September 6, 2011

Pyrenees Tour: Food, Will-be-food, and Language

Breakfast at the Hostellerie du Relais in Berenx included this table of two kinds of ham, cheeses, sweet breads, jams and cereals. Another table offered breads, pain au chocolat and croissants, and a third yogurt and chopped fresh fruit. A breakfast that would please any cyclist's appetite. I started riding today a happy camper, yummm, I mean rider. This turned out to be the most elaborate and delicious breakfast of my trip.

I am riding now in the Aquitaine, an area famous for raising fowl, particularly ducks and geese, and for foie gras, not something I eat at home. But since I'm a big proponent of what we call in the U.S. "eating locally," and because I wanted a salad for lunch, I ordered a salad Landesien, which included ham, cured ham and foie gras. I did not expect the huge slab of foie gras that was on top of the small pile of lettuce, and could not finish it. The waiter, either surprised or amazed that there was any left, said "But you didn't finish the foie gras." To which I could only say "C'est la première fois que j'ai mangé  foie gras et c'est trop gras pour moi." Found poetry and although I'm sure these 15 words contain as many errors, everyone got it and had a good laugh when the gentleman at the table nearby allowed that no anglaise could cope with it. Perhaps he's right, but I don't know quite how comfortable all us English speakers are at being lumped together.

My second night in Bayonne I ran personally into the phrase "C'est pas normale." In this case it was directed to me by a lady of more than a certain age, in a group of 45 French people, mostly quite senior women, when, during a friendly casual conversation we were having, she discovered that not only was I not travelling with 45 people, I was travelling alone. What was more astonishing to her (and the people she explained about me to) was that I was cycling as a solo woman, headed on a trip across France. I take c'est pas normale to mean that's unusual or some such. Or perhaps I'm just generally pas normale. But I was to hear surprise over and over about being a solo woman cycling in France. It doesn't seem odd to me, or brave, but it clearly surprises people.

Back to food. I've seen a lot of chickens in the past two days, on farms, on the sides of the road. The group of birds in the photo above included more varieties of chicken, ducks and geese than I've ever seen in one place. They would be happy, if overwhelming, with a beautiful small flock I know in Williamstown. As would the very handsome solo bird.

This most beautiful bird lived on a small farm on a twisting, narrow, downhill section of road, that was also home to a handful of pigs, and a sheepdog.

As I turned the curve I don't know whether they were more startled or I was, but there were 6 or 7 pigs right at the edge of the road, including one huge, giant pig, and a sheepdog in charge. Huffing and puffing, the big guy fled from Papillon and me (I was relieved) but I was able to catch this photo of his smaller relatives. The sheep dog wasn't about to let them in the road.

Drink: when I was a kid, my father sometimes called me Suze, as rhymes with snooze. Later, his work took him regularly to Paris for extended periods, and once he saw an ashtray with my nickname on it. Trying to buy it, the bartender told him to take it. My dad didn't just walk off with anything, so he left what he considered an appropriate amount, and brought me the ashtray, which I still have. Later, as an adult and without knowing this story, my friend Michele started calling me Suze, and now so do a few people on the internet. Couldn't resist the photo. Before dinner tonight, I had the required, ritual apperitif.

Language again. A survey in the excellent Hostellerie du Relais where I stayed in Berenx, asked in French what were the reasons for choosing their facility. The English version, instead of asking what were the decisive criteria,wanted to know the deceiving critter. Glad that kind of goof goes both ways, not just made by me. The rest of the English was ok.

These small roads I spent the day between Berenx and Barcus riding on are so beautiful, almost always with flocks of sheep and cows nearby, in drop-dead gorgeous countryside.

I hope that I wouldn't have told you that the kiwis we eat are all grown on Pacific islands, but who knew in France? Turns out that France is the world's biggest producer. I rode past acres and acres of them near Berenx and Barcus, huge fields trellised like grapes. And though there's no picture, also by acres of trellised apples, with large fruit on them, grown under shade cloth. Seems like a lot of work for an apple tree, but I suppose one could say that about our butterfly bushes.



  1. How about a translation for those of us who are mono-speakers and don't get the joke? Keep having a great time. LZ

  2. The pace or rhyme only works in French, where it says. This is the first time (fois) that ]'v tried fois gras (the food, and I don' knlow a translation, the same in English) and it is too fatty for me ....I had a hard time doing the idea of trying new and local foods justice!


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