entire life. I don't think Manhattan winters were ever this bad. Chapeaux to my Chicago friends for surviving that cold! Wow. And then off to the airport, and the two planes to Marseille, then the ride to my home. Then in through that blue door with my name afixed to it. A tangible note stamping this my place.
What is the most French of all? What is iconic and simply screams French? Well, un café et une brioche bien dorée. Exquisite, simple, lovely. That hit of dark power slips down my throat, the golden tender crumb is even better dunked in the dark thick café. Dense enough for a spoon to stand upright, or dissolve, take your pick. And around me hums the weekend shoppers at Les Halles, choosing their vegetables, their petits plats, breads, cheeses, charcuterie, oysters from a nearby estuary off the Mediterranean, or imported overland from Brittany. Baskets, rolling carts, filled and overflowing. Babies in back carriers, couples strolling together after perhaps a magical night of dancing, grandfathers introducing their grandchildren to the buzz and joys of shopping for the family meal. Yes, this is very French. And no doubt Italian, and I'm sure resonates for a number of other cultures. But here, well, I'm in France, Avignon, the heart of the Côte du Rhône Valley where so many are revelling in the unseasonably beautiful weather, strolling the city streets, sitting outside in the bright sunshine, covered for the chilly breeze but soaking up the winter rays. Is it really mid January?
I purchase 250grams of truffles to start the week. Then I check under my stairwell to see if what I'd put away last year (what wasn't drunk last year - when we made a serious dent in my wine cellar over the 2 weeks of classes and numerous dinners and visits at the house). What more do I need? A selection of cheeses, raw milk to make some ricotta/brousse and pastry cream, eggs from a local supplier, and vegetables to balance out the richness of the week's fare. But I also stop by the organic whole sale supplier where I pick up my favorite organic flour blends. I get some baker's yeast from M. Le Blanc in Arles, where I also pick up a box of chocolates and two variations on the Kings' Cake.
I start my bread, pull my personal dishes out of storage, make up the beds, scrub the bathroom and kitchen surfaces, mow the lawn, and then take a moment to walk outside, on my favorite path by the Rhône.