Saturday, 16 October 2010
French without tears.......
I lay on a lounger, canopied by twisted vines, knotted through with climbing roses, my bare legs and pale toes warmed by the hot autumn sunshine; I am in France, enjoying the last of the pink wine ......... not now of course, now I'm back home, swaddled in winter woollies, playing catch-up with the sky plus (oh the anxiety of trying to get through Mad Men and Downton Abbey before they roll round again......). But, for a few days, I was away.
'Do you like chestnuts?' asked my friend.
'Yes I do,' I said, 'I love them.'
I had decided some time out was needed. So, armed with a ludicrously cheep return flight to Rodez (honestly, it cost more to get to Stanstead and back.....) I'd packed my ryan-air-sized-suitcase and wheeled off to the Aveyron, in south central France, to stay with an old friend and her young family.
'Right then, lets walk up the track and get some,' she said, 'kids....'
Entente cordial reigns supreme in this multi-cultural home, made-up as it is of a German, two from Vietnam, two from Mali and a Brit..... all abroad. Really, it's like visiting the UN. I stuffed first my pockets and then the children's, with the shiny, fallen chestnuts and we trudged back to the house: an old stone farmhouse, beautifully restored over the many years they have lived there, with the creative eye of a real artist.
'Do you not prick the nuts first?' I asked.
'No,' said my friend, 'I don't think so.'
And so we sat in the heavenly kitchen, hand-painted, patterned walls, strung with chandeliers and the kids' artistic endeavours, listening to the sound of exploding marrons, buried deep beneath the embers of the range. And drank the pink wine.
It wasn't a long trip and I have never visited so late in the year before, but a change, as they say, is as good as a rest. We picked the last of the red tomatoes and yellow courgettes from the vegetable patch, all part of the beautiful garden, it's winding paths and stone steps leading to hidden treasures buried amongst the flora and fauna (gardening: an unknown skill my friend developed after leaving London 20-odd years ago, with enormous success) and we ate soft cheeses and ripe figs sitting in the sunshine. This is an area silenced but for the sound of rutting bulls and the squawk of force-fed geese, this is peace and quite on a grand scale, no roads rage or sirens whale, just the occasional whine of a moped and the bark of a distant dog. And the crunch of gravel under foot as more pink wine is brought to the table.
I ate thick slabs of moist date and walnut cake, baked with the walnuts collected by the children, and stirred the quince jam made with the quinces that hung heavily from the tree close to where we sat and ate, which would fall suddenly with a thud; their heady, perfumed scent still haunts my nostrils. I slept soundly in a large, attic room with a small, single window, waking every morning to a view of butterscotch-coloured cornfields and undulating, French-green, countryside, studded with ex-pats. It was good. Could I live there? Without my sofa cinema, theatre, openings, private views? No, not right now. But I can still eat, drink, play........
Top-tip: go see 'The Social Network', so, so entertaining and absolutely why I've never done Facebook.......