Sunday, January 11, 2009

Snow in Provence, Mme Paris, Nile Perch and Gigondas

Tish was at the apartment packing her suitcases (trying to see how many “baginbox” wine cartons she could fit into her suitcase) because she had to leave in little more than 12 hours. . When Ellen and I returned to the apartment, we told Tish about what we had heard about the snow – not the dusting that we had in Vaison but the 30 cm that fell in Marseille. The authorities had closed the Autoroute between Marseille and Bollene (north of here) and they had closed the airport. A quick look at the airport website confirmed that flights had stopped sometime close to noon.

Tish and I had gone out to the hardware store – the bricomarché had a sale on radiators and I needed to replace one in our apartment. When we left the store, it was snowing but at a rate that our experiences would have discounted as a “dusting.”

But in Vaison la Romaine, a dusting is serious. People had seen the weather news and, just as in Lansing when there is a prediction of a heavy snow, the stores’ supplies of bread and milk were depleted. Our neighbor had told us of the weather predictions two days earlier so that we could beat the other residents of the town to the few supplies to stock… After what no one who lives north of the 40th degree latitude would rate as “real” snow, the village was quick to act. I watched small dump trucks (small so that they can fit on the narrow streets of Vaison) with two men standing in the back shoveling a mixture of sand and salt onto the streets as the truck moved slowly down the street. We were spared the brunt of the storm. Marseille, 100 km south of us and on the Mediterranean Sea got 25 – 30 cm. of snow (10 – 12 inches). According to those who keep records, this is the most snow that Marseille has had since 1987. Worse yet, the snow and the winds of the Mistral had dumped a bunch of snow on the autoroute and the authorities decided it was best to close it. (One traveler said that it took three hours to go from Avignon to Cavaillon – 18 miles.) By the way, today on Saturday, it was 10 degrees centigrade (51 F).

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Tish had decided that it would be smarter and safer to postpone her departure. She spent about an hour ON HOLD until she got an Air France agent who worked with her start to finish. (What is more frustrating than waiting on hold for 25 minutes only to have a connection “coupée” in the middle of a conversation? – except rhetorical questions?)

Tish left this AM with clear skies and dry roads and wrote recently that she was safely back in Cairo. Having spent time driving here, I think that the French road system is excellent – for one-way traffic – but if they continue to permit big trucks to travel in the opposite direction, they need to widen the roads! (There is one road between here and Avignon that actually NARROWS in direct correlation to the depth of the ditch on both sides of the road!)

French with Mme. Paris

In addition to all that Tish did to help create our blog, she also helped me get us enrolled in French classes. We had gone to the Tourist Information Center (again) and, while there, Tish suggested that we get information on French classes. We did. We enrolled and spent last – and future – Thursday and Friday mornings in French class. Thursday is for advanced French, Friday for beginners – both of which are instructional because the instructor – Mme. Paris – has such a good style of teaching. And, for those who want more English language time, the classmates usually go to the café after class… I don’t think that Ellen and I should be in the same class because in the last class, the instructor gave Ellen two “très bien” and I got only one…

Nile Perch

Since Tish does not eat meat, I tried to put together menus that were meatless. One item that I discovered in our markets is “Nile Perch” – the same fish that we used to eat when I was in the Peace Corps in Tchad (Chad) which was called “Capitaine” there. (The first time I heard “Capitaine” referred to as Nile Perch was at my sister Ann’s house at a meal with some of Ann’s & Alice’s friends.) I tried to replicate some of the Senegalese recipes that I loved – with minimal success. Bottom line: Nile Perch is an excellent fish for cooking and using Nile Perch and a recipe from Patricia Wells, I cooked the fish in a spicy tomato sauce and we had a wonderful meal – (the KEY is the orange zest!) We also made spanikopita – and learned how hard it is to find “feta” cheese here (probably because there is a French equivalent for which we don’t know the name…) When I made the spinach pie (spanikopita), we saved enough to share with our downstairs neighbor and with our friend the chef who had never tasted spinach pie. I told him to use the French grading system (20 points) and, if my spinach pie rated more than 11, he should tell me. If fewer points than 11, change the subject…


I know that I tend to go on about Gigondas, but it is such a wonderful wine! When we first purchased the apartment, French friends would ask why we bought an apartment here. I would reply “Gigondas!” to which the French would purse their lips and reply “but of course.” When I heard the same question from Americans and provided the same response, most Americans would look at me and try to understand… (not being familiar with Gigondas)

Tish quickly saw (tasted) the difference and took as much as she could fit in her suitcase back to Cairo. There is something VERY special about the “terroir” that makes Gigondas unique. It is a smooth wine on the palate but has a peppery finish which is what I love. I know that this is parochial/chauvinistic, but I love the flavors in Gigondas more than ALL of the right-bank Bordeaux and many of the left-bank Bordeaux – and at one third or one fourth the price… As the Emergency Room Physician had suggested when I saw him in October, I should spend my time collecting good Gigondas to resell in the states (to pay for my time here.)

Even though “baginbox” is the best way to package wine, few vintners here – or in the US – use the process for their good wines. There ARE a few wineries in this area that put the same wine in boxes as they put in bottles, but most have decided that people expect that wine in bottles is better… Too bad.

1 comment:

  1. When I pay good (retirement) money to subscribe to Conde-Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, National Geographic Travel, Budget Travel, Islands, Florida, Sherman's, Travel, etc., only to read stories from people I don't know - it's a thrill to read about the dreams come true of people I actually know and love! Keep up the good work, stay safe & healthy, and carpe diem! - Sorry that Tish's travel plans got messed up, but not much sympathy about winter weather from here. We have had sooooo much snow this year - many days of totally white streets in the neighborhood already. Take care and avoid the edges ofthose cliffs!