Sunday, January 3, 2010

How the french eat.

Last week I went to Caullery, France (population 300) to have dinner and catch up with a family I hadn't seen since 2002. It was great. Seven years of stories to tell in one night and we succeeded. The night ended around 1am after a discussion about euthenasia instigated by the phone call we received from a local hospital announcing the death of an elder relative. The news was tragic but fitting.

I ended up crashing there as I had so many nights before, and slept in Marie-Caroline's room, which is now for her two infant children when they have sleepovers "chez Memée et Pepé." Also, me. After a deep sleep in completely dark silence I woke up to Roselyne (Memée) softly calling my name to breakfast. Something about the way this sixty-year-old woman talks to me always comforts but scares me. Like she's detected a cancer I don't know about yet. I feel like I'm in a Nancy Meyers movie.

I put on a bra under my pyjamas remembering how cold it is downstairs in the first hour of being awake in this house, and rinse my face before carefully sauntering down the steepest spiral staircase in the world (seriously: stairs are so steep in almost every country outside of the U.S. but these take the cake).

In the living room at the 10 foot long oak table where the Vitoux have broken bread for the past thirty some-odd years. It's the house Roselyne built with Jean-Pierre right after the former had their second child. The house is a perfect symbol for this family: sturdy, constantly growing, lined with plants tended to carefully by Jean-Pierre, and decorated inside with flowers Roselyne culls. In their backyard, an exotic shrub that yields the best (if the only) kiwi in all of this region. I already know what I'm going to eat: brioche-nutella, coffee, OJ, a few kiwis.

I prepare my plate and eat with the grandchildren, who have returned after sleeping at their mom's house a block away. Jean-Pierre emerges from the kitchen ready to head out and make arrangements for his deceased uncle. He's brought out the cheese plate and a baguette. He tears off the end of the bread. He looks at my breakfast and then looks at me.

"Brioche nutella? You keep eating that for breakfast and you'll get fat, you know." Such frankness about getting fat also strikes me as a trait shared by everyone but Americans but what he does next is pure French. Without dropping a beat, he spreads at least fifteen cubic inches of butter onto his baguette and slaps on a triangle of brie so big it could feed New Guniea, then takes a huge bite.

"Well, I'm off. You know where everything is so help yourself. (Pause. Then, incredulously) Brioche nutella... sheesh. I wish I had your metabolism," and he takes another bite from his Panzer-sized brie sandwich.

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