The St. Antoine Market on the bank of the Saone river is my home base, and it is a source of great inspiration. It's the place where I do most of my shopping, and aside from my kitchen, the place where I snap the most photos. A month after we moved to France, Loic and I had a place to live, a bed, and a stove. We were waiting for our furniture, books, everything, to arrive from America. I did not speak French at the time, and each day, Loic would go off to his new laboratory and do physics, while I tried to figure out how things worked in this country.
Our move having been kind of a last minute thing, and with my needing to work as long as I could while I still could in Los Angeles, I had not had any time to learn much about life in this country. As we packed our two suitcases each for the flight to Lyon, I instinctively put two books in my bag, the two legendary central tomes by Julia Child, one of which had been given to me by my mother when I was 21 years old, and the second volume having been purchased at a used book shop when I met Loic.
Even a trip to the grocery store was a trial and a test for me. If you don't prepare for the culture changes, there are a million little peculiar qualities to the people here that when added up can make you feel like they are losing touch with your sanity. I decided, not by my own choice, in the beginning, to begin frequenting the outdoor markets of Lyon, because for some reason I felt I could communicate more directly with the people there.
It was amusing to the vendors to witness my mute, haggling, bustling, no-nonsense way of keeping of the food on the table in those fragile months when we'd sunk everything into just getting to Lyon, and I had only a little bit of money a week to keep us fed.
At that time, I discovered the beauty and the magic of French cooking. I know it sounds odd that I had been hauling Mastering the Art of French Cooking around for so many years without ever really appreciating what was inside, and only when things got easy and all those strange ingredients were close at hand did it all click for me. Ho hum, sometimes I rely on felicity more than I should.
Although we were really struggling to keep afloat, to me we were still managing to eat like kings - I was cooking real French food! A couple of eggs, a knob of butter, a pot of local wine and whatever was in season and we could do some serious eating! I began to explore parts and offal, and cheap things, keeping things playful and adventurous. My husband agreed. I never did get in the habit of supermarket shopping. The market is the element of the French way of living that I find has so completely wrapped itself tightly around my heart. I suppose that struggling and coming out on top, no matter what kind of struggling or where, does that to a person, endears them to a place. It doesn't matter really where a person is.
I began taking careful notes in those very first days, a blank book that I had started as a diary to paste the ticket stubs and remember the carefree whilrwind months I spent in Paris as an exchange student from UNC CHapel Hill at the Sorbonne before Loic and I were engaged. I had covered the outside of the blank book with a subway map (one of the good ones, back when they gave out good maps) of the city of Paris and had embedded a small printed photograph, a fleeting snapshot of the bird that came out to sing in the evenings in the courtyard behind Loic's one room apartment near the canal. I still call those kinds of birds 'love birds' and consider them good luck, although I know they must have a name given by the scientists of the world.
When I had filled that first book with a whole lot of very simple notes and discoveries, notes from enthusiastic brainstorming, essays, stories, and a host of happy aha moments and accidents (yes! It just keeps going and going!), I got another blank book, and this time covered it with a map of Lyon, and filled it with increasingly sophisticated food oriented ideas. My family and friends began to identify me with my strange obscession at that time. New friends never knew the before-food Lucy, all the better, in my opinion.
This blog is the place where I'll put personal recordings from over the happy years we have spent in France so far. It begins after six years of diligent servitude to the seasons, French cooking, new discoveries, ideas inspired by my husband and his family, my education in the language and culture, and all around food enthusiasm that was jump started by my sudden immersion in Lyon.
I hope you will enjoy accompanying me through seasons. Most of all, I hope that my kitchen notebook inspires you to keep one of your own.
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Labels: Winter 05-06