[This post was written and originally published July 2004.]
After helping me dismantle my last van in Chambery (my home base for the past three months), my friend Pierre Ludi, the Alps Angel who helped me outfit our vans with custom bike racks for our Tour de France trip, invited me to join a couple of the AG2R folks at his home in the mountains for a ride and lunch the next day.
We met late morning and Pierre led us on a 100 km course that you cycling types would absolutely love. Tiny roads. No cars — maybe saw five or six the whole ride. Fee-Real gentle climbing (I have been accused of underestimating the grade of climbs in the past) and gentle descents through the foothills of the Alps. It was hot hot hot, and when we arrived at his home, his wife, Colette, had a beautiful table set under the shade of an enormous tree. Pierre’s son, Johan was there, with his girlfriend Marina, who was the Caravane Girl in the big horse float that leads the whole Tour caravane!! She danced up there for three weeks straight. Oh, and an aunt and cousin attended, along with the grandmother, who was the owner of the over-100-year-old home when she was a young woman.
It was such a fabulous day. The lunch was, well, almost three hours, starting with an aperitif of Pastis, and then one beautiful course after another (the lamb raised by the uncle down the road, the vegetables from Colette’s garden) served with an appropriate wine brought up from the chill of the family cellar. Oh, the first dessert was Fromage Blanc (the first time I’ve had it, and I’m so glad I did, because I learned how to really enjoy it: drizzled with Creme Fraiche on top, then sprinkled with your choice of either sugar, or salt, or fresh ground black pepper powder). The second dessert was an apple tart. And after coffee, they spooned cherries marinated in brandy into the coffee cup. Suck on a few of those and you’ll be napping on the table in nothing flat!
The meal conversation was so funny — the table was filled with laughter and joking. They talked of the young cousin’s developing breasts and how fast they were growing and how big they were getting. It was hilarious as all of us turned to check them out. But what I thought was funny was that I was trying to follow the conversation and saw all the attention go to this young lady’s breast area, but I couldn’t quite figure out what we were talking about. When Johan translated for me, then, of course, we were all refocused on “the occasion”, decorated with a gorgeous black bra (the French do know their lingerie) under a skimpy little top. It was all just so normal, without a touch of discomfort or embarrassment on anyone’s part as there might be in the U.S.
Of course, after lunch, in typical French style, we lounged in chairs in the shade. And when I finally made an effort to leave (I didn’t want to go and could have stayed well into the evening, but in my uptight U.S. style felt I should probably not overstay my welcome…) Colette asked me if I had seen her garden — she was so proud to show me all the things she grows and then prepared for the table. I was quite impressed as I chomped a few fresh haricot verte — it really was Peter Rabbit’s dream garden. And Pierre and Colette both showed me the small lake on the property teeming with fish. Pierre indicated with his arms how big they are — monsters I tell you!
Reluctantly, I climbed into my little Peugot 206, which they had moved throughout the day to keep it in the shade, and sped down the lonely roads to Chambery, deeply satisfied by the pleasures of a day spent with my new French family, missing them already, and longing for more.