Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What I'll Miss

I'll miss looking up from the cash register at the store to see a flock of sheep or herd of cows go by. I'll miss talking with the people who come in to buy all of the delicious porky treats, the fresh meat and the preserved, and speaking a beautiful complicated frustrating language that I can finally, perhaps, say that I'm almost fluent in.

I'll miss living in France.

I'll miss watching the French quiz shows over family lunch at the farm, and laughing at the pronunciation of non-French words: the name of the comic-book character Lucky Luke has both its U-sounds pronounced the same (oo) and it took me several minutes one day to figure out the host was talking about a famous actor when he referred to Dooglahs Farbahnx. In French-accented English, the words "promise" and "paradise" rhyme, and neither are pronounced correctly. I'll miss the audiences on the quiz shows, who automatically go into choreographed routines when a song is played: everyone in the audience claps their hands, or waves their arms swaying back and forth if it's a slow piece, and all of the contestants start dancing in place when it's a quick number. I'll miss the wordplay and general good humor on the show "Les 12 Coups de Midi", and the part where people get to show off their talent as they introduce themselves. Once there was a woman who pulled out a saxophone and played a brief Michael Bolton tune, followed by an operatic tenor, a guy who did card tricks, and a young man who did a really excellent chicken impression.

I'll miss working at the farm, turning pork meat into pâté and blood into boudin, messing about in the store trying to find the exact placement of goods that will make people want to buy more, wielding a knife or a ladle or a glue brush, doing my best to help keep things running smoothly while Florence and Frédéric and Jeanne and Éloi efficiently turn half-carcasses into heaps of meat and fat and bone.

I'll miss Jeanette's quick laughter, and Frédéric's jokes, and Eloi's quiet smile, and Marie-Louise's patient vigil at the kitchen table, old eyes watching the images flicker on the silent television screen. I'll miss the rest of the family too: Sandrine and Laurent and their daughter Lilou, Nathalie and Clément, and all of the other aunts and uncles and cousins. I'm so grateful they opened their houses and lives to me, making me feel at home and giving me a temporary family to belong to, here so far from my own.

I'll miss working with Florence, who let me propose projects and products and push to do things just a little bit differently, just to see what happens. In tradition-bound France, that's something; you take your life in your hands sometimes here if you suggest that even though a dish has been cooked in the same way for a hundred years, maybe, perhaps, it might also work like this?

I'll miss those family lunches, which always start with la soupe. Sometimes I'd come to work in the morning and smell the potatoes carrots leeks onions chard simmering away over a burner in the grange, often with a slice or two of ventrèche from a package that had gone just past its sell-by date at the store, or a salty end of a jambon de pays. And then the entrée: grated carrots or beets, perhaps, or slices of cold boudin with cornichons, or a macédoine with homemade mayonnaise, and lately sliced tomatoes with slivers of sweet onions and a quick-whisked vinaigrette.

The main course then, often a roasted chicken or guinea hen from the flock in the orchard, or rich rabbit meat roasted (chewy) or stewed with potatoes and carrots in the pressure cooker (tender and savory). Goat meat sometimes, or veal, and of course pork, especially when there was a little too much of one cut in the week, or when we were making longe confite and there were slices left over from trimming the pieces to put them in the jars.

I'll miss seeing people wearing berets. I'll miss greeting people with a kiss on each cheek. I'll miss being surrounded by heavy-beamed stone buildings and cornfields and being able to see the Pyrénées when I step outside to stretch my back after hefting cartons full of jars up into and down from shelves.

And I'll miss Florence. This was an unexpected gift, finding not only an indulgent and supportive and easy-going boss, but a friend. I'll miss living in Agnos, getting up early in the morning to drink coffee and do computer work while Florence sleeps, going to bed early while Florence stays downstairs watching movies, a night owl to my dawnsong robin. I'll miss our too-infrequent road trips, and even though I rarely went out in the evenings (the French define "evening" as "between 9:30pm and midnight") I'll miss that too. I hope that I can arrange my life to be in the United States in a year or two or three, with enough time and resources to show Florence around the western states, San Francisco up to Seattle, and maybe even some real-life Lucky Luke action at the Pendleton Roundup, just to get the true "American" experience.

I'll miss you, Flo.

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