More pleasures….I have internet now. Damn beautiful. I feel like weeping…okay…the saga continues..
Pleasure #20 The bus
Little old French ladies on the bus. They speak with great gusto to the bus conductors and pretty much hold a conversation for as long as they are on the bus. The bus conductors seem to know pretty much everyone and are constantly waving.
Pleasure #21 Strange style
I just saw a rather gorgeous young man who looked like a monk of some sort with a shaved head and a long, very long zztop beard. And I saw something that looked like a huge dinosaur egg cracked in half to reveal a fire hydrant. I’m not sure why the fire hydrant has to be encased in an egg, but that’s alright. I also got correct change before I paid for a lemonade and when I protested, the waiter said he’d heard my 10 euro note. Apparently, according to him, it makes a specific sound.
Pleasure #22 Foraging
I was a bit traumatized because my male cat, after hardly appearing for 4 days, really did take off for ten days. Ten days! All I could think, having just watched Lost was “The Island…the Island demands a sacrifice…no! TAKE ME!”
Anyhow, since it is the Island, and all hope was gone, I heard the Siamese trademark yowl at four in the morning, dashed out in my exceedingly non-french underwear and couldn’t find him. I go back up to my second floor room. There it is again, the meow. Turns out he’s on the roof and can’t get down and can’t leap onto the window ledge so I hang out the window, grab him by the scruff of his neck and drag him in. He’s famished. I’m dizzy. We both eat at four in the morning. That cat just revoked his partying rights for the next four days. After several cat posters depicting a cross-eyed cat and trying to explain in french that chocolat and crème was not a lost dessert but a lost animal….immense relief. The guilt was actually affecting my appetite.
But, I digress. What I meant to say was this: looking for a lost animal is an excellent way to forage locally and establish yourself as the village idiot. I’ve discovered several chestnut trees, a hazel nut bush, decent raspberries, several black and white fig trees and some ur-blueberries that are a bit too bitter to be worth the venture. Also, the entire town is lousy with Golden Purslane, which, in my humble opinion, is one of the most delicious succulent salad greens in the world. I’ve tried, with only mild success, in growing it at my garden in California. Here, it’s everywhere. YUM! I’m also tryng to relocate my white mulberry tree. I think it was on the way to the lazy river.
Mind you, if you see “Lost”, you know that when you see some sort of fruit you are curious about, lick it like that crazy man. If your mouth swells up and you begin to froth, you done wrong. Also, don’t think horse chestnuts are chestnuts. They ain’t.
I might add that I am constantly trying out things I shouldn’t. I musta been a Borgia cupbearer in my last lifetime, so great is my zeal to do myself in with mysterious food substances. One time, not following the licking rule, I was frothing and spitting for half an hour. Not a good berry. Another time, we all had blueberry pancakes.
Pleasure #23 Meringues as big as your head
I first encountered this weird delicacy on my last visit to France in the more resorty location of Nice. After that, I got hooked. I subsisted on Sugar and Egg Yolks. Huge cloud like, rather dry but incredibly light meringues. Dimensionally four inches wide, seven inches long, possibly 4 inches tall….the ones at my favorite bakery are slightly soft and sticky in the middle, crunchy and dry on the outside. They’re excellent with a small coffee in the morning. Or at noon. Or at night. I just got a bag of mini-meringues that have local bee pollen hunks and honey in them. Not bad. But somehow less crazy.
Pleasure #24 Bread
I feel a tad guilty about this one as I am currently indulging in it (isn’t this like home video porn where I’m talking and doing something at the same time?) which is HOT FRENCH BREAD. Yes, I am lying in bed, covered in crumbs. I meant to put something on it but I forgot to and now my hunk of bread is gone. Only crumbs here.
My favorite bakery (which has Sacristans which I need to devote an entire paragraph to once I am sufficiently objective) has six types of baguettes. But the usual interaction is that someone lays down a euro and asks for hot bread. Which means the one you love is the one that is near. Hot bread is the latest baguettes off the rack. This time, it was so hot I played hot potato on the way back to my mobilette. Damn good. And baguettes here are subsided, somewhere between 70 cents and a dollar fifty for a crazy good baguette. Fancier breads are not subsidized and as soon as I get a paycheck, I’ll write about them. For now, the hot baguette.
Pleasure #25 Neighbors
France is right next to Italy. Which means the Italian mozzarella in the supermarket and the cheapest olive oil (4 dollars a bottle) is INSANELY good. The mozzarella is like buffalo mozzarella. I’m assuming that the French supermarket chain actually has left over wartime Italian prisoners working somewhere underground. It’s that good. The olive oil I’m dipping into is also extremely good. Yes, I know there are 19 houses of local olive oil. Yes, I will try them all. Right now, I’m talking about cheap pleasures.
Olive oil drizzled on fresh mozzarella on freshly baked baguettes. Not bad. I think I got Safeway bread at four in the afternoon once hot. That was actually quite good.
Pleasure #26 Getting by
Carrying large things on my scooter, crazy like. As you might know, I’m patiently waiting for the bus driver mechanic I met to find me a darn automatic car. Meanwhile, I tool about on a moped which means I look like a duck five time a day as I frantically try to start up my moped by pedaling with the butt in the air. Ah…respectability.
Secondly, the small box in the back hardly carries anything more than a box of groceries. Which is why, when I found a used microwave for 10 euros (oh, you don’t need to acknowledge the joys of reheated tea. No one does. But I do like it.) and a cool looking toaster for a euro….I suddenly had a mountain on my scooter. The trip back was harrowing and it turns out the microwave’s timer is broken so when it’s on, it stays on until you hit the off button. It’s probably radiating waves out to me as well so I’m pretty nimble nowadays. I pop in my tea, hit the button and take a flying leap back. The magic box starts working, I hit the off button, leap back and wait a few seconds. Magic! The tea is hot!
Pleasure #27 Slowness
People on the road. I confess, I didn’t like that Lynch tractor movie. But it is nice seeing people with tractors hauling tons of grapes on the road at five miles an hour. Not only that, anyone handicapped has those zip scooters. They too, just go on the road. Cars pretty much have to go around them and sometimes they can’t for a while since the roads are curved and lined by freakishly huge Platanus (elm?) trees which have signs dedicated to them (Danger! Branches falling!) This is the highway, mind you. I’m on the highway too. Bikes are also on the highway. We’re all on the highway going as fast as we want to. And no one ever needs to stop because almost any interaction between cars is in a roundabout. Which means you just keep on going until you make up your mind. You could easily drive people into an existential frenzy by going round and round but I haven’t tried that yet. I need to live down “Lost Cat Girl wandering streets at night” first.
Pleasure #28 Entrepreneurs
Weird businesses. Out in the middle of nowhere and we have trucks like “Piano Rental for pleasure or the special occasion”. It’s a piano van that will deliver an entire piano to your house. Maybe I’m not celebrating the proper occasions.
Pleasure #29 Local honey
I’m into dark honey. But this one I tried at the market is like Almadovar chucked the movie business and decided to make Chien D’Andalou into a honey. It’s bitter, it’s strong, it’s funky, it’s weird…I can’t take it.
I’ve never backed off from a dark honey but this is too dark. I can’t even remember the name of it, I’m too traumatized. I’m sticking to Chestnut honey which is remarkably good on toast and in tea.
Pleasure #30 Anise Olives?
You can get good Lucques olives in California. Here, they’re too salty but they have wonderful flavor and a perfectly firm but giving texture.
I’m also trying some Provencal style olives that are surprisingly good. I never got into them in California but here…they taste real. I can’t quite tell you why. They taste lighter but more flavorful without tasting old. They just taste…fresh. I also got some Anise flavored olives. I know some of you are not down with licorice, I’m just saying…
I also tried candied Kumquats from the olive purveyor. The best kumquats I have ever tried are Good Girl Kumquats, based in LA. These were a sorry substitute. Hard, crunchy, exorbitantly bitter as citrus can be. But mostly inedible.
There’s supposed to be some village in Provence that has crazy good candied fruit. Don’t knock it until you indulge.
Pleasure #31 Drunk fruit
I shouldn’t be writing about this since this is actually something I’ve only tasted the Parisian version of: chestnuts candied in cognac. I just saw a jar at the local food speciality store but was too distracted by the eau de vie to pick up any. I love, love chestnuts in cognac. Apparently, there’s a chestnut festival in Olargues in a month or so. I’ll pick some up at the festival no doubt. I also sampled some cherries in eau de vie and thought someone kicked me in the face. They were firmly textured, exceedingly strong and a bit nasty to look at as the color had somehow bled out, leaving them a sort of odd brownish yellow. I think I prefer Haejung’s bourbon cherry jam. Somehow, these were too eau de vie, not enough of the rich fruit flavor.
I should mention that there is an excess of jam in this region. Jam and YAMP. Lucky for me, jam doesn’t come in tins.
Pleasure #32 Reading David Leibovitz
Locating tofu is a great pleasure for me, akin to the Hunting of the Snark. They have bloody 15 varieties of yogurt and tons of soy milk, almond milk, weird ‘bio’ aisles filled with organic weirdness and…the tofu is sold out. Everywhere. I’m told there is a shipment coming in on Thursday. A shipment of tofu.
What will it look like? Will it be in those cartons that we only use for school juices (UHT) that will outlast cockroaches in the last millennium? I am worried. I am so worried that I broke out and made kimchee. Mind you, I’ve only made it twice in my life before. Why make it in France?
Because I can. I used to laugh when reading this guy’s blog about making kimchee in Paris. Why? Why? Now I know why. You just suddenly are sitting in your French kitchen and thinking…where’s my jar of Kimchee? Where’s my internet? This is not my beautiful home, this is not my beautiful wife…you get the picture.
When you start feeling anomie, you break out the kimchee. And, how can one resist making kimchee when there’s a bumper crop of endives here? You can get five pounds for a dollar and I’ve never liked the webby part of napa cabbage nohow. So, it’s endive kimchee. I’ve made three jars already and I’ve found a Japanese daikon too. I’m not sure how well the Sel de Guermande is going to be in the kimchee but the ‘bio’ people have assured me that it’s neither washed nor bleached nor…what the hell is this stuff?
Pleasure #33 UHT (not)
In Italy, with the Slow Food movement, culinary school headquarters in Alba (white truffle land) and huge galleria of food in Turin, there are milk bus stops.
Let me explain. You sit, waiting for your bus and SUDDENLY, you whip out a glass bottle and drop in a euro and get a frothingly fresh bottle of RAW MILK from some local producteur.
In France, we have UHT. That means you always have milk for your tea. Always. And your tea is always GREY. The milk is not tasty.
But, if you look superhard, you can find milk that’s refrigerated. This milk is color-safe. It will not turn your Earl Grey tea even greyer.
Update: Found raw milk in Mons la Trivalle. Yummy.
You heard it here: Italy=WTF bread. France=WTF milk. Live on the border. In general, I think living on the border of two countries is a must for any foodie.
Particularly if either of those two are Italy or Spain. I think Spain had decent pastries but I was too food-distracted by dried meat products and their delectable illegality (Haejung tried to smuggle some from Barcelona) and various tapas to pay much attention to the bread.
Pleasure #34 Disingenuous animals
Peeved cats. Now that the Prodigal Son has returned, gorged himself on YAMP, my female cat is peeved and avoiding us both. I find this behaviour charming. She didn’t miss him. They didn’t miss each other. That’s cats for you. She just kept on sniffing him and then giving me this look like, “Are you sure this is him? This island is strange after all.” During his absence, we both fell into a depression and watched the emergency cache of tv series that a friend of mine rather thoughtfully put on my hard drive. Now both she and I know that things here are not what they seem to be.
Now we both pretend he never disappeared at all.
Pleasure #35 My first fleamarket in Bedarieux
They put up big signs about the Monday fleamarket but when you get there, it’s an ordinary farmer’s market. Some new clothes etc. but nothing exciting. Being French, they decided they’d HIDE the flea market. It’s on the opposite side of town on a shaded street with no markers, really.
Once you find it, you’re in for a treat. It goes on and on and on.
There are old things, new things, pretty things, cheap things, daily appliances….I bought a windbreaker and a messenger bag and a lovely toaster for a euro each. And then I went overboard and bought a microwave. I regret nothing. I only wish my scooter was a minivan.
Pleasure #36 Waiting
You wait in the cafes for the shops to open, some of which only open at 3:30 in the afternoon. You wait in the morning for the coffee to happen. You wait in the morning for the cold to clear and the day to warm up.
You can do all this in a leisurely fashion but be warned: the markets are in the morning. By noon, everyone is going home. Best just wake up early, get everything done by noon, head on home and sleep out the heat of the afternoon within cool stone walls.
Pleasure #37 Pastries
This apparently, according to one pastry shop, is the month of the Millefeuille. I had a lovely raspberry millefeuille in Beziers. Glazed raspberries on fresh cream on a thousand layers of light and crispy pastry. Then I went on to have a black and white chocolate cup filled with pot de crème and covered with pistachio cream.
I’d have to say, both were rather gorgeous and pretty darn acceptable. My all time favorite still is the Sacristans in Lamalou. A long slender millefeuille twisted and covered with powdered sugar and almonds and, possibly, (I should get another to make sure) a bit of marzipan smeared in it. It breaks off in bits and is absolutely the thing to have with coffee.
The electricity in my house has gone out this morning and my electrician says he will drop by tomorrow so I can’t open the fridge. Which means I am hungry but still writing this for all of you. Sacristans. Delicious.
Pleasures #38 Other people’s books
Well, I shouldn’t be telling you this but here it is: The movers are inept and have possibly lost some of my boxes or swapped them with someone else from San Francisco. I have three boxes of books delivered to me that are not mine but some poor soul on the same transatlantic shipment. I’ve contacted the movers to pick them up but was instructed to look through them to see who they belonged to. I first had to see if they were the same person. I think they are as this person has Martin Amis strewn through all three boxes like no one’s business.
I’d be a little more excited if they were more interesting but I am currently reading three from the pile as I can do nothing more without electricity. One is a book of weird and wondrous words. The second is about how the British think. The third is called Bad Science. I guessed the owner of these books was a single or married male 30’s to 40’s. I was right. Either he or his wife really likes fishing, Martin Amis and has a book on sexual positions. I am wondering if they have any of my boxes and what they of them (“Batty pottery lady”…or “Boys in skirts? Bloody…”..aha..a slicer..how useful.)