Living in Provence: Boudin Noir

A manila envelope sent from THE NEW YORK TIMES Editorial Office containing the Sunday TIMES for November 28, 2004 (including adverts, the TV guide and THE CITY section for Manhattan) arrived in my mailbox here on the Rue Balzac last week. No note enclosed, no explanation. There are few things I miss about America, but the Sunday  NEW YORK TIMES has got to be one of them. Though the package arrived on Tuesday, I decided to put it aside until Sunday, when I would read it in bed with my morning coffee and petit déjeuner, much as I did when I lived in New York. I confess Friday afternoon, I took a peak at the BOOK REVIEW, but I quickly put it back. Sunday morning, I was happily enthroned in my bed, surrounded by Emily, the six cats (Robbie Jackson, though not my cat, has moved into the house for the time being) and THE NEW YORK TIMES. Space was tight. I was looking forward to a leisurely day with the paper. I might even not get dressed. So what if the news was two months old; you’d be surprised how little difference that made. About three-quarters of the way through an article about a Manhattan family of five living the luxurious life in a 2.5 million-dollar 1880 townhouse that is twelve feet wide, the phone rang.    It was my friend Laurie (also a transplanted New Yorker) calling from her truck, “We’re going up to get hay from the old guy with the goose farm above Dieulefit. I’ve organized a group–pick you up in twenty minutes!” Goose farm? Hay? An hour each way in a truck?  Could I wear my pajamas? Bring the paper? And the bed?  Still, the prospect of a goosey afternoon in the mountains had a certain appeal….  But what about the family in the “modular and theatrical, distinct but polyfunctional”  townhouse  “brightly painted up and down the color spectrum” with a basement “painted harlequin-style in curry and cinnamon” by an opera singer friend?  Their “vertical life” in the 12-foot house would have to wait. Twenty minutes later, Emily and I were climbing into the cab of Laurie’s truck, seated next to Alexandra, her holistic chiropractor/friend, who also needed hay for her horse. Mike and Zack, tree surgeons from New Hampshire who are working for Laurie pruning plane trees in the Drôme and Vaucluse, were in the back. The farther north we went, the colder it got. The mountain above Dieulefit, where Francis, the “old guy,” has his ancient, isolated farm, was covered in snow. It was a steep ascent; Laurie maneuvered the truck skillfully and we parked outside the hay barn, next to the porcherie (pig house).  There were two other cars parked and no sign of Francis, something Laurie said was unusual since he almost never has visitors.  We walked around the various outbuildings calling him. I was looking for geese and Emily was racing and rolling madly in the snow. Finally Francis emerged from one of the barns, an elderly but spry man with an unlined, childlike face and a small white mustache. He was sporting a navy beret, the French worker’s blue smock and carrying two enormous dead rabbits in his left hand. Laurie introduced us while Emily made a lunge for the lapins. Francis explained he’d forgotten we were coming; he’d been busy all day with a pig. The pig’s owners had driven up from Aix-en-Provence at 5 A.M. that morning and the butcher/slaughterers, two cheerful brothers, had been working all day.  We were just in time for the boudin noir (blood sausages). Oh, goody. But first we had to load the truck with hay for Laurie’s horses.  Francis put the dead rabbits inside the porcherie and opened the heavy wooden doors to the barn, which was neatly stacked to the ceiling with bales of hay.  In fact, as I looked around, I saw Francis is definitely a compulsively neat sorter and stacker–piles of firewood arranged and stacked according to size, ditto for kindling, animal feed, buckets and pails.  He could probably do wonders for my desk. The hay was heavy–Francis used a pitchfork–and after about twenty minutes with six of us working, the bales were tightly packed into the truck.  We all had that horsy smell, minus the manure, of course. I still had not seen any geese. I asked Francis if he could show us around; I especially wanted to see the animals.  We went into the poultry barn; there were about 100 enormous chickens strutting about.  Emily was enthralled but intimidated.  Francis was especially proud of his stone trough, which was a few hundred years old. We made an appropriate fuss and I took a picture. He was pleased. He was born on the farm around 80 years ago and essentially has never left; his parents and grandparents were born there as well.  Very little has changed. His is one of the few truly organic old-fashioned farms left; he is known throughout Provence. His chickens command a hefty price, between 20 and 30 euros apiece. The turkeys are between 80 and 100. I asked about the geese. He didn’t have any now; he doesn’t like them. They’re too bossy and don’t mind their own business, he explained. He’d gotten rid of them all at Christmas…. Next …
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