French Provincial

Three days last week I could have baked a cake in the garden, but inside my house, with its thick walls of stone I was cool as a cucumber. I swam in the village pool every day until Sunday when, alas, it closed for the season.

Friday the Mistral began to blow; a mighty wind from the northwest that invades the Rhone Valley; it kicked the temperature down 10° centigrade and swept clouds from the sky; it slammed doors and windows and forced trees to bend like acrobats; its gusts sound like crashing ocean waves; impressive and disturbing in a strange way.

And still it blows—maddening.  Nevertheless, the sky is blue, the sun shines, my laundry dried on the line in the garden in less than an hour.

Not many cars on the road around here, but what can you expect at $6.00 per gallon?  But oh-my-God they drive fast in their tiny cars; and when they want to pass, which they do, they hug your tail so close you can smell their breath; they keep a hair’s distance from your rear bumper waiting for their moment to arrive.

The grape harvest has begun; tractors chug through vineyards like wind-up toys. The locals predict if the weather keeps up they’ll have a record crop and this year’s vintage of Côtes du Rhone, Coteaux du Languedoc, etc., will be excellent.

Meanwhile, we consumers do our share.  Two plus weeks into my French escapade and I’ve already attended several sumptuous, wine-drenched dinner-parties and invited everyone back for a grand barbecue in my garden.  Twelve of us consumed 60 tapenade canapés, 72 grilled fresh sardines, 2 ½ kilos of lamb on skewers with onions, peppers and tomatoes, mounds of potato salad, fresh steamed green beans, loaves of crusty bread, chunks of local cheeses, curly green salad, bowls of fruit, a cherry chocolate cake and another cream-filled delight called Paris Brest, and 10 bottles of wine—gris and red.  But who’s counting?  They stayed until midnight then drove home.  I felt guilty about that.

What do they talk about at dinner parties in the French countryside?  Food, of course, just like we do, and politics: social reform, health insurance, unemployment benefits, taxes, taxes, taxes.  Immigration is the big one; theirs come from Africa and speak Arabic.  They like Sarkozy’s plan to reform excessive benefits paid by the government for health and welfare; tired of supporting the hordes, legal and not, who don’t work but get paid anyway.  Sound familiar?

My French friends are shocked that 47 million Americans have no health insurance.

Contrary to popular belief the French don’t dislike Americans; they love us but they’re jealous of our advanced technology which has not penetrated the French heartland as it has in America.  They feel a little backward by comparison and they don’t like that.  They remind me we never would have won our war of independence without their help.  And they’re certain we never really put a man on the moon but rather shot the whole event in a Hollywood studio.  And don’t forget who gave us the Statue of Liberty.

They’re pleased with Sarkozy’s friendship with Bush and proud that the president of the USA received the Frenchman in his Kennebunkport home.  They express genuine grief over the event of 9/11, harbor great desire to visit Las Vegas, and while no one I met supports the war in Iraq I haven’t heard the kind of vituperation one encounters around dinner tables in West Hollywood, including mine.  They just don’t understand why we don’t take to the streets in protest, as any self-respecting French citizen would do for anything that meant something to him.

Above all, far beyond everything else, the most important thing in the hearts of every French citizen at this time is the Rugby World Cup: the national passion.  They must defeat Argentina in the opening match; French honor rests on it. And in the end nothing matters as long as they beat the British.

Adieu Luciano… Ciao