I have just had lunch– vin blanc and
grilled sardines and carottes à la crème
and saucisses pommes parmentier and oranges.
One must never drink vin rouge in the Midi,
on m’a dit.
– Katherine Mansfield, Letters
No matter the good, no matter the bad, one thing about life in France, magnified in the region of Provence is the freedom one has of never having to plan a meal. Incredible food simply appears. There’s never a need for turkey or gargantuan seventy-two ounce steaks or production lines of hot dogs and plops of charred meat patties. It is absolutely a fact that no one, not even one person, would or could ever desire or entertain such an errant thought as “microwave cooking”.
Breakfast: café au lait in a handle-less bowl that is of small cereal bowl dimensions. The milk must be heated in a pan on a gas burner. The breakfast pâtisserie might be as simple as an untranslatable buttery croissant or a tarte aux abricots or another of the choices in many bakeries have to tempt you with fresh every morning. Why the city architectures itself into a conglomeration of residences built above stores below: for the ability to descend a few flights of stairs into the odor of baking dough. The morning perfumes one with a hunger for life.
Lunch: might be as simple as saucisson and cheese with a boiled artichoke whose meat will be scraped off its hard leaves by the teeth just prior to dipping them into a spicy mustard/olive oil sauce. Perhaps some leftover daube– an onion, carrot, tomato, garlic, orange zest, beef, stew marinated in red wine. Or a sandwich from a vendor: merguez frites (heavy on the harissa), or poulet aux poivrons (chicken with red peppers); a bandolais (ground beef, onions, feta cheese, tomatoes, lettuce and really any other condiment desired). These sandwiches sunk into a one and a half foot long baguette and french fries are thrown in, actually put into the sandwich, to boot. Lunch that takes you to dinner.
Dinner: begins always with a bottle of red wine that should be sipped while preparing the meal. An olive oil, real Dijon mustard, and garlic dressing (diced red onions for a hint of extra flavor) reserved exclusively for a Medusa-like head of lettuce called pissenlit that is as bitter as its name for dandelion leaves indicates. To be accompanied by a few of the over five hundred kinds of cheeses available at the grocery store and a pissaladière: an onion tart resembling a small pizza, with black olives and a foundation/sauce of anchovy paste.
Dinner ends with one or two empty wine bottles. Desert is fresh fruit. Knowing that there will be three such meals the next day!
In neon and halogen light (all the streetlights are purposefully yellowed) and promises of bright tomorrow sunlight, night descends. It’s the nocturnal quotidian without as much traffic and noise and much better views of where they aren’t. Less people. Broad streets. Fresh cool air. The promise of money making’s frenzied day gone by, now it’s time to spend it, even if it’s not there to spend. The placidity of the port still with ships just barely bouncing in tidal flux. Emptied streets, except for the make-up plastered sad whores who were once truly beautiful, streetlights beckoning one to the next, assemblage of bars and restaurants, a glacier still open. Europe’s calmness, openness of nighttime which is definitely not rushing home to the kids of America, to crack deals gone smooth, things to do rather than sequester oneself in family and home.
As a fact of matter, Marseille at night is most romantic and inspiring. At any time of the day, a pizza and two bottles of wine can be enjoyed on any of its numerous and continuous beaches, without official hassle. The laws aren’t the same. There is no law against pleasure in France. Other than the proximity of yet another young couple who decide to do the same very close to your spot of infinity as they do so, decide to remove articles of clothing in an impromptu skinny-dip.
A few immediate eating spots: L’Américano featuring fine merguez, steak-hachés, pizza, even ice cream. Chez Paul’s in the anse of les Goudes: a cheap carafe’s of good wine, the finest view of the city outside of the city and the best pizzas; Chez Fonfon with one of the best bouillabaisses known to the area with its wonderful central location, hidden in its own calanque; the others of other places and others even waiting to be discovered. The city is open until the hours known as wee.
About the Author:Philip Kobylarz is a teacher and writer of fiction, poetry, book reviews, and essays. He has worked as a journalist and film critic for newspapers in Memphis, TN. His work appears in such publications as Paris Review, Poetry, and The Best American Poetry series. The author of a book of poems concerning life in the south of France, he has a collection of short fiction and a book-length essay forthcoming.
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