It is a well-loved tradition in France but one that, until fairly recently, I didn't have much opportunity to partake of. The Sunday lunch, a gathering of family and friends, where the entire day is set aside for just being together. Arles is famously closed off, a town where the locals proudly proclaim the number of generations that they have been here, using the term "pure suche" or "pure roots", one that is vaguely Naziesque if you ask me. All of this to say that it has taken time for us to make friends, to find our way here. Ben was a godsend in that sense. It is fairly safe to say that only kindly folks like dogs or have them. So it is with Anne, who we crossed so often in our hikes in the Alpilles that we finally made it official over drinks and have remained close ever since. She is a sculptor, who, along with Jean-Pierre, her world-travelling husband, have renovated a bergerie, or sheep's hut in the most beautiful, hidden corner of the Vallée des Baux or Baux Valley. They are, quite simply, one of the more elegant couples that I have ever met and, as is often the case, one of the most gracious hosts.
Champagne and home-made foie gras to welcome in the holiday season awaited us (why are we always the last to arrive no matter how hard we try not to be?). Caviar and blinis followed, then a pot au feu that had been cooked until the meat was falling off the bone. Apple crumble to finish. All of this accompanied by a wonderful Pic Saint Loup (little known in the States but one of my favorite appelations for its earthiness) and a dash of vodka to go with the caviar for the brave. Ten at the table, the conversation at times sounded like a symphony to my American ears, one too dissonant for me to add my notes to. It was a welcome effort to bundle up for the walk to the lake, a former mine that glows turquoise with its mineral deposits. I tottered along in my high heels, Burberry trench draped over my shoulders. Sunday lunch has the slightest ring of formality to it, rendering it all the more special. The group split into twos and threes, the wind rustling through the olive groves drowning out the conversations. A final tea to warm up and then we regretfully took our leave, phone numbers exchanged with new acquaintances and grateful bisous pecked on the cheeks of our friends.