It is relatively quiet this week around the B&B. The teens left, we cleaned their rooms and readied them for a group of five Canadian women who are here sketching, painting and visiting the sites Van Gogh and Cézanne painted. Gilbert is their official chauffeur for the week. They speak French very well and are off to Aix-en-Provence today.
Yesterday, Chef Érick and I headed to Marseille for the day. It is about 90 km from Arles. Filou, the family dog, accompanied us. If you've ever been to France, you know that there are about as many dogs as French people (60 million+) and they are welcome most anywhere-- the market, cafés, restaurants. As my close friends and family know, I am not much of a dog lover, but Filou is good company and I enjoy taking him for walks. He sits (sleeps) at my feet a lot and follows me up and down the stairs when I am cleaning rooms.
We drove all the way through Marseille on the corniche or road overlooking the Mediterranean Sea until we reached Callelongue. Here there are many calanques or stretches of barren, rocky coast. The rocks are gleaming white stones and the water is turquoise. It is incredibly beautiful. I continue to be amazed at how diverse the landscape is in the south of France. The water's edge was full of jellyfish. And a few fisherman and sunbathers on the rocks. From where I stood, looking out over the sea, I was facing Libya, in north Africa. No kidding.
We had lunch in a restaurant named Le Bar Restaurant de la Grotte. A grotte is a cave. I didn't see one, but about ten years ago one was found underwater near where we were. It is filled with prehistoric paintings. And this restaurant could never have passed as simply a bar. It was very elegant-- my chair was covered in red velvet, the table cloth and napkins were beige and there were touches of pink everywhere.
Anyway, back to lunch! I had a salad of poulpe or octopus- a first for me. I considered pasta, but decided to be daring. The chopped tentacles were chilled and served with greens, tomatoes and a small boiled, seasoned potato. Érick had roasted red and green peppers with an anchovy sauce and a dish with shrimp and citrus fruit- oranges and red grapefruit. We had a very nice bottle of local white wine.
Afterwards, we drove back into the city and down to the Vieux Port or Old Port. It was destroyed during WWII but has since been rebuilt. We took the Ferry Boat (honest to goodness, they use our words but give them a French pronunciation- it comes out like ferry bo-ought) across the port and then walked back to the car to come home. It was a very nice, relaxing day away from hanging out clothes to dry (the laundry is never ending and I fear that someday I will fall out of the second story window where we hang the laundry) and washing dishes.
Since we have no cooking classes going on at the moment, we eat very simply. A very simple, but delicious, favorite is the aïoli- a mayonnaise made with olive oil served with boiled vegetables and fish, if you wish. We had green beans, small new potatoes, turnips and carrots. We also had salted, boiled cod. Good bread and a chilled white or rosé wine and dinner is served. À table!
(this recipe was sufficient for three people)
1 egg yolk (fresh and preferably at room temperature)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 squirts of fresh lemon juice
pinch of sea salt
1 cup (approx) olive oil (fruity, not highly acidic is best)
puree of 2 large garlic cloves (grated on a fork with lemon juice from previous posting)
In bowl, start stirring with a fork or whisk the egg yolk, lemon juice, salt and mustard. Pour in olive oil in a steady, thin stream, carefully whisking it into the egg yolk mixture. Stop when you reach a good and relatively solid texture (emulsion).
Pour in the pureed garlic and whip up stiff.
Arrange your vegetables on a platter.
Oh yeah-- I turn 50 on Sunday. I was born on a Sunday, so that seems very appropriate. It is my favorite day of the week. I have no idea what I will do to celebrate, but it will definitely include a walk along the Rhône River to where Vincent Van Gogh painted Starry Night Over The Rhône, my favorite painting (it now hangs in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris). Vincent shot himself on July 27, 1890, at the age of 37 and died two days later. Maybe if he hadn't left Arles...
God bless my mother. She was 17 when I was born and has always been my biggest fan and supporter. I wish she could be here with me in Arles on Sunday. She would love this place!