Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A bit of Provençal perfect


I have been quite lucky in my life.

There have been dreams that have come true, much love shared and bouquets of incredible experiences. But when Marsha at Splenderosa asked that I describe one of my very best days for the By Invitation Only series, my mind immediately darted to that of my 35th birthday...in Botswana...helping to produce an ad that Remi shot so amazingly for Apple amidst a herd of elephants...followed by champagne and my spotting the lions on a safari before heading home to France. Yep, that happened. But there is one wee hiccup in that I have already written about that day (you can read about it here).


So...that got me thinking...what if I didn't talk about one of my most important days - such as meeting Remi - but just a really good one instead? Does best necessarily mean biggest? Nope. Living in Provence has changed my outlook utterly on that subject in that opportunities are nearly everywhere to live something wonderful if only we slow down enough to let them happen. And they are often tucked into small corners. I am learning not to chase after happiness with the determination of a toreador hunting down a bull but rather to just enjoy the surprise of it when it arrives. The "Oh, there you are" moment. And yes, this land is propitious for that particular prosperity...but I secretly suspect that it is the case nearly everywhere. Non? 


We have had many picnics with our friends M and B. Since quite a while. Now, I know that I sound like a broken record..."Oh no, not that again! Picnics? So quaint, so 'charmingly' Old School," you might be thinking with an exasperated sigh...but have you ever noticed that the skips on a broken record always happen on the best songs? A-ha! With our friends we share an unspoken agreement that there is nothing finer than getting together in a beautiful environment with delicious food and wine to spend a few hours relaxing and enjoying each other's company. There is no technology involved and beyond securing the basics, money doesn't come into play (for I have been to heavily catered affairs with crystal and silver and they don't necessarily make a picnic better, just more elegant). Plus, that une sieste is practically a given at some point during the gathering doesn't hurt...

On this particular day, Remi suggested that we meet up at a secret endroit that he had discovered in the Alpilles...


Some kind soul had constructed a table and benches out of massive stone blocks under the shade of bending trees in the middle of an olive grove. The setting is exceptional, even by Provençal standards. The sole stipulation is scrawled on a sign asking that we "respect the nature" and to clean up after we have gone. Mais bien sûr, pas de problème. I clapped my hands with delight when I came up over the hill to see that the spot was ours for the taking. 


It wasn't too hot nor too cool, nor was it a particularly sunny day but then again, sometimes cloudy days are best. The light left dancing dalmatian spots on the carefully spread cloth. M and B brought most of the provisions, many of which had been carefully selected that morning from the vendors at the excellent Les Halles market in the center of Nîmes. 


I watched the pleasure spread over their faces as they unpacked each item, especially those which they know are our favorites such as the tangy caviar des tomates, flaky fougasse, olives brined with garlic, cherries that leave stains on fingertips...eh, oui...des délices!


The wine, a surprisingly dry Muscat harvested near Uzés, was popped and then sipped slowly to take in our environs with the quiet regard that it deserved. One bottle later and we were ready to tuck into a tender roasted chicken along with B's crunchily sweet German potato salad. Such a treat and yet classic picnic fare. Do I remember what I brought that day? I have no idea. But I can bet that it was good.


We nibbled...at the food...at the conversation...at ideas floating and jokes landing hard. 


Ben and Kipling were with us of course, stationed at our feet, pretending to be asleep while keeping an eye out for any morsel that happened to fall off the table. I let a few fall on purpose and I wasn't the only one.


We came equipped with glasses and plates, wine openers and cushions. We are picnic professionals, you see. In our comfort, we stayed in the unforced way that only comes about with true friends, those who are patient with contentedness. 


An angel of silence flew over our heads without a ruffle or a snore. We all know by now not to plan anything else for the rest of the day as these get-togethers can last for hours. This one did. The sun came out, it ducked behind again. The clouds were listening in and mopping up the birdsong.


At times, even after all of these years, I still need to give my brain a rest from translating into French. Remi and our friends are used to my taking a break from the conversation and continued on without me. I smoothed my wrinkled thoughts by looking, occasionally getting up to take a photo or two, until I found my words again.


Being amidst company who accepts you just as you are is a boon in itself and Ben wasn't the only one who couldn't stop smiling. Besides, a toothy grin makes it all the easier for that sneaky devil happiness to catch me unaware and hold me tight. Remi recently described such moments as ones "that you want to float in" which couldn't be more apt. There were many of them that day.

 

If I had to pick a reason why, I would be left with a Gallic shrug but somehow, it was pretty much a perfect picnic. We joked about it at the time, "How can we possibly top this?" Psshh...why try? We knew our good fortune and it is one of the reasons why we all get along so well, because...we always do. 


That was a few months ago. The temperatures have finally dropped and most likely we will have to wait several months before our tradition continues. But when I gaze at these photos now, such solid talismans, I can still hear our laughing as it rebounded against those protective trees. Perhaps that was the final, magic ingredient needed to alchemize one day of good into a sweet little Best.


to listen:




I am sure that there are going to be some really lovely posts on this theme. To see what the other members of our international blog party have cooked up, please click here.



Thank you for being here and for the overwhelming response by comments and emails for my very first giveaway!

I am happy to announce that the winner of Ann Mah's fantastic book "Mastering the Art of French Eating" is:
Wendy Wong of Vancouver, Canada

Wendy, would you be so kind as to email me with your mailing address so that I can send it to you?

I am taking a moment to thank all that have served on this Veteran's Day, Armistice Day and Remembrance Day...

With my very Best from Provence,
Heather


41 comments:

  1. Thank you for taking us on this vicarious picnic, Heather. Indeed, a sweet little best.

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    1. I bet you had plenty of amazing ones yourself during your recent cross-country journey Judith!

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  2. Ahhhh...Figure-toi ça tombe si bien tu peu guère t'imaginer.

    But is that kind of prosperity really everywhere possible? "Well it should be, depending on what we make of what we have..." Thats what I feel obliged to say but what I really want to say is after looking at those "shocking" images:

    Je m'en doute, je m'en doute fortement! (;

    And among all those seductive delicacies also a German "Kartoffelsalat"! o: Perfect!
    Thank You Heather for letting us float in that moment all together!

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    1. Mais pourquoi ça tombe si bien, copine? Et je suis certain que tu est bien capable de créer du magie ne porte ou! Même pour un piquenique sur le sol de ton apart'! ;)

      Et oui, le Kartoffelsalat? C'est une tuerie!! On se battre pour le finir à chaque fois qu'elle le fait pour nous...

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    2. Ah, c'est sympa, lorsque tu ecrit en Français. Je suis au bout de l'oublier tout en lisant ton blogue en Anglais..
      (Just kidding (: It makes me try harder in English. Good thing!)

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  3. Heather, any post that starts with Ben's smiling face is bound to be a great one! I love how our thoughts flow in a similar but unique manner. And that we both referenced the same elephants, if only fleetingly. (We are lucky ducks!) I love the thought of moments that you want to float on, and that they come about us not in the "giant" days in the flow of life, but in the more quiet ones. The art of slowing down is one that I know we will never perfect, but your picnic sure comes close. The next time I'm in Provence, I hope we can picnic together.

    Hope there are floating moments for you today! XOXO

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  4. GORGEOUS...............perfection!
    XO

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  5. The opening photo made me smile; the narrative and photos that followed kept me smiling. Keep finding those picnic treasures!

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    1. You and I know that the looking is the best part, Jackie...sending you good thoughts as you roam...

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  6. Those "toothy" grins make every day happy, don't they?

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    1. Absolutely! There is not a day that goes by when one of them doesn't make me laugh out loud. Ben (in the first photo) is especially proud of himself whenever he does... :)
      We are so lucky to have our pups, Pamela, I agree...

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  7. Your post is wonderful Heather ……. I could even smell that chicken !! I love this as it shows that we don't have to spend loads of money for a memorable day …. just a wonderful setting, good friends and delicious food and all's well with the world. XXXX

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    1. Thank you Jackie. I am still dreaming on Christmas memories thanks to your post...

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  8. A 35th birthday in Botswana! (Not usual for most of us...)

    And yes, those "really good days" are, in my opinion, the ones that we cherish even more. They spill over into the more difficult days and spread much needed warmth and cheer.

    As for your picnic - qu'est-ce que tu me donnes faim ! Et mon chien me manque terriblement quand je vois tes photos... mais je garde de très bons souvenirs, surtout, quand elle jouait avec mes garçons.

    Bisous, Heather. And thank you for another delicious post - verbally and visually.

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    1. Je t'en prie, DA. You give us much to "feast" on every day! So if I can return the favor just a little bit...

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  9. Dear Heather I enjoyed this poignant account of such a special day for you, Remi and your friends. What could be better? Memories like these last forever and there is the beauty of it!

    xoxo
    Karena
    The Arts by Karena

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    1. Well, my memory is so terrible that I never know Karena! ;) But it was a really lovely day and that I have had so many with these friends is really wonderful.

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  10. Tu as raison - le jour le plus beau n'est pas toujours fait de grandes choses, mais de petits plaisirs. Ton picquenique dans un bel endroit à part, avec des amis et de la bonne nourriture - ça me tombe parfait!

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    1. En effet, c'était pas mal de tout! ;) Et ça me fait plaisir de voir un peux de français dans le commentaires - enfin! Même si mon français écrit n'est pas toujours au top... :o

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  11. I never have a pithy comments. Your posts invoke a longer conversation.

    Thanks for much. joan

    Red Cross, Viet Nam 1966 - 67.

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  12. Picnics are one of my favorite activities in France: finding goodies at the local marché and the wine shop, locating the perfect spot on the grass...although some of my most memorable picnics were when something surprising happened, like when it started pouring rain, when someone came up and stole beer from us, or when I got stung by a bee (the last two happened at the same time!).
    I also love that you mentioned fougasse, that hearty provençal bread. The first time I tasted it was last summer in the small town of Lunel. It was made with duck drippings and was the perfect snack to hold us over until lunch. Thank you for sharing your picnic pleasures with us Heather!

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    1. Oh that duck fougasse just kills me! And a bee sting and un voleur?? Crazy!

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  13. Oh, your picnic looks like a perfect day to me. Simple, and delicious.

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    1. Merci une femme. It is always a pleasure to have you here...

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  14. A perfect picnic day is the very best sort of best day. We would have more picnics here if it weren't for the distraction of uninvited guests...the flies!

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    1. Oh yikes! No thank you to the insect invasions! We are pretty lucky here actually. It only when it is really hot out do they become pesky...

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  15. "getting together in a beautiful environment with delicious food and wine to spend a few hours relaxing and enjoying each other's company”…are intimate moments of simplicity and contentment…all the lines connect. You found a beautiful place for that “perfect picnic”.The little things that make a difference and make one happy.

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    1. Definitely the little things, Edgar. You appreciate them too...

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  16. what a fabulous setting! is there anything better than the south of france?? i "floated" through the whole post... dreamy, as always!

    sharon xx

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  17. Dear Heather:
    Your post triggered a flash back of my youth in Provence, i still smell the lavender,the thyme, romarin, hear the "cigalles", feels the wind brushing my skin, fighting with the goats over my lunch and the glorious afternoon naps, on a linen blanket under the so fragrant umbrella pine trees.

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  18. YES - most and very often - the so called "simple" days are the Best ones. The ones who stick in our minds, filling us up with happiness.
    Lovely post!
    xk

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  19. Oh my goodness, the food just got better and better as I scrolled down. I so agree with you, first off I would have thought of my last trip, dinner in Paris, breakfast in Switzerland, lunch in ...have to check, cocktails in Venice but really I've had great ones at home with hubs, blasting out music and just having fun.

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  20. Perfect indeed, in every way. Bises, G

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  21. Such a perfect day - reminds me of the song. Wonderful photos Heather.

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  22. Goodness gracious now I am incredibly hungry!!! Wow. And I want to give that furry friend a huge hug!!

    I wish you a terrific weekend, Heather :-)

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  23. Perfectly splendid! Thank you for taking us along on such a wonderful sweet floating moment.

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  24. Heather, thank you for offering a lovely way to end my day...reading your account of this day...and contentedness...

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