Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Fruits of the Sea...the Mediterranean Sea

The beginning of this is mainly for Heather and Chelsea.

A few days ago, I was struck by the thought that I was living much, much closer to Brad & Angelina than I ever had before. Some may scoff, turn up their noses and point at their "Team Aniston" T-shirts, but I, I, was quite tickled at the flirtatious thought. The news this morning, while mentioning Friday night's Presidential debate, Paul Newman's untimely passing (an article on his life, and another, of course, on the fate of his food line), and continued stories about Washington Mutual (excuse me, I mean JP Morgan) and Chinese babies sick from tainted milk, also contained another piece of news--this concerning the celebrity couple's relocation. Move over, important national and global events! Brangelina wants back in the news again. Alas! As soon as I move closer, Brangelina moves further away! To Germany, no less. They leave the French countryside, the provencal region (a prime location--close to the sea, close to the vineyards, etc. etc. etc.) for a drafty castle in Germany. No longer can I comfort my homesickness by reminders that Brad & Angelina, at least (if not my boyfriend, my friends, and my family) are nearby. My last remaining solace, gone.

I have begun my attempts to comfort myself through nesting, even though I am not in my new apartment yet. I move in Tuesday evening, but I went to the store with Celine today to purchase things I would need for living: broom, dustpan, laundry detergent, frying pan, other dishes etc. It really is what I do best, and it's been awful for me having to live out of suitcases for a week and a half. I do much better in a home, in my own home that I have made. It's comforting to start amassing the things I will need to make my home, to start cooking again! I can't wait to cook again. What I can wait for is my absolute lack of connectivity in my flat. I took my laptop up to the room yesterday to search for an unsecured connection, but found nada. There were several really strong connections, leading me to believe that my neighbors have wireless internet, but all of them were locked. I am hoping to ask my next-door neighbor if one of those signals is hers, and if she would be willing to give me the password for the month of October. I am banking on this, so everyone keep their fingers crossed! If this doesn't work out, I can look forward to a month of no internet or phones, save for the painfully slow connection at my school, Mondays through Fridays between the hours of 8am and 5pm. Which effectively rules out any sort of Skype or online chatting capabilties, as none of my acquaintances back home are vampiric. That is approximately 20 days in France, pretending like I am visiting in the 1970s, rather than this digitally connected modern age. Well, except for the fact that I will be able to email on the weekdays....At any rate, if this hole in communication does end up happening, God forbid, it just gives all of you back at home a month-long chance to order that mic and webcam set-up you've all been dreaming about off of amazon.com, so I can see your mugs again. So get moving! Shipping generally takes 10 business days.



Celine and her husband, Jacques, have been preparing me the most amazing food for lunch and dinner every day since I have arrived. I guess it's French cuisine, but in reality it's not much different from what we eat back home. I mean, it's different, but not as different as one might expect. It's kind of hard to explain the differences, actually. I mean, we eat the same sorts of things, but a little differently. There is always, always bread though. The family usually has at least three loaves of bread in the house at a time, whereas in the States we would always have to make a special trip to buy a loaf of bread to go with a meal (and oftentimes we would forget). And the bread, here. Oh la la, it's going to take me a while before I can eat the cardboard that passes for a loaf of French bread in the states. They also have a "dessert" after both lunch and dinner. It's usually something small and light; a yoghurt might pass for a dessert, or something else similar but slightly more sweet. While the kids will often opt for the chocolate mousse pudding, Celine and Jacques and I have had bread, cheese, and grapes for dessert several times. The cheese has been amazing. I have tried several kinds that I can't remember the name for, but I do remember the Roquefort and the Brie. I have finally tasted real Brie...unpasteurized, real brie. It's amazing. Simply amazing. Last night during and after dinner we got on the subject of food, and Celine and Jacques made fun of American, English and Dutch cheeses. You know those little rounds of Babybel cheese? They hate them. No flavor, they say. Gouda? The same goes. They claim much of the flavor is lost in the pasteurization process required by many countries, and I have to agree with them after tasting real French cheese (although I do love gouda, still). Apparently the European Union is trying to put through legislation that would require all members to pasteurize all cheese. The French are having fits. I don't think it will ever go through, just because of one country's insistence on good food.

They told me about an "American Sandwich" that people can buy in French, and I couldn't stop laughing. It's sold in stores with a sign that says, "sandwich americain". Want to know what's in it? It's a French baguette, sliced open. Inside is a huge pile of steak, topped with far too much mayonnaise and ketchup. The real kicker, though, is what they put inside that French baguette. They cook french fries into the bread. Into the bread! Some of the sandwiches just have the fries on top, though. It's no wonder French people think Americans are disgusting! They think we eat the grossest things. Celine and Jacques actually asked me if anyone ate that in America--they said it was frightening. I assured them that french fries in bread is no more American than french fries are French. I'm still laughing about that one...We also talked about holiday cuisine, and what is eaten in France and the United States around Christmas and Thanksgiving (well, Thanksgiving in the US anyway). I find these kinds of conversations the hardest in French, because there was never any need for me to know the French word for "sweet potatoes" before now. So there is a lot of explaining before we can find the right words (in English and in French). It really helps that Celine is pretty much fluent in English, although there are just some words that we don't know. I told them about pumpkin pie, about mashed potatoes, ham, turkey, and they told me about foie gras, buches de noel, and fruits de mer. Foie gras is basically duck liver, and is a traditional Christmas food. I left the US saying I wouldn't try it (the duck aren't treated too well....) but I think I might have to, out of respect for Heather. I have to try everything at least twice! They were surprised that I knew what a buche de noel was (literally a Christmas log...It's a really delicious Christmas cake), and even more surprised that I had made several before, in high school French classes (thanks, Madame!). In high school, I was taught that fruits de mer meant shellfish. The other day, they asked if I had ever had fruits de mer before, and were astonished when I said that I had, and that I liked them. I love shellfish! It turns out that fruits de mer is not merely shellfish. It's raw shellfish. And it's a very, very special meal in France, usually reserved for Christmas and other special occasions. It's also very, very expensive. The idea of raw oysters, eaten in the States, too, has always disgusted me, let alone the idea of raw sea snails, raw mussels, raw clams, etc. I told them I would try it, though. And I did.

They bought fruits de mer for dinner last night. It comes in this giant styrofoam boat filled with ice, topped with raw oysters on the half-shell, raw mussels, raw sea snails, some decorative lemons, several types and sizes of raw clams, and some cooked shrimp and lobster. Here are some pictures that I took of the boat:
The kids are Celine and Jacques' two youngest, Hugo and Pierre. They are great, although it is incredibly weird to talk to children in a foreign language, and embarassing that the 5 year old is more articulate than I am. I tried everything on the platter, and found fruits de la mer to be quite good. I wasn't a big fan of the clams, but the sea snails were excellent, and so were the mussels. I tried not to think about all the organs I was eating, and that made it easier! The oysters were great, although I do still prefer them barbecued. Celine and Jacques said that I would have to order a platter at Christmas, to show my boyfriend, and my sister and her husband a traditional French Christmas meal, but I think Ian and Carl might kill me if Scarlet and I drag them to France and then make them eat raw shellfish! We'll stick to ham sandwiches and baguettes, I think....

To top off my sea-filled weekend, we went to the seashore today...the Mediterranean seashore. The day before I left home, I went to Lake Padden in Bellingham with my roommate Justin. Stepping into the lake, I realized that the next time I would go swimming, or see water, it would be the Mediterranean. It sounded so exotic, then! We went to a town called Canet, which is accessible by bus from Perpignan. I am sure I will be going back there a lot, especially because the weather usually stays this way through October--it's only like a ten minute drive away. I have included some pictures here, but I also added some from today, and from a while ago to the Google page. Here's the link, again: http://picasaweb.google.com/ashley.j.benson
Those are the Pyrenees in the first photo, in the background.

I will try to write again before I move in, or the day I move in, if anything totally awesome happens. Keep your fingers crossed for the kind-heartedness of my neighbor, because otherwise I won't see you until I make it to the other side of the internet-less abyss.

4 comments:

BEQN said...

I think that you can blame the British for that french fry sandwich encounter you had. They are known to make a "chip butty" which is a hoagie, or bap, with chips inside. Often times people will order a "bacon butty" which is that sandwich, but also with bacon. It's artery-clogging central. It's also freakishly delicious. I've never seen it with white bread, but that's the pic that wiki uses.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chip_butty

Chelsea said...

OMG. I can't believe you're not going to hang out with Brangelina. You should probably begin planning your trip to Germany, ASAP. Also, I love raw fish. So jealous of your gastronomic adventures over there!

Lyla said...

That sandwich with the fries inside sounds hidious...
I could probably stomach the "bacon butty". It actually sounds good. Life seems to be getting interesting and adventurous there Ash. Too bad I won't be there at Christmas. I would love to eat the raw fish with you and Soe. Hugs...Mom

Scar said...

Definitely going to drag our menfolk to eat raw "fruits de mer" for Christmas dinner...and probably some sandwiches americain as well. Now I realize just how infuriating it must be to the french that we eat "french fries" here!