Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Le Beaujolais est arrivé! ...and Thanksgiving å la France

We’re certainly in high gear for these last two weeks, trying to fit every imaginable last thing into our remaining days in France. On Wednesday evening the 19th we participated in another tradition that is unique to Lyon. It was the official release of the Beaujolais Nouveau, the celebrated wine of the region. No one in the world can taste this wine until it is opened first in Lyon. The barrels are transported down the Saône on barges and then transferred to a horse-drawn wagon to be carried to Place Bellecour accompanied by a brass band and torches! At the stroke of midnight the first bottle is uncorked, and fireworks in the square precede the first tasting. We had wonderful time walking in the torch parade and singing old pop songs (YMCA??!) with the band. Fortunately, some of our group had sharp enough elbows, and we were even able to have a ritual taste of the wine.

On Friday afternoon we left for Chateuneuf de Galuire, a tiny town in the Departement Drome (south of Lyon) where M. & Mme. Tesse, the friends with whom I have been staying in Lyon, have a country house. We took a train to St. Vallier and were met at the station by Marie-Christine and Pierre-Yves who brought both their regular car and the “camping car” to load us up because we were eleven. A half-hour drive through winding roads and villages took us to their lovely home that has a tile roof and turquoise shutters and is surrounded by fields of corn and grain. After three months as city dwellers we were stunned by the quiet and the open fields and hills all around. Attached to the house were a beautiful 18th century stone barn that Pierre-Yves has converted into his library and a petite maison that was also all made of stone.

Marie-Christine made a lovely dinner for us of salade Lyonaise with lardons and eggs, and quenelle (Lyonais dumplings) with a sauce of crevettes (shrimps). We had declared the next day to be our Thanksgiving, and a lot of time was spent preparing traditional American food. We made a huge pie of poitiron (a lot like a pumpkin, but a more irregular shape), and the other pie was good old apple. We weren’t able to find one large turkey (“dinde”) in the store, so we ended up cooking three “pintards” –which seem to be small turkeys and certainly have the flavor of turkey. Pierre-Yves gave a particularly French touch to the stuffing by adding some Calvados, something that I will definitely adopt in my recipe! We also had mashed potatoes, corn, sweet potatoes cooked with apples, and of course, cranberries. I have to say that it truly had the flavor and feeling of Thanksgiving as we all sat around the big table and shared the things for which we were thankful before diving into the feast.

We were also able to take a walk to a 12th century chapel not far away, and later in the afternoon the Tesses took us to Le Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval. This is an extraordinary “palace” built over 30 years by a 19th century postman who imagined and created an fantasy structure with stones and shells. The structure looks like it might be at home in Bali or be the work of Gaudi. Many artists have found it inspirational over the years, including Picasso. It was surprising and impressive and especially magical with a few snowflakes falling while we were there.

Although the weather was cold, it was really a warm and beautiful Thanksgiving, even though away from home; and we are so grateful for the kindness and hospitality of the Tesses in having the whole herd of us to stay in their lovely home.

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