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the calm after the 60th birthday

Peaceful again. Madame has been and gone, and young Elisa has zipped off on her scooter with a tent strapped to her back; once more, for a bit, just Monsieur and me. It’s 9.30; we have had a simple supper, the laundry is drying on the line, the cicadas are chanting, the sky is pink and blue, and a tiny spider is busy spinning in the hibiscus.

Friday morning, Elisa and I drove to the market in Bonnieux, another mountain village about fifteen minutes of small, winding road from here, to pick up Lynn’s cake, and also to buy chèvre (two kinds, soft and hard), bread, eggplant, zucchini, lettuce, peppers, endive, tomatoes by the ton, peaches, nectarines, and flowers. Some stalls cling to the side of the steep road leading up to the village square, where the rest are clustered. Tempting, as you walk by – African baskets, pashminas, loose Indian clothing, silver, stacks of madeleines, yes, Proust’s madeleines on sale in Bonnieux.
At home we all worked to produce a superb meal to celebrate Lynn’s 60th birthday, the first of several celebrations since only one of her children was home yesterday. If you’re bored with the endless lists of food, please skip this next bit. A FULL REPORT: As an hors d’oeuvre we had champagne with endive and guacamole, a dish not common to France, made by the Canadian. For the meal, set on the terrace with the best tablecloth, china and silver, we had melon – of course – then a big bass Denis grilled on the barbeque with fennel, served with gratin dauphinois, thinly sliced potatoes mixed with vast amounts of cream and butter, stirred half-way through baking so that it’s brown and crusty all the way through. All with a great white wine.
I should stop, I’m drooling.
Then the many cheeses pictured below. I had to have a slice of each, so we had a long discussion on HOW TO SLICE CHEESE. It is an art and a science here, and I am as usual a clumsy know-nothing. Some cheeses are to be sliced along the side and some squarely; always evenly. It is all, said the Frenchman, about making sure that the next person has a tidy, good-looking selection with the best bits shared. The first time Lynn went to dine with the people who would become her in-laws – when Denis took her to meet his formidable Maman et Papa – she did the equivalent of jumping on the dining-room table, lifting her skirts and doing the can-can. When passed the cheese platter, she CUT THE TIP FROM THE BRIE. This is the height of bad form, and Denis’s parents are not forgiving people. When passed the fruit, she picked an apple and BIT INTO IT, instead of cutting it neatly into slices with a knife and fork. At that moment she was dismissed from her inlaws’ hearts, and 5 children and several academic degrees later, she still was not admitted. So I was careful to learn how to get the cheese onto my plate without offense.
(P.S. I exaggerate. It was not just Lynn’s lack of cheese and fruit finesse, there were many other things they disapproved of, like her booming laugh and playful sense of humour. Incomprehensible to people for whom life means rules, lots of rules and only their rules.)
Then we devoured the superb birthday cake, very simple, two flat layers of light but dense chocolate cake with a thick chocolate mousse in the middle.
I’m splashing on the computer.
We sat around recovering. I decided to go for a swim and while cleaning the pool with the long-handled basket beforehand, I reached too far, fell hard and was left with a raw scrape on my thigh. I told my friends it was because I was trying too hard in my cleaning efforts, but it might have had something to do with being pulled off balance by champagne, wine and a large distended stomach.
I toast the friendship Lynn and I have enjoyed for 42 years. How extraordinary that we are so close after four decades spent continents apart, especially as I am so very much younger. Why, for the next 3 weeks I am two whole years younger. After August 1, only one year, but what a big and important year. She is now a senior citizen in France, and I am a spring chicken.
A day later, still, a very, very full spring chicken.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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