A Taste of Provence in Spring

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A Taste of Provence in Spring
Normally, spring should have sprung in abundance by mid-May but this year spring has come and gone numerous times already – each time making way for cold, windy weather and even snow. Last weekend there was new snowfall in the Alps and a road in the Jura was closed by an avalanche. Each time we have two sunny days in succession we throw open all the windows, turn our faces to the sun and sigh “at last!” – only to be disappointed again. Yet, some signs point unequivocally to spring, such as our herb garden (a flower box in the kitchen window). After a recent trip to Paris, we came home to find that a pigeon had laid two eggs next to the rosemary. Ma pigeon got awfully nervous when I tried to water the rosemary, so we are holding off on our planting of basil and thyme. Meanwhile the eggs have hatched and two shivering little lumps of dirty-yellow fuzz have appeared. They are blind and scrawny, with pink beaks that are beginning to turn grey, and look pathetically ugly. To their mother, however, they must be pure perfection and she and Pa pigeon alternate sitting protectively on their pitiful progeny. Feeding sessions are quite a sight:  regurgitated food that scrawn gets deep from his mother’s throat, stretching high and trembling with excitement and want. During this process mother seems to inflate herself and make brisk little movements, probably to position the food just so. When she catches me watching her she stops everything and stares at me from her sideways position, fixing me with one accusing unblinking eye until I withdraw in embarrassment. I am quite fascinated by the whole process and can’t wait to see the monotonous menu change from regurgitata to worms and perhaps insects. Or are pigeons too lumpy to catch insects on the fly? I am very ignorant about these things and am learning as I go along. Different from Art History or The Kings of France or some such retirement course I had in mind, but very satisfying just the same. If you like, I will keep you posted on pigeon particulars. Just give me a peep-peep-peep. This month there are three official holidays – Fête du Travail (May 1), Ascension Day (May 20) and Pentecost (May 30) and so far we have had five strikes. Not the most productive month. Our strikers have been railroad workers, postal workers, cauliflower growers (yes, they blocked roads, made a lot of noise and just got damages from the government to make up for tumbling prices), the “intermittents du spectacle” – temps from the world of theatre – and the service workers of the Hotel Carlton in Cannes where lots of stars are staying for the Film Festival that is currently taking place. Welcome to France! I have been living here long enough not to get excited over strikes since they are always announced in advance and usually take only a couple of days. But the “intermittents” worry me because they closed down the Opera and Theatre festivals in Aix-en-Provence and Avignon last year, with disastrous results for the tourist industry and to the great disappointment of festival goers, including me. Since their demands have not been met by the government, they are now holding marches and demonstrations in Cannes to make their claims amid a world-wide audience and big-name stars. Very effective. If no compromise can be reached, I fear we may not have an Opera Festival in Aix for the second year in a row. Moving from frowns to smiles. The latest in French lingerie ads (I know you would want to know this) presents three panty-sniffing males each holding a differently-colored frilly little panty to his nose. Their expressions range from pleased recollection to close-eyed bliss, and seeing them bigger than life in numerous Paris metro stations speaks worlds about the cultural difference of France. I dare you to imagine this in the Washington metro! Food remains a central theme in French life, evidenced nowhere as clearly as at the annual Salon de l’Agriculture in Paris. There, in a mile-wide hall is represented the best of every breed of farm animal, from dairy cows to breeding bulls to sheep and goats and pigs and fowl. Any French politician worth his salt is seen there talking to farmers, stroking a cow, kissing a piglet and of course eating the delicacies offered at the hundreds of food stands. Sausage, cheese, ham, strips of beef or pork, tidbits of undetermined origin – all washed down with wine. President Chirac opens the fair and publicly scarfs all its offerings as if his political life depended on it. In fact, it does. In the franglais department I can offer a Serial Killeuse (from the film Monster) and a restaurant in Arles that claims to specialize in International Fooding. You knew of course that the fancy Paris restaurant Le Train Bleu features Grumble Cake for dessert. Speaking of which, delicious smells are emanating from our kitchen where Oscar is preparing dinner so I’ll just say, Voilà, c’est tout. Or, as an American co-worker used to say, “Viola”!   — Anne-Marie Simons has had a long career as a sometime secretary, translator, teacher, journalist, sportswriter (covering Formula One races), realtor, and Director of Corporate Communications, which included writing an international newsletter. Now happily retired, Anne-Marie and her Argentine husband Oscar live in the South of France where she writes and Oscar cooks. TAKING ROOT IN PROVENCE by Anne-Marie Simons is available on Amazon.com. If you’re coming to France (or for that matter anywhere) you can reserve your hotel here. To rent a car, Bonjour Paris recommends Auto Europe.
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