Friday, May 21, 2010
We are headed south!
After Georgette’s call we found our way to a travel agency and booked a flight from Orly to Toulouse for the next day. We arrived in Toulouse, picked up our rental car and with several maps we plotted our course and were quickly on our way. This was definitely country, flour (ble) corn (maize, for cattle feed only, traditional French menus do not include corn) and tobacco. The low rolling hills, thick forests and small clusters of ancient buildings created the most serene landscape imaginable. Village after village we were totally enchanted… it was as if we had taken a step back in time. (Well, except for the toll roads and the speeding cars).
The southwest area of France is primarily composed of family farms, most passed down through branches of family for generations. Farmers (paysans) might still live in the same farm house built in the 18th century their great, great uncle, few have been remodeled but more likely the family has renovated them. The homes were painted in the colors of the region, cream to orange to rust colors most with a contrasting color on the shutters set against the greens of the surrounding forests and fields it created a completely perfect palette.
Jean Mark gave us directions to meet him at the small town of Tourney, an easy exit from the toll road. Jean Mark is waiting for us, under the sprawling shade tree; he is the classic looking Frenchman, eyes like a doe, tan skin, silky black hair with a captivating smile. Yet unlike the American idea of a Frenchmen, he greets us with cheek kisses and grand hugs and I notice tears in his eyes. This is sincerity, pure and simple, he is deeply touched and we instantly become part of his family.
Following Jean Mark through the countryside was like taking the Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland, dodging oncoming speeding drivers in small odd looking cars and pulling over for an occasional tractor or truck. Many of the roads through this area began as walking paths, then cart ruts, worn deeper and deeper; many now measuring 6-8 feet lower than the fields, until they were finally paved in the mid 1900’s. Trying to keep up with J-M while soaking up all of the scenery, was well, nearly impossible. Total system overload. We weave our way through several small villages, each one with a church, until we come upon his mother and father’s farm house, in Moumoulous.
We meet Georgette and Jean Darees for the first time. She is the epitome of French elegance even in her blue jeans and a simple plaid shirt, with the collar turned up a bit in the back, silky gray hair combed straight back with large waves, twinkly eyes. She looked very familiar, she could have easily been related to Barry’s mother. Jean (who is actually related to Barry) was the spitting image of Barry’s youngest uncle Raymond, fondly called Frenchie. It was a little creepy. There was much to say, but only Georgette and Jean Mark spoke English, and our French was nearly non existent. But we were thrilled to finally be so close to Montegut, only 1.5 miles away!
“First we eat”, says Georgette with her “Approximate English”. French rule #1, you must eat, always, the afternoon meal is the largest and takes at least minimum 2 hours. We sit at an enormous table. Surrounded by smiling faces ranging in ages from the late 60’s to 4 years old. An entire new - old family, three generations together at one table.
Soup arrives first in a huge antique tureen, every ingredient is fresh, next come appetizers, thin slices of cured ham and sausage, from a neighbors farm, pickles, tiny onions, then two main courses delivered one at a time. First great slabs of duck, raised by another cousin, then venison, hunted in the forest owned by the family, both have rich thick sauces. Oh, did I mention that there was also a loaf of french bread at the head of the table so big that it looked like another guest. Jean masterfully cut at it and tore it into pieces that were then handed around like hot potatoes. I used to give Barry hell for using his bread to sop up juices from his plate, today I found out that his bad habit was genetic. I am in that game big time. Next up an assortment of vegetables, all from Georgettes garden, also delivered one at a time with lovely aromatic sauces and then the potatoes, chunks, boiled first, cooled then pan fried in the duck fat (which we would come to worship in subsequent trips) with a dash of sea salt. There is a french theory that duck fat has no cholesterol and actually cleans it out of your blood. Next is another huge plate of 6-7 different cheeses. Several bottles of wine are consumed along the way each with a full explanation of appellation, the make up and mix of the grapes, the history of the vintner’s family, and an explanation that it is the wine that keeps your arteries and veins flexible so that the cholesterol (If any got in there after the duck fat cleansing) does not attach. Then a salad, actually individual leafs of lettuce, three kinds, from the garden, with simple dressing of light oil and a dash of apple vinegar. Not done yet, there is desert. A tart the size of Texas appears with a variety of glazed fruits, also from her orchard, floating on a 1/2 inch of creamy custard, all held in place by a pastry shell so light that the whole thing seemed to float out from the kitchen. This was simply… well, lunch.
The French do love a bit of drama… “We must walk to Montegut” says Jean Mark. Walk? He has to be kidding; we just ate the equivalent of 3 Thanksgiving dinners! Will there be rest stops… bathrooms… oh my god! I can’t get out of this, I finally pull out my master trick…. Wrong Shoes… but even that doesn’t work, Georgette has a pair of shoes in just my size. The trail is up hill all the way and it is 100 degrees. He loves the view of Montegut from the top of the hill behind the lake. “Your first sight of Montegut must be from the top of the hill” he commands. No nap? How can this happen to me? I have things to digest first.
And if you have, thanks for reading.