Weekend 'Jaw Cramp' Yum!

photo: corto maltese cap, hugo pratt, window

Perfect château wear - a Corto Maltese lid.

Paris Life - No 11

by Laurel Avery

Paris:- Monday, 14. July:- One of the main reasons I moved to France was that I really enjoy the French lifestyle. The French are masters at the art of living well, even if it's mainly on weekends, when everyone rushes out of Paris, cars loaded with children, dogs, and the occasional canoe. One wonders, where do they can keep a canoe in a miniscule Paris apartment?

I had the opportunity to spend this past weekend at the country home of my friend Bénigne's uncle and auntphoto: tomatos in the Berry region. The ride to Châteauroux was relatively uninteresting, unless you like looking at endless kilometres of wheat fields. It reminded me of driving through Kansas, but at least the wheat is a little shorter than Kansan corn, so you can actually see for long distances.

We did pass one town, called Vierzon, that reminded me of one of the things that inspired me to move to France. Sandy, a good friend from Santa Fe, was passing through that town on a rainy day in the 1950s when he was involved in a car accident.

While he were waiting for the gendarmes to arrive, he snapped a photo of what could be considered a typical French street in a small town, with not a person in sight. He entitled it 'Rainy Street in Vierzon,' and had a print framed for me as a housewarming gift. That print hung on my kitchen wall for two years and every day I would look at it and imagine myself in France.

While we did not stop to see the town, I figured it was for the best, as it would most likely look much different than it had in that photo, full of cars and supermarkets, and the ubiquitous McDonald's.

The weather in France in July can be very variable. June had the type of weather that I would expect in July, andphoto: strawberries thus far July has been more like what one would expect in May. It goes from being rather chilly and rainy to sunny and hot, all within the span of minutes. Having lived in my share of warm summer climates, I really enjoy having to wear a sweater in the evening at the beginning of July!

We arrived at the home of Gilles and Francine in the early evening, and soon after being installed in one of the house's 14 bedrooms, we sat down to dinner outdoors. It was a lovely evening for dining alfresco and a long table was set up outside the dining room, which was arranged with the usual china and silverware one would expect when eating indoors. No plastic forks and cups here!

And with the light lasting until about 10 pm, it made for an idyllic dining experience. Out came the roast pork, or barbecued lamb, or grilled beef - depending upon the meal - accompanied by fresh haricots verts, roasted potatoes, ratatouille, or whatever looked good at the market that day. Of course, it was all accompanied by crusty bread and a wonderful Bordeaux wine, which enhanced the flavors of everything.

At one point, I was asked if I wanted my salad with the cheese course or afterward. I immediately broke out in a sweat, feeling like one of the contestants on 'The $64,000 Question.' If I give the wrong answer will they throw me out of France?

Of course, they didn't care one way or the other, but apparently my answer, 'after,' was the right one. I guess the custom in France is to have the salad after the cheese.

And the cheese was incredible. I especially like goat cheese, and this area is known for it. Some of the best-known chèvres come from this part of the country, but it occurred to me by the end of the weekend that I had not seen one goat during our daily sojourns. Maybe they had all headed down to the south of France like the rest of the country's inhabitants.

Dessert consisted of Oeufs à la Neige - which is a custard made with floating little meringues - a bowl of cooked rhubarb fresh from the garden, which was wonderfully sweet and tartphoto: melons at the same time, to the extent that I got that kind of 'jaw cramp' one gets when eating Sweet-Tarts. Yum! There were also fresh apricots and cherries. I would bite into an apricot and the sweet juice would explode in my mouth and run down my arms.

With great pride, Gilles, who is 76, took Bénigne and I up into the top of one of the house's towers to see his electric train setup. It was two whole rooms, with a lovely view of the surrounding valley, devoted to tiny train tracks, with enough cars to start a railway service. He and Bénigne took great delight in running one of the engines around, fixing the track, etc. I imagine they could have happily stayed there for days, never growing bored. They were like little kids. It was most charming.

It seemed like we spent most of the weekend either eating or making preparations for eating. You would think the French would all be fat, but that's not the case.

I believe it's just due to a healthier lifestyle. Dining with friends and family is an event, meant to be savored and enjoyed. While that can be difficult with today's hectic lifestyles, it's nice to take a break every now and then and really relish the experience.

It's something I hope to take back to the U.S. when I return there for a month's visit next week. If my friends can't come to Paris, I'll bring Paris to them.

Laurel Avery © 2003
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