Thursday, June 30, 2011

Nimes, Part One

Remi and I spent a truly fantastic day in Nimes recently. Now, I have to say that I have never been a fan of this town. It never clicked. The energy seemed a little flat. Well, sometimes all it takes is the proper key to open the door and we had three! Some of you might remember reading about the adventures that we have shared with this very busy group of friends, who, along with the Arles contingent, make up the members of the Brotherhood of The Wine Tree. A large part of our camaraderie lies in jests over which town is superior. The Nimois gave it their best shot and I have to say that I left highly impressed.

It helps when discovering their Roman Arena for the first time to be taken on a private tour, far from the crowds, by the man who has done extensive archeological searches in it and is a director of preventative archeology in the region. Thank you Marc as well as his stunning wife Bettina who opened the doors for us everywhere! 

Now, I understand the genius of its architecture. How drainage systems were built through the rocks to carry down the runoff from the rain, how a contrast of descending ramps and mounting staircases allowed the rich spectators to avoid the riffraff. We even saw the secret staircase that was used by the seamen that were hired to control the enormous vellum sails that could cover the top to provide shade. Roman technology. Not bad, not bad at all.

Unlike Arles, which has been blanched to a white perfection--not unlike a movie star's teeth--the Arena still retains a magnificent patina. All the better to feel the sense of time and see why this monument is heralded as the best preserved Arena of the Roman Era!

But oh my, was it hot. The noonday sun was drilling a hole in my head. Rather than stop off at this charming old-school brasserie, which has a perfect view of the Arena (and where I have already imbibed, I'll have you know), the group trudged through the Historic Center of town and over to our friend Marie's apartment. 

We passed on the way this magnificent palmier which made me think of the symbol of Nimes--a crocodile chained to the base of palm tree. It represents the idea that Nimes was given as a bounty to the  soldiers that followed Caesar into Egypt (Remi just reminded me that this hasn't been proven, further fuel to the fire in the Arles vs. Nimes feud). 

Ah, luckily such politics have no place in Marie's shaded interior courtyard. Another cherished aspect of this so-called brotherhood, an especially important one, is that we are all, down to the last one of us, excellent hosts. Perhaps no one takes that task more seriously than the wonderful Marie, who made nearly everything that we ate (and the table was groaning) herself. We started off with a rather lethal apero of rosé embellished with grapefruit syrup. If you are ever offered this, just say no. It is light, it is cold and trust me, it is impossible to keep track of what you are drinking. Luckily, Marie had baked gougères (think monster cheese puffs), anchovy-filled pastries, and what else? Oh, I don't know--blame it on the wine!

I snapped to enough to take notes for all that followed. Yes, I will be stealing some of these ideas! Verrines, or yummy things in glasses, are all the rage right now in France. Marie had made two and both were insanely good: a ratatouille and goat cheese crumble and a sun-dried tomato and goat cheese topped with spicy dried fruit with rosemary sprigs. Sigh. I am so piggy, I finished one of Frederique's verrines for her. How could she not eat that?

What else? Cherry tomatoes stuffed with brandade, a local speciality. Tomate farcie, or tomatoes stuffed with a meat, pine nut and spice mixture. Moules escabeche (mussels) and a charcuterie plate with cured ham and chorizo. Baby pizzas topped with veggies. And one of the few things that she bought at a traiteur, or caterer, round pastries shaped liked champagne corks that are filled with pork, called Patés Nimois. They were decorated with the symbol of the town--it is everywhere! On the street posts and lamps...these folks are proud of their town's heritage....

Needless to say a nap was in order after all of that deliciousness. Marie's apartment is a true haven in the heart of town, hidden in the back of one of the grand hôtel particuliers. Can you imagine that at one time this belonged to one family? Well, I can imagine having it all to myself as well! Yes, more patina, here in the beams and stone columns in her kitchen and the wrought iron balconies that grace the main courtyard. 

Once, we had been corralled by the others to get a move on, we once again head out. Our day was far from finished, so I will be posting more about all that we saw soon...there is still so, so much to share...


  1. Hello Heather:
    How truly delightful your visit to Nimes has so obviously been. The experience of seeing somewhere through the guiding hands and eyes of people who know and love the place is such a perfect way to really have a feeling for it and to get 'under the skin'. This is something that we much prefer to do rather than always be on the lookout for somewhere completely new.

    And, the food! Of course, one cannot help but feel cherished by someone who has gone to such trouble to prepare such delicious dishes, but also, what an impressively skilled cook your friend Marie undoubtedly is. We know that we should have loved it all!

  2. Oh my what a feast!! Too bad it's dinner time here, I'm hungry and I have no idea of what I'm serving (it's just 2 of us this evening - so much easier than 6!!). Your special tour of Nimes sounds delightful. I look forward to reading more!

  3. It's almost lunch time in Melbourne and now you have my stomach rumbling at this description of sun dried tomato with goats cheese and dried fruit with rosemary in little glasses. It sounds sublime. I don't suppose she might give you the recipe perhaps?

    So nice to have a group of friends who each take as much pleasure in these shared delights as you and Remi do.

    And as for the ancients and their engineering - yep, considering the amazing plumbing systems that were used in ancient India, Persia and the Roman Empire - we don't seem to have advanced now as much as we should have. But don't start me on that rant....

    Have a wonderful weekend Heather settling into your new gorgeous home.

    Virginia x
    ps - if you get the recipe I would be stoked if you would share it!

  4. I'm thinking your friends feel the pressure when they are hosting parties; they know that their food will be critiqued in your blog so they up the ante!
    Sounds yummmmmy, and Nimes sounds wonderful!

  5. Now this is the way to discover a town....what a wonderful tour of Nimes you had. xv

  6. Hello everyone! Oh I am so glad that you enjoyed this day. I have to admit that I am exhausted from renovating the apartment so this will be short but (hopefully) sweet. Yes Jane and Lance, it does feel amazing to be so looked after by our friends (and no Rob, most of them don't even quite get the blog concept, they are just great hosts!). Virginia, Marie has promised the recipe for this weekend, will pass it on when I get it! And yes Vicki, you know the importance of seeing the "real" in our region and I really had it made as far as that was concerned!

    Wishing everyone an excellent weekend!


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