We're back in the south of France. We seem to have brought the inclement weather of the north with us, too. Doesn't matter. We are back in France.
While we were busy settling in the city, things kept happening here. For one thing, it kept not raining, for a long, long time. In between tut-tutting the Sahara-like lack of humidity, my friends managed to make me fairly jealous by announcing the laughably warm temperatures. It remained high summer--til the day we arrived.
I really don't mind the rain here, even though it means spending more time indoors. Our capitalist Monopoly skills are being well sharpened, the deck of cards is seeing some serious use, and there is a lot of gossiping catching up to be done with neighbors and friends over fragrant cups of homemade herbal infusions.
The leaves are just now beginning to veer off into the more eye-popping shades. We are monitoring the subtle changes, all the while making little berets for our fingers using the acorn caps scattered everywhere.
Fall break, as you can see, is a very busy time around here.
There is dog-walking to be done, perfect pumpkins to be located (harder than you might imagine) and hot chocolate to be made. If you actually live in the Gard, you know it isn't hot chocolate weather just yet, but the kids don't care. A rich hot chocolate is exactly the kind of beverage you reach for after you've rolled a half dozen times down a slippery, damp hillside, dressed in a plastic garbage bag.
And now we're smelling some of the first smoke of the season, as people are finally able to burn their longstanding piles of brush without the fear of setting off a forest fire. The piles burn slowly, sending up signals most of the day. Sometimes you can barely distinguish between the woodsmoke and coiling mist. Next to our own smoking pile is my vegetable garden, such as it is, is down to a single basil bush, long gone to seed.
We're here, we're happy, even if I missed the harvest for these little crab apples, which is a small pity as I would have loved to have put away some jelly. Tart and sweet belong together. As for the berries: the only ones left are a few straggler raspberries, a startlingly deep,waterlogged red. I also missed the walnuts, once again nimbly harvested by the painfully shy squirrels.
Beyond missing much of the garden harvest, I haven't been cooking all that much lately, either: we've been scoring invitations left and right. The upside, beyond eating great food made by someone else, are all the little discoveries in other people's homes. Just look at the new little quilted house I found at my friend Monique's place when I came by for lunch. She has made, filled and attached it to this old door to keep out the chilly cellar draft.
Warm drinks, bonfires, dogwalks. Nothing mind-alteringly important going on here, simply the small, concurrent shifts that move us from one season to another. We seem to have the space needed to better contemplate those minor details.
Having just arrived over the weekend, I took the usual exit off the highway, we went through the usual toll booth and came up to the usual landscaped roundabout. My ten year oldvsai, with unfeigned, profound affection: "awww...a roundabout!" There are very, very few roundabouts in Amsterdam. In France you can't get away from them.
I have some smart friends. Some of them are clever enough to live in more friendly places, climatologically speaking. In one friend's case, home is Milan. And for one perfect weekend, I too was a Milanesa. (Well, I pretended to be anyway.)
At base, I'm not a shopper, never really have been, but boy, Milan could convert a girl. First of all, there are the innumerable culinary treats.
Here are two different kinds of beautifully stuffed peppers.
And of course the porcini--I am definitely a funghi girl.
You look at fresh pieces like this and you immediately want to make risotto. Or you do if you're a Milanesa. Like me. This past weekend, I mean.
I cracked when I saw the rhododendron honey. Never even seen that one before. But then I thought of the jar, broken en route, honey seeping into the stitching of my brand-new, perfectly fitted, taupe leather gloves (because you have to buy gloves while in Milan, it's the unbreakable rule). There are really only two specialty shops for the aficionados, one of which is Sermoneta. I resisted buying the jar: gloves combine poorly with honey in a carry-on, even if the honey in question is rhododendron (which would taste like what exactly? Blueness?)
Even in Italy, you can't get away from beautiful French things. I know, don't judge a book by its cover, etc, but I fell a little bit in love with this canister. It made me dream.
We also browsed the G. Lorenzi, family-owned cutlery shop, founded in 1929 and a Milanese landmark. Lorenzi is known not only for every possible permutation of a knife, but also for highly specialized items in bone (an orange peeler anyone?) I couldn't afford the truffle slicers I admired, although surprisingly there was a whole range possible. I even saw some lovely shoe horns in bone for as low as 5 euros.
As I don't need a shoe horn or a filigreed pasta knife, I settled for some toothpaste: they had toiletries to go with their leather toiletry cases. We're not talking Crest, mind you, this was Marvis toothpaste. One of their most popular flavors is Jasmine mint, but there is also ginger mint, and even licorice. I chose cinnamon mint (too bad they don't offer chocolate-flavored toothpaste, as they do in Japan). In Milan, Marvis is a fraction of what it costs beyond Italy's borders. And now, I'll undoubtedly feel that extra touch Italian, just by brushing my teeth. Right?
What do you think of when you think of Milan, besides risotto and maybe osso buco? Money. This is the northerly business epicenter of Italy. There is money. Combine Italian men and money, and you seem to get Maseratis, Lamborghinis, Ferraris. Sometimes five red ones, all in a row, as you can see below.
For the men and women who aren't into cars, there is ample choice of design furniture. Ceccotti furniture stands out in particular for an extreme purity of line, craftsmanship and sensuality, classical with an art collector's twist. Think I exagerrate? Go to their site, check out the Manta desk, or the Bean desk, or any of Lazzeroni's dining chairs. Really, to touch the silken lines of a Ceccotti piece is to gently and irrevocably fall in love. (Below is a dress boy, weirdly lightweight and perfectly formed.)
And of course there is the fashion. Here are some Pucci scarves adorning the shop entrance.
We spent a lot of time wandering in and out of shops, looking at the latest collections, admiring the fabrics and the exquisite cuts, but when I arrived home, I realized the food images dominated. Quel surprise. You know by now that my stomach is where my passion lives. These are marzipan fruits--with brown spots for authenticity.
Of course there was the obligatory gelato stop.
The single most divine dish of the weekend? Tough call, but most likely a simple bowl of fresh burrata, a kind of creamy mozzarella, combined with cherry tomatoes and good pesto.
We walked off the burrata by strolling deep into the night, as one does when one is from Milan: in heels, laughing, talking and generally carrying on.