Wait! What? I said look at those sheets I just gave you!!! What’s so funny?!?! Oh, I see… This is funny for a French adolescents. You see, “sheet” is what it sounds like when a person with a French accent says a certain word that rhymes with hit or spit or knit. I have so much to learn…
I love southern France! I love pretty much everything about living in this part of the world! Except for the last two days…
An unexpected cold settled upon the region last week. Weather like they have not seen since, maybe, 60 years ago! It started when I was in Poitiers last week. I returned to Narbonne to find frozen pipes. The situation resolved itself by the afternoon. Fast forward to yesterday. We woke up to no water. OK. We can wait it out…for, like, a few hours!?! I received many invitations to shower at the neighbors or at the home of a colleague but I decided to wait it out one more day. This morning…no water!
This afternoon, in the photocopy room, amidst invitations to shower and other offers of hospitality, I broke down and cried! On the one hand, I felt overwhelmed and happy by the kind offers of help. On the other hand, I just felt like being home. I wanted to be home.
I am so lucky to have colleagues that want to help me. But most of all, my English teaching team! They all invited me in to their homes should I need to use the facilities. My friend, Françoise, invited us for dinner and a shower. I was determined to get my water running, however. That is where my neighbor and fellow teacher at Lacroix stepped in. Thierry and I sat out at the curb, braving the coldest wind you could imagine, with two blow dryers! We thawed those pipes within 15 minutes!
I immediately did the dishes once the water returned! Now, I am about to take a quiche out of the oven! All is back to normal. Ahh.
Our beloved Punxsutawny Phil, harbinger of the onset of spring or possibly more winter, has a European counterpart. The crêpe. Well, kind of. On both sides of the Atlantic, it is believed that the weather on February 2 will predict an early spring or several more weeks of winter. I am informed that the groudhog saw his shadow last Thursday. I can confirm his prediction in this part of the world by reporting some considerably cold weather.
I know, I know…but what about the crêpes? In France and Belgium they eat crêpes on February 2. There is a tradition that goes along with the crêpe eating. You flip the crêpe with your right hand and if the crêpe lands back in the pan, it means good fortune for your family for the next harvest. Oh, but you must hold a coin in your left hand. In England, they eat pancakes.
La Chandeleur, like many other traditions, follows the Catholic religious calendar. For example, in France, we are tripping over galettes des rois everywhere we go for the whole month of January. The Epiphany is on January 6th. The galettes are still on the shelves when all the crêpe-making ingredients fill the seasonal shelves. The feast of the presentation of Jesus coincides to this time.
So how did I celebrate la Chalendeur? I was in cold, cold Poitiers (hence no spring for a while) and all of us American Fulbright teachers went out for crêpes at a Breton restaurant. We started with some cider. Then a crêpe salé (savory crepe) and, to finish, a crêpe sucré (sweet crepe). I had a crêpe mexicaine. When I described this delicious dinner to Alex when I got home he said, “Mom? A Mexicain crepe? Isn’t that a burrito??”
…or as us sophisticated Americans affectionately called it: burnt cake. Why? Well, because it is burnt. But only on one side. Allow me to explain.
We first encountered this cake at the hotel breakfast buffet. It was definitely puzzling. It was too early in the morning to venture away from the usual baguette/confiture combination and there was always the off-chance that the pastry was indeed just burnt.
Finally, on our last day of the Fulbright mid-year meeting in Poitiers, we had a buffet luncheon with some of the local specialties, including the burnt cake as part of the desert selection. This was our chance. Our inhibitions slightly reduced by the local Gamay (More on that later. The wine…not the inhibitions), we were all ready and willing to try the cake. We were also in agreement by this time that the cake was, for some unknown reason, meant to have the burnt appearance. No sheepish-looking bakers or apologetic hosts to be found.
The verdict seemed pretty unanimous. It was pretty good. The inside part was like a really delicious cake but not too sweet. It was very light and moist like an angel food cake only not nearly as sweet. The burnt part was kind of good, too. It kind of had a subtle hint of burnt marshmallows. Yum! It turns out that the recipe is based on fromage blanc, one of my faves. I think the struggle for most who try this cake for the first time is to resist peeling off the burnt part.
The tourteau fromager or fromagé is from the south Deux-Sèvres of the Poitou-Charentes region. It is made in a special pan out of either goat or cow fromage blanc. These special pans can only really be found in the region where this pastry was developed sometime during the 19th century. It used to be served at marriages and can still be found at community events but most likely at the breakfast table or as a snack.
Stay tuned for some other food, wine and adventure stories from the Poitou-Charentes.
This morning, I kindly asked a student to erase this word from his notebook. Then, I asked him again, only this time I made it quite clear that I wasn’t going to walk away until he did. I stood there as he slowly took his corrector out of his trousse and “whited” it out. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why a student would write F@#*, isolated and out of context as it appeared, on his folder…then I realized that many French students really don’t know the weight this word carries in the English language.
So, I asked them (but I already knew the answer) where they hear this word. They said in songs and in films. ”Alors, c’est au courrant.” I replied that, while they hear it often in these media, it is far from an everyday word. The opposite of au courant, in other words. Or is it? I don’t know how effective I was in explaining to them that it is really the audience that mattered. Also, I guess, what you are trying to accomplish by using this word. I thought to myself that we can use it sometimes in a punch line but it was all in the timing, the nuances. That’s precisely when a student interjected the following story to help me illustrate my point.
The student told the class, and in English so I was impressed, about his sister who is currently an exchange student in the United States. He continued that when she first arrived she was using this word quite often. She had not known that it was a word that really had some weight behind it. That was…until someone told her. But how could she have known? She had heard it hundreds or maybe thousands of times in movies and in songs on the radio. For example, when we first arrived in France, the song we heard most often on the radio was called “What the F#@*?” My kids and I thought it was kind of funny that they played it on the air because in the U.S., they would have dubbed the word out. In the case of this song, the word is used over and over in the chorus so not really worth playing otherwise.
So, no matter what your relationship is with this word, I think we could all agree that we don’t say it around our grandmothers, or our mothers, and definitely not in an academic setting. But what makes language and words, in general, so interesting is that a simple little four-letter word like this can be so offensive to some and not to others. That we don’t use it in academic settings, but it does occurs in some of the more modern literature that we analyze in school. So, I guess it is a moving target. I guess I just felt that my students needed to know that it is offensive to most of the people most of the time, depending on the context. On the subject of context, it occurs to me that the context here is cultural in that if we aren’t raised to be offended by a word, then we don’t have the same reaction as someone who is a native speaker. If you buy in to this idea then you would agree, also, that the F-word is just like any other word to a person who has not been raised in the culture where it is used.
Yep, we are still in France!
We are still in France…asking the question: Where can you see dark rinse denim with stitched buffalo logos on the back pockets, bolo ties, buffalo wings, ranch dressing, and barbecue sauce all in one place? At the chain restaurant, Buffalo Grill, of course! It’s got all that plus an arcade, country music and delicious hamburgers to boot. (Sorry, that wasn’t even meant to be a pun.)
Buffalo Grill is a French-based chain restaurant with over 300 locations, including locations in Switzerland, Belgium, Spain and Luxembourg. They have really good hamburgers and many other dishes that looked good as they passed like ribs and steaks.
We have avoided this place because it looked too “American.” But last night I picked Alex up from two hours of water polo practice. He was tired and hungry it was nearly 10 p.m. or as they say here…22h. We ate hamburgers at Buffalo Grill and they were so good! We both agreed, on the way home, that it was good that we waited. Why? The food in France is great and should be approached with effort and in stride with the seasons. But, we figured that since we are here for a year, a little Americana is necessary every once in a while and we wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much if we had tried it back in August. It is also the type of place that we would rarely frequent back home.
Some things that were still French about Buffalo Grill: you pay in Euros, of course. They had mostly local wines and in the carafe (they did have one wine from Californie). The choice of cheeses to top your hamburger–mostly French.
Today I visited the town that claims to be the birthplace of the bubbly. Contrary to popular belief, it is not in the Champagne-Ardène region where sparkling wine was discovered but rather in the Languedoc-Roussilon. But you knew I was going to say that…
Limoux, in the Aude department of the Languedoc, produces the Blanquette, the Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale and the Crémant, three kinds of sparkling wine. In nearby St. Hilaire, in 1531, some Benedictine monks discovered the bubbly. However, still white wines have been produced in the area as far back as the Roman occupation.
The Blanquette de Limoux is made mostly of Mauzac grapes. Blanquette means “white” in the local Occitan language, referring to the white grapes. The Blanquette Méthode Ancestrale is made in the original, ancient method and tends to be sweeter that the regular Blanquette, which makes it a great apéritif wine. Finally, the Crémant de Limoux is a more modern version that allows for more chenin blanc and chardonnay grapes to be added. These sparkling wines are way less expensive than Champagne and are a great way to start off a dinner party.
I started my visit in the town of Limoux. I actually made it in time for lunch! After taking a lap around the town square, I decided on a tapas place called Chez Stéphan. I ordered a Blanquette and chose to start with the escargots à la catalane. When asked whether she liked this dish, the server replied that she did but it was “un peu spécial.” Spécial in French can mean a number of things but strange or odd are among them. Now, not only was I being brave and giving snails another try but these ones might be odd?? I was secretly relieved when she returned with the news that they were out of the escargots. I ended up with a delicious bruschetta topped with Serrano ham, arugula and drizzled generously with olive oil. The bruschetta was surprisingly not overdone with garlic, in fact it was more like a tartine.
After lunch, I headed for the small village of St. Hilaire. I saw the most adorable baby sheep on the way to the abbey. It began to rain and I need to head back home but not before stopping off the pick up a couple of bottles of sparkling Limoux wine on the way out of town.