It’s funny how I forget how much I love France until I’m back–I know how much you are all probably tired of hearing this over and over again, but each time I come back, it’s as though I’ve never felt this way before.
Even though I know how much I missed it, even though I can read my blog entries from when I was in Cannes and in Paris, even though I know how inspired I felt and how much I actually sat down to write while I was living in the 5th last year, I am still completely bowled over every time I come back and have that, “Oh… right,” moment. The one that reminds me that I’ve come home.
Ireland was great–I’m not denying it. I had an amazing time in London with Emese and the English One, and I’ve never laughed so much or so hard as when I was traveling around the British Isles with the CYF, King Kong and the Engineer. But as the Country Boy, the Parisian and I drove over the border from Spain to France, now with Anne-Marie and three of the kids in tow, I remembered.
Anne-Marie laughs at me when she catches me looking out the window. “T’es vraiment bien, là,” she says. You’re really good, there… It’s not a question… she knows when I stare at these vines that I’m better than I’ve ever been.
I found a page of the little notebook I carry with me everywhere–it’s almost full and some of the pages are falling out. I started writing in it when I first moved to France three years ago. In purple pen, my familiar scrawl speaks words that seem so faraway now. “I want that feeling of ‘The place I am is the best place I’ve ever been.’ I can’t remember the last time I felt that way. I want to curl up and hide in my cargo pants. It used to be so easy.”
But this is nothing like high school and ski caps and cargo pants and quilts I wrapped myself up in to drink endless cups of coffee and get lost in Blink-182 lyrics. That was fake–an identity I had created for myself out of something that I wanted to be. This is something that has come about based on who I wanted to be, maybe. I find myself writing my own future into my fiction and being surprised when I find myself living it years later. But it’s real now… that’s for sure. Paziols is home; France is mine.
There are some kinks to work out, for sure. The Country Boy and I have taken to late night walks–I can’t sleep when everything is this good; I’ve been getting three hours of sleep a night and climbing out of bed early in the morning so that I can have the sidewalks to myself for the only cool daylight hour before the sun bakes the streets as I buy our daily bread from the café down the road. I’m full of energy, attacking jobs I used to hate, like mopping the floors, with vigor. Anne-Marie has to forcefully drag me away from sinks of dirty dishes I want to wash and lesson plans I create weeks in advance. I can’t help it–I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy before.
Voilà. If only I could sit Nicolas Sarkozy down for a chat, maybe he’d make an exception for me and let me make Paziols my home all the time, instead of for the six weeks that already feel as though they’re passing too quickly.
Until then, I’ll just keep on keeping on, immersing myself in everything that will sit still for me and some things that won’t, and, of course, embrace being in my kitchen again, where it only seems right to bring together the summer staples of tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant and herbes de Provence for ratatouille.
Ratatouille (serves 10 with leftovers)
Note: My Dutch ovens are small, so I used two and divided the recipe between them.
3 yellow onions
4 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salt, to taste
4 small eggplants
3 red peppers
2 tablespoons herbes de Provence
4 cloves garlic
1 120 g. can of tomato paste
1 800 g. can of whole, peeled tomatoes
Cut the onions into a small dice. Sauté them in a large Dutch oven over medium heat with the sunflower oil, olive oil and a bit of salt to taste.
Cut the zucchini and the eggplant into half-moons. Cut the peppers in half, remove the seeds, and cut the halves into thin half-rings.
When the onions are translucent, add the eggplant. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, then add the zucchini. Continue to cook for 3-5 minutes, and finally add the peppers. Toss to combine and continue to cook.
Press the garlic with a garlic press and add it to the Dutch oven with the herbes de Provence. Mix and add the two cans of tomatoes.
Cook together over low heat, covered, at least an hour and up to two hours. Serve with a French-style omelette, and hide some to have for leftovers the next day: they’re even better.
Photo credits : Alexandra Schwartz