When we first arrived in France, Paul asked us many things about food. What we liked, what we were willing to try. We assured him we were adventurous and eager to explore whatever delicacies he put before us. Scrunching up his lips the way the French do, he seemed to doubt our ability to do that. We finally figured out that our country’s reputation for poor palates and tasteless diet trends had preceded us.
“I am sorry for you,” Paul explained. “You are so afraid of your food.”
He was right, of course. Americans typically want to know how many calories are in a dish, how much sodium, how much fat. We tried to tell him it is because our food is kind of a mystery to us. We aren’t always sure what is in it. Not so in France. The mashed up, processed foods we are used to seeing at the grocery store hardly exist in France. And we couldn’t wait to show Paul how much we embraced that wonderful difference.
“Yes? Ah, so, I will show you France through food,” he declared.
So he did. When I think of my days with Paul, it is food that looms large as a subject of conversation and consumption. I remember small green prunes the color of green apples. Expecting them to be tart or bitter, I was surprised by their delicate sweetness. I remember the fragrant clementines, the tiny, wild strawberries, the mounds of fresh olives and nuts, and the dizzying selection of cheeses.
The most celebrated part of Paul’s day was midi. He lived for the large French midday meal. Each day he ate somewhere else where locals greeted him with respect and genuine affection. In each establishment he had a favorite seat, a favorite dish, a favorite beverage. I will never forget the day Paul introduced me to his favorite beer, Leffe, over midi in his small local restaurant, Le Village. Or the day he insisted we were to experience crocodile for lunch.
Steve and I looked at each other. “Crocodile?”
Paul cocked his head . “Oui. Crocodile. But first, let us talk money.”
We bristled a bit, wondering what the colonel had in mind for us. But his edict was short and to the point.
“So, when you are in my town, I pay. When we travel, you pay.”
Steve and Paul shook hands on the arrangement and we never spoke of money again.
‘So, tomorrow, we eat crocodile,” he continued.
“Yes. Absolutely. We eat crocodile,” we responded as we slipped off to bed.
Turns out the colonel had a good sense of humor. Our midi meal of crocodile the next day was a joke. There was no crocodile on the menu at Le Crocodile restaurant. The owners, I believe, were Australian or it was an Australian-themed restaurant. What was on the menu, however, was kangaroo. Paul ordered a kangaroo steak for all of us. Steve and I never flinched as we ate it. It was surprisingly good.
I really liked eating at Le Crocodile. It was a great place to watch the local French on their lunch breaks. We returned several times.
Always Paul’s treat.