It's not that I didn't want to order it. Rather I didn't know what it was. There was no translation in my phrase book nor was it in Bryan's French/English dictionary. The one he bought in France. But sitting in the shadow of Saint-Paul de Vence we were hungry and what else would we do while waiting for all of France to wake up from its 3 hour long lunch and nap?/ Like Italy and elsewhere in Europe life seems to shutdown at noon. Or maybe that's when the French really live. Restaurants are open. But try to find a museum, gallery or shop open between these hours — virtually impossible.
The afternoon sun felt warm on my back and made the chill I experienced walking the shadows of this medieval village go away. The chalkboard with lazily written French sat on the chair of the table next to us.
“Just order it.” Bryan insisted if not slightly impatient at my temporary inability to comment to my next gastronomic experience. “Isn't this what it's all about?”
I thought about that. What it's all about. It's about life. Living. Experience. Immersion. And maintaining my lifelong subscription to the adage when in Rome… But this is Provence. Known for hearty meals. Something hearty sounded good. Even with the warmth of the sun the occasional breeze reminded me that I was in the south of France in the middle of the winter. That's why there was only two other tables eating lunch.
I examined the chalkboard and tried to translate the menu. Perhaps I was more interested in examining the carte de vins than dwelling on the five choices scribbled on a chalk board.
The waiter walked over pen and paper in hand. “Oui messieur?” I was still undecided.
Bryan spit out while pointing to the board, “PIed de porc, s'il vous plaît!” Then insisted I just order. I pointed to something on the board that was untranslatable and since forgotten.
My eyes glazed over the equally short carte de vins looking for a local wine that would go nice with my meal — a plat du jour which I had no idea was. Fish or meat? Lean or fat. Bryan asked for my phrase book. It was the semi-useful style that fit into my back pocket and contained indexed sections such as “at the market” or “shopping” even “emergencies” and “getting around”. The section most useful seemed to be the menu guide. An overview on how to order, things you'd say and phrases you'd use. There was a brief dictionary in this section, too. Bryan jumped here and in the middle of my sentence proclaiming I'd made a wine decision he interrupted me.
“Oh my god!” He was half smiling and sporting a slight look of concern on his face. “You'll never guess what I ordered.” When he revealed his discovery I burst laughing into one of those uncontrollable and hearty laughs that are difficult to hide or stop. The kind of laugh that's contagious, too.
Behind his Revo sunglasses tears started to fall. With the sun beating down on his face, Bryan couldn't stop laughing. This went on. Laughing like this is extremely healthy. One might say it's what it's all about. Experience. Living. And laughing.
Bryan would be stuck with his meal choice: Pigs feet.
When the plates arrived I once again tried to understand exactly WHAT I would be eating. It looked like some sort of pork, maybe even boar. With my permission he moved some of the vegetables and potatoes in my stew-like dish and pointed something that resembled the shape of a tongue. Rubbing his hand on his stomach with the universal sign of “this is delicious” then bringing his thumb and first to fingers to his lips and kissing them he said “C'est délicieux!”
Bryan pushed two round meatball looking things on his plate. When we inquired about these the best I could understand that it was something wrapped in the stomach lining like tripe. Bryan's eyes continued to roll. At least they weren't what he thought would be his worst nightmare: pigs balls.
When in Rome.
To be sure this food is considered a delicacy and very traditional Provencal. And isn't life to experience.
Photos: (1) Fresh fruit at the Tuesday market in St. Tropez; (2) Art gallery in artist village of Saint-Paul de Vence; (3) Nightime winter tree in Saint-Paul; (4) Walking the medieval alleys in Saint-Paul at night.