July 11: The search for a marche

Woke up late after Dan and Jim had already gone. The bells toll a lot in the morning. A lot! I can see the bell tower from the kitchen window. It was easy to imagine, lying there, that we were in a medieval house… the beams across the ceiling, the voices in the street, the little tiny cars tootling up and down the narrow byways – oh, wait, there were no cars in the 15th century. But there were donkeys! The first thing we saw when we looked outside today was a couple with a pair of donkeys. They were leading them around the village all morning – must have something to do with the whole pilgrimage thing. The house looks even more amazing in the daylight.

On the recommendation of our landlord, our first act in office was to make a lunch reservation for three at the hostellier across the street. Once that was done, we were off to the boulangerie where Sadie bought a baguette, Benny bought a sabre (a large round cookie sort of like biscotti) and I bought a brioche bun decorated with sugar crystals and some sort of red candy encapsulating a nut. We asked the baker lady where there was a market – actually Benny said “Ou est la boutique en legumes et fruits?” which was very impressive, and the lady knew exactly what he meant.

She said it was on the next street over. In medieval towns, however, there wasn’t exactly an organized grid where streets follow a logical direction. It’s more like little alleyways, sidewalks, donkey paths, sewers ,and everything tilts in one direction or another. So we hiked all over the lower part of the town, did not find the market, and it was time for lunch. Here are the kids on a side street, playing with some medieval cats:

Lunch at the hostellier was interesting! Our landlord had said something about… do not miss their Sunday brunch, so when I saw a Plat du Jour, I thought that would be it. No Plat du Jour on Sunday, said the lady. So, having no vocabulary to say “What’s this Sunday brunch we have been hearing about?” I just ordered randomly from the menu – literally randomly. And I ordered for Benny the only pasta dish I could find – ravioli dauphine, a local specialty in Rhone Alpes. The first thing that arrived was Benny’s ravioli – they were small little pasta packets with something green in the middle.

I tried them and thought they were awesome – buttery and slippery, and whatever vegetable matter was inside pleased me just fine. Benny was not a fan, but after some cajoling he tucked into them bravely. Benny’s pasta came with shredded cheese and bread, which Sadie began gnawing on. So far so good.

My first plate to arrive was a grilled skewer of something on a bed of something. The underneath part was kind of like greens but in a mustard sauce – it was actually really good. The thing on the skewer I’m pretty sure was a little herd of sea cucumbers. Reexamining the menu I saw the word cucumber possibly tucked into the dish’s description. They each had two pieces – a part that looked like a scallop, and then attached to that was a little crescent-moon shaped thing with antennae. Grilled antennae. Okay? And sesame seeds. Having just given Benny a stirring speech on culinary adventuring, I could not reject the things, so I ate them, all. They were pretty good – kind of like scallops. The greens underneath were fairly awesome also.

Next to arrive was a leg of something next to a little round vegetable something. Reexamining the menu (again) I saw the word “canette” – could this leg be from a duck? It was dark meat and the skin was on it. Benny perked up immediately when he saw it, and said “I’ll eat that!” He ate the duck (or whatever) down to the bone, except for a mouthful he offered to his sister (which she ate!!!) and returned the plate with just the round vegetable thing. Now, this thing, I think, was a slice of tomato on top, a slice of tomato on the bottom, the skin of eggplant around the outside to make a little shape like a tuna can, and then the inside was full of (I think) zucchini, but in this miraculous sauce. IT WAS AWESOME. That was definitely my favorite thing I’ve eaten since I’ve been in France. I asked the woman what it was and she said, “Aubergine” and then some more stuff that I couldn’t figure out. Didn’t shed much light on it, but whatever. It was good.

Next came the cheese, looked like a scoop of yogurt with some cream around it. It arrived with a little pot of sugar, and Sadie and I poured some sugar on it and ate it, yes even she ate some! Amazing. Dessert was some kind of cake with a layer of pears and a very tart raspberry sauce. All very delightful. The only thing that really made me cringe was whatever sea bug was on that skewer. And I got so much happiness out of the aubergine thing (or whatever) that it was worth it.

After lunch we came back to the house. Instead of the nap that I was dying to take, I put a load of laundry in and practiced the children on their violins. Benny played in the kitchen with the window open – he got applause from the people in the street several times. It was very lovely. He played everything French he knows, but if we’re going to come back here we need more French composers! I particularly liked hearing The Two Grenadiers. This area of France has an interesting history of resistance against the Nazis in WWII – I want to read more about the town during that time period. Parts of the village look like a movie set – can it really still look like this 70 years later?

Sadie was very resistant to playing her violin – she is lobbying hard to stop violin lessons entirely. I think that being away from her environment where it’s just habitual is opening her eyes to the possibility that she just might not want to play the instrument anymore. Dan and I had a long talk yesterday about whether we should let her stop violin and karate, two things that Benny is very committed to, and find her own things. She said to me, “Violin is so easy for Benny and so hard for me that I hate it. “ That made me feel bad.

At the same time, she has gifts I don’t want to squander. Their violins were badly out of tune after yesterday’s adventure in the car, and I tuned it, relatively, into fifths and handed it to her. To me, it sounded fine. “No, it’s not right,” she told me. “I can’t play it this way.” Had it been me, I would have been able to play it just fine – but she hears pitch in a way that Benny hears it – I just think it’s not as developed as his because she doesn’t have the note reading and the understanding of the scales and stuff that Benny did at this age. But I think once she does have it, she’s going to have perfect pitch as well.

I suggested the children’s choir, and she seemed interested. I just don’t know what to do about the violin. She seems so miserable. Benny never went through this, but then Benny never had a big sibling who had “been there done that” on everything he put his hand to.

At about four o’clock we went back out in search of the market, and walked around a lot of the village. We picked up a map down by the big tourist parking lot, then wound our way back to the office de tourisme, where we were told that there is in fact a market in town but it’s closed Sundays. The girl wrote down for me the house it will be open tomorrow, and gave me a guide to the city in English – hooray! However, this meant that we would not be able to get food tonight, and if Dan came home famished from riding around the Alps all day, I would not be able to feed him. So, we went round to the boulangerie yet again and bought more bread, a small pizza, some croissants, and other supplies so I can at least carb him up, if not provide adequate protein. There was just no meat to be had in town.

At the Office de Tourisme, we found that there was an organ concert going on right at that moment at the Abbey church, so we trotted right over and sat in the beautiful cool air, surrounded by beautiful cool stone, listening to fabulous organ music.

Our landlord is an organist who has given concerts on this organ at the Abbey – there’s a flier for one of them framed next to the refrigerator! The organ was a superstar among organs – jaw-dropping clarity and shake-the-floor bass. I loved it. Outside, we stopped in a restaurant attached to the cloister for some glace and postcards. Then we rolled back home and here we are, waiting for Dan to get home and tell us about the Tour today – his ride through the stage, whether he got to see Lance and Levi, and the rest of it.

I’m going to put the laundry out to dry on this third floor terrace we have. Pretty amazing life I’m leading, over here in France. I could not have anticipated how deeply interesting this trip would be.

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