September in Provence

It’s September and our markets have returned to normal, ie, with fewer tourists the vendors have time again to discuss recipes, the weather, and the pros and cons of potatoes in brandade de morue. Our old fromager, who has been promising Oscar a cachaille for four years now, is back and again greets Oscar with a wide grin and “Je n’ai pas oublié, Monsieur!” but still no cachaille… The best home-made jams are still to be found at the stall of the Petites Soeurs de Jésus (a local order of nuns who do a killer business with their jams, vegetables and field flowers) and our Parisian friends complain only slightly less about the throngs of tourists (half of whom are Parisian) at the village markets, where more and more trinkets and gadgets are crowding out the local farm produce. This is the beginning of mushroom season and long tables stacked with mounds of different mushrooms have begun to appear in the markets. I have never known such a variety of champignons: chanterelles, cèpes, girolles, pieds de mouton, trompettes de la mort (bon appétit!), lactaires, mourserons, etc. Sautéed in olive oil, parsley and garlic it is one of the seasonal pleasures of the table. Next… truffles. Yesterday, the hunting season was opened and soon we will be enjoying the bounty of La Chasse, with Daube de Marcassin (young boar) and other delicious game. We have found an excellent butcher: they sell everything imaginable and manage to make the most revolting tidbits taste great. Pieds et Paquets and andouillettes, for example–better not ask what’s in it. Just enjoy. September is also La Rentrée in France. Rentrée to school, to politics after a blessedly quiet summer, and even to literature. For the past week, La Rentrée Scolaire has been the lead story on television. Even though nothing ever changes (crying children, anxious mothers, etc.), in early September La Rentrée displaces war, fires and even strikes. As for La Rentrée Littéraire, when publishers introduce their new books and new authors, it looks only slightly more encouraging than the previous Rentrée when most of the 700 new titles could be filed under the heading “Libido, my Libido,” to give you an idea of last year’s trend. Many of these books were written by sad-looking youngsters (too much sex? not enough sex?) or by pseudo-intellectuals who invite us to crawl into their beds and partake of their sex lives which, they seem to think, is really worth knowing about. Among last year’s bestsellers, for example, was “La Vie Sexuelle de Catherine M”–written by Catherine Millet who appears to be in her fifties and is interviewed on talk shows (sometimes with her husband) where serious-looking hosts address her reverentially and nobody cracks a smile. Two of last year’s new books were written by 13 and 16-year old girls who–if the critics are to be believed–are definitely not the next Françoise Sagan. Back to school for them. Publishing sure isn’t what it used to be, not even in France where I thought literature fared better than elsewhere. It’s been 5 years since we left Washington (doesn’t tempus fugit?) and we increasingly feel at home in France but, boy, do things remain different here. Take, for instance, this not uncommon sight in inner-city Aix-en-Provence: a parent walking with a little child suddenly steps into the middle of the narrow street to the shallow channel for rain runoff, takes the kid’s pants down, then picks it up from behind in a sitting position and lifts it over the channel to deposit its pipi, puts the pants back on and steps back onto the sidewalk with a gracious nod to the cars that have been forced to stop and wait for this little ritual. I have never heard a car honk and half expect that a driver who did so would get an earful from passersby. In the narrow one-way streets, cars often have to wait for a truck to unload, or for a driver who stops at a bakery for a few baguettes, or for a youngster who honks at his friends who come running over to each give him the requisite number of kisses–so why not for a kid that has to pee? It’s a damn sight cuter than the guy I saw the other day in a small nearby town where the N-7 cuts through. There, next to the one and only stoplight a guy took a pee against a tree in full view of a steady line of cars, shook his tweasel, zipped up and walked off without so much as a glance in the direction of his audience. The kissing scene is interesting too, particularly among the younger crowd who never pass each other without stopping for a number of kisses–anywhere from 2 to 4. (I must make a study of this, sometime. I believe the number depends on the region). You’re sitting at a crowded sidewalk café, some teenagers approach, a “Salut!” is heard from behind and, like magnets the two groups are drawn to each other, the walking teens squeezing through impossibly tight spaces to reach the sitting ones who turn up their cheeks to receive the expected air kisses, after which they all return to their respective conversations and destinations. Another standout feature of the young (and not so young) is hair color. I have seen colors here that don’t belong to any spectrum. But among young men blond is still the favorite. Not just any blond, mind you–it’s either bleached blond streaks in dark hair or blond corn rows on a dark (black, green, whatever) background, or a white-blond pony tail on a dark head, or even multi-colored patches all over. It’s the animal kingdom in mating season. Add to that the very popular fashion of tatouage (for both sexes), and you can see that ours is a colorful environment.   — 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,…
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