And we continue my imaginary literary tour in France!
I was so busy enjoying the gustatory delights France had to offer, that I didn't get to take in as many sights as I had hoped. As I mentioned, there were 3 main things on my to-see list:
Unfortunately, I didn't see the Eiffel Tower, and I missed the Louvre. But I did see Luc!
My arrival in France was by boat. The lovely Pilkingtons set me down on the east side of France, as they made their way back down the Moselle from Luxembourg. My first stop had to be the festival in Avignon. I had heard so much about this great festival of the arts, I absolutely had to bustle down there to attend. Fortunately, I made it in time to catch a showing of the 1949 French version of Gigi.
Gigi is a book written by Collette that has been reproduced often for stage and screen. The two main film versions are the French language one that I saw in Avignon, and the Academy Award-winning musical version with Leslie Caron and Maurice Chevalier. (I'm sure you've seen it! If not, go watch it!) Even without the musical highlights of the 1958 film, the 1949 film was very entertaining, and Gigi had all the spark of a fun, independent girl.
Inspired by the scene in which Gaston whisks Gigi into the Palais des Glaces (skating rink and society gathering place), I just had to try a Barbotage - the mystery Champagne cocktail he orders for her. After some investigation, there appears to be two versions of Barbotage drinks. One is a liqueur cocktail, composed of Champagne, Cointreau, and Brandy, and the other is likely similar to the version ordered for Gigi, that she drinks with a straw. The latter is a melange of citrus juice, shaken with Grenadine, and served in glass topped off with Champagne. It is very refreshing! Feel free to amend the ratio and quantities of juice to fit your preferences, and if you are like me and do not have Grenadine on hand, a suitable substitute is raspberry syrup by Monin or Torani.
After the Avignon festival, I found that I had been invited to visit author Peter Mayle and his wife, who fortuitously lived nearby, so I made Ménerbes my next stop. Of course Provence is absolutely lovely! For a taste of it, you must read Peter's book, A Year in Provence. With humor and exceptional storytelling, he transports the reader to his village in the south of France, making daily life there sound so enchanting, one doesn't want to leave!
We stopped in the market the morning I arrived and purchased a bounty of fresh vegetables, cheese, bread and rosé for a scenic alfresco lunch in their vineyard (you can see it in the background.)
For the picnic, we prepared a delicious Provençal sandwich called Pan Bagnat. Easy to prepare and customize, it is made by layering ingredients in a halved loaf bread, wrapping tightly, and allowing it to meld before slicing and eating.
With excitement and regret, I packed up my satchel, and headed off to Normandy. I was meeting Dr. Gideon Oliver there, where he was speaking at a conference on his topic of expertise, physical anthropology. Dr. Oliver has a penchant for being drawn into murder cases, and this was no exception. Just before I arrived at the Rochebonne manoir, not far from Mont St. Michel, bones had been discovered buried in the cellar. Coincidentially (or not), the family patriarch had just accidentally drowned - being taken by surprise by the dangerous tide at the base of Mont.
It was intriguing, and frankly often overwhelming, to watch and listen to Dr. Oliver's assessment of the bones, as he assisted the police in their investigation. Fortunately, Gideon's friend John, a down-to-earth FBI agent, accompanied him, and we got along splendidly in our shared ignorance. An old friend of Dr. Oliver, and a family relation of the recently deceased patriarch, was also visiting the manoir, so we were connected to the mystery from the start. Unfortunately, our close connection was a dangerous one, as someone definitely thought Gideon knew, or would find out, to much. Being in close proximity to Dr. Oliver could be hazardous to one's health! The whole tale is recited in Old Bones, penned by Aaron Elkins.
As a side note, another benefit of knowing someone at the manoir was that we got to partake of the amazing food! Beatrice Lupis held court in the kitchen at Rochebonne, and everything she prepared was delightful. In particular, she made a wonderful Tarte aux Fraises - so wonderful, I asked for the recipe, hoping I could somewhat recreate it when I return home. She passed on the secret that the recipe could be found in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
First a sugar crust is prepared, then a vanilla and brandy-infused pastry cream, or custard, is cooked and chilled, and last a glaze composed of jelly, vanilla and brandy is made. The tart is then assembled and eaten tout de suite.
Time to be moving on, so much more of Europe to see! I guess I will have to roll myself to the ferry. Next stop, England!