We saw three different wedding parties, all decked out, on our afternoon walk to town yesterday. Two were taking pictures in front of city hall. The third, shown here, was in the Pavillon Vendome. I’ve always had a soft spot for weddings, so it was fun.
The American story line goes something like this: The French don’t work very hard. They take three-hour lunches, frequent holidays and a month’s vacation each summer.
In truth, the three-hour lunches, even in Provence, are a thing of the past, although I was happy to see our waiters at La Closerie and Le Zinc d’Hugo forcing my cousins to be patient this week before delivering the check (a good meal, the French still believe, demands time for conversation and digestion even after dessert and coffee are done). The vacations and holidays? Both make really good sense to me. But then, that’s part of the reason I chose my own profession. Thinking needs a bit of space and time.
The French, however, are anything but lazy. They walk fast. They stay busy. And at work? Just take the time to watch the kitchen and wait staff in a small restaurant. At Zinc d’Hugo in Aix the other night, we watched as the grill man, who we since discovered is also the owner, cut and cooked huge slabs of beef, put them on plates and sometimes deliver them to the tables as well. The manager and waiter (singular, for at least a dozen tables) were everywhere, carrying carafes of water and baskets of bread, delivering dishes, tabulating bills.
In Marseille, earlier in the week, we had melt-in-your-mouth spinach and cheese quiche in the square a block from Vieille Charite, all cooked in a kitchen no larger than a ship’s galley for more than 30 people sitting outside. And at Fanny’s Bistrot Gourmand in Aix, the owner, Fanny Jehanno, cooks for as many as 25 lunchtime customers at a stove in full sight in an area about as big as a bathtub.
Yes, some French restaurants close between lunch and dinner. But the pace and concentration needed for the work at each meal is quite remarkable. This is the South of France, of course, and people go about their work with a certain ease, trying not to show the strain or pressure. That grill chef at Zinc d’Hugo, wore a pair of blue jeans that was specially stitched to make it look as though he had on one pair of jeans over another. Tres chic.
On the subject of work, there apparently was a bad car accident two blocks from our apartment just after Easter, on the big circular road around the city. Early last week, glass was scattered on the street, a metal gate by the road was mangled and one of the metal poles meant to protect pedestrians on the narrow sidewalks here was flattened. The glass got picked up in a day. Yesterday, perhaps three or four days after the accident, the poles had been replaced. I can’t imagine such fast repair work in Boston.
Kathy and our landlady, Martine, share a love of gardening. Last week, Martine invited Kathy to use some of her topsoil if she wanted to plant flowers in the pot on our porch. And so Kathy did, planting two red geraniums yesterday.
We continue our World War II theme while here in France. On Wednesday, we visited the resistance museum in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, which I’ll write about tomorrow. Yesterday Kathy was looking at the bookcase in our apartment and discovered that Martine has two books in French on the history of the French resistance. Reading them will be a challenge. Think I’ll ease into it.
For now I’ve settled on an English-language novel also in the bookcase: “If the Dead Rise Not,” by Philip Kerr. According to the jacket, it takes place in Berlin in 1936 and is a story of “sports, corruption and violent death” and the winner of the 2009 Ellis Peters Award for historical crime fiction.
World War II theme intact.