Friday, February 19, 2016

Being French Again - un rappel

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'm here to work and to play, or perhaps more specifically, to reconnect. I've truffles to purchase and guests arriving shortly, so I'll be readying my guest bedrooms and doing a top to toe cleaning/dusting of my home, my garden, my front yard. My larder must be filled, my home made ready, the wood stove stoked, the fallen sycamore leaves raked away. Care-taking and tending is needed. I need to call my artisan colleagues and organize our week of truffling, cooking, marketing, wine tasting and more. But this doesn't feel like work. I'm calling friends and colleagues. I'm scheduling visits to places I love and where I feel ever so welcomed. I've left American politics and the craziness of this non-stop presidential race far far away. Or at least that is one of the goals.
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.

 I also need to orchestrate seeing close friends. How to do this when I've a full program with guests? When your friends are patient and willing to adapt to your crazy schedule, it does help. So right away, a special lunch in the Lubéron where I finally get to see the wonderful new home of my dear friend Nathalie. Her companion has chosen a special wine for me, she serves a delicious quiche, salad and tart. And the conversation flows -- I confess I'm so excited to be back, to be with her, to be again at a French table where conversation is art, life, vibrant, leaping, never still... Nathalie understands, and I think realizes that if we had more than one day to see each other, I wouldn't be quite so intense. I'm bursting to communicate, analyze, comment, question. She has been living a very interesting passage with family, children, inheritance, art, teaching, making ends meet (she's very gifted at coping - and like myself, has lived the peripatetic life, which doesn't lend to accumulating a huge retirement account). I love that she is willing to share, and to go to these personal topics, as well as covering politics, bringing me up to speed on what's going on in the South. I am overflowing, quite literally, with the urgency and delight of being here, with her, with a friend so open, smart, communicative. I probably talked her out (or listened her out). But, well, she got me right off the boat when I was exceptionally un-grounded and craving such wisdom/humor/energy. But then, that's a dear and special friend. Right?

As the chèvre-feuille climbs to the balcon above, warmed by the life-giving sun of the South, so I too find myself, nourish myself as I seek to nourish others, sharing what is so special in this part of the world I have called home.


Béné said...

I don't understand how you come back to the States, when you write so beautifully about your stay in Avignon. Food, wine, friendship, beautiful home, what else could one hope for? It puzzles me :)).

Anonymous said...

How lovely madeleine I love it you get me thinking. I just took a flat in Marseille btw, maybe next time you fly back ? Get on a boat :)
Bisou à tous ! Léo

Madeleine Vedel said...

Dear friends - such is the confusion of life and living, particularly with two cultures so deeply in my soul. And, Léo, I'd love to come see your new flat! and go boating!