The Normal Peace of the South of France

Abbey in lavender fields South of France from Internet

Abbey, Senanque?, in Lavender Bounty, South of France, from Internet

My heart is in fragments, scattered along the beaches of Nice, across from the Negresco – where we stayed in 1964, before I knew that Provence is different from France.

Down the road from the Hotel Suisse, where my daughters and I and Charlie and Rose Mary Clancy stayed, –our balconies overlooking the Boulevard des Anglais, in 1984.  We woke to the sussurus of Mediterranean waves, and the aroma of French coffee and fresh brioches on little trays at our doors.  We slept to the slow weaving of delicately illuminated pleasure craft stitching one ‘Cap’ (as in Cap Ferrat, Cap d’Antibes) to another across an ink black sea.  The lit craft shattered the stars’ wakes, and we could barely leave to go to sleep.  But another day in wondrous France awaited us, and attention must be paid.

It cannot BE that enraged bitter people believe their lives, this world will be better if they strew the beaches of Nice with bodies and blood.

I have this horrid vision of my beloved tricoleur, shredded, trampled.

Once, blood-soaked French beaches saved the free world.  But that was Normandy.  Yes, there was a battle of the Riviera, (August 15, 1944).  Cannes (where I lived in ’88 and ’89) was right in the heart of it.  Her Bay held firing warships, aiming at Nazi strongholds around the corner from our villa L’Aquila.  I could feel the bad vibes of the German centers, as I took circuitous walk after circuitous walk on the heights of Cannes.

But that was a real war, with declared enemies, and somehow generals and politicians knew who won and who lost and we won and liberty was assured.

Or so we thought.

Now there are phantom enemies everywhere.  France is bleeding again.  Only it’s not for a good cause.  She’s the victim again, as in the 1940s.  Then, she was betrayed from within.  Now we have no idea how to contend with this evil.

My heart breaks with France.  Mourn with me, please.



MISSING FRANCE: Rain Ride, May Poem

Many times, a poem will start itself at the most inconvenient time, in the most inconvenient place.  Such as this one, in a fizzly downpour, between Pennington and Hopewell.  No way to pull over and capture it, and no pen and paper anyway.  And not until I returned home and began to type did I have any idea where this poem was going.  To France, no less:

Images from the Internet will give you a sense of what was happening to me, on my country ride.  Trying to get over a country is like trying to get over a love — it crops up when and where you least expect it.  And there’s no escaping the breath-stopping power of memory.

lavender fields forever France from Internet jpg

Lavender Fields Forever, France, from Internet



new white blossoms

against the old red barn


lilacs turning

before my very eyes

from smoked purple

to lavender itself


distant headlights

above the drenched macadam

become lighthouses

crowning any one of Brittany’s

rock-hewn coasts


flowers of claret

outline the newest barn

–white, imposing as Mt. Blanc


I see I have become

depaysee encore

–uncountried yet again


driving thin wet roads

of old New Jersey




May 2016

Breton Light at Night From Internet

Light of a Breton Light, France, from Internet

lighthouse Breton Coast, France from Internetl

Guarding the Rockbound Breton Coast, from Internet

Abbey in lavender fields South of France from Internet

Abbey, Senanque?, in Lavender Bounty, South of France, from Internet


Mont Blanc Image from Internet

Mount Blanc from the Plane, from Internet

I suppose, if you really want to get over a country, as [when you really want to get over a love], it’s best not to spend every sit-down meal at home surrounded by books such as La Cuisine Provencale par Gui Gedda; Bonnard et Le Cannet (the next hill over from ‘mine’ in Cannes’, by Bonnard’s nephew, Midhel Terrase; Provence the Beautiful Cookbook and Taste of France by Robert Freson.

Face it, Caroline (my French name, sung out by the merry mailman of Cannes), you are hopeless!


Easter Running of the Bulls, Arles, France

Running of the Bulls

Running of the Bulls – Pamplona, not France

Once upon a time, I lived in Provence, on Observatoire Hill, high above Cannes, and within walking distance of Picasso’s pottery town, Vallauris.  In February, I waked to see, through fragrant blooming mimosa at my bedroom window, the serene but blindingly blue Mediterranean.

In winter, I could see Corsica from that same aperture.  With my passion for Napoleon, seeing his homeland was a thrill.  Even though my neighbors in the villa snorted at all my visits to the Musee Napoleon in nearby Antibes:  “That Corsican!”

My narrow curving balcony was planted with the wild herbs of the “garrigue”, the scrubland, which Provence shares with Corsica.  It’s local nickname is “le Maquis”, which basically means a tangle of nearly impenetrable shrubs and weeds – and gave its name to the noble Resistance in the South of France.

When the wind blows over the garrigue, especially le mistral, it is scented with rosemary, thyme, savory, and something the Provencal call “pebre d’ail.”  My balcony held and transmitted that perfume, by night and by day.

I traveled all I could each day of my year in Provence.  Friends from home came and shared some of those incredible, indelible excursions.

One of the best was my Manhattan roommate from the 60’s, Joan Stouffer, an architect who specialized in historic restorations in Washington D.C.  She was soon to be headhunted from her D.C. firm to work on the Holocaust Museum in Manhattan, returning home to transform the support building for the Museum, which holds all the nuts and bolts of machinery required to keep the Museum functioning.  Joan is now Joan Scharnberg, still my friend since college days at the Detroit Free Press, filling in for vacationing women’s editors.

Joan was graduated from Smith, having spent her junior year studying in Aix.  When she’d be in Paris, the locals would not her Aixoise accent.  I, on the other, hand, this one-year habitant of Provence, has studied French for two college years with a nun who had never left Indiana and never wanted us to.  She certainly hadn’t taught us how to converse with French people, especially not men.  I didn’t know the familiar endings for any of the verbs.  So when my Cannes neighbors began to ‘tutoyer’ me, to use the familiar with me, out of affection, I didn’t know how to do it back.

Joan loved haute Provence, la France profonde, the hill towns, the garrigues, the scruffier and more paysanesque (peasants) the better.  By this time, I had tired of La Cote d’Azur, and was ready for any remote setting Joan desired.

Arles isn’t THAT remote, but it’s OLDE Provence, and very not Cote d’Azur.  We went there for Palm Sunday weekend.  Posters alerted us to a custom we would not miss — the running of the bulls.  We’d both been Hemingway addicts in our teens, so of course we were going to do this.  It wasn’t Pamplona, but we will never forget it.

Arles has many convoluted cobblestoned strees near the Arena, where the bullfights themselves would take place the following day.  It was before noon, long shadows, coolness in the ‘rues” (roadways).  There were pretty flimsy barricades of metal pipes alongside these roads, behind which we took our places – the only Americans we saw or heard.  Everywhere, the young people of Arles began sprinkling each other wildly with flour.

Joan’s perfect French and my insatiable curiosity + Indiana pre-school French, were of absollutely no use.  Not a single person could tell us why.

It was somewhat hilarious.

Boys and girls were running, flinging flour, skidding on the cobblestones, now white as snow.

Then they began cracking fresh raw eggs on one another’s hair, already white as their grandparents’.

Again, our “Comments?” and “Pourquois?” were inutile/useless.

Suddenly, the crowd changed.

It hushed.

People began to move against the ancient walls, tense and all staring in one direction.

A roar went up, such as one hears while a bullfight is going on.

Many young people, mostly garbed in white, now egg-and-flour bedecked, were moving erratically. We pressed up against the metal rods, trying to understand what was taking place.

Black heads, dark horns, glaring eyes, flaring nostrils, huge furry bodies came hurtling toward us. The bulls, also, slipped on the flour, now mixed with raw egg as though for some bizarre cake.  The bulls also began to wound the runners.  Blood on white shirts, white pants.  Blood on the cobblestones, mixing with flour and egg.  Angry bulls, who did not like skidding.  Confused bulls, who reversed partway through this strange corridor, and somehow turned round and kept pouring toward us

This is all I remember, and I have no pictures of my own to share.

Those bulls ultimately ended up at the arena, where they would engage with matadors, toreadors, and picadors the next day.  Yes, to the songs of the opera, Carmen – which had been written about bullfights in France, not in Spain.

Aerial View of Arena, Arles, South of France

Aerial View of Arena, Arles, South of France

Joan would attend the next day’s full bullfight.

I would drive over to Tarascon and Beaucaire, for ancient literary reasons, and on to Maussane, where the Provencal Nobel Prize-winning Poet Frederic Mistral had lived.  I would stand in the shade of Mistral’s trees outside his home, honoring his determination to preserve his true native language, no matter how the French would strive and even battle to take it from these staunch people.

Joan would brave the bullfight entire.

Reunited, we would figure out at last that the entire bullfight had been something of ancient times, purely pagan, an inescapable fertility rite.

A far cry from the Palm Sunday rituals of childhood!

Runner and Bull, Arles, South of France

Runner and Bull, Arles, South of France

Here is a soupcon of a web-explanation, about what we experienced:

Easter Feria in Arles

updated: November 5, 2014

arles feria poster

Arles (13 Bouches-du-Rhone, Provence) starts its bullfighting season with theFeria de Pâques (Easter Festival) from 3-6 April 2015.

Many visitors may feel squeamish or even disapproving about the spectacle of bull-fighting, but it is a long-maintained tradition in Provence and southern France, especially in the Camargue.  You can however still enjoy the spectacle (and avoid the risk of any gore) by seeing the noisy and colourful parades and bull-running through the town. My view is that if you really object to this form of “entertainment” then avoid the area.

The bull-fighting (corrida) takes place in the spectacular Roman Arena in Arles, and there are other options such as the  Course Camargaise, which is another local form of bullfighting without the drawing of any blood.

About course camarguaise:  It is a summer pastime practiced in many small towns around Arles and the area. There are local leagues which are reported in local newspapers..
This different kind of bullfighting is known alternately as “course libre” or “course camarguaise“. This is a bloodless spectacle (for the bulls) in which the objective is to snatch a rosette from the head of a young bull.

The participants, or raseteurs, begin training in their early teens against young bulls from the Camargue region before graduating to regular contests held principally in Arles andNîmes but also in other Provençal and Languedoc towns and villages.

Before the course, anencierro — a “running” of the bulls in the streets — takes place, in which young men compete to outrun the charging bulls. The course itself takes place in a small (often portable) arena erected in a town square.

For a period of about 15–20 minutes, the raseteurs compete to snatch rosettes (cocardes) tied between the bulls’ horns. They don’t take the rosette with their bare hands but with a claw-shaped metal instrument called a raset or crochet(hook) in their hands, hence their name. Afterwards, the bulls are herded back to their pen by gardiens (Camarguais cowboys) in a bandido, amidst a great deal of ceremony. The star of these spectacles are the bulls, who get top billing and stand to gain fame and statues in their honor, and lucrative product endorsement contracts!

See what I mean?  No explanation about the running of the bulls, the flour, the eggs — some mention of blood.  That’s Provence!

Vive la France!

‘La Confrerie du Cassoulet’ – Friends Gather to Re-create the South of France

Sweet Dessert Wine for Cassoulet Supper -- Muscat de Beaumes de Venise

Sweet Dessert Wine for Cassoulet Supper — Muscat de Beaumes de Venise


Intrepid friends are willing to share in the traditional cassoulet of the South of France.  Betty Lies brought green olive tapenade for appetizer, and Carolyn Yoder poured Pol Roger.  Valerie Meluskey marinated ripe cantaloupe in a light yet complex vinaigrette.  Pat Tanner crafted jewel-like citron tartes topped with citron knots.  Faith Bahadurian brought le vin typique pour cassoulet, Madiran.  Fay Lachmann found ‘the black wine of Cahors,’ which Werner and I had been served over and over in the South of France, to accompany their regional specialty, in 1978.  The wines were spectacular, including the classic dessert wine, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise with our tartes.

Casspi;et Beams that generated La Confrerie du Cassoulet

Casspi;et Beams that generated La Confrerie du Cassoulet

It all started with a packet of beans.  Faith Bahadurian, Ur-Food-Writer and good friend of long standing, well knows my passion for the south of France.  She therefore ordered a package of Rancho Gordo Cassoulet beans, secretly hoping I would take the bait. I immediately invited the group of dear friends, who, –as Des Confreres du Choucroute–, gathered here to see if those simple ingredients of pork and saucisson and sauerkraut, plus some very special Rieslings, could be alchemized into a memorable meal.  Indeed they could.  So the group returned for the cassoulet of Languedoc.

Cassoulet Bean Broth Ingredients

Cassoulet Bean Broth Ingredients

Other people are homesick for America when they leave, even to kissing the ground upon return.  I have always been the other way ’round.  As the S.S. France lowered our American car onto the quai of Le Havre in 1964, I knew my very American feet were walking upon the earth of my real home.  I did not fully realize yet about regional cuisine.  I also had no IDEA how very different the South of France is from everywhere else, especially Paris.  And I had barely heard of Languedoc.

The S.S. France, my first Magic Carpet to my True Home

The S.S. France, my first Magic Carpet to my True Home

Nothing has ever changed my total connection to La Belle France.  I managed to live in Provence, (Cannes, near Vallauris, on l’Observatoire Hill) from 1987 to 1988.  I don’t think I had cassoulet on that journey.  Rather, when Werner and I, with the Friends of the Art Museum (Princeton) spent more than two weeks in Romanesque France (often more Roman than Romanesque!) in 1978, we were honored with cassoulet in auberge after auberge.  The places we stayed rolled out their regional specialties for Princetonians, and cassoulet was their favorite and mine.

Cassoulet Broth

Cassoulet Broth

I used to make this dish often when I lived on Braeburn off Snowden, in my early Princeton years.  My husband often cooked lamb and duck, out in the Weber grill.  I would save and freeze leftovers, to serve at supper parties, using elegant slender flageolets verts seches (dried beans, the icy green of celadon, which were easily available in the days before globalization.) However, as this cassoulet sequel to choucroute took form, I discovered that one cannot find those special slender forceful little pale green beans any more.  Faith to the rescue:  Rancho Gordo’s flageolets blancs (white) worked well, and held their shape during the three hours of cooking.

Cassoulet Beans Await Broth

Cassoulet Beans Await Broth

I took pictures all along, in this process, for this dinner planned three months ago.  I’ll share them with you, to give you a sense of our night.

Browning the Bones for the Cassoulet Broth

Browning the Bones for the Cassoulet Broth

Some of us at the table had been to the South of France together, some more than once.  Again, however, without the peasant dish that is cassoulet.

Confit du Canarad, browned, Ready for Assemblage

Confit du Canarad, browned, Ready for Assemblage

Although everyone didn’t know everyone today, there was a sense of reunion and strong fellowship.  France has that effect..

Maigret du Canard, Duck Breast, Ready for Assemblage

Maigret du Canard, Duck Breast, Ready for Assemblage

Browned Shoulder of Lamb Cubes, ready for Assemblage   o, yes, with generosities of garlic!

Browned Shoulder of Lamb Cubes, ready for Assemblage o, yes, with generosities of garlic!

Cassoulet Pork Belly -- my First!

Cassoulet Pork Belly — my First!

Browning the Pork Chop and the Duck Breast

Browning the Pork Chop and the Duck Breast

Deglazing the Bone Pan

Deglazing the Bone Pan

Meats Ready for Assemblage

Meats Ready for Assemblage

Ready for the Broth

Ready for the Broth  Trader Joe’s Spectacular Tomatoes even in March, and Fresh Thyme

Overnight-soaked Cassoulet Beans Have Absorbed all the Water!

Overnight-soaked Cassoulet Beans Have Absorbed all the Water!

Forgive the out-of-focus picture here. I was so amazed at the enlargement and engorgement of the beans, that I wasn’t using the right setting on the camera.

Beans, Bones, Tomatoes, Herbs

Beans, Bones, Tomatoes, Herbs

The famous beans were mixed with the ultimate broth, along with sauteed carrot and onion chunks, more garlic (in addition to that which was cooked with the lamb chunks), and sauteed tiny pancetta bits.  Also the (very ugly) pork belly, cut into smaller pieces because it seemed tough.  Those hearty hefty Trader Joe tomatoes and his fresh rosemary and thyme branches, went into the beans, although I never remember tomatoes in cassoulet.  The recipe called for chicken broth and a half bottle of a wine from the south of France good for cooking and appropriate to the dish: La Ferme Julien (typical Daudet goat on label) was suggested by one of the helpful wine experts at Trader Joe’s  This assemblage went into the refrigerator in one container.  All the meats, including those gorgeous crisp duck legs, purportedly confit, went into another, also with La Ferme Julien wine as marinade.  Into the refrigerator with it all until this morning.

In case you’re getting impatient, here is the resulting creation – before its oven time and crumbing:

Cassoulet Ingredients

Cassoulet Ingredients

This morning, half the brothed refrigerated beans went into the crock of the crock pot.  Then all the meats, including the duck legs.  Then the rest of the beans.  Sprigs of thyme and of rosemary were introduced at each layer.  I put the crock pot on high at noon, and after an hour nothing had happened.  So into the oven at 350 in the crock pot crock with its lid went this assemblage for the prescribed three hours.

First Beans into Crock

First Beans into Crock

Starting at one p.m., crumbs were generously used to cover the top layer of beans.  A thin ‘fil’ (thread) of olive oil was laced back and forth over the crumbs.  Then into the oven again.  One can do this crumb crisping (I ended up broiling it after 45 minutes) three times or more.  Three was enough.

La Cassoulet avec crumbs (Panko)

La Cassoulet avec crumbs (Panko)

You may wonder why I say ‘purported’ confit.  In France, confit du canard ou confit d’oie (goose) is cooked in fat and sold in the cooking fat.  French recipes for cassoulet specify ‘un pot du grasse cu confit’.  Ha!  There wasn’t a speck of duck fat in this actually very lovely confit — only the handsome, succulent legs.  We made do with olive oil.

Ready for Guests

Ready for Guests

Valerie's Glorious Melon Vinaigrette with Pomegranate Seeds

Valerie’s Glorious Melon Vinaigrette with Pomegranate Seeds

Pat Tanner's Exquisite Citron Tarte with Citron Knots!

Pat Tanner’s Exquisite Citron Tarte with Citron Knots!

As with our experiment with choucroute, for all the splendors of this night, the best part was our fellowship.