Sunday, January 21, 2007

Memories of France


Waaaay back in April of 1976, I had an event that would change my life forever. I visited France with ten other students and our French teacher. We spent a total of three days in Paris and I fell deeply in love with this city and the entire country, as a matter of fact. Our journey took us to the Loire Valley, Brittany, and Normandy, the real France.

I was not your typical teenager at this time, looking for a McDonald's and a Coke in one of the gastronomical capitals of the world...bleah! No, the year before I went, my Uncle Gene, a serious wine and food connaisseur, taught me everything I should know about French cuisine and, more importantly, wines. The lessons he taught me were woven into the fabric of my soul. When I refer to his wines, I speak of "grandes chateaux",Lafite, Pétrus, Margaux, Latour, with vintages to match, '47, '53, '61 and '70. Yes, we could go on, but, he had a collection from every region of France.

In France, I felt at home since I spoke the language, knew the culture and the cuisine. A lot of people in the other group on the other hand, did nothing but complain about everything; drank coke with every meal (at twice the price of a half carafe of wine), would not hardly even speak French, and uttered the famous phrase "...well, in America...". Well, we are in France, << connard>>, relax and enjoy the difference.

The most memorable meal I had there was at Le Mont St. Michel in Normandy. Imagine if you will, a perfect Spring day.Weather in the low seventies, a slight ocean breeze, the sun warming your face. You're sitting out side at a small restaurant overlooking the salt plains towards the Atlantic Ocean, a spanking fresh seafood platter of local oysters, periwinkles, shrimp, half a Brittany lobster, and other things for which there is not an English name; bijourneaux,amandes and coques. Almost forgot-wine, Muscadet Sevre et Maine, a half bottle. Before you sets a crock of Normandy butter and dark, slightly sweet bread. I eat is if it is my last meal on Earth, admiring the jewel-like quality of the feast set before me. There is an oyster amidst this platter I do not recognize; round, flat and light green.I hesitate to eat it, yet, I am compelled to. I taste, it is shockingly cold, as I bite down, my world explodes. Layers of flavor comes in waves across my pallet, minerals, salt and an indescribably rich, fatty essence that is typical of the Belon oyster. Follow this with a sip of Muscadet and a nibble of buttered bread and you know the real meaning of life at that moment. The cost of paradise that day ?Twenty francs or about 5 dollars.

Another beautiful meal I had was in Dinan, it was the hotel's restaurant, as I remember. Ahhh, Sole Normande á l'ancienne...sole poached in cream with oysters. What to drink with Sole Normande? Sparkling Normandy Cider, period. Why, you may ask? Normandy and Brittany do not produce wine of any type. But, they do make the best hard cider in France, which goes perfectly with their rich, creamy, buttery cuisine. You will enjoy French food even more if you drink wine from the region the dish came from. An example, beef bourgignon with burgundy, since that is the region it came from, n'est pas?

So, send your francophile progeny to France if you can. See the difference when they return. In their eyes you'll see a fleeting glimpse of an adult in love...with food.

1 comment:

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