Leaving our cabanon to get to the mas up another hill for lunch, we were terribly late, unsure of whether to turn to the right, past a number of signs painted with names of properties: Le petit jas, La treille, and persons we didn’t know: Gindof, Borel, Les Hortensias, or to take the unpaved road full of rocks straight up the hill. So we turned back, came to pick up my cellphone and the number and contacted our hosts: Oh, you turn right across from the sign for wines: Château Pesquié and come up the paved road: don’t leave the paved part! It is marked by a palm and a hortensia, says Mireille. And so it is.
It was certainly not just us. A table had been laid for 12, and clearly we were the 11thand 12th, confronting a sea of faces, only one of which I recognized. Régis the garagiste, now serving as deputy mayor or opposite party deputy mayor or something like that. Broad smiles all around, much handshaking and introduction – the newcomers and the locals. I have only lived in my cabanon for 38 summers, but will always feel “l’étrangère” – and alternately “the American dame prof.” Not so bad after all, given the broad smiles.
I start, looking at the vast collection of bottles before us, with Mireille’s own vin à l’orange, and Boyce with a pastis, of course. That’s what he has every evening after five, when we sit looking out over our field – a pastis with three times really cold water in it (I take five times, preferring it cloudy and weak. It’s cloudy anyway, part of the charm. Try drinking it in New York, and somehow it loses its flavor, if not its cloud.) The conversation picks up again: the mayor (there must be something like 30 houses in our small village, perched on a hill around its church) didn’t come to the opening of the new firemen/policemen’s hall, and gave no excuse! None at all! He just didn’t care, they surmised, and I shook my head in disbelief. And the regular deputy mayor, did he come? No indeed, not even he. The opposite party deputy mayor, Régis – whom I’ve known for these 38 years – shook his head too, but with a big smile. Perhaps he will be elected next time? I turn to the local lady next to me, very blonde and comfortingly largish, and point out I would always vote for Régis. No response: obviously the wrong remark. Ah, it is like my own South: we don't discuss politics? I've no idea. So I just always smile a lot too.
Then we start in seriously. Mireille and Michel – now a celebrated singer of Spanish ballads like “Granada!,” in the line of Escobar, he tells me – are beginning their famous pizzas. Long ago, when they lived in the village, they had a sort of concrete pizza oven, but
now the oven is very tall, looming over the courtyard we found it so hard to fine. We have an “apéro” pizza, to have with the apéritif, with anchovies spread over it. Oddly, but nicely, the men, all sitting on one side, are served first, and for the second go-round, the women. White wine, unless you have started on the rosé/
And so it continues, for a Mediterranean pizza, served on two sides, then a something else, with a large langoustine (split for simpler eating) atop a third one. Is this followed by salad? No, a platter of cheeses – at this point, we are all drinking either rosé wine or red, from nearby cellars, some superb, some just plain good. Finally there emerges a gigantic gâteau, accompanied by the local sparkling wine, and it is now five and a half hours since we came. My husband gestures that perhaps we can take our leave, to the understanding smiles of the ten others: the non-locals are not accustomed to spending eight or so hours in the same place, at the same table…
What did you talk about, asks my husband afterwards, when we are at last making our way down that hill, and up our own? Ah, who married whom, who is divorcing whom, who bought the land from Alain, what will they do with it, what can you plant when the government pays you to rip out the vines? Will olives bring in more than the cherries, which sell for nothing to the middlemen?
Ah, and will we now have our nap to sleep it all off, he asks?