February 3, 2017
A February Morning in Provence
I dropped Colette off at school this morning and since I had volunteered to bring the snack for the class today (limited to peeled fruit or applesauce with no added sugar), I spent some time talking to Madame Maîtresse. She asked me how I was doing and if I felt isolated here. I responded and told her I had actually made quite a few friends and really loved life here. I told her how I loved hiking and exploring. About 1.5 minutes in, she looked at me and sort of cut me off by saying, “c’est bien” in a curt, closed-mouth way. I immediately stopped and realized she really didn’t want me to tell her about my life at all. I suppose that often happens between two people, but I admired her assertive way of signaling that I had gone off course. She did add, generously, to conclude the conversation: “Colette est une vraie élève” (Colette is a true student), with a slow, serious nod of approval. I don’t think she could dole out a better complement.
Next, I made a stop at the boulangerie. This summer and through the month of September (when we had guests straight almost every day), I would begin each morning by heading there to buy bread and croissants for breakfast. When it is the same person working the counter (the wife of the baker) every day, you come to know each other. We would exchange pleasantries. One morning about mid-September, she looked and me and asked when will our vacation be ending/when would we be returning “la-bas” (back home). I explained that this village is home now - that we would be staying. Open-mouthed, she exclaimed, “Super! Bienvenue!” and she gave me a few extra croissants that day. Since then, we’ve chatted more and more. Over Christmas, their family had the flu and everyone knew because the bakery had to close down for a few days (unheard of!). After they were back, I and everyone else inquired about the family and if Mr. Boulanger was feeling better, etc. It is funny that the simplest of purchases is highly personal in a little town. This morning we exchanged phone numbers - she was hoping that her son could come over and practice his English with us.
I was walking out of the boulangerie when across the street I heard, “Bonjour, Madame Joly!” It was the boucher. I love the boucher (the famous stuffing-maker for my Christmas chapon). I walked over - he was out cleaning the windows of his shop in big powerful circles, as a butcher would. We greeted with kisses on both cheeks, as he remarked that I am quite ‘matinale’ (always out and about in the morning). Then he said, “Allez, un peu de viande pour vous aujourd’hui” (Come, a bit of meat for you today). I agreed and said somewhat apologetically, “Nous sommes pas très viande en général” (We are not big meat eaters generally). He agreed, “Vous ne venez pas assez” (You don’t come often enough). I explained that we eat a lot of vegetables and only occasionally add meat. He looked very worried, almost stumped.
The French, by and large, are real meat eaters. He cleared his throat and gave me his perspective on the matter. “Regardez-moi,” (look at me) he instructed, his hand running down the length of his body guiding me to take it all in. I gave him a good look-over. He is a hearty fellow. Just as you would imagine a boucher in Provence. Burly - a real powerhouse, in his bloody apron.
“I am 59 years old. I have never had a broken bone or any kind of rupture.” He let that sink in with a good pause. “It is because I eat meat. Every day. Beef, lamb, veal, pork, even chicken and fish. It gives the body the strength and nutrients one needs to stay strong. You see all of these people coming back from the Alps from skiing and they are walking around on crutches and they have casts on their arms and they look miserable. What do I tell them? They aren’t eating enough meat. More meat and none of that would have happened to them.”
It seemed like self-serving advice, but he was walking evidence of his theory. We settled on some home-made sausages (hanging out, freshly made) and a bit of pork.
Xavier is going to be grateful to this guy. He has always thought my aversion to meat very very odd. When we first met, I was a full-on vegetarian and he pronounced, “You are the first vegetarian I have ever met.” I think it might have been true.
(The road to Lourmarin)
After my village stops, I was a bit of a traitor and headed to Lourmarin for their competing market today. Lourmarin is a little Lubèron village full of charm. Quite near. Their market just happens to be on Fridays as well. I wanted to compare their vegetables, cheese, honey, fruit to ours. Happy to report that the market in our town is really A+. I did find a honey-vendor there that was really special though. She had just a few jars out on a yellow tablecloth, lined up. Homemade stickers on each that marked the type of honey (lavender, prairie…) and their origin: a little town in this region called Cornillon Confoux. I bought a few varieties. One is a pot of honey with almonds floating inside - a delectable treat, she informed me with cheeks squished right up to her eyes in a grin. I also bought a pot of flower pollen. She gasped when I picked it up and informed me in a hushed tone that it is like a magical medicine. Take it each morning - a teaspoonful. Chew up the pollen. Or in a yogurt if the taste is too strong by itself. She warned me not to take the pollen at any other time of the day - it can make a person much too excitable if taken after the morning hours.
(Village fountain in Lourmarin)