Day Eighteen

7 10 2006

Sunday, September 17, 2006. Valbonne and La Rouret.

Church bells chime the hour in many European villages, including Valbonne. On Sunday they also ring with a more joyful urgency to call people to mass. With our windows open we heard them all, yet managed to sleep till after 8:00 AM. Instead of setting out breakfast on a buffet, the owners serve the tables. First they bring orange juice and yogurt, then a basket of warm bread–no doubt gathered that morning at the local bakery–and finally a porcelain pot of hot coffee. Some days they also bring fresh fruit. Cheeses and preserves are already on the tables, which are preset with lovely china. This morning I ate a chocolate-filled croissant, a peach, and a slice of French bread spread with soft white cheese and strawberry preserves. Mmmmm.

After breakfast I journaled, then George and I had our own mini-church service in our room. By the time we said our last Amen, we could tell by the sounds outside our window that the Place des Arcades had come to life. We took our camera and ventured forth into a sunny scene of pleasant pandemonium. Families greeted each other, couples strolled arm in arm, small children pedaled tiny bikes, and dogs played at fighting. People sipped coffee at sidewalk tables or stood in line to buy loaves of bread. We wandered into a shop where George bought two bottles of wine for the DeMuths. He also stopped at a produce stand for plums and strawberries to supplement the brunch they’d be serving us soon.

Patrick picked us up at 12:30. He’d come straight from playing soccer with an over-35 men’s league comprised of teams representing area villages. We drove to their villa in La Rouret where Mary had prepared a lovely meal of spinach quiche, raspberry coffee cake, and fruit. She added George’s contribution to the nectarines and apples on the tray. Patrick make coffee in a French press and they opened a bottle of alcoholic apple cider.

After satisfying our appetites with these delicious dishes we hiked up to the top of a hill to enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding villages and mountains. We could even see the Mediterranean Sea in the distance.

A large black dog that appeared to be mostly lab mixed with some pit bull or Rottweiler accompanied us almost the entire time, much to Julia’s delight. We felt a bit awkward when we’d pass other people with dogs and “our” dog tried to start a fight. Mary kept apologizing. “Ce n’est pas ma chien. Je regrette, mais je ne sais pas le chien.” (It’s not my dog. I’m sorry, but I don’t know the dog.)

When we reached our destination we rested a while on park benches. Mary checked the dog’s tag, which read “Rudelou” plus a phone number. We didn’t know if that was the dog’s name or his owner’s, but we called him Rudelou after that. Rudy lay at Patrick’s feet prompting him to note that he tends to have a way with dogs and that, indeed, one might compare him with St. Francis in that regard. Whatever, Patrick. And you’re watching your cholesterol, too, right? 😉

Speaking of Patrick, I believe I failed to mention that, much to Mary’s dismay, he bought himself a Speedo. He says he bought it on the chance they might at some point go to a public pool. In France men are required to wear Speedos at public pools, because they think it’s more sanitary. Don’t ask me. I’m just reporting the facts. Needless to say, Mary has all but forbidden Patrick to wear it anywhere else. But the topic provided much mirthful speculation. When he mentioned his kinship with St. Francis I decided to address him as Fran the Speedo Man. I think you should, too.

We hiked back to chez DeMuth where Mary had to jump right into preparing for a potluck dinner at their house that evening. Their ministry team of twenty-some-odd people would soon descend upon them. I don’t think Mary’s had much of a break lately with their own travels and out-of-town guests like (ahem) us. We offered to help in any way we could, and Mary gladly let me iron her tablecloth. Fran the Speedo Man washed dishes, and Sophie set the table. We said our au revoirs and left with Fran about 15 minutes before the masses were due to arrive. Pauvre Mary! Monday she’d have to pack and Tuesday fly to Dallas for the ACFW writer’s conference. At least our good-byes could be brief because I knew I’d see her in Texas in just a few days.

After Fran dropped us off in Valbonne, we asked the girl at the hotel desk to recommend a restaurant for dinner. She didn’t hesitate to steer us toward one a couple blocks away, so we walked there, read the menu, and made a reservation for 7:30. That left us one hour for me to journal and George to “read” (i.e., take a nap).

When we returned the hostess seated us at an outdoor table just down wind from an older couple. Moments later the man lit up a small, very stinky cigar and proceeded to chain smoke for the rest of the evening. The woman eventually joined him, only she opted for a slim, feminine cigarette. I have to say that breathing secondhand smoke is an integral part of the European experience and, sadly, detracts from the overall enjoyment thereof. However, in spite of Mr. and Mrs. Chimney, we made the most of our meal, which was quite good. This restaurant offered a 26 Euro meal menu with 6-8 entree choices (appetizers) and as many plats (main courses) and desserts. The server brought us complimentary “melon soup”–a cold, pureed cantaloup concoction topped with ground hazelnuts–to prepare our palates. My entree was smoked salmon wrapped around avocado vinaigrette (similar to guacamole) served with toast wedges. So yummy. George ordered cubed melon, mozarella, and apples. For main course he ordered skewered lamb, and I selected canard (duck). Both came served with sauteed mixed vegetables and an additional side dish of choice. It was all very tasty and would have been exceptional sans smoke.

I asked the server to recommend dessert and she suggested a dish consisting of a scoop of vanilla ice cream floating in the center of an egg custard and ripe raspberries, baked to create a lightly browned crust on top. Oh. My. Gosh. This stuff belongs in the Louvre.

We dined from 7:30 to 10:30. In Europe, meals are events. You don’t do dinner and a movie. You do dinner. They don’t bring you a bill until you ask for it, and they don’t expect you to ask for it till the wine is long gone. A very international foursome sat at the table next to us, chatting in several languages, but camping mostly on English. We overheard one young man comment to his companions (between sucking drags from his 4th or 5th Marlboro) that Americans get cranky if they’re at a restaurant for more than an hour. I wish I could disagree, but Americans (including us) do tend to be all about ease and convenience. Get it done quickly and move on to the next thing. George and I really tried to adapt to the pace of the places we visited. We shushed the urge to rush and tried to live in the moment, and I must admit it proved to be a pleasant experiment.

Now, if I could just get used to smelling like I wear Eau de Marlboro perfume, I’ll be on my way to true Europeanness. Well, that, and learning a few more languages. But as for the pace and the food, I’m there, baby.

Only one more day before we fly back to the U.S. of A. Tomorrow: the beaches of Nice!


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6 responses

7 10 2006
ldamoff

the easiest way to get accustomed to smelling like cigarettes is to take up smoking. since you already have a penchant for the hookah it shouldn’t really be a problem for you (nicotine fiend!).

Also, what happened to the dog? Did it get returned safely to its owner?

Also, also, i read today on the BBC that France is considering banning smoking in public places, so the days of Europeans being necessarily smokey smelling may be numbered. I guess you don’t have to take up cigarettes after all.

Also, also, also, i love you.

love,
luke

7 10 2006
jeannedamoff

Trying hookah once can hardly be called a penchant, Sparky!

Rudelou followed us all the way back to where he’d first latched onto us, then went on his merry way. We assumed he must’ve lived somewhere nearby.

We heard the same thing about the smoking ban while we were there. I think they should do it, but I imagine there will be a huge uproar. Seemed to me everyone above the age of 12 smoked. You’d think they’ve never heard of lung cancer or emphazema.

I love you, too. With a jillion alsos. xo

8 10 2006
Anonymous

fran the speedo man

Thanks for letting the world know about fran the speedo man. Maybe this will prevent him from wearing the dratted thing!

Mary

10 10 2006
Anonymous

tis true; momzy either forgot or simply failed to report, that hostess Mary told us on our night in Atibes that France was banning smoking in resturants… much to Mary’s eager anticipation! I, too, saw the news in the paper today about France’s ban.

10 10 2006
Anonymous

whoops – misspelled Antibes

11 10 2006
jeannedamoff

Re: fran the speedo man

Maybe. Once the world realizes they’re supposed to be reading my blog. 😉

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