So, I am back again. The beginning of my first three-year stint in France was slightly besmirched by my resistance to loving the French outright. Why? Well, if you go back to October, 2007, for me, it came down to bum-cheek clenching. The omnipresent sensation that there is only one way to do things. When I peeled potatoes, or mounted my bike, or ate a piece of chocolate - in each circumstance I was instructed (more often corrected) on the exact way to execute. And everyone around me seemed to concur. By the end, I went on doing things my way, smiling when people would tutor, but still doing things as I liked.
Well, this round I think I've had a real breakthrough. It is always a matter of understanding (or not). And, apparently, I did not understand.
This breakthrough came with a tarte tropézienne. (I am not uncouth, I swear, just probably pretty casual). The tarte was there in front of me. It is made with two layers of cake (de brioche) divorced by a layer of cream (crème pâtissière). And it is rather large (meaning tall) for a tart. So, my strategy was pragmatic, just eat the two halves separately - each with a bit of the cream that forms the middle. Here is where the breakthrough made its appearance.
"Emilie, you musn't eat the tart that way!" My response: laughter. Here we go again.
But no. This French person (by now I have good friends here in St. Tropez and I am surrounded by a staff of French people at work, who are really lovely), for the first time in my mingling with the French, offered a real, valid reason why there is only one method to eat a tarte tropézienne. He explained that the way to eat the tart (plunging the fork vertical style, through the two layers and the cream, all at the same time - never separating them), as a rule, was not created to bother me. Rather, rules like this were made to increase pleasure. The thing itself (the tart) was conceived of in this way. In fact, to eat a tarte tropézienne differently is to no longer eat a tarte tropézienne.
So, while I was bum-cheek clenching in Paris, I was missing the point. If you ask people: Qu'est-ce que la France? (What is la France?), like my friend, a lot of them will answer: La douceur de vivre. (The sweet life). But approaching the sweet life is an art form, which requires knowledge of how that thing functions and how it is best appreciated, how it was conceived - or, more precisely, what the thing is (because, like the tarte tropézienne, without the savoir faire, it is no longer the thing itself).
It is for this reason that at another dinner in St. Tropez, a lovely French woman proclaimed, as she disparagingly spoke about Americans, "There are many things they haven't understood. They are capable of serving their wine in a plastic glass! 50% of the appreciation is in the glass."