Monday, April 12, 2010

Lessons Learned From Lunch in Provence

Lunch is too abrupt a word for the two midday meals we have experienced since arriving in Provence. "Dejeuner", the French equivalent, seems more appropriate in length and refinement.

Sunday around 1 PM found us in the town of L’Isle Sur La Sorge (literally, “the island on the Sorge” river) in the Luberon Valley of Provence. We are guests of our longtime Vancouver friends, the Taylors, who are temporarily residing in Goult, a nearby small hilltop village. The narrow streets were jammed with a potpourri of carts and makeshift stalls selling everything from antiques to lavender, cheese to clothing and crafts. The shoppers among us, read females, and those skulking after them with no particular purpose than to carry brightly coloured bags bursting with bargains, read males, were hungry from the morning’s pursuits. The long lost warmth of spring had brought out the townsfolk and tourists, and thus the diners, in droves, all of whom seemed to want the sun-drenched sidewalk tables by the river. After choosing our favourite restaurant, Le Bellevue, and waiting a short while, we were shown our table. Voila, it was perfect. Right on the river, ducks making amorous advances in the fast moving water adjacent to our table, we also had a view of the crowds surging past in both directions as if engaged in some synchronized dance. Three hours skipped by before we left our seats, and the itinerant merchants were packing their wares into vans that carefully navigated through impossibly narrow lanes. It was a glorious time of fully relaxed friendship. No agenda. Simply enjoyment.

Monday at 12:30 PM found us on the doorstep of La Bastide, with a history preceding the discovery of Vancouver. Although once a bed and breakfast, it is now the home of Meta and Gerald, new friends of the Taylors. We four had been invited to share a meal together with a neighbour couple. The 8 of us sat down together, some of us virtual strangers, and rose from our places at the table 5 hours later as friends. Yes, the meal was very good, but it was the laughter and stories, discovery of common interests and tastes, the easy camaraderie that made this repast a remarkably memorable time.

Eating in France is a passionate confluence of the senses unrelated to North American dining. Laced with laughter, fueled in part I am sure by liberal application of excellent yet inexpensive wines, it is more a tribute to friendships formed than an indulgence in decadence. Whether simple or elegant the food and drink are not really the focus of attention so much as a means of transportation to a table around which relationships flourish. A meal, no matter how delectable, is simple sustenance when eaten alone. As the Arab proverb goes, “He who eats alone chokes alone.” The speed with which we normally eat betrays the pace of our lives. Often lacking in depth, our relationships are becoming more like fast food as we exchange velocity for the virtue of savouring time well spent together.

Perhaps the necessity of slowing down as a result of Parkinson’s is teaching me, somewhat belatedly, a valuable lesson: real living and relating is less like lunch and more like le dejeuner.

"Sadder than destitution, sadder than a beggar is the man who eats alone…”
Jean Baudrillard, French philosopher

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