26 August 2008

The evening session

After our short afternoon break, during which Walt went out and walked the dog, we returned to the party at about 7:00 p.m. Actually, Walt said he and Callie had run into at least a couple of the party-goers out in the vineyard. They were out for their own afternoon stretch. Callie played with and barked at them, I gather.

Looking at that Domaine de la Girardière web site I posted a link to yesterday, I realize now that one of the people at the party was the winery's owner. And he was one of the people Walt ran into on his walk with Callie. The man's name is Patrick Léger, apparently, and he was out in "our" vineyard with a man named Roland that we do know because he does gardening work for two of our neighbors. He was at the party, as he had been at a party last Christmas that A. and J.-M. invited us to, and his picture is also on the Domaine de la Girardière web site (he's the one in the foreground wearing a green cap). Roland's wife is especially friendly — she was at the party too and I talked to her for a while. I wish I could remember her name...

Back at the party, a group of people was playing boules, also called pétanque or, in good English, Bocce ball. One of A.'s grandchildren, Antoine, about 3 years old, kept running onto the pitch in the middle of the game. He wanted to play, and it was amazing that he didn't get conked by one of the heavy metal balls the players were throwing around. His father L., who is A. and J.-M.'s son-in-law, was there trying to rein him in but let him enjoy the experience at the same time.

Those not playing boules were standing around watching, or standing in small groups chatting. But then we discovered there was another activity under way. A.'s daughter was selling clothes in the living room! She had a big rack of women's clothing and a lot of the women who were in attendance were shopping. Josette said she bought a couple of articles, which would be sent to her by post in the appropriate sizes.

Soon we all started migrating back toward the tables out in the yard. Josette, Walt, and I sat down with one of the books she had given A. as a present. It was a little book about a trip two French guys took across the American Southwest in a rental car. I read parts of it, and it was pretty funny. The French guys said they had to cut the top out of a Coke can to use as an astray in their rented Pontiac, because it was a non-smoking model and didn't come with one.

The French travelers also felt greatly inconvenienced by American speed limits that allowed driving no faster than 75 m.p.h. But they were afraid to speed, because they didn't speak much English and would never have been able to talk their way out of a fine (or worse) if they were stopped by a patrolman.

They said going to a U.S. supermarket was an anthropological experience and were impressed by the fluourescent greens, blues, and purples of the icing on birthday cakes they saw. They said you'd obviously never want to grow up if you had such treats as a child! And they saw the most enormous sandwiches they had ever dreamed of! As for their own diet in America, it was composed almost exclusively of fried chicken and cantaloup, they wrote.

In a way, that book set the tone for the evening, at least at our table. The woman from the Tête Noire restaurant in Montrichard joined us, as did son-in-law L. and his parents, who live in Chartres and have traveled in the U.S. at least once. There was also a woman who is a math teacher in a local school.

The woman from Montrichard described some of her encounters with Americans and Brits in her restaurant — how she couldn't get over their complete inability to say a word or two of French, their very limited preferences when it came to the food they were willing to eat, and their lack of curiosity about France in general. She wondered why some of them ever even bothered to come here. She wasn't really negative about it, just perplexed. She speaks a little English and has spent time in England and Scotland, she said.

The math teacher said she dreamed of taking a trip to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and the other big national parks in the U.S. West. She described a recent trip she took to Egypt with her daughter, her sister-in-law, and a niece. She said her husband didn't want to go, and besides, he had to work. She said she and her little group had the time of their lives. Now they want to go do a similar trip in the U.S. She said she had once traveled in Québec and Ontario, including a visit to Niagara Falls, and had loved it.

L. and his parents had their own ideas about the U.S. and differences in our social and work customs compared to the French customs. We talked about it for a while. L.'s father said when he went to California he was most impressed with all the police activity he saw in California and even at the Grand Canyon. Enormous police cars with sirens wailing sped up and down all the streets of San Francisco day and night, in his version of things. And the police were near-giants carrying pistols, shotguns, and clubs. By their fearsome presence, they made sure nobody was tempted to violate any laws. And those sirens... well, they were shrill and constant, not at all like the polite pam-pom of French police sirens.

At the Grand Canyon, he said, the group he and his wife were traveling in was at a heliport on the canyon rim, waiting to take a sight-seeing flight, when a convoy of police cars came roaring in, tires screeching, lights and sirens blaring. The cops singled out an individual whose behavior they didn't like and soon had him handcuffed and shunted into a police vehicle.

Some of the French tourists wandered over to see what all the commotion was about, as they would do in Paris or some other French city, L.'s father said. The tourists were confronted angrily by the police and made to understand in no uncertain terms that this was none of their business, that nosy people were not welcome, and that they had better get back before they ended up behind bars themselves!

Other than all that, he had a good time in America.

All these conversations, shared experiences, and anecdotes lasted the entire evening. Some wanted to know more about what Walt and I are doing here. Do we work? If not, what do we do all day? How about the dollar? Will Barack Obama win the presidency? And so on.

Meanwhile, somebody started a big wood fire in a barbecue grill and soon sausages were cooking over the coals. The first ones that came out were blood sausages, a.k.a. boudins noirs in France or black pudding in England. I like those, but Walt is a little less sure of them himself. But seeing as how the next batch of sausages that went on the grill were the dreaded andouillettes, for which our only equivalent is that Southern U.S. treat called chitterlings, or more colloquially chit'lins, we went for the blood sausage.

French people, at least a majority of them in my experience, just love those chit'lin' sausages. If you don't know what andouillette sausages are, I'll tell you. They are hog bowels stuffed with more hog bowels that have been rolled up and cut into small pieces. And to my palate they taste exactly like what you think hog bowels would taste like. They are often cooked over a wood fire, so that they end up tasting amazingly like... smoked hog bowels.

As we were eating our boudin noir, somebody — I think it must have been the woman who used to run the restaurant in Montrichard — pointed out that if you are at all anemic, blood sausage is just what the doctor ordered. She also said that when she explained to American and even English customers what boudins noirs and andouillettes are made of, they unvariably declined to partake of them.

I enjoyed the boudin noir I ate. I thought it was flavorful and kind of spicy, but not in a hot-pepper way. I think the main spice I tasted was nutmeg. This was obviously a very good version of the sausage, and I need to ask A. and J.-M. where they buy them. When the andouillettes came by, Walt and I both passed — probably confirming a lot of French people's stereotypes about Anglo-Saxon people's dietary habits.

There were also salads, including a veritable ton of green and red lettuce leaves tossed in vinaigrette, and other vegetables. There were also platters of roast beef and terrines of country pâté. And then a big tray loaded down with all kinds of beautiful French cheeses, including more of the local goat cheese, was passed. For dessert there were more fruit tarts and another of those gigantic bowls of fresh raspberries from up the road in Saint-Romain.

The wines were reds made by Jean-Christophe Mandard of Mareuil, who is a viticulteur we know and have often bought wine from. Again, J.-M. chose a Côt, which is a dark, berry-flavored red that goes well with foods like black pudding and chitterling sausage. And with strong, runny cheeses. Côt is the Loire Valley name for the grape we call Malbec.

And that was about it. There were at least 30 people present for dinner. By the time it was over, it had gotten dark and their was a chill in the air. We all had on sweaters, fleece jackets, and other warm clothes. As night fell, we watched bats swoop over our heads and out over the big yard, feasting I assume on mosquitoes and other flying insects. We had a long conversation about bats, actually, and Walt explained that he sees them at dusk almost every evening in the summer. Some people seemed to be unaware of how common they are here, but others told stories about bats flying around inside their houses once in a while. That happened to us just once, about four years ago.

Candles had been lit and placed on all the tables, making for a nice atmosphere. It wasn't chilly enough to be unpleasant.

As the evening ended, a lot of us started stacking chairs and putting away the fold-up tables we had been sitting around for a good part of the day. By pairs we carried the big tables over to a carport and stacked them where they would be out of the weather in case it rained. The chairs were the typical plastic ones and stayed out on the lawn in tall stacks.

I went inside to say my goodbyes and a dozen or more women were busy in the kitchen, putting food away, washing glasses, and putting plates and flatware into the dishwasher. It was quite a scene, actually — busy and convivial. I guess I can say this: a good time was had by all.


  1. My husband had an "experience" of those "andouillette sausages" otherwise known as chitterlings, and let me tell you, it was not a good one.

    He was working in Monaco and gone out with a friend for lunch, thought he was ordering sausages, which is fine, but the taste was disgusting, he gave it another try, he just couldn't, so no lunch.

    He phoned to ask me to look them up on the internet...oh the thought!!

  2. When you began describing the food at the party on Sunday's blog, I assumed it was all catered, but it sounds like much of it was prepared at home. What a job that would have been!

    It was lovely to read about it all. Thanks.

  3. I have noted the same strange insularity and share the woman from la Tête Noire's perplexity - I simply don't know what to make of it.

    And if it's any consolation, I think lots of French people think andouillettes are dégoutant. Simon loves them, I am not a fan.

  4. What an amazing party! Thank you for your great desciption of it, I loved all the details.


  5. andouilettes rock if you're a fan, which i am.

    it sounds like the most interesting and convivial party, with walks in between and the locals being friendly. i'm so impressed that you've made friends with the frenchies and that they are so candid with you all. it provides such interesting insights, thank you for being a good reporter.

  6. Perhaps you should direct the woman from Montrichard to this article: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1820358,00.html

  7. To be fair, the woman never said American or British visitors were obnoxious. Just not willing to try to speak any French and not willing to eat much of what is considered standard fare here.


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?