Tuesday, May 19, 2009

My first visit to Arles...

I dedicate this one to Libby Lang. She will probably be mad at me for using this photo in an article I wrote for the DA magazine that will come out this summer! But, hey, I have a PERM in this photo. Love you, Libby!!

The year was 1987. I organized my first student trip to France during our spring break in early March. We had planned to go to Paris, but after some trashcan bombs, the headmaster asked me to please change my plans (these days and times there would've been wide spread panic among the administration and parents and the whole trip would have been canned, I'm afraid). No Paris, so I decided to offer a trip to the south of France. Pourquoi pas? We flew into Milan, Italy and drove across the border to France. We stopped for lunch along the way and I can still remember the absolutely fabulous melt-in-your-mouth lasagna we ate as an appetizer. Yes, it has stayed with me for 22 years! Such memories. We spent a week touring Roman Provence visiting various towns -- I remember Nîmes, Orange, Les Aigues Mortes, Arles and Avignon. The second week was spent in Nice. The students stayed with families arranged by ACIS, our tour company, and they took classes at a language school.
My co-chaperon and I stayed in a cute hotel (it reminded me of the interiors of hotel rooms painted by Matisse with the patterns of the carpets and wallpapers). We wandered around, visiting the Matisse and Chagall museums, walking on the beach and picking up the smooth stones that are found there instead of sand, and checking in with the kids at their language school. We took the train to Cannes so that I could go back and see the places I knew so well when I lived there in 1978 while still in college. We also took the train to Antibes to visit the Picasso museum there. It was beautiful. On that particular day, there was a class of elementary school children sitting on the floor in one of the rooms painting and drawing. I was so jealous, imagining that if I'd had that kind of inspiration and instruction at the age of 7 or 8 I might be able to draw more than stick figures today... Hélas.
Leigh, my colleague and co-chaperon, and I went to Monaco one day and searched for a restaurant where locals were having lunch. We ended up in a restaurant with long tables, seated next to some guys who were more than happy to give us all the gossip on the royal family, Prince Ranier and his children by his deceased wife, American actress Grace Kelly. I seem to remember having bouillabaisse, a spicy fish stew that is a speciality of southern France. We visited Princess Grace's tomb in the cathedral in Monte Carlo. Prince Ranier placed fresh flowers on it every day. A fairytale for us young American women. We strolled through a couple of casinos, looking totally out of place, of course, in our jeans and tennis shoes. (I've always dressed for comfort, I must confess here and now. Je ne suis pas très chic comme les Françaises...) It was a wonderful trip.
During the second week, I began to suspect that I was pregnant. I was a bit queasy and didn't have my usual appetite. We'd been trying for almost a year. Leigh bought champagne and we celebrated. I brought home a Cuban cigar (not illegal to purchase in France!) for Steve and broke the news to him that way. Jake was born in November.
I started thinking about that trip because I was recently asked to write an article for our school magazine about my sabbatical. I called up one of the "girls" who was on the trip and asked her to verify some of my memories. (That "girl" is a second grade teacher at DA now... she taught both of my sons and was Jake's first babysitter!) We had a great time reminiscing about the trip and she sent over the above photo. Just the fact that she could immediately put her hands on it is most impressive, n'est-ce pas? It was taken in Arles, in front of the fountain at Place de la République. The church of St. Trophîme is nearby, along with the hôtel de ville. I spent quite a bit of time sitting on a bench facing that fountain reading or writing letters home during my sabbatical. I also passed through there frequently on my way to the bureau de tourisme or la poste. On Saturdays I would go there sometimes to see if anyone was getting married. The French must marry at the mayor's office in the hôtel de ville to be married legally. They then go to a church for a second ceremony, if they wish. We went to a couple of photo exhibits and concerts in the courtyard of the cloisters adjacent to the church. It is very interesting to look at that photo taken 22 years ago and now be so familiar with the setting.
I can name all of the students in that photo, too! That is very impressive, in my opinion, considering my memory or lack thereof sometimes...
My new column appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun today. Exciting stuff for me. The last of it was cut off unfortunately, but it is supposed to be in tomorrow's paper. I wrote about the farmers' markets in Durham, Carrboro and Hillsborough. I even got an email from someone I don't know! I choose to consider that my first piece of fan mail!! He has a booth at the Eno River Farmers' Market in downtown Hillsborough and invited me to stop by and say hello next weekend. I think I will.
It's been a busy week and I haven't done much in the way of cooking. I did make Chef Érick's rice salad, one of my favorites since I tasted it for the first time in 2005.

Érick's Rice Salad

400 grams (2 cups) rice cooked and drained (in Arles we used red rice from the Camargue- it gives a nutty taste; white or wholegrain works well, too)

2 cans of tuna (I use the type packed in olive oil, undrained)

1 15-oz can of chickpeas, drained

1 jar (about a cup) of artichoke hearts, optional

1 tablespoon capers

the lemon juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons mustard


Mix together the cooked rice, the tuna, the chickpeas and the capers. In a separate small bowl, blend the sauce of lemon juice, olive oil and mustard. Pour over the rice mixture, sprinkle a bit of sea salt. Serve warm or cold.
You can cut the recipe in half if you don't want to make quite as much. Add in chopped green and/or red peppers, if you like them.

Bon appétit!

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