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From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
Steve from Mendocino
On my first day back in France, I arrived alone for some reason. I suspect Anne-Marie hadn’t yet finished the school year, or alternatively, she’d arrived before me. I forget. I came with my luggage to the restaurant owned and operated by her aunt and uncle, who concocted a joke for Anne-Marie’s sister. The restaurant was full at lunch as usual, and they put me alone at a table for two. When Monique arrived for her usual weekday lunch at the restaurant, they sat her with me on the pretext that they needed the other tables for service. Monique knew of my scheduled arrival and asked me at one point during the meal whether I was “Steve.” I denied it, and we all had a good chuckle later at Monique’s expense.
Anne-Marie and I stayed for a week in a spare bedroom in the apartment over the restaurant. It sat on a side street off l’Avenue de l’Opera, opposite a premium horse butcher shop and a few doors down from a fire department. Trash collection was loud and took place every weekday at 5:00 a.m. right outside our second story window. Not something I was used to. The bar opened every day at 6:00 am and workers came in for coffee, not infrequently accompanied by a shot or a glass of wine. The work day for Anne-Marie’s aunt and uncle began at 5:00 a.m. and ended at 11:00 p.m. Saturdays were slower and more relaxed for them, and Sundays were for cleaning. The restaurant closed every year for the month of August.
The food was a reasonably high level of Dijonais and Lyonais cuisine. The menu changed daily and included half a dozen main courses. Andre, chef and half owner, produced 60 full meals every weekday lunch and about half that for dinner, with nobody helping him in the kitchen. His wife ran the bar and handled the front end with the help of a server. Every Sunday she took down every bottle behind the bar and dusted it, as well as scrubbing all surfaces and laundering napkins and towels. Andre spent Sundays in the small cellar refilling bottles of Morgon and Côtes du Rhône from barrels. About once a month he would prepare family meals for relatives who lived and worked around Paris. At one of these he served a Grand Marnier soufflé. I asked him how he made those. He replied “with a bicycle pump.”
This was my introduction to the acceptance and generosity and love that Anne-Marie’s family extended to me for as long as they lived. This is why I wanted to move to France.
Anne-Marie at 19 years old while we were at UCSD. She will be turning 77 soon and I will be turning 76. It’s been a nice ride. No, we’re not together, but we’re both around.
Andre seated in his tiny kitchen toward the end of service after things have quieted down in the restaurant. He would explain that the small size of the kitchen placed all his tools immediately at hand. That space also contained a small commercial stove and a dishwasher. Note the reading material – the French equivalent of the Post. Andre was a bit of a fascist and referred to all the Asians who had moved to Paris as “the yellows.” I loved him dearly, nevertheless. He grew up in the Beaujolais country.
Anne-Marie’s aunt, wife of Andre and one of the four siblings of Anne-Marie’s mother. I have no idea how to write her name. It’s a Basque version of Marie which I can say but not write. She had a heart of gold while being tough and always working.
Anne-Marie’s parents, our hosts in the Basque country for roughly one month every summer. We traveled to Italy together and to Burgundy. Anne-Marie’s father was stationed by his corporation for a year or two in the suburbs of Paris. They hosted me there for the two months I was at Cordon Bleu cooking school. I called them Mamie and Papi.
Bonne-Maman, the mother of the five Basque siblings who were Anne-Marie’s mother and aunt and uncles. She herself was one of fifteen kids, three of whom did not survive. She had a stroke about fifteen years after I first met her, and she lost her ability to speak French. She subsequently spoke to her kids only in Basque. Her grandkids never learned Basque.
Bonne-Maman’s brother, referred to by all as Oncle.
Oncle and Monique, Anne-Marie’s sister.
There’s a tiny village in the Basque country, Sauguis, where the five siblings of Anne-Marie’s mother’s generation grew up. This photo shows the typical three crosses that one sees on Basque churches, this one being the very modest church (Catholic) in Sauguis.
The graveyard in the front of the Sauguis church.
Me at one of my favorite activities during my visits to the Basque country.