And cheese. And holidays.
When we moved to France in 1992, I was a vegetarian. I hardly remember why I decided to do that, except it surely had something to do with seeing how my brother, who was a rancher and used feedlots, treated his animals. I do remember it was hard to get grass fed or organic in those days, but for whatever reason I swore off meat for almost twenty years.
France is not exactly vegetarian friendly — not then, not now. Although vegetarianism does exist in France, it’s not as practiced as in the States.
I also didn’t drink, not for moral constraints, but because I didn’t enjoy the taste of anything I tried. I knew nothing about food/wine combinations and less than nothing about Vin Jaune, Vin de Paille, local bubbly French wines called Cremant , or the much wider choices of foods that exist in France than here in the States.
The French have evolved methods for producing delicious meals out of a vast array of sources, for example, snails, frogs’ legs, foie gras, couilles de mouton and pigs’ feet. The country passed through periods of starvation, and they got inventive.
I had a lot to learn, and I was married to a woman who wanted the full French experience, not just the language. It goes without saying that she was a thousand percent right. She showed me a France I would never have known, in spite of already having lived there with French friends and lovers.
I realize now that they were indulging my American ways.
The first thing we had to learn was the French calendar, with its many unexpected holidays. The month of May doesn’t have one full work week, but that’s just an extreme example of the norm. Saints days and national holidays closed the country down on a regular basis — just not so regular that we could predict when we would find all the food markets closed for a three day stint.
We gradually learned to store emergency food, just in case, and I soon gave up my vegetarian ways, an event which happened on a trip to Perugia, Italy, ironically. I ordered a meal I thought was vegetarian but which turned out to be the best steak I’d ever eaten.
The die was cast. It was meant to be. From that time on I was a full partner in our culinary explorations.
As I wrestled with sheetrock every day, and with tile, heavy tools and four-by-sixes, I often came down to a meal that was “gourmet” — the only word for it — as India learned to cook traditional French recipes.
We learned especially about cheese and wine, something she understood more readily than I did, although I gradually got the hang of it over two decades.
After more than twenty years, eating like that became the norm. We are challenged now to get the same pleasure from eating that we got used to there.
But, now we’re off to Mexico, which has one of the greatest and most varied cuisines in the world, not to mention a beautiful language.
- If you would like to see some more of my stories, go to my publication, called Anima Fire.