Une Soirée Française: A French Evening

The autumn light is fading fast, it’s just turned seven in the evening and the town of Sainte Suzanne is falling silent.

This is the most important time of the week for many, as families gather for the Friday evening meal and the start of the weekend. I take the opportunity to enjoy a quiet stroll around the almost deserted streets and alleys to soak in the atmosphere and simply enjoy the still warm evening.

Earlier, Guillaume had tapped furtively on the kitchen window and handed me two large hens eggs.
“De vos oiseaux?” From your birds? I had asked.
“Mais non, de la ferme, aujourd’hui!” He grinned and tapped his nose. The provenance of the eggs is affirmed, but no more questions are asked! In exchange I give him a jar of Mrs Dookes’ home made strawberry jam and he is delighted. Last seen he was heading off towards the local Tabac and Bar, it is Friday evening!image

I turn into the main square and as I cross in front of the church one of the priests emerges. I wish him good evening.

“Vous n’étiez pas en masse!” You weren’t in mass! He comments.
“Non, je ne suis pas un Catholique.” No, I’m not a Catholic, I declare.
“Je suis désolé!” I am sorry! He smiles back.
We part friends, but somehow that meeting has given me a quiet inner glow. Maybe the greater power does work in mysterious ways…I don’t know.
I pass a old lady walking with her cat, really! As is polite, we bid each other “Bon soir’, the cat watches me suspiciously as I amble off into the growing gloom. Maybe he is her familiar, this is an ancient town after all!

The smell of freshly cooked food is beginning to fill the narrow streets. It’s true, most French cooking has the aroma of garlic and why not, even the supermarket in the next town sells five different varieties of the delicious bulb!

The tinkle of cutlery and the soft murmur of people gathering for their meal is audible above the roosting jackdaws.

If I had not eaten earlier I would be feeling pretty hungry by now, but no, I am feeling fulfilled and “très content.”

I rush back to drag Mrs Dookes out to savour the moment. She gets it, I think.

She also gets how her off the wall husband can become so immersed in the moment. The, “Joie de vivre.” The joy of life, as our French friends say.

“No, I don’t know where I’m going, but I sure know where I’ve been!”


Plus un Dimanche Française; More on a French Sunday

“Bonjour Madame, Monsieur!” The raspy voice can only be Guillaume our bearded neighbour.
“Ça va?” I look around from my book of French recipes, that I have been engrossed in whilst enjoying the glorious sunshine on our balcony with Mrs Dookes. “Oui, ça va bien merci,” Yes, I’m good thanks.

Guillaume drops his load of fishing gear on the ground in the courtyard below me with an aplomb earned from a successful trip. He is itching for me to ask…
“As-tu attrapé quelque poisson?” “Did you catch any fish?”

It’s a bit of a staged question really, as he would have slipped quietly by had he not caught anything!

“Mais oui, un bon brochet!” He has caught a pike, a fish largely ignored by British chefs, but prized throughout the Northern half of France and this one is heading straight for G’s kitchen! But first the ritual of cleaning his gear and then gutting the fish.

As he busy’s himself and the sweet aroma of his French cigarette wafts through the air I savour the further richness of this lovely country and yes sometimes it is often all about the food. Not just about the eating, though that is pretty important, but more about the provenance, where it comes from and how it has been grown.

Seasonality is very important in French food and as we head into Autumn the richness of the game season is all around us, not least Guillaume’s pike. In the market yesterday were stalls creaking under the weight of fresh wild mushrooms; girolles, ceps, chanterelles to mention just a few. The butchers have pheasant, partridge and quail on offer, not forgetting wild boar, sanglier in French, It would be very rude not to at least try some of the seasons wonderful offerings.

Thinking again of my mate Floyd, he once said that to truly know a country, one must eat a country! I can’t say that I’ve tried everything that France has to offer yet, but I’m well on my way!

After a morning perambulation around Sainte Suzanne, just to work up an appetite, today’s lunch was a light prawn and crab salad, accompanied by a rather fine white burgundy.

As you can see the little city is truly delightful.

Guillaume has now finished his cleaning, the pike traps are drying in the late afternoon sun and the brochet itself is safely in the refrigerator. “Maintenent, un petit bu?” Guillaume asks. Now a little drink? Well, it would be rude to decline, for if one has to eat a country one might as well try to drink it as well, though please not all in one go!
“Oui, mon ami, un petit kir serait bon!”

Then I have to cook again, we bought a lovely piece of veal yesterday….!

“Non, je ne regrette rien.”