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September 30, 2010

A Real Frenchy Dinner!

When I first learned I was coming to Digoin, I researched the crap out of it. Given that there are only a handful of Digoinais Internet sites, most of which are a time warp to 1995, that didn't take me very long. In desperation, I then turned to Facebook, and carefully looked over everyone who had "liked" Digoin. I chose a woman who looked nice and asked her for advice on how to best travel from Paris to her fair city. We commenced a correspondence, and when I told her I had arrived she suggested meeting up last night.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect, since Polly Platt told me in her book "French or Foe" that it would take months, years even, for a French person to feel comfortable enough with a stranger to invite them into their sanctum. Maybe we'd go out for some pastis, I hypothesized. Perhaps she just intended on taking me on a tour of the charming countryside.

But non! She took me to her sanctum! She lives up in the hills just outside of Digoin, in a charming stone house with an ancient bread oven outside. She introduced me to her rotund dog, Desi, who looked distinctly human and who, after pleasantries were exchanged, held court in the armchair, sitting on her hind legs with one paw proffered as if she were queen and I was supposed to kiss her ring.

Suzanne went upstairs to grab her laptop so I could show her pictures of my family, and meanwhile her son Fabian came home. Fab just received his Master's in geography (juste comme mon frere!) and was in the process of moving to Macon to study dams. After I went through Facebook and showed her the important peeps in my life, she went through her own files and showed me all the family trips she's taken in the last year.

While we waited for her husband she served me vin de noix, a wine she had made with chestnuts. It was about a 3 on the sweetness scale from one to Manischewitz. Her husband Christian then arrived home from a rousing game of boules (the French version of Bocce) with his friends, and we sat down to eat. The first course was avocado halves filled with mayonnaise and an olive and sprinkled with pepper. The mayonnaise here is different from at home-- it's tangier and has more of a yellowish tint. What I ate last night was probably homemade. They then poured me a glass of AOC* Beaujolais, and Suzanne served me chicken, mushrooms and potatoes as a main course.

I attempted to explain to them what my job was in Portland, but it was difficult to do since nothing similar exists in France. Here, the state takes care of most of what nonprofits do in the US. I had a heckuva time trying to explain workplace giving. Plus, I mispronounced culture (cool-TUYR) as couture (coo-TUYR), so they thought I raised money for art and sewing. Bof.

Christian encouraged me to use baguette to sop up all the juices on my plate before the next course. "En Frace, c'est la sauce qui est la plus importante," he explained.

Next Suzanne presented us with a cheese plate. Christian went through each one and explained its origin, what kind of milk it is made with and how strong it was. He told me one was from Gier, and I thought he said giraffe, as if the cheese had been made from giraffe milk. Bof encore. There was a camembert, a roquefort, and five other cheeses whose names I forget. He encouraged me to start with the most mild and end with the strongest. "Mais tout est fort!" Suzanne countered. The last one I tried was so strong it made my eyes water. "Du vin! Du vin!" they exclaimed when they saw my expression.

Finally, dessert. Suzanne had marinated figs in a sauce of cinnamon and ginger, and offered a selection of petits fours to go along with them.

After dinner we retired in front of the fireplace and first watched a scintillating program about windmills, and then the soccer match between Lyon and Tel Aviv. Lyon won. It was about 11:00--or, excuse me--23:00 when I arrived back to my cell, stomach gurgling from all that lactose but heart happy that I had triumphed over Polly Platt.

*AOC= Appellation d'origine controllée, a designation given by the French government to wine, cheese, butter, etc. that comes from a specific geographical region and has met certain standards. Nothing but the mustard created in Dijon that meets the AOC standards may have AOC on its label.

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