2/24: I’m no frog’s toadie.

p1040155Lest you think me some kind of crazy francophile employed by the French government to usher food-obsessed tourists across their borders, let this post reinstate some credibility.

#1 I had pretty mediocre food here in 2005. Same route (Provence, Cote d’Azur), same budget (not very large). In fact, if it hadn’t been for the lure of free lodging…and lovely friends…I’d have laid bets on not returning to the South of France for a good long while. So what made the difference? I have a few theories:

       a) Frigid temps and no tourists, so the chefs have nothing better to do than stir sauces on/by the fire. Whereas in Fall 05 the air was balmy, the grape crush underway, and speaking of crushes, the recently departed hordes had probably trampled the spirit of the locals.

       b) I have a weakness for winter foods: salty, meaty, stewy, braisy, more comforting than finessed. But the food of Provence isn’t what you’d call sophisticated, so ratatouille, frites and green peppercorn sauce are pretty much a year-round thing. And would I complain about a spring lamb stuffed with spring onions on a bed of spring peas? Never mind, I just talked myself out of theory b.

       c) This set of travel companions wanted to eat one large meal midday, vs the 05 gang who wanted breakfast and then weren’t hungry til dinner. Biologically I prefer the latter, but intellectually I know the former is the way to go when traveling on a budget. Midday eating allows you to take advantage of more courses for a lower price, better prix fixe menus, and frankly, better company in the dining room. There’s something convivial about sharing a buzzing room (or is that sharing a room with a buzz?) with a bunch of daytime frenchies having their midday meal, rather than a hushed night-time restaurant sparsely peopled with other tourists.

       d) Though I don’t travel with picky eaters, it’s still a treat to dive headfirst into platters of the smoked, pickled, raw, internal and bizarre. And no one loves the nasty bits more than b1 and b2. So the compromises were more akin to, “tripe again?”, rather than what to have on the pizza.

#2 reason not to love the south of France? I’ve got two words for you: turkish toilet. Am planning a trip to Turkey next to see if they’re as prevalent there; suspect the Turks are getting a bad rap with what should be named a french toilet.

#3: Telephone showers. Let me get this straight. This is the birthplace of Coco Chanel, Catherine Deneuve and Jaques Pepin (well he’s glamorous to ME). 80-year-old women still don stockings and heels to go to lunch. The women under 65 all seem to sport long hair, skinny jeans tucked into boots, and an endless variety of Christian’s (project runway) conquistador chic jacket. But to bathe, they crouch in a cold porcelain bowl in an underheated room, using just one hand to lather, scrub and squeeze, while the other hand futily tries to direct a spray of water to the soapy bits and not outside the imaginary boundary of the tub.

Perhaps THAT’s the incentive for staying so thin? After my 5 minutes of bathing bliss my knees are bruised, the toilet paper across the room is soaked, and my bits are still soapy. Get a shower curtain and hang the damn sprayer up, people.

#4 Thinking of the trail of soggy rolls of tp I’ve left behind, not to be all ugly American, but how has Charmin not made inroads in France? Appreciate your enormous rolls of cushiness, because across the pond millions are making do with tiny rolls of pink industrial grade bond paper.

#5 Since it’s too late to reclaim my dignity let’s talk about the language. Do I feel ashamed for coming to their country, accepting their hospitality, and making them speak MY language? Absolutely. And it’s not as if English doesn’t have its share of silent letters (‘neighbor’ and ‘though’), multiple meanings (doe, dough and doh!) and the always pesky ‘less’ and ‘fewer’ distinction. But I slipped back further than ever this trip. Being with so many French speakers wiped away the foggy sense that I had a clue and replaced that with the realization that every “rule” I’d ever learned about French pronunciation has 166 exceptions…and those are the ones you’ll encounter the most frequently. In my shame, I realize I either need to learn the damn language or get moving on that trip to Turkey where expectations are nil. (Plus, having had a Turkish roommate in college, I already have a leg up, knowing that the ‘c’ is pronounced ‘j’. Her favorite movie star growing up? Rojk Hudson.)


  1. Roxanne Said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 4:28 am

    I know that shower problem well. I always pack a suction hook with little “arms” sticking out at various angles. I suction it to the wall and wedge the shower head into the little arms and voila, I get the soap off, until it suddenly comes unhooked and sprays the tp anyway (hide the tp before showering). For Arab toilets, check out Freshette at REI. Before you go to Turkey!

  2. bb Said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 3:53 pm

    1a-no tourists make for less surly people. There, here, everywhere!
    1b- did you say “lamb stuffed with spring onions on a bed of spring peas”?…………………..oh, sorry…I lost my train of thought…
    1c-I love the big lunch midday. Then waddling around the village later. BTW- how come French people never seem to waddle like we do when they eat so much??
    1d- 2 phrases that we should never be subjected to: “picky eaters” and “travel companions”.

    2-not to spoil your visions of modern Turkish plumbing, but prepare yourself…..

    3-you think you’ve got problems? try 6’1″, 205#. Oh, and merci beaucoup for that threadbare hand towel that I’m smearing the water around my body with.

    4-Good TP and mexican food are two of the best things to come home to from any euro trip!

    5-There is no shame…. we’re Americans dammit!

  3. carma Said,

    February 25, 2009 @ 3:58 pm

    I see that you also have a weakness for Cheese balls :-)
    Thanks for entering my giveaway. Perhaps I’ll be sending cheesy goodness your way soon!

  4. Melissa Said,

    February 26, 2009 @ 5:34 am

    Moved to France from the US last April and have to say I fell in love with the big midday meal straight away. Haven’t managed to build up an airtight tolerance for the midday pichet of rose, though. Shame.

    Successfully avoided having to navigate a squat potty until November. I was told by my SO to see them as part of the adventure. Easy for him to say….

    With you, with you, with you on the hand held tub showers. You summed up the silliness of them so perfectly I may pretend your words are mine.

    As for TP, the Lotus brand is the French equivalent of Charmin. Sussed that out fairly quickly by chance. It even comes in a perfumed version. Not Chanel No.5, mind you.

    All this aside, thanks to my time in France I discovered the sublimeness of a cuisse de canard confite and the lucques olives, and because of that I can get past just about all of my gripes.

    Best wishes for the rest of your odyssey.

  5. Cyn Said,

    February 26, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

    Oh, my! Thanks for another great belly laugh today. Love your writing about France. Love your writing, period. BTW, may I be your ‘travel companion’ in Turkey? I too want the big midday meal (avec le pichet du rose and followed by a good, strong turkish coffee) with scant for breakfast and assorted nibbles for dinner.

  6. dds Said,

    February 26, 2009 @ 4:39 pm

    Cyn, it’s a date! Turkey in 2010. Who else is in? If we get enough gastronomic adventure seekers we could get a group rate…..

  7. w. Said,

    February 27, 2009 @ 1:32 pm

    Ha ha ha, love your observations D. Sounds like Turkey should be my next destination too. LOVE the squat toilet…except for the time in Hangzhou when I dropped my purse…

  8. mj Said,

    March 11, 2009 @ 4:47 am

    “Kisses/hugs/handshake/back pat” – thank you for transporting me to the South of France this morning – every bite was “heaven on earth” to me.

  9. Mary Said,

    March 11, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

    Great post, hilarious stuffs. Did you feel like me in FRANCE ? I’m not so sure about your fondness for innerds but you haven’t steered me wrong yet.

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