C'est moi à Châteauneuf-du-Pape...
looking out at the countryside and the Rhône River in the distance from inside what is left of the Pope's summer home
For the first time in four years, it is summer vacation and I am not going to France. No Arles 6 reunion planned (Betty is plotting a Loire Valley adventure for 2010), no work as l'assistante américaine (does the flower guy at the market miss my accent délicieux, I wonder?), no student groups. Dorette and I had hoped to take a couple of young ladies to Paris and Arles for a cooking adventure this summer, but that will probably have to wait until next summer. My passport is safely tucked away and will have a cooling off period until next March when I take my next group of 8th graders.
This week, I have been busy "French-ifying" our home. The Nebraska football helmet that was sitting on a shelf has been replaced by three of my Eiffel Towers. The Duke University Basketball 1991 Championship poster has been relegated to the computer room, replaced by a large framed poster of Henri Matisse's cut-out Le Coeur from his Jazz series. I bought the poster in 1987 when I visited the Musée Matisse in Nice. There's more cheese in our frigo than leftover pizza and Chinese take-out- brie, two kinds of chèvre, St. André, fresh mozzarella and parmesan. Our youngest son has said that he is likely to break a tooth on the coarse sea salt I am force-feeding him (although I have noticed him sprinkling it on his pasta when he thinks I'm not watching). There's almost always a bottle of rosé in the frigo, too. I've framed and arranged five watercolors by an artist I met in Arles last December (okay, Steve did the arranging, measuring and nailing). Chef Érick's watercolor I've titled Vincent à table goes up next. He gave me a sketch book before I left and that work was still in it. I think I asked him if I could have it... There is a blue and yellow olive oil can from Nicolas Alziari of Nice on the counter right next to a bottle and a small can from Moulin du Mas des Barres olive oil producers in Les Baux de Provence near Arles. I could go on and on, but I think I've painted a fairly accurate picture of what I'm doing here. And I am not very good at the decorating thing, to tell the truth.
Even if I am not going to France this summer, I can begin planning the 2010 trips. The 8th grade one comes first since I will need to give information to my students and their parents in August. Perhaps cooking will be the focus. Dorette has Paris connections. Arles and Chef Érick will welcome my students once again, I am sure. I will begin researching the Arles 6 reunion trip. My handsome research assistant, Steve, wants to go to Normandy and see the D-Day beaches one of these days. I've already planted the notion in my friend Ghislaine's tête about the possibility of exchanging houses for a couple of weeks in the summer. Her home in Montépilloy, north of Paris very near Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, is in a great location.
So how do I keep my French tuned up and satisfy my France obsession while I am here in the États-Unis? Back in the olden days, before computers, the internet and global cell phones, I relied on books. I worked on my grammar and vocabulary and read novels. I wrote letters to Ghislaine in French. Now Ghislaine and I correspond mostly by email (although I still love handwritten letters) since she has finally entered the 21st century with her own laptop and internet at home. I still read every novel set in France or up-to-date book about France I can get my hands on. I get movies from Netflix (we just watched Il y a longtemps que je t'aime /I've loved you so long), see most of the French films that come to the Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham or the Chelsea in Chapel Hill, and once in a while catch one on TV (Jules et Jim by Truffaut was recently on TMC).
Now, however, it is welcome to the wonderful world of technology. I was recently introduced to podcasts and social networking sites in French. The computer guru at school bought a subscription to Yabla, a website with great French topics and lesson plans for teachers to use. I plan to add it to my 8th grade French Moodle course. There is always YouTube and its many variations. Listening to French now is much easier. Anytime I want to check out Yannick Noah I can go to his official website. I can chat on-line with Ghislaine and Chef Érick whenever we are on-line at the same time despite the six-hour time difference. I recently attended a workshop at NCSU that discussed the positive effects of on-line chatting in a foreign language. Their research has shown that it is the second best thing to speaking in the target language. My guess would be that is because you have to think pretty quickly and there is immediate feedback. Several of my students have started chatting with their penpals in Senlis. This makes me very proud.
But all of the technology in the world can't reproduce the actual sights and smells of France for me. I want to smell the lavender on a hot, dry afternoon and hear the summer music of the cicadas or cigales as they sing. I want to pick a warm, ripe, juicy fig right off the tree, break it open and eat it, letting the juice run through my fingers. I want to sit in Place Voltaire, have a glass of rosé and write postcards home. I want to hear the lovely sound of French being spoken all around me, allowing me to tune in and out, understanding all of what I choose to focus in on, but letting the language flow over me. I want to feel the mistral as it blows in quickly across the Rhône Valley. I want to pass a field of sunflowers, stop the car and jump the ditch to stand among them as they turn their heads to catch the rays of Provence sunshine. I want to awaken in the morning, throw open the shutters and look out the window to see the blue sky above without a cloud in sight. Or to find rare summer clouds and worry if the laundry will dry easily or not.
Hélas, c'est pas possible cet été-- not this summer. But if I close my eyes, it does all come back to me. That's how powerful my memories are. I can revel in them for a few minutes and then come back to my real life. A very good real life. Yes, I am a lucky woman. I have the best of two worlds.
Today I share a list of some of my favorite books. We'll start with books about food and wine, of course! More to follow. I always welcome suggestions.
Appetite for Life Noel R. Fitch: bio of Julia Child
The Sharper Your Knife the Less You Cry Kathleen Flinn: author goes to Cordon Bleu in Paris
On Rue Tatin Susan H. Loomis: author buys house in Normandy; runs a cooking school
A Good Year Peter Mayle: Brit inherits uncle's vineyard
Acquired Tastes Peter Mayle: man sets off to find luxuries around the world
French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork & Corkscrew Peter Mayle: eating and drinking in France
Provence A-Z Peter Mayle: handbook for understanding south of France
Chocolat Joanne Harris: woman opens a chocolate shop during Lent in a very Catholic village
Julie and Julia Julie Powell: author cooks her way through Julia Child cookbook
French Dirt Richard Goodman: author and his garden in the south of France
A Moveable Feast Ernest Hemingway: his memoir of Paris in 1920's
The Widow Clicquot Tilar J. Mazzeo: story of the woman behind Veuve Clicquot champagne
My Life in France Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme: autobio by Child and her nephew
French Women Don’t Get Fat Mireille Guiliano: French woman’s guide to eating with recipes
Bistro Chicken Mary Ellen Evans: recipes with a French flair
My French Kitchen Joanne Harris & Fran Warde: cookbook by author of Chocolat
Mastering the Art of French Cooking Julia Child: her first cookbook
A Pig in Provence Georgeanne Brennan: good food, simple pleasures in Provence