July 14: That Orange is a Carrot

Happy Bastille Day! Bastille Day seems to be a bit like memorial day and the Fourth of July combined. Last night as we were driving home from the Alps we saw lots of fireworks in various cities we were passing in the dark. This morning we decided to take it easy and catch our collective breath for a bit, do some laundry, catch up the scrapbooks, and meander around the town. The kids had met one of our neighbors a few days ago… her name is Anne Marie Giroud and she is a watercolor artist. I bought a couple of her postcards and as she spoke a bit of English we chatted for a while. This morning as I stuck my head out the window she was passing by, and told us we should come up to the Abbaye, where they were going to have “music and flower for the dead people.” We set down our breakfast things and, hearing drums, followed the sound up to the church yard. Near the memorial for the children of the country who had died for France, there was a brass band playing, and a small crowd had gathered. The band played and sang, the band and some firemen marched around. We found our friend, who invited us to stay up in the yard there for wine and food, but we remembered our breakfast coffee and excused ourselves back to the house.

I had this crazy idea that we’d be able to find a local river or stream for the children to play around in, and seeing on the map that there was a stream at the bottom of the village, we strolled down the hill to investigate. The bank was steep, the stream was small, and the aroma left something to be desired. The water was at the bottom of the village, and it also may have been what was washing the bottoms in the village, if you know what I mean. Undaunted, we set off down the main street, ducked into a terraced bar/pizzeria to ask directions. The waitress rattled out something about a “lac” and gave us directions we did not understand, with hand motions that we kind of did. It was too late to leave, however, because a flatscreen on the wall was showing the Tour de France, and we also encountered the owner of the establishment, a wild character from Marseilles, who accused Dan of being Scottish because of his compression socks, and accused me of being a fan of soccer… don’t know why. He talked about Mark Cavendish, showed us some risqué placemats picturing Mont Ventoux and a woman in a very uncomfortable cycling outfit, and brought us drinks and ice cream so we could watch the Tour.

After a bit, we went out in search of the lake, in the car. We wandered about in this direction and that before deciding to check with the Office of Tourism in town, and the girl there was able to tell us exactly where it was, complete with a map. We found it. The lake itself was basically a clay bowl, full of light green water, very pretty. The children and I played in the lake, next to a charming pair of old ladies playing cards on a portable picnic table. Here's a link to camping at Lac Roybon.

You know how I appreciate good clay – we found some very sticky, firm deposits of grey and red clay on the lake bed, which we dug up and made into a little family of fishermen. It was kind of weird swimming in the clay bowl, but the water was cool and fresh, the wind made gentle little ripples on the face of the water, and the place was very quiet. If you’re feeling incredulous about Dan swimming in a lake, you are right – Dan left us there for a couple of hours and drove into town to find Wifi, answer email, and do some work.

Back at home in the village, we saw our friend Anne Marie selling her art in a doorway by the Pharmacie, and she asked Benny to come and play the violin for her. He ran and got his violin, and began to play, right out on the street. Lots of people came to listen from around the village, and people even stopped in cars, blocking the street, to hear him. He played great, perhaps better than I have ever heard him play, and with great expression and dynamics and facial acrobatics and whatnot – quite a performance! He played Hungarian Dance at the end, and I know Mrs. V would have been shocked (and pleased) at how well he performed all the tempo changes and pauses and stuff – it was a miracle! Everyone loved it, applauded, praised him. It was a fantastic experience for him. Anne Marie gave him a postcard, and one for his sister, and I bought one of her larger prints to hang in our house.

Having asked for a restaurant recommendation from our friend the artist, we wanted to try Auberge de Abbaye which was described as pricey yet wonderful. It was both, but the wonderfulness was worth the price.

Dan and I both ordered pretty much randomly – I ordered the menu du jour, having no idea what was coming, and Dan ordered veal. The kids had the kid menu, which represented itself as viande du jour, ravioli and ice cream. That was close enough to acceptable that they both agreed to eat it.

The first thing to arrive was my salad: crisp baby greens, peas, cold green beans, carrots, grapefruit and orange chunks, vinegary sauce, and a big square of toasted cheese in the middle – toasted that it had a sort of crust. I ate half, Dan ate half, and we both pronounced it awesome. The second thing to arrive was Dan’s little pots of something or other. One was a mushroom crème brulee, and the other was a crème of something else, and you had to drink it with a straw. Dan was not over the moon about that. The kids’ food came and they commenced pushing it around. The raviolis were the same as Benny had the other day – green in the middle and small and soft, but this time in a creamy sauce. The viande du jour was rosemary chicken. Very nice. Both ate it.

The next thing to come out was Dan’s beef and my fish. I am not a friend of fish usually, but this was a majestic fish, beautifully cooked, with a creamy orange sauce. It came with my own helping of ravioli. Between the fish and the ravioli was a squiggly line of some tart raspberry sauce which ended up being awesome with both the ravioli and the fish. Dan’s veal plate was super complicated, with little spoons of this and that lying around on it, and it was accompanied by a little crock of potatoes and cheese. In between each course the waitress came and scraped off the table with a kind of squeegee thinger, to get rid of the crumbs.

As we sat there eating, we examined the abbey, the gargoyles, heard the bells ringing the hours and halfhours, and saw the sun going down. Finally it was time for dessert. Dan’s was kind of a fudge brownie duo with chocolate sauce, and the kids had their glace. My dessert was the most interesting thing of the night it was a perfect ball of frozen orange something or other with a little sprig of mint stuck in the top, nestled in a bed of creamy fluff. This was sitting on top of a layer of clear orange gelatin stuff with herbs in it, and on the bottom was kind of an eggy creamy bit. The whole thing was served in a martini glass. I ate it, expecting it all to be orange flavor, but the iced part in the middle was definitely not orange. It was spicy, almost, like it had basil in it, and I was equally confused and fascinated by it – it was so good but so weird! I couldn’t figure it out. But it was AWESOME. Dan and I experimented with getting all four flavors on the spoon at the same time and eating it – definitely the best taste of the night.

When the waitress came to clear that away I asked her what it was, and was able to make out in her French explanation that the ice cream was carrot. Hearing that made a lot of sense! Carrot ice cream – aha, that’s why it had that strange savory flavor! But it was so creamy, not what you’d expect from carrot ice cream at all. It was as if you took really fancy carrot soup, froze it, told it that it was an orange, gave it a little bed of magical frothy sugar and cream, and then put a minty little hat on it. With basil.

At the end of the night, I had a new understanding of how eating out can be an entertaining experience – waiting to see what comes out with each course, trying new things and seeing how different chefs prepare your favorite things. It’s not that I’m planning to become a foodie – I’m not that interested. But I can better grasp now why someone would drop a sizeable hunk of cash on a dinner out. It is entertaining. And they do treat you with superb graciousness. Experts at cooking, experts at serving with flourish, experts at tolerating our broken French. Bonne soiree!

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