My dinner with Ghislane
We were invited for a rare event amongst the French- dinner chez eux, at their place. I thought you’d like to know what that was like.
We went into the cold clear night to take the short bus ride to Ghislane’s, a bit over a mile so a nice walk in the daylight or on a warmer night. It was a bit after 8 pm when we got on the bus. We were trying to get there around 8:15. You never show up on time in France, so your hostess has a little extra time to get ready, 15 minutes being the minimum but not too much more than that. The bus dropped us off right in front of the modern complex and then we faced the first obstacle. The French, it is clear, take home security very seriously, so when you get instructions to someone’s house you also get their door code as well as their phone number. That way you can call them so after you’ve screwed up and left the building code on the dining table, or, more commonly in my case, under your wife’s clothes on the bed because the wife loves to put things on top of things you’ve put on the bed so you forget to take them with you so she can blame you for forgetting them later, which is a perfect system when you think about it.
Since we had no building code with us, we worried about how to get in without the phone number that was on the bed but someone was leaving so we got into the courtyard when he opened the 10 foot high gate. Our next task was easy as well, as all you had to do was find the building and push the button next to her name. Fortunately we somehow remembered her last name, which is not the last name she uses in the rest of her life and which we learned only when we got the invitation. How often does she forget to tell people or do people forget the instructions on the bed? Perhaps she had to use an alias to get into this place but figures no one in management will find out even if everyone else uses her real name. Or is that the alias?
So as is typical here, you don’t get started until after 8 and dinner is later, often much later, but once inside they usually put out appetizers. Ghilane’s daughter and I munched on guacamole (not spicy, the French do not do spicy) and chips (crisps if you are British), and there were radishes which I think were meant to go along with a blue cheese tasting sauce which, I was told, had no blue cheese in it but creme freche instead. I really do not understand creme fraiche, but let’s say it’s a high fat yogurt. The French don’t mind fat here and in fact prefer it. Most of their cheeses are in the 50% range. Not creme fraiche though. That’s because it is, well, fraiche as in not old or more simply, fresh. Why don’t they just say that then? But it is not all that fresh. It’s a tiny bit sour. I guess fraiche is a relative term.
After a good blather about living in Boston – where Alex is moving on the 8th just one day before nephew Travis shows up and will she arrange for him to meet some friends, of course, and Ghislane says she loves her friends they are funny and Alex, who has a job as a chemist although she just graduated and is being sent by the company still lives with her mom and they get along so well, so seemingly unlike our American kids and their parents- and a bottle of champagne- oh it is a good one, where did you get it and its not so brut you can’t stand it but not yucky sweet well it’s hard to find let me know I’ll get a few bottles for you- then finally it’s on to the dinner table. It’s after 9:00 and we are having fun now!
But before dinner arrives you have to have the real entree. Now let me ‘splain. “Entree” means appetizer not fucking main course like it does in US restaurants (but not thankfully at home), where we took a French word and started using it in restaurants so we would appear sophisticated but then got it all wrong.
The entree is some terrine. I had to ask Peggy how to spell that one, or you would be reading ‘terrain’ because it sort of sounds like that when pronounced by the French in that poochy lip kind of way they talk so they can pronounce things in a way no foreigner can imitate- I usually retaliate with a phrasal verb together with a seldom used colloquial expression that I say quickly with a soft voice while speaking into the closet, which I have learned to do by living with Peg.
The entree in this case is actually two pieces of land, one made from the head of a slightly dodgy pig and the other from some sort of reindeer who got separated from the herd. They added a few other body parts to the pig land, which was good actually with the baguette and white wine, but the other, which I translated roughly as ‘Bambi in headlights,’ was better. It had some mushrooms in it that no one had ever heard of. I let Peg go first.
It was 930 at least when dinner came out, but that might have been AM. Of course I was not starving any more. It was a quiche, home made right there in that lovely little kitchen. This is a modern place. Often in old flats in Paris and elsewhere the kitchens are tiny and last renovated in 1950 but the flat is still worth half a mil thereabouts, or so the signs on the real estate windows say. Perhaps that’s why grown children live with their parents and everyone gets along so well. Out came also some zucchini with some cheese melted on top. More bread. This was accompanied by Ghislane’s description of how she came up with the name for the English conversation group which she has never been a part of, she brought back English books from her time in the US, I think it was, and wanted to share them, so she went to the Federation of Associations (I am not joking), which is run by the City, they have their own buildings for the various activities, Ghislane set up a program so people could borrow her books, hardly anyone ever came but someone started a conversation group so the French could practice English, it is still called Anglais Plasir, English Pleasure, right, phrasal verbs, doesn’t just the sound of it make you smile? I am not using periods because the French don’t when they write and want to sound erudite.
It was 1030. By now stuffed to the gills, I barely touched the cheeses. One was a Camembert, but skinny and round versus fatter and round and very good. There were two goat cheeses. Bread. More wine. I think we were back on how to stay warm until your car warms up for the ride to your office since Americans have few trains so you have to buy a car, and before you can even get in the States with a work permit you have to fill in (or is that fill out? ha! more revenge) applications asking for the phone numbers of people not related to you and pay thousands of dollars in fees and if they do not accept your application at the US consulate in Paris you have to wait another month, and how do you get stinky French cheeses into your luggage, forget about Epoisse, you will still smell any French cheese no matter what you do just wave a hand under your armpits and mumble, “Need a bath.”
It was nearly 11. Out came the apple pear pie I’d baked and carried here in a string bag accompanied by warnings every three minutes – don’t let it tilt- I must get rid of that egg timer that allows you to record a message which goes off on the bus and on the sidewalk along the way. By 1130 I’d extracted that stubborn first piece and lo and behold it stayed together. I must carry it tilted more often. Oh and it goes well with chocolate mousse that Alex made. No thanks, I can not drink coffee at night. Alex will miss the cheese course. How did we get back on cheese?
It’s midnight. We are in Ghislane’s car. Thank goodness! It’s dark and below freezing, goblins are howling, creeps are crawling and the bus driver’s probably been drugged. Apartment, sweet apartment, to rest and perchance to forget to dream.