Thursday's child: Memories of France

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Last week, my blogging friend Nancy wrote about visiting Paris as a poor student, and again as an adult.  I realized that I haven’t written much about my long-ago adventures from the road, so this month I’ll be sharing some of them.

I’ve always longed to travel.  The summer I was sixteen, I began poring over the Saturday travel pages with an intensity usually reserved for discussing which of the Hardy Boys was the cutest.  (Parker Stevenson, by a hair.)  My cousin Heather and I talked about backpacking in Europe after high school, and I started cutting out the youth travel columns and saving them in a file folder.  Yes, even then I was compulsively organized about my trips.

In the final year of high school Heather got a serious boyfriend (who is now her husband).  I was happy for her, but it changed my travel plans.  My parents were reluctant to let a naïve 18-year old schlep through Europe by herself.  And then my research paid off, when I found a company that ran one-month homestays in France.  I stayed for three weeks with a family who lived about an hour outside of Paris in the tiny village of Saint Cyr Sur Morin.  The Marechals were the most welcoming hosts imaginable; not only did I improve my French, I learned a lot about grace and hospitality from this wonderful family.

I’ve seldom kept a diary but I did on that trip, and it’s a revelation to read it all these years later.  I guess it isn’t surprising that its two major themes were food and boys. 

The entries about boys weren’t all that interesting.  But it’s easy to see how the summer awakened a new awareness of food in me. Coming from a small town, I was trying so many things for the first time – fish with their eyes still in, rabbit stew, croissants.  (I ate my first-ever croissant in Paris.  How amazing is that?)

One day we were at their friends’ house for lunch and I was served a dish that I didn’t recognize.  One of the others tried to help me by saying it was “la langue”.  La langue – isn’t that language?  In a flash it came to me – of course, it was tongue.  Maybe I should have been more adventurous, but I promise it was offal in every sense of the word. 

Part of my being able to return my host family’s hospitality was baking for them, and some of my foods were as foreign to them as theirs were to me.  When I announced my plans to bake a carrot cake, my French “mother” raised her eyebrows.  “Une gateau? Avec carottes?’  She loved it so much that she requested I make it again the following week for company. 

Raspberry pie, brownies, peach pie – I was thrilled to share my mother’s and grandmother’s recipes with my new French friends.  And they were too polite to share their horror that I was putting baking soda – available only at the pharmacy – in my food.

31 comments:

Mary Anne MacCrone said...

Oh Beth...what adventures...love to hear them all.

Gloria said...

Oh Beth I love this post and the picture is awesome

Belinda said...

You were always bold, weren't you? Born adventurer! =) Wow...high school sweethearts. Too sweet.

love2dine said...

what a wonderful view from here...

Cindy said...

What fun memories! Journal keeping has great rewards.

Rosita Vargas said...

OMG...hermoso post me encanta Francia mi abuela nació allí,tengo lindas experiencias con mi marido en la torre,abrazos hugs,hugs.

bakewithjill.com said...

What a fabulous experience! It's interesting that they don't think of baking soda a food - it sounds much more edible to me than tongue!

profiterolesandponytails said...

what a special summer filled with so many new experiences! I love that you baked for your host family and introduced them to some favourite Canadian recipes. You learn so much more about a new culture when you stay with a local family. Isn't that what travelling is all about? Great post!

Bonnie said...

What a gift your parents gave allowing you the opportunity to travel at such a young age. I love reading about your travels. Bonnie

Becki's Whole Life said...

I love your travel stories! I am always sad I didn't travel overseas more during college. I would love to spend a month in France with a family - even now:-). I love that they were
horrified over your use of soda - that is too funny!

Valerie said...

How wonderful that you were able to share you passion for baking with your host family!

(Unfortunately, thanks to my dad, I'm no stranger to la langue...a very traumatizing experience for a 6 year old.) o_O But I think it's where my sweet tooth took root. :D

LDH said...

SO fun to read your youthful adventures and the friendships you made as well as the cultures you have experienced :)

Carol said...

I enjoyed your post! You are so adventurous to go by yourself, it sounds wonderful! Funny about the baking soda.

Claudia said...

I've been to Paris twice - both in abject poverty and oohed and aahed at the food I could not afford. It's time to return. You have convinced me.

Jess said...

Ha! I love that she was shocked by the idea of a cake with carrots. Thanks for sharing your memories with us~ France is at the top of my husband's list of places to go (though I think he's leaning more toward Provence than Paris~ he's not a big city guy).

I also wanted to say thanks for the sweet comment on my blog. I'm excited to be back as well! It's fun interacting with like-minded folks, and I just LOVE your posts, whether they're on travel, food, or family. I always show my husband and tell him, "When we take our dream trip around the world, this blog should be our first stop for recommendations." I actually tried baking a dessert yesterday (usually I'm more of a savory girl), and the banana cake turned out great~ not quite Beth-worthy, but tasty enough :)

Angie's Recipes said...

You always have some fascinating traveling stories to share. Keep them coming!
Have a great weekend!
Angie

Beth said...

Thanks for your lovely comments, Jess. I'm so flattered that you and your husband use my blog as inspiration for your travel dreams! (When you're ready to take your dream trip, let me know and I'll custom-design it for you!)

And Claudia, I'm happy to be your inspiration too. Send me a postcard!

Jill | Dulce Dough said...

What wonderful memories and what an amazing experience!

From the Kitchen said...

Ah, the French have a delicious way with tongue! I've even prepared it myself.

Best,
Bonnie

The Golden Eagle said...

It sounds like a great experience!

Barbara said...

What a wonderful experience! I encouraged my daughter to go to summer school in Europe and my father warned me: she'll never be the same. :) and she wasn't. She developed the travel bug. I never did agree with my dad. Travel is so educational, so fun and such good experience for the young.
(I did a tongue post once and the comments were really funny.)

Elaine said...

What great memories, Beth. How neat that you were able to share your American food experience with them while experiencing French food.

Rita said...

What a glorious adventure for an 18 year old. Love to read about your travels Beth; always very interesting.
Rita

gobakeyourself said...

A wonderful post full of beautiful experiences and an appreciation for the finer things in life :D
Thanks for sharing!

Cheers
Choc Chip Uru

Sissi said...

Beth, I think baking soda is still only available in pharmacies... It must have been terrific experience for you!

Claire Davis said...

Loved reading about your time in France! When I was living in Paris I did the cooking for the family I worked for. My french wasn't great and I accidentally bought rabbit at the store. I didn't have the courage to cook it, and I probably should have! It might have been delicious.

shaz said...

First croissant in Paris, what a fantastic experience. Loved this post.

comfortablydomestic.com said...

What wonderful memories of your French family. I would have loved to see your "mother's" expression at your suggestion of carrot cake. I think it is great that you were able to share a few slices of home while you were abroad.

Jen Laceda | Tartine and Apron Strings said...

Beth, I feel like we are kindred spirits! Lover of food and travel...As a young girl growing up in the Philippines, I've always dreamed of travelling to Europe, esp. Paris. I, too, cut out clippings from travel brochures and newspaper columns and kept them in a folder to reference to. On my 16th birthday, my parents gifted me with a trip around Europe in a tour package setting, but what I really wanted to do was backpack on my own! I am fortunate that I was able to do that at age 22, after moving to Toronto, Canada and working 2 full-time jobs! I do envy your choice of a home stay program, though. I wish I would have known that at that time (hello, internet, where were you?). Anyway, thanks for a lovely post! I enjoyed reminiscing!

nancy at good food matters said...

Hi Beth, I'm glad that my post sparked some good French travel memories for you. Food and cultural differences always make for great experiences, (offal or not!) I can recall being served horse in Holland--a fact that I refused to believe at the time...

Medeia Sharif said...

Fantastic post, Beth. This makes me want to carry a journal when I travel so that I can jot down all my impressions.

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