Archive for the ‘France’ Category
One of the proofs of fine writing is that reading it triggers writing in others. My friend, food writer, Pat Tanner, is somewhat surprised at all the buzz generated by her recent article on last meals. Interviewing local chefs, the results were far-ranging, wise, funny, challenging, with intervals of blessed simplicity in this complex world. I couldn’t put Pat’s story down.
Then I literally picked up my pen (remember pens?) and began a list of jewel-like food memories. if I could command the best foods of my life now, time and money and distance being of no matter, here is what I’d call forth. But forget this last meal fad — don’t wait! — to experience any or all of these, if you can.
What neither of us expected was that I could bring the little list along to our Petite Christmas supper this week, read it to Pat and trigger memories of her own, with her family, in the presence of sublime food.
To begin, the Malossol caviar, served aboard the S.S. France, scooped with a ladle, in quantity equal to freshly home-made ice cream, from a massive silver, crystal-lined bowl. This was April, 1964 - my husband and I sailed on the anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking and my Michigan friends were sure we would do likewise. Caviar was our first food on the France, and this was my first time to speak French with a Frenchman.
The next course of gem-like food is a tie:
Either Truffe sous les cendres, with Diane and Catherine and Werner, at Fernand Point’s La Pyramide in Vienne — truffle perfume permeating the puff pastry that had somehow survived having been cooked, as the French say, ‘in the chimney’, under the cinders:
« Une mise en bouche ou entrée idéale à partager en amoureux si vous possédez une cheminée. Les truffes, non pelées, sont enveloppées dans une fine bardes de lard et du papier cuisson, et cuisent à l’étouffée sous la cendre. Quand vous ôtez la papillote c’est déjà un bonheur olfactif splendide et la suite est tout aussi superbe. »
This is by no means Fernand’s recipe. He had perished by the time we were there, but Madame Point ruled with an iron hand, and the emporium of superb cuisine had lost not a jot of its lustre from our 1964 experience. This was summer, 1970. Madame Point was not at all pleased to see a seven-year-old and an eight-year-old arrive. But their eagerness for and knowledge of her husband’s menu items, and the swift skill with which they dispatched their meal, artichokes in particular, won her heart. At the end, she and some of the chefs bowed the girls out, giving them little chocolates to take across the street to the Inn.
The other contender, which runs neck and neck with the truffe, is my first fresh foie, so lightly seared, with but a soupcon of sauce, based in golden late afternoon light at Auberge Des Templiers in the Loire Valley. Silk. That is the only word to describe the texture of that foie, and I have yearned for it ever since. This was our Fourth-of-July trip, taking the girls ultimately to the Normandy Beaches for the Bicentennial we wouldn’t have had without those sands, in July 1976.
With no place in this menu, Wellfleet oysters must be included. Anytime. Anywhere. Also Chincoteagues. Belons and Marennes, in Normandy or Brittany, with a local Muscadet, served with those thin circles of sour rye (sans seeds) and a white porcelain dish of creamiest Buerre de Charentes.
The main course is the same, but two sites contend.
Filet de boeuf, Sauce Marchand de Vin, at the Relais St. Germain, on the left bank, in Paris, April, 1964. It was Mothers’ Day, and the girls, at 6 months and 18 months, were home with my Mother. Werner chose this Relais to bolster me, missing those babies. We thought we’d never go to Europe again, that we had to do so right now, before he entered practice. We could walk to the Relais from our hotel, the Scandinavia, whose address I think was vingt-sept rue de Tournon. We had to memorize it for cab-drivers…
The identical entree may have been the gastronomic triumph — in Tournus, in the heart of Burgundy’s cote d’or, at lunchtime. Only this beef was the legendary Charolais. For the sauces, no contest.
Pommes Souffles, Antoine’s, New Orleans, on Spring Break 1958.
Dessert - no contest — the miniature fraises bois (wild strawberries not so large as my little fingernail, explosions of flavor) at Joseph’s, our first night in Paris, April, 1964.
I see I haven’t spoken much about wine. Chateau d’Yquem, with no food, tasting with Alexis Lichine and Tony Wood, his American representative, at the chateau in 1964. This same golden elixir with the fresh foie at Auberge des Templiers in 1976.
Muscadet with oysters, indeed.
Any Montrachet with the caviar, or champagne chosen by the sommelier.
The red wine that comes first to mind is Chateau Pichon-Longueville. There were some splendid Chateauneuf-du-Papes when we were in and near Avignon, but oddly I do not recall the food.
Internet View of Bouillabaisse Outside, as it was created by fishermen
NJ WILD readers may not know that I am blessed in friendships with two very special food-writers, Pat Tanner and Faith Bahadurian. NJ WILD was named in honor of Faith’s NJ SPICE blog for the Packet. You’ll see a generous comment from Pat Tanner on my recent post on the Brigantine.
We are all three great fans of Julia Child. I can say to them, without protest, “Without Julia, the world of American cooking would still be a desert.”
It’s Julia’s 100th birthday this week — I can never speak of her in the past tense. Therefore, people who relish savory foods, regional foods, traditions of other lands, France in particular, are reminiscing about the years of “The French Chef.” “THE” - what on earth must the French have thought of WGN’s designation of ‘our’ Julia? Faith and I will literally raise a glass to Julia at supper this week.
My children as toddlers, –although none of us cared much for television, inexplicably would insist that their doctor-father and I stop everything whenever ‘Junior Child’s” music came on. We would sit, riveted, in our apartment living room high above the Raritan in New Brunswick, throughout Julia’s culinary journeying.
Is it Julia who saw to it that the girls grew up as omnivores? They came to relish virtually everything, except those tiny fish (”Daddy, they have eyes!”) - petit friture, in Villefranche on the Mediterranean. My most amusing memory is that 1976 morning (you know how they woke you before dawn on flights to France, with that terrible fake American orange juice) when we had just checked in to Voile d’Or in Cap Ferrat, and we had to go straight to the lunch table before the sea-blessed dining room closed. We were with friends from Piscataway, and their two young children who had never been abroad. I remember, all four of them, actually, still rubbing sleep from their eyes. Placed before us as what the French logically call the ‘entree’ were little plates of salad garnished with something pink and mauve. Not only octopus, but baby octopus… Diane and Catherine tried them — wouldn’t choose them for breakfast, but did not reject.
Diane was born a superb cook - so it is fitting that Julia was given an honorary degree by Smith College at Diane’s 1980’s graduation. They eagerly engaged with bouillabaisse in La Napoule-Plage in Provence, at ages 7 and 8, and speaking some French because of Littlebrook School.
In case I owe everything, daughter-and-gastronomy-wise, to Julia, here is the Smithsonian’s site for her recipe. You may know well that Julia’s kitchen, from the show, in its entirety, resides at the Smithsonian Institute. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/bouillabaisse.html
Over this past weekend, educational television featured some iconic Julia episodes, speeding me right back to the black-and-white days of “Junior Childs” with my little girls. In Julia’s honor, and in gratitude to my food-writer friends for our New Jersey gastronomic pilgrimages, I’ll share bouillabaisse memories with NJ WILD.
Faith probably correctly insists that bouillabaisse rituals so clearly remembered would have been the case only at ‘upscale’ restaurants. That word, of course, did not exist when I met this Provencal fishermen’s fish stew in 1964. So, I took out ‘the retrospectroscope’.
Even beyond the rituals, I remember the vividness of bouillabaisse itself. To my dismay, Julia’s black and white film seemed more grey, frankly, than anything — even or especially her ‘tomahtoes’. Provencal bouillabaisse, from La Napoule forward, was a symphony of reds and golds. Even its potatoes were gold because cooked in aromatic Provencal olive oil, onion, garlic, some tomatoes and saffron broth. [Not Yukon gold which didn't exist then, whether or not they do now in France.] The ‘toasts’ — so carefully placed in the bottom of each flat soup bowl, and served before any of the fish-of-the-rocks, which were steamingly and artistically mounted on a huge platter on a side table–, were golden-brown from long slow baking, probably in a wood-fired oven.
Saffron Fronds, from Internet
Rouille was mandatory on those toasts - opulent mayonnaise of olive oil carefully pounded to life in a mortar with garlic and the finest of chili pepper and cayenne. The subtle pungency of saffron, essential and impossible to describe, colored both flavor and hue of this redolent broth.
A few tomatoes had been newly cut and added, just enough to add color and piquancy, but not to melt into the final soup. Lobster and shrimp were never part of any Provencal bouillabaisse we found, from 1964 through 1988, when I ultimately lived the seasons round above Cannes. Rascasse was the essential fish - I found it rather like red snapper.
All fish, originally, for this specialty, had been the discards, the ones Marseilles fishermen could not sell at “le criee” - (the crying of the fishwives after the boats returned) each afternoon in that hopping port town. It was a point of pride never to be out more than a few hours, so that the fish in my Cannes market were always literally leaping off their oil-cloth-covered tables - and I usually shopped before mid-day. The fishermen of that region would then put a cast iron pot over a beach fire, add some sea water, and create this miracle. I’m assuming they knew to bring a folded paper of saffron always in a pocket remote from water.
Bouillabaisse Over Open Fire, as ‘invented’
By the time it became popular with travellers, it was the norm to serve ritually. First the fish were removed and artfully pyramided. Then the toasts were settled into the bowls, with the rouille passed so one could mound as much as desired onto the ‘toasts’. Then the broth was ladled with, yes, reverence. Rising steam brought the essence of sea, garlic, saffron, tomatoes and subtlest hints of all the varied fish. How could I forget — grains of fennel seed and usually unseen, because evolved into this masterful creation, dried orange peel, probably from Menton.
Grains of Fennel, from Internet
One of the reasons I don’t even think of making bouillabaisse myself is that I no longer live in Provence. Not only would I be lacking rascasse and gurnard and spider crabs and pretty often sea urchins. But even the orange peel would be from California or Florida and probably dyed and never so tangy as any citrus from Provence.
At La Mere Something in La Napoule-Plage, with my husband in 1964 and our family in 1971, waitresses were dressed in Provencal costume as immortalized by Vincent van Gogh and the poet Mistral in Arles. Their arrangement of the fish was a kind of ballet.
The soup bowls were removed after one or two fillings, and then the paradise of freshest fish arrived.
Without the costumes, eating in plainer but memorable bouillabaisse sites, there was also ritual. Particularly famous, though no-nonsense, were Nounou and Tetou (separate establishments side-by-side-, I remember them as IN the sea,) at Juan-les-Pins. I feasted on bouillabaisse on a rainy day (rare!) with friends from Morristown, along with my daughters, on our Mother’s Day trip, May 1984. Nounou and Tetou were points of bouillabaisse pilgrimage with Valerie Meluskey of Princeton, and other guests from home during 1987-88. One of my guests had an aversion to fish, which he swallowed (pun intended) there. This man was immediately won over, even though the Mediterranean was grey and rain-dimpled throughout our water-surrounded experience.
Another bouillabaisse ritual I can never forget was carried out by the elegant proprietress herself, across from Voile d’Or in Cap Ferrat. I experienced this with my lifelong Michigan friend, Bernadette Thibodeau, when we ‘discovered’ Provence in February of 1976. I returned with my daughter, Diane and Valerie Meluskey and Hope Cobb from Princeton in January of 1981. January and February became my favorite Provencal months, because of the fragrant blossoming of mimosa trees and almond trees, at the same time! Their aroma filled closed cars, even as we drove away from the sea into the pre-Alps.
The one ritual I did not fully enjoy was at Restaurant Bacon, in 1988. With me was my new French friend, Jeanette, who managed the Observatoire Tower, next to which I lived above Cannes. She had helped me so much that entire year. Bacon was also on the Med but not in it — I think Antibes, near the Picasso castle. Bacon was the place to go then for bouillabaisse, but it did, indeed, turn out to be fancy. My friend, though she lived in Provence, [frequently the case when I took neighbors to favorite restaurants], had never tasted that regional specialty! Fame had gone to the head of that restaurant. My guest did not realize that we were not tasting the authentic specialty, nor that Bacon’s ritual outshone his soup. Rouille notwithstanding, the flavors did not sing. That soup and/or Bacon didn’t have Provencal soul!
Faith wanted to know if I’d managed hole-in-the-wall destinations for bouillabaisse. Frankly, no. The best were in Marseilles. I went there any number of times, returning to eat somewhere in the Esterel Forest or along that red-rock coast. Marseilles was a thorough city, beyond bustling. It was a tumult of traffic and shouting people. Its streets seemed all all one way the wrong way. Signs blazoned defense d’entrier! — do not enter. I, who’d traveled almost everywhere alone that year, never could find a place to park to walk the Canebiere.
What I’d do after these fruitless bouillabaisse quests was drive home and read Pagnol’s Fanny, Marius and then Cesar… These three volumes sent me to my Provencal neighbors for translation of patois, but were absolutely irresistible in terms of the characters. Central to the stories was Panisse, for whom Alice Waters named her iconic California restaurant, from which America learned the miracles of local food.
The French Oscar is named Cesar because of Pagnol’s Marseilles trilogy. Hardly anyone knows that this quiet man of Aubagne and thereabouts founded and funded the film industry. Pagnol wrote, cast, directed, produced and filmed legendary movies on Provence. You know Jean de Florette and Manon les Sources – the world doesn’t always realize that this renowned teacher who specialized in Shakespeare also is the author of those spectacular books. And La Gloire de Mon Pere and Le Chateau de Ma Mere, — memoirs we also saw as films in our country. In fact, all my friends at home saw the Pagnols before I did, in Provence.
In Cannes, I ‘virtualed’ Marseilles with Pagnol.
In Princeton, I do the same with Julia Child. But that grey soup she served up this past weekend bears no resemblance to the vivid ones that piqued journey after journey to the unique authentic South of France.
Even so, it’s clear to me that there will be no ‘next Julia Chlld.’ That no one can equal her, let alone surpass Julia, as a person and as influence on our cuisine.
Far beyond the kitchen, Julia Child brought America out of its crippling provincialism.
Thank you, forever, Julia — and Happy Birthday!
Finest Sailing Ship and Restaurant — the S. S. France
The first time I sailed to France was on the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Neither in planning, nor in departure, did this dire date cross our minds. However, high school friends, –as I passed through Michigan en route to my East Coast life–, were convinced that the S.S. France would crash into an iceberg, plunging my husband and me to the bottom of the gelid Atlantic.
In recent years, I’ve read ‘most everything about the sinking of the Titanic, literally with a sinking heart. Always, I grieved over the many losses, at every level, within that majestic ship, and of the ship itself. Often, it was the fate of colliers and those in steerage who riveted me. To say nothing of the mourning houses in in and near Southampton, where we were headed. From whence we would ultimately sail home on the Mary.
There was about certain high school friends the air that Werner and I might well deserve some sort of catastrophe for undertaking this frivolous journey. Hedonism was highly suspect in those towns, churches and schools. I couldn’t explain that the two of us, with those science degrees, were setting out to resolve egregious lacunae in our educations, –particularly in art and literature. The S.S. France would become our first teacher.
Embarking upon the S.S. France brought no frissons of alarm. Our stateroom was, indeed, awash in flowers, fruit baskets and handsome bottles of champagne — truly carrying coals to Newcastle. Food was the chef d’oeuvre of this ship. Getting there was secondary.
A tiny sign at the dressing table assured Madame that “The lights around this mirror are of a roseate hue, which has been maintained throughout the ship. You may be assured,” some eloquent and flattering French person had inscribed, “that wherever you go upon the S.S. France, you will look as lovely as you do here.” Minnesota was never like this.
In our stateroom, at embarkation, bon voyage friends were suddenly interrupted by the announcement, “Tous les visiteurs a terre, s’il vous plait. Tous les visiteurs a terre.” I abruptly realized that Werner and I were actually sailing, — I to Europe for the first time, he for the seventh, within this sleek and gleaming new palace of the seas. Our visitors hastily crossed the gangplank back to earth.
After the ritual tossings of serpentine and confetti, Werner took me to a sheltered place on the top deck, to observe rituals of embarkation. He ordered (of course French) champagne. At a certain point, the Statue of Liberty floated past our ‘coupes’, [not flutes in those days]. We were underway.
Even that first night, our superlative waiters made clear, we could order ANYthing. It wouldn’t be an insult to the chefs — it would honor their creativity! In Minnesota, once, we couldn’t have crepes suzette in the best restaurant in town because the crepes chef was parking cars…
We had on board leather-bound volumes of Gourmet’s Bouquet de France, Italian Bouquet and Bouquet of Britain, bibles of both food and sights for the three months. We put them to use immediately. We were not to be limited to whatever their legendary chefs had promised in those towering, opulent menus, — separate ones for breakfast, then lunch, then dinner. One could start each meal with generous scoops of the greyest, freshest, slight-salt-tang-retaining caviar, served from a silver bowl large enough to bathe a newborn. I refrained at breakfast.
By the third night out, –sipping champagne between limitless waltzes and exuberant Charlestons, I decided “What a way to go!” We could dance until the ballroom emptied, then follow the (smaller) orchestra up to L’Atlantique, a “boite de nuit” on an upper deck. Our cabin steward had alerted us to this privilege, alarmed when we’d returned to our cabin that first midnight. “O, la, la!,” he had cried in dismay, encountering us in the passageway to our stateroom. “You are not having a good time!”
Our assurances meant nothing. “Promise me. Tomorrow, do what you must, Take naps. Anything. Dance till the band stops, then follow the musicians to L’Atlantique. Whatever you do, stay until the onion soup arrives.”
In both settings, the Grand Ballroom and L’Atlantique, musicians would play anything we would request. After four starved years in Minnesota, my Swiss husband kept them busy with favorites, especially the waltzes of Strauss and his other specialty ‘the Lindy.’ In the Midwest, we’d called it ‘the jitterbug.’
In L’Atlantique, indeed, at 4:30 a.m., the “authentic onion soup of Les Halles” arrived. I never had eaten soup sitting at a bar It remains the best I’ve ever found, including that for which we would make pilgrimage to Les Halles (”the belly of Paris”) in the middle of the dark, a few days later. It was imperative to savor the food of the workers in that earthy neighborhood. I have since returned many times to Au Pied du Cochon , and this seems hearteningly the same. [Even though politicians have erased the grace and electricity of this major food market of Paris. Power and greed have literally melted the 10 graceful and alluring Baltard pavilions into scrap.] The last time I saw Paris, however, onion soup still reigned near lovely Ste. Eustache.
The France was legendary not only for her food (Craig Claiborne, food critic of the New York Times, sailed both ways without disembarking, just to relish its cuisine.) The ship was also known for her stabilizers, which purportedly assured smooth sailing. Even so, there were meals with ropes stretched both ways across our table, nights when our dancing was interrupted by sudden unexpected sea-caused glissades to one wall or another. Even now, as we near the 100th anniversary of the tragic loss of the Titanic, I admit that we found these lurches amusing, challenges to Werner’s dancing skill. The only ice we encountered was in our glasses.
Legendary people sailed with us, announced on special ‘newspapers’ delivered in our stateroom each morning, by our faithful steward. He, who’d introduced us to L’Atlantique dancing and soup. He, who’d consoled us that first night with what he called ‘a little tea.’ In no time, he was back before us with the largest silver tray I’d ever encountered. It contained not only all the British accoutrements of tea, but also exquisite pastries which practically floated off the tiny plates onto our burnished forks. I had thought it silly, at St.-Mary-of-the-Woods, to be taught to pour tea and especially how to walk down a marble staircase without looking at one’s feet, let alone holding on. I used both these arcane accomplishments on the S.S. France.
Hitchcock was at the table next to ours, alone, “toujours toute seul,” as the French pronounce with concern. The Director’s expression was exactly that of his cartoon image on television, –dour and unchanging. At every meal, on this floating pinnacle of cuisine, he would order a yellow box of the kind of mustard that Michigan parents used to mix and rub into bronchial chests. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, Alfred Hitchcock altered the creations of the chefs of the S. S. France. At no time, did those splendid waiters raise so much as an eyebrow at this eccentricity.
Will and Ariel Durant were aboard, remote as pharaohs. An entire team of professors of music from Columbia were sailing ultimately to the South of France to study ancient music.
In that restaurant, the first formal night out, I committed a major faux pas, ordering Boeuf Wellington. Our waiter took this inadvertent reminder of French defeat with grace. The Wellington was magnifique, bien sur! Whether because of the excellence of the duxelles (mushroom essence); the quintessentially tender but full of flavor boeuf of Charolais; or that ethereal pastry, I have never been able to decide.
Our waiters forgave us anything, for our enthusiasm for anything French. At the final breakfast, they presented me with all the breakfast menus, “to take back to Doctor Edelmann, who did not have the opportunity to sample any of these specialites.” (After 4 years at the Mayo Clinic, 40 hours on, 8 hours off, alternate weekends, that man was not getting getting up for breakfast.)
We had asked our cabin steward to bear with our French, to speak to us and give us instruction materials only in that language. The second day out, our steward asked if there had been anything we hadn’t understood in that first batch. (I know, it probably told us what to do if we hit an iceberg. But we weren’t interested in speed reading — only in absorbing French.) “There was one word,” my husband admitted. “Neither of us knows what it is.” The word was “le cendrier”. How surprised our steward was, as he translated: ‘Ashtray.’ With my virtual convent upbringing and his virtual monastery (Fordham Prep and Fordham College), nuns and priests hadn’t thought to convey this word into our vocabularies. There would be others…
My favorite time of each day, –well, except for the dancing–, was mornings after breakfast. When you sail, you can take all the books you like. Each day, I’d choose one to read with breakfast, then carry it out to our deck chairs, so carefully chosen on embarkation day. Although Werner never encountered his, come to think of it. Immediately upon my arrival, a deck steward would arrive with a lush plaid wool blanket, tucking me in for the duration, hoping I was enjoying my book, –which I always was. The April sea breeze was electrifying, sun warming but not dangerous in those days.
Around 10:30, the deck steward would return to my side. He would kneel, bearing a tiny tray with a dainty cup and saucer and a lidded pouring pan. He would excuse himself for bothering Madame, then pour the most divine bouillon, steaming, into that special cup. In the days of regular sailings, even the china of the S.S. France was renowned — as I recall, Haviland. It was not designed for coffee nor tea let alone espresso — simply for bouillon on a morning deck.
Our last day out, those who sailed all the time proved to be studiously blase. This ardent tourist took herself to someone else’s deck chair, above the elegant glossy prow of the S.S. France. I stared and stared toward a coastline that should soon appear out of the half mist. Suddenly, I realized, birds were about. Ah, this is what it must’ve been like for Columbus, first land birds announcing…
No one else was up there. A castle ‘hove into view’. My first castle. It was a faux pas, later, to exult over this, waiting to disembark among our fellow passengers.
But that which resonated most, in those private moments, as England moved toward us, was that this is the homeland of the Foote family, — my middle name. All Footes are related to Nathaniel-Foote-the-Settler who came from Colchester, England in the 1600s to found Colchester and Wethersfield, Connecticut. And I was the first of my branch of the family to set Foote upon that soil. I felt I was seeing it for all of them.
But this wouldn’t have happened, without the splendor of the France.
We sailed her in other years, always joyously. The Mary was no comparison, and the QEII a brash imposter.
Our bags were packed and our stateroom tags affixed for the S.S. France’s final voyage from Manhattan to Southampton and LeHavre. The crew struck, and she never sailed again.
Later, she was ‘rechristened!’ “The Norway.” I have no words for this travesty. It is as though the France had, indeed, struck an iceberg and plunged to the bottom, for all time.
And the country, France, allowed this to happen, as they allowed the Nazi takeover in 1940.
While we waited for our luggage and our car, I thought back to high school friends and their Titanic surety. Of course, Werner and I had practiced with life jackets and met the boats and all that. On this and other voyages, lifeboat drill was a necessary intrusion, mostly funny, especially when our girls couldn’t get out the stateroom door, later, on the QEII, fattened by their ‘personal flotation devices.’
Nobody ever really expects to be plunged into the sea.
To us, the sea existed to bear us to new lands and new knowledge, to enrich our lives forever.
Chateau Prieure Lichine, Where we Dined with Alexis and his wife, night after night,
in 1964, Meeting Our First Wine Caves due to his enormous generosity
NJ WILD readers know that, for all my cherishing and championing of our New Jersey, my heart belongs to France in general, and Provence in particular. Where I lived merrily, between the Mediterranean, the pre-Alps, the Alps and the Esterel Massif and Forest (oaks and pines like our Pinelands) from October 1987 through August 1988.
I was homesick for Provence before I ever even knew there was such an entity - when I thought Provence was France and vice versa. My neighbors, Charles Mouzon, the Carre’s, and La Contessa/La Marquise soon set me straight. Fretting over having to return to their home province, like Mary and Joseph at the time of the birth of Jesus, in order to vote - to vote THREE TIMES in 1987, they soon let me know that it was an ordeal, an imposition, to “return to France.” “But I thought THIS is France.” “Mais, Caroline,” they sang vehemently, starting almost every new concept with, “But, Carolyn!…”, “this is not France. It’s Provence!”
Pissaladier, Specialite de Nice, Provence, France
Olives of Nice, Marche aux Fleurs, Nice, Provence, France
I “met” Provence as a separate entity in 1976, Washington’s Birthday week, with my childhood friend, Bernadette Thibodeau. We spent ten days at La Voile d’Or in Cap Ferrat, a Florida-like out-thrust from the South of France where we encountered Heaven on Earth. So splendid was that time, that we reminisce about it to this day. Remembering, actually, this week the maid (bonne a toute faire! - maid who does everything) who brought us vases for our fragrant freesia and mimosa from Provencal roadside markets, the most fragrant flowers of our lives, blooming everywhere in February. Priceless vases from one of the stars in the Cote d’Azur’s hospitality crown, for our flowers which were, essentially, weeds…
Olives of Provence for Sale, Nice, France
So spectacular was that journey in beauty, art, sea and garden views, and above all, wine and gastronomy, that I returned for ‘Spring Break’ with my husband, Werner; my daughters, Diane and Catherine, and dear friends, Weezie and Jack Christian, with their youngest children, Paul and Maureen. The excellence of my haphazard (for that was a sudden journey) time with Bernadette was, if anything, surpassed, with the Christians.
NJ WILD readers already know that, all my life, leaving France, I have felt ripped from the womb.
Reading Kermit Lynch’s Adventures on the Wine Route, A Wine Buyer’s Tour de France, for the second time, I am plunged back into my trueland, –France in general and Provence in particular. To the place about which part-time resident, now, Kermit Lynch insists, “Only here am I chez moi.” (Only here am I where I belong.)
Kermit is a legendary wine importer, who believes, as I do, in ‘natural wines.’ Real wood casques, preferably venerable, and/or from other splendid vineyards, such as Margaux and Latour. No chemicals. No sulphur, no sugars, no water, no wines from other vineyards, let alone wine of other regions.
Alexis Lichine’s Guide to Wines of France, which became our Bible…
Needless to say, in this book, with Kermit, I am spending a great deal of time in caves. Not Lassen Volcanic National Park, where my mother tried to force me to enter caverns formed in various eruptions. Famous for eruptions, she was, and I wanted no part of that energy, nor a tour sous-terre, below the earth, as the French would say.
I didn’t like Mammoth Cave, either, into which my sister and I were dragged, in order to appreciate stalagmites and stalagtites, stand there and watch them grow. Nor — there or another cave, concretions christened ‘organ pipes’? And forget bat caves — though I appreciate bats, and wish them well, not only their imperiled noses.
Footprint of Prehistoric Boy embedded in Floor of Peche Merle Cave, France
The caves I adore, and for which I yearn, are those were prehistoric men and women used dyes and blow-pipes and their own hands, their memories and yearnings for wild beasts, to create art. As I wrote in the poem By Lamplight, “the caves, themselves, cooperating in rare art.” Underfoot, one steps across prints of ancient people, in the half light of that cave where art was essential, where art emerged before words…
Chateau Lascombes Label - we stayed in the tower…
The caves I’m remembering today, however, I experienced with my husband, Werner, in 1964. Guests, first, of Alexis Lichine in Bordeaux; then of the Bouchards in Burgundy, we descended, in steamy July, into primordial cold. The air was redolent of old wines, dust, oak, and time itself. When we sipped wines from the casques, in that heady time on the heels of the legendary 1959, we were to spit the residue onto earthen floors. Candles flickered. Moisture dripped from ceilings and formed on walls. Casques gave way to bottles, often adorned with cobwebs. These legendary vintners loaned us silver tastevins (shallow silver cuplets with a flat thumb-holder lthumb-print-sized bumps to raise each vintage to hesitant candlelight for careful evaluation.)
Bouchard, Pere et Fils, Bottles
We tasted the wine of that year, followed by the splendidly aging, even miracalizing, 1959s. We saw and tasted pale pre-phylloxera wines, poured from cobwebbed heavy bottles.
Not for a moment did I hesitate, let alone regret, cave entry, in Bordeaux and in Burgundy.
Later, on the Friends of the Art Museum (Princeton’s) Tour of Romanesque France, in 1978, I met prehistoric caves, such as Peche Merle. There, walls were decorated with handprints of the artists. Footprints of the peoples of that time were immortalized in those gray floors over which we gingerly moved. Light flickered there, too. The Guide spoke French too fast, and any number of us were caught up in translating for the others. But there were no words for the level of magic held in the cave of Peche Merle to this day.
Human Hand Print, Dye-Blown, Peche Merle Cave, France
Convolutions in those chilly walls had been turned into the flanks and hollows of prehistoric beasts. Perhaps in gratitude for the hunt. Perhaps in petition.
Head of Bear, Cave Wall, Peche Merle, France
Petition, or gratitude - we will never know.
I only know, French caves embraced, did not forfend me.
Here is my poem, published in one of our Cool Women Poets Anthologies, revealing my strong sense that I once had a hand in creating cave art…
Peche Merle Cave Horse
I would return to the caves
carry a small flicker of light
in the pointed clay lamp
that just fits
in the palm of my left hand, leaving
the right free to fumble
and to know the true
contours of this mammoth’s haunch
quick swelling of auroch’s chest
smooth hollow at the bison’s sooty flank
the cave itself collaborating
in new art
“The Riviera… a collection of jewels strung together at irregular intervals upon a rough mountain chain.” Author/Artist Gordon Home of Britain
Provence-off-the Beaten-Track books of long ago inspire memories in 21st C
Haute Provence– Bonnieux
My neighbors in the Cannes villa were always eager to share the startling and the unknown, with this person they called ‘L’Americaine’ , (as though there were no other in the South of France), the person my mailman had come to call Caroline. Holding high those frail blue letters from the States, half skipping down my sidewalk, the mailman would sing my name, in notes that ring to this day. “Bon jour, Caroline!” I swear, I could hear that exclamation mark. I thought I moved to Cannes to hear French for an entire year. I may have gone to Provence to hear my real name.
Provence Light, Provencal Dooryard, Richard Cobby
When January rolled around, Charles Mouzon, [--former Colonial Administrator of Tahiti and the Comorrre Islands (how he teased that I didn't know what that was!)], could not wait to check out a certain window in my apartment, the mirror image of his. For his faced ‘the wrong way.’ Day after day, Charles would inspect with the eyes of a ship’s captain underway in a field of icebergs. Every fibre of his being was caught in that searching. I could tell by an almost sag of his shoulders that Charles had not found what he sought. And then, one late January day of exceptional brilliance, probably post-mistral, he cried out, “Voila!”
I was still at the stage of being surprised and delighted when the French did something typical, as in saying “O (not ‘ooo’), la LA!”, which they did so often. Wearing berets, which since it sometimes even snowed in Cannes, Monsieur Carre and Charles both carried off with natural zest. Even saying ‘Voila’. It showed I wasn’t in Kansas any more.
Voila what? Voila, CORSICA
There on the far horizon, adrift (were there clouds or mist, or does memory paint that part?), a height with a Bali Hai air, rose Corsica. Charles explained, “Each winter, when the air is clear enough, Corsica comes to call.”
Napoleon’s island home was visible directly off my balcony. I was in heaven. Little did I know, returning to New Jersey, I would live near another Bonaparte home:
Point Breeze Mansion of Bonapartes of Bordentown, NJ
Charles had no way of knowing that I am a Napoleon Groupie. OK, indeed, much about the man was reprehensible, and some tragic, not only for him, but also for the French, the Italians, the Egyptians, the Russians.
Nonetheless, I read everything I could considering my hero and his elegant wife (whom I had attempted to emulate, waltzing in Empire velvet at the Plaza’s annual Swiss Ball — my other life.) My girls inherited my Bonaparte fixation. Cath wrote a paper on him in third grade. Our daughters They vied with each other in planning an entire trip around Napoleon. It started at Fontainebleau (at 7 and 8, their first wakening was upon the roofs of Napoleon’s palace there). It culminated culminating among the roses and in Napoleon’s bedroom at Josephine’s Malmaison. Cath touched the red brocade curtains tied at the sides of her heroe’s bed and announced to the assembled (French) crowd, “I’m never going to wash my hand again!”
What a shock, then, in 1988, when my Provencal neighbors referred to Napoleon, with a bark, as “That Corsican!”
Nonetheless, a highlight of each winter day at the villa (L’Aquila - which means eagle. Wasn’t Napoleon’s short-lived son named L’Aiglon?) was to check to be sure we’d all seen Corsica that day.
This Could Be My Living Room, Balcony View, toward the Iles de Lerins
The Mediterranean is this blue in Winter, when Corsica emerges like Venus
Being a neighbor rather than a tourist, on a Provencal hilltop, was the greatest privilege of my life. I can never convey the meaning of, the essentiality, of that Provence year to anyone who hasn’t been there. For those who have, “no explanation is necessary.”
These musings are inspired because I am reading venerable books of olden times. One isThe Riviera, painted and described by William Scott, an Englishman. It was published in one of those MCM years (MCMVII), by Black of London. For all the volumes I carried over each year to Bryn Mawr’s Book Sale, I never failed to return with treasures to fill lacunae on our shelves. This and another Book Sale Find, celebrates the Rivieras of France and Italy, with travel tales and watercolors, each worthy of framing. The other author/illustrator is Gordon Home, also of Britain, Along the Rivieras of France and of Italy. This one also of London, was published in MCMVIII by J.M. Dent, and in New York by The Macmillan Company.
These volumes bring back the entire panoply of my Riviera journeys. As I turn their soft pages, and lift the tissue protecting scenes of the Mediterranean and the hill towns, I feel I am standing beneath une cascade (their beautiful world for soft waterfalls) of Provence colors.
Provencal Colors - Fishing Boats only Out for One Tide
Fish Leapt off the tables in Cannes’ Marche Forville
Provence Colors - Vallauris Pottery — I could WALK to Vallauris
Neither of these books would make it on Antiques Road Show. Both have been read times beyond counting, long before moi. They are beyond ‘foxing’. Most treasured of all are the artworks — tissue paper muting each, colors faded by time or memory… Each book captures the old Rivieras, before chic - although the Boulevard des Anglais and the Russian ‘invasion’ of Nice and the transformation of Cannes by Lord Brougham and pals had indeed taken place. I realize that, by ‘chic’, I mean, before Scott and Zelda.
Mr. Black conveys some of the inescapable allure of ancient Provence (where I spent 9/10 of my time that year). La Cote d’Azur was for other moods and other times. La France Profonde became my new home. Mr. Black insists, in Chapter 1, “Here, at last, we can realise our dreams; or even find our keenest expectations far surpassed.”
NICE AND HER HARBOR - my weekly experience
NICE’S WINTER VEGETABLES - MARCHE AUX FLEURS
One of my two favorite markets - the other being Cannes’ Marche Forville
Provence as an entity is vastly different from the rest of the country. Normandy still possesses that uniqueness, set-apartness. Brittany, even more. Also rustic, quirky Cornwall, in the West of England. Always, our Pine Barrens, in New Jersey. These regions are as disaparate from their surroundings as islands; their people form races distinct from all others.
In Provence, I learned the nobility of peasantry. May I never lose this visceral awareness. All my expectations were surpassed, and many facets of my forever Francophilia were assiduously polished.
In Provence in 1987 and 88, the true life of shepherds and goatherds still took place. Many a drive from l’Observatoire Hill took me along La Route du Transhumance, the route taken by herders and their flocks from winter pastures to summer and backagain. It’s the way to the perched village of Mougins, with its legendary restaurants. It’s the way higher and higher, into la vraie Provence, la haute Provence, Provence profonde.
The Bellwether, Troupe of Sheep
More times than I can count, near Opio, near Glanum and Bonnieux, although not along La Route du Transhumance, I would suddenly find myself surrounded by flocks in transit. My tiny French car was transformed into a frail bark. It bobbed in a sea whose waves were composed of white fur and blue dye. There would be a herd boy, all his earthly possessions in two long sacks upon a donkey. There was nothing to do during transhumance but stop the car. It would rock back and forth among four-legged waves. In the background was a cacophony of metallic bell tones, each flock’s bells differing in tone, denoting owners. A sound I had only heard when the goats stopped everything, every afternoon, returning to Zermatt from the day’s pastures.
Back here in New Jersey, for NJ WILD Readers, I try to apply all my senses to each excursion, as I was trained to do in Provence. Those senses, as I saw the seasons ’round, have been honed by mistral, by exhudations of wild herbs on frosty air throughout the garrigues (scrublands). Those senses were tickled by slight fragrances of almonds in bloom in early February; by the lemony tingle of mimosa in the tree that filled my February bedroom window in Cannes; as was artist Pierre Bonnard’s in nearby Le Cannet. These eyes in all seasons could barely believe what the Provencal call ‘feerique’ - fairy-like effects of boats alight upon night’s Mediterranean. That reminded me of Picasso’s “Night Fishing at Antibes”, which jewel of a seaside town was just down the road through his La Californie, below his muraled Antibes castle near La Musee Napoleon.
In July, these senses were inundated by fields of ripe lavender, frequently accented by a burnished abbey afloat on all that purple, a golden galleon. These eyes couldn’t believe la pluie du Sahara - thick rain filled with Sahara sand which kept the Carres and me from making our ripe lavender fields tour which was to have taken several days at peak harvest.
Winter and summer, these eyes were near-blinded by rainbows everywhere - no not in the sky. Rather, rainbow circles formed anywhere that light fell: Even on darkest pottery, on my wooden desk, along those uninsulated apartment walls painted to match eggplants and tomatoes in markets not far from my door.
My ears were laved from before dawn till after ‘la crepuscule’/dusk, by the harsh cascade sound from des cigales (cicadas). There is something about having lived through the cacophony of des cigales that transitioned me from tourist to traveler to resident, after all.
Lavender in Bloom Under Venerable Olive Tree
Mr. Black sets out a paragraph of requirements, in order sufficiently to appreciate the Rivieras. “The receptivity, the power of hearing, of seeing, and of feeling truly, must be there; must be awake or wakening; if the message (of his Rivieras) is to be understood. Too many of us are deaf and blind to these impalpable images. Nature sings her sweet wild songs to these flowers, and skies, and stars, while we poor mortals grope along.” These words are equally essential in wild New Jersey.
Stars- I had forgotten about stars. Stars beyond counting - a hundred for every one visible out West, as in Aspen’s winter-cleansed skies. Stars sharp, electric, that seemed to prickle my bare skin like little sparkler lights during Fourth of July childhood. Out on my Cannes balcony, winter and summer, but especially upon my fiftieth birthday, champagne in hand, stars in that vivid black sky over the whispering Mediterranean seemed to drop right into my champagne, kissing their twins.
Pennsylvania Vista - Carousel Farm cfe
NJ WILD readers know that I sometimes stray across my beloved Delaware River (windows open so I can take in her aura through almost all senses) to Bucks County. When I lived there, from 1981 through 1987, I explored every back road.
Carousel Farm Welcome
Even so, I was not aware of Carousel Farm — where animals for Broadway shows thrived on rolling fields between performances. Many theatre people peopled Bucks County in those days, from Hammerstein onward — this may be the Bucks County connection. Today, those supple hills bloom every summer, lavender to the horizon, its scent on the air and the sound of happy bees in my ears.
A Visitor Enjoys the Lavender (a cloudless sulfur butterfly)
This July (2010) was clearly stressing these purple stalks, even though (I know from my life in Provence) they are drought-tolerant to the max. Soaking hoses twined among sage-green foliage, as yet another 90-+-degree day surrounded my excursion companion and me.
Espaliered Apples Ripen
Carousel’s products are what drew me there in the first place. Their fragrance is that of French lavender, not the less pungent, too-sweet English scent. And their creams actually soften skin, lasting for hours, unlike too many ‘hand lotions’ which only coat then vanish.
Here are scenes of July 2010. Wander lavender fields with us:
Looking from Arbor toward Stable
Lavender Farm’s Private Haven
“Vive La France” in the middle of Bucks County
The Quiet Garden - a fine place to write poetry…
The Good Life, Carousel Farm Donkeys
Carousel Farm Beauty and Precision
(the stable is so clean, it smells only of oatmeal…)
Nobility of Yesteryear, Carousel Farm
Cloudless Sulfur [Butterfly] Sips
Stable and Espaliered Fruit
Lavender Abundance - ‘Lavender Fields Forever…’
WHY SAVE FARMS!
Tomorrow, I am returning to the Carousel, to the scent of lavender brushed by hot summerwinds, to the buzz of very happy bees, to Pennsylvania’s soft rolling hills outside Doylestown. Here’s how it was last time. How will tomorrow be different? Stay tuned…
NJ WILD READERS know how I am about preserving and utilizing farmlands…
Provence-in-Pennsylvania : Carousel Farms Lavender
Carousel Farms Barn
When is a farm more than a farm? When it’s a source of lavender, –the color, strength, extent and fragrance of lavender fields of my beloved Provence. Near Doylestown, Pennsylvania, we are privileged to have not one but TWO lavender farms to visit.
For beauty alone, these sites are worth the journey. For scent alone, –admittedly arriving on gentle Pennsylvania breezes, not upon the strafing mistral. One is Peace Valley Lavender Farm, the other is called Carousel.
The pictures are of Carousel Farm, taken last September. This haven is named for stage animals kept there for use on Broadway and at the Met, in those heady years when New Hope and Doylestown were star-studded, literally.
Algonquin Round Table bons vivants visited, bought homes, a remarkable coterie of our most successful artists and writers, residing and createing in Bucks County. They brought along friends, enemies, lovers and family for inspiration in the country. And when they needed live creatures for all those Broadway plays, from Carousel Farm they would come.
Nowadays a man from Crete, whose air is Provencal, instead tends various lavender species. A splendid photographer, from him, you can buy not only true lavender oil, la vraie essence, but also soaps, candles, hand and body cremes [that really nourish the skin while imparting my favorite scent upon earth], as well as this superb photographer’s book of remarkable scenes.
All this and all organic! Open only on Saturdays from 9 - 5, I made the excursion because I’ve bought Carousel Farms lavender products, in Frenchtown, in Clinton, and always been amazed (1) that the scent is that of Provencal lavender; and (2), the products work! http://store.carouselfarmlavender.com/index.html
His lavender products, of two French and two English species of the flower, do not simply just smell good and feel good. Hours later, my hands and arms and anywhere else are still soft, even gleaming.
One of my favorite products, –bought from a farm wagon last September, in addition to creams and real lavender oil–, is their lavender candle. One burns it after certain cooking tasks, such as making soup or bacon… NJ WILD readers know that I love cooking and cooking aromas, but not several hours later. Carousel Farms’ lavender kitchen candle, –studded blossoms of real lavender embedded in opulent wax, in its square tin with the handsome Carousel label–, solves that dilemma.
5966 MECHANICSVILLE RD, MECHANICSVILLE PA. 18934
PLEASE ENTER FROM ENTRANCE ON SHEFIELD DRIVE
Here is the all-too-humble owner’s description from his website:
The Carousel Farm, first established in 1748, has had many lives over the centuries, –once a dairy farm, later a horse farm and, in the mid-20th century, an exotic animal farm.
When we moved to the farm 7 years ago, our challenge was to put our unique imprint on the farm, maintaining its rural beauty, yet enhancing it with something beyond.
Our farm, with its fieldstone farmhouse, 18th-century stone barn and rolling fields broken only by fieldstone walls, seemed the perfect place to replicate the South of France.
Our fields, now over four years old, are nothing short of amazing. Despite our initial worry that the harsh Northeast climate might not be ideal for the project, after testing the soil we carefully selected four varieties of plants, both French and English, and the plants are flourishing.
We have over 15,000 organically-grown plants, each one planted, pruned and harvested by hand. The beauty of our fields is attested to by the many of local painters and photographers who spend their days drawing inspiration from the fields.
Good for the Bees, Good for the Butterflies
As you can tell, we are proud of our lavender fields, but perhaps we are most proud that, despite the striking natural beauty of Bucks County, we have found a way to enhance this historic community with something at once rural, beautiful, unique, and–yes–all organic!
All Organic Means, Good for the Bees
Old Ways Are Best, Where Real Farming is Concerned
When Rain Blessed
Once upon a time, rain was soft and welcome, –gift of summer’s days.
And not only good for farm crops and grass, rain brought especial joy to children.
I just discovered that I had forgotten gentle rain. I have been reading three 1970’s library books on Cape Cod, –where I summered during those years with teen-aged daughters. One memoirist muses, “It is beginning to rain lightly.” I was thoroughly startled. How long has it been since I experienced or even thought of ‘rain lightly’?
My mother would welcome “a good soaking rain”. It was good for our Victory garden, products of which she would can and pickle on steamy August days, usually rainy days. She even canned green beans, and most tomatoes. Dill in my house right now takes me right back to Lathrup pickle days. Rain was also good for Daddy’s ‘Creeping Bent’ grass, of which he was inordinately proud for some reason we girls could not fathom.
‘Rainy days’ for my little sister and me meant coloring, cutting out paper dolls, making scrapbooks from Mother’s shiny magazines. In gentle rain, we would do this out on the screened-in back porch. Rain was everywhere around; but we were safe, warm and dry. That small square porch was entirely surrounded by blue morning glories I’d planted from seeds. A special dappled light came through the petals even in hot sunshine. The twiney vines braided themselves along multicolored chain-stitched supports - the only crochet skill I ever mastered. To be out there together in the soft air, as rain sifted down all afternoon, around our little brick house and our sheltering porch, was simply magical.
Rainy day air was light on my child-skin. Our little round arms reached out for crayons and scissors, beyond sundress straps or pinafore ruffles, — summer ‘frocks’ our mother had sewed and ironed. I realize that we were dressed up a good deal of the time, even in rain. Even though nobody saw us.
Best of all was paddling outdoors in one-piece homemade bathing suits. We loved being barefoot in new puddles. We would squat a long time on solid tanned legs, studying patterns sketched by varying combinations of drops on shallow water. Barefoot, bare-torso’ed, bare-headed of course, that warm rain coursing along our toddler bodies like blessings. This could have been the grace they were always prating about in church, without explaining it once. Out in warm rain, we knew the state of grace.
Rainwater was actually good for our naturally curly hair. We’d save rain in fat low wooden slatted buckets out at the side of the house. The wood would swell tight with liquid, holding it for shampoos (in Castile soap) and rinses that made our hair curlier.
That rain was also good for Mother’s dark purple violets, hidden among heart-shaped leaves. Violet blossoms seemed snipped of silk. They would tremble in the softness of that rain. We thought the roses looked up gratefully, lifting pink throats to sip and sip what British storybooks called ‘a mizzle of rain.’
In rain, I used to love being up in Aunt Betty’s Toledo attic, when we were taking care of her four girls and a boy. I treasured rain’s song on her roof. Alone by the grey yet luminous attic window, I’d page and page through volumes we didn’t have at home. There was no library in our town nor school, so Aunt Betty’s was my only one. And I loved it best in rain. Its patter on her roof sounded like unsteady new kittens walking around upstairs in Lathrup, Michigan, while we were down in the living room, waiting for Daddy. I don’t remember an attic, in Michigan. At Aunt Betty’s I’d particularly love leafing through a long set of books we never saw elsewhere: “My Book House.”
This may have been the poetic influence I have never been able to trace, having majored in science in high school and college, –no time for the Romantic (in more than one sense.)
Childhood rain made a relaxing sound, a sleepy sound. I wasn’t a sleepy girl, so found this sensation odd and memorable. Childhood rain was soothing as lullabyes. Not menacing. Not run-for-your-lives. Rather, “Curl up here and read of new worlds.”
Now, we WOULD have to run outside, hurry the laundry off the summer lines, before it actually got wetter! But this was not a frantic task, and often a silly one. Pre-rain winds would wrap the (always only white) sheets around our young bodies, sometimes tripping us, while purple-black cumulo-nimbus clouds (learned for my Girl Scout weather badge) piled and piled in the west. Tripping onto sheet tails was bad, because Creeping Bent made long green stains under the pressure of a child’s unwitting foot.
Billowing in our arms, even partly dried sheets were redolent of wind across Lake Michigan, in Traverse City or Naubinway, our favorite places on earth. The hard part was then where to put the sheets indoors. The Lathrup house did have long ropes all along the most unfinished basement, but I can’t imagine that I could reach them. We had a drier the basement ofRoyal Oak.
Soft Separate Raindrops
Somehow, rain slowed our mother. She didn’t make us run around and finish everything in rain. We could even do things that didn’t HAVE to be done, –like making fudge in the steamy kitchen.
Soft rain meant dreamy times — sit on the window seat upstairs and imagine, while drops cascaded softly and almost as quiet as tinsel on Christmas trees. Gaze past mother’s bearded purple and lavender iris, toward the apple tree where we could sometimes read unseen.
The world became a shimmering place on the window seat in rain. On my narrow lap would be my fat favorite Evangeline –”dual language” - prose and poetry! but I only wanted Longfellow’s. “This is the forest primeval, the murmuring pine and the hemlock… the deep-voiced neighboring ocean…” (which I’d never seen.)
On the window-seat, I’d wish rain would continue until Daddy came home, as I wept over Evangeline’s lost love. I would yearn for the faraway country that belonged to Little Anne of France, determining to go there someday, never guessing I would manage even to live there.
No one else in Michigan had interest in “going overseas.” To everyone there, ‘overseas’ meant war, –Hitler, Mussolini and death. On the window seat in rain, there was no war. Everitt Allen, in his Cape Cod memoir, blurts, “Do not ask me which war, for all wars are the same.” Yes, and no. Not all wars have Hitler and Mussolini.
Our Cottage Was Only Slightly Larger than The Outermost House
Our Chatham cottage had but one floor, right on Nantucket Sound. Every rain there was rain on the roof. Every rain there was blessing, even the hurricane I determinedly stayed through because I wanted to feel one. Rain on the Sound formed a whole new landscape, –waves churned along that usually peaceful surface. Intricate drop designs would be scrawled one moment, effaced another. The Sound would become an enormous silvery canvas. After rain could come fogs, electric and alive. Returning sun would create round rainbows in every fogged square of the front door screen. Returning sun would bring back the rare birds - godwits and once a phalarope, the long-tailed jaeger down by the Light.
Nowadays, even a “30% chance of rain” triggers red alerts. What lies in wait for us now, instead of drifty dreamy days is downpours, lightning and thunder, “line storms.” A friend from New Jersey, who moved to a farm in the rural South, is building “a bunker” for storms. He tells me how many feet thick the concrete is, and how broad the sand shoveled in beyond that, to hide from weather.
Today’s rains tear up the lawn here above Canal Road. It’s a tough grass untended; not fragile, like Daddy’s, let alone vulnerable as violets. Huge black scrapes scar this grass, open all the way to the mud, like skinned knees. These wounds arrow down from house toward driveway. This is what happens in run-off, and there’s run-off in every rain. Rain-divots. Imagine what today’s rains would do to Mother’s violets!
Today I was supposed to take a friend for her first trip on the River Line Train. We planned to glide river town to river town all along my beloved Delaware River. But dire forecasts, –of thunder, lightning, downpours, flooding and “line storms”, whatever those may be–, caused us to cancel our plans. It’s beautiful now, but I don’t want to be in Camden, looking for Walt Whitman’s house, during a line storm.
Paddling in puddles came to an end when I was eleven. As I wrote in an early poem, “One day, clouds went both ways, fast!” That day, tornadoes exploded into Flint, Michigan, not far from us. They also ‘touched down’ in Port Huron, and Ontario, oddly south of Michigan, Canada south of the United States, wreaking untold damage - as bad as war newsreels we’d see before Saturday movies, and even bringing death.
How Lathrup skies looked, as this happened in Flint
Our father was so astounded, the next day he took us all on a tornado tour — ever the newsman. In a nearby neighborhood, my high school friend Marion’s neighbor’s house was shattered. Meanwhile, in Marion’s Mother’s garden, frail blue delphinium still stood upright.
After that, every rainstorm seemed fraught with thunder. (I was only afraid of thunder - loved lightning, and knew I was being irrational and it didn’t matter a whit. Lightning was beautiful. I still can’t stand loud noises.)
After that, every thunderstorm brought tornado warnings. We learned to spend time in the basement. This had never ever been the case, until ‘Flint’. In Lathrup, after that, to say ‘Flint’ meant ‘the tornado.’ Even as an eleven-year-old, I thought the Great Lakes might have changed temperature and/or volume, so that there was a greater contrast between the air and those broad waters, setting up long ragged tongues whirring out from the clouds, in a green-black world with its odd chemical smell. If there were a hell, it would smell like the world before tornadoes.
In all three Cape Cod books, not one of these journal-keepers mentions living through a hurricane. Although Everitt Allen describes a very old tumbledown house, for which “the first ravaging had been by hurricane, unprecedented for decades.” That might’ve been 1938’s that so demolished his New England and our Long Island here.
In our growing up, there weren’t hurricane seasons. There wasn’t even one a year. I remember ‘Hurricane Diane’s’ ravages during High School. A friend at the Detroit Times was named Diane. The newsmen mercilessly teased her — until she never wanted to hear the word ‘hurricane’ ever again. And we basically didn’t.
I never meant to long for the ‘good old days’.
However, one blessing of childhood was that rain was respite.
I yearn to return to the time of soft soaking rains.
Foods from previous Indoor Winter Farm Market, Held at D&R Greenway Land Trust
NJ WILD readers know my passion for La Belle France. Here’s the legendary Art Buchwald’s frustrated attempt to explain our Thanksgiving to the French. It was even harder explaining it to the Provencals, the year (1987/88) I spent on a hill above Cannes.
I could buy a turkey at the Cannes Marche. But cranberries?! They sold me ‘des airelles’ - I think they may have been currants.
I came back to America for McIntosh apples and the cranberries of the Pine Barrens.
Read this and weep… smiles…
by any other name, still sweet.
Le Grande Thanksgiving
By Art Buchwald
This confidential column was leaked to me by a high government official in the Plymouth colony on the condition that I not reveal his name.
One of our most important holidays is Thanksgiving Day, known in France as le Jour de Merci Donnant .
Le Jour de Merci Donnant was first started by a group of Pilgrims ( Pelerins ) who fled from l’Angleterre before the McCarran Act to found a colony in the New World ( le Nouveau Monde ) where they could shoot Indians ( les Peaux-Rouges ) and eat turkey ( dinde ) to their hearts’ content.
They landed at a place called Plymouth (now a famous voiture Americaine ) in a wooden sailing ship called the Mayflower (or Fleur de Mai ) in 1620. But while the Pelerins were killing the dindes, the Peaux-Rouges were killing the Pelerins, and there were several hard winters ahead for both of them. The only way the Peaux-Rouges helped the Pelerins was when they taught them to grow corn ( mais ). The reason they did this was because they liked corn with their Pelerins.
In 1623, after another harsh year, the Pelerins’ crops were so good that they decided to have a celebration and give thanks because more mais was raised by the Pelerins than Pelerins were killed by Peaux-Rouges.
Every year on the Jour de Merci Donnant, parents tell their children an amusing story about the first celebration.
It concerns a brave capitaine named Miles Standish (known in France as Kilometres Deboutish) and a young, shy lieutenant named Jean Alden. Both of them were in love with a flower of Plymouth called Priscilla Mullens (no translation). The vieux capitaine said to the jeune lieutenant :
“Go to the damsel Priscilla ( allez tres vite chez Priscilla), the loveliest maiden of Plymouth ( la plus jolie demoiselle de Plymouth). Say that a blunt old captain, a man not of words but of action ( un vieux Fanfan la Tulipe ), offers his hand and his heart, the hand and heart of a soldier. Not in these words, you know, but this, in short, is my meaning.
“I am a maker of war ( je suis un fabricant de la guerre ) and not a maker of phrases. You, bred as a scholar ( vous, qui tes pain comme un tudiant ), can say it in elegant language, such as you read in your books of the pleadings and wooings of lovers, such as you think best adapted to win the heart of the maiden.”
Although Jean was fit to be tied ( convenable tre emballe ), friendship prevailed over love and he went to his duty. But instead of using elegant language, he blurted out his mission. Priscilla was muted with amazement and sorrow ( rendue muette par l’tonnement et las tristesse ).
At length she exclaimed, interrupting the ominous silence: “If the great captain of Plymouth is so very eager to wed me, why does he not come himself and take the trouble to woo me?” ( Ou est-il, le vieux Kilometres? Pourquoi ne vient-il pas aupres de moi pour tenter sa chance ?)
Jean said that Kilometres Deboutish was very busy and didn’t have time for those things. He staggered on, telling what a wonderful husband Kilometres would make. Finally Priscilla arched her eyebrows and said in a tremulous voice, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, Jean?” ( Chacun a son gout. )
And so, on the fourth Thursday in November, American families sit down at a large table brimming with tasty dishes and, for the only time during the year, eat better than the French do.
No one can deny that le Jour de Merci Donnant is a grande fte and no matter how well fed American families are, they never forget to give thanks to Kilometres Deboutish, who made this great day possible.
2005Tribune Media Services