Romancing The Earth

Image from Isabella Price

Someone said to me, “Planting tomatoes and lettuce may be the gateway to everything, but not everyone can write books and stories and poems as well as you do. Please don’t waste your time with manual work!” I have not wasted any of my time. Planting a seed, washing a dish, cutting the grass are as eternal, as beautiful, as writing a poem! I do not understand how a poem can be better than a peppermint plant. Planting seeds gives me as much pleasure as writing a poem. For me, a head of lettuce or a peppermint plant has as much everlasting effect in time and space as a poem.

- Thich Nhat Hanh

“The human soul has a mythic propensity and cosmological instinct for making something out of nothing. We are being asked to participate creatively in the changes sweeping through the world. In the great drama of life, the awakened human soul becomes the extra quantity and uniquely living quality needed to help tip the balance of the world away from destruction and toward ongoing creation. The counterbalance to collective forms of terror and destruction is found in individuals awakening to the underlying wholeness of the self and the secret connection of each to the soul of the world.”

— Michael Meade, “Awakening the Soul”

I grew up in the country and missed it when I left home at nineteen to go to college. From that time on I lived in cities until in my early fifties when I moved with my wife and kids to a village in the east of France. That countryside was very different from Texas in just about every way. It had ancient history, ancient customs, it was a lot colder and a lot wetter. What people ate and drank had nothing to do with American notions of food. Quick-and-easy was not admired.

Already speaking French helped but I still had a lot to learn. The food and drink of that region was a complete mystery and nobody helped more than Didier Tardiveau did to educate us. Didier had a cheese and wine shop in Pontarlier. Born into a working class Parisian family, he had had to educate himself about the best French traditions and quality in food.

Didier had one of those very French multi-chambered noses that are made for sniffing wine and cheese. You see that kind of nose a lot in France, no doubt the result of olfactory obsessions that go back a thousand years or more.

He was passionate about everything to do with French food. If we planned a trip, he would exclaim something like “How can you leave now? The truffles are coming!” But we soon learned that every season had something coming.

Didier spoke only French and was not very interested in other cultures. He couldn’t believe any other country could equal French culinary achievements. We talked him into visiting Venice, which opened his eyes a bit, but he was still convinced of the superiority of all things French. He taught us a lot about pairing food and wine. He invited us to his modest apartment where he cooked up some incredible meals with some of the best wines I’ve ever tasted.

We started to grasp little by little the depth and richness of French food and wine. None of my French friends and girlfriends had ever hinted at such a fund of knowledge. It was a crash culinary course that I didn’t know I needed.

Didier was a bit of a loose cannon with women, always changing partners and getting in hot water, always moving to new quarters, but for us he was the right teacher at the right time.

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