Those were the first words my father-in-law said to me the moment I stepped out of his car after an hour and a half of soaking in the sights along the French autoroute starting from Lyon-Saint Exupéry airport. The air was fresh and cool, you would agree too had your feet felt the terracotta tiles on the ground. Not that I was barefoot. A pair of house slippers were waiting for me in the bedroom. Still, I could feel the coldness of the ground wearing them.
That was June six years ago, when I couldn't understand 95% of what I heard around me. Most of what I learned back then I did with my eyes. I remembered faces and places, really, short of sounding like the Beatles' song: JL's immediate family, close family friends who are family too, his best friend, wife and children, one of whom JL is godfather to.
I watched the simplicity of having family and friends around, spending the day talking about everything under the sun, even taking naps at the corner if one wishes so. I followed everywhere JL went as he followed everywhere his father went: the bakery, the deli, the florist, the tabac shop for newspapers. Everywhere. The French really kiss a lot, I thought to myself. Even men greeted each other with a touching of cheeks and pats on their backs with varying strengths, as if a sum of how long since you last saw each other and how much you love the other person. But all done naturally, quietly, and absolutely without exaggeration.
"Why did you kiss her?" JL asked.
"Well isn't that how you guys do it? I mean, man, you guys even kiss the butcher!"
"That's because the butcher is our relative!"
Observation aside, I also learned much by tasting. Like the evening the lovely Monique and Maurice came over for dinner, also invited for great company was JL's godfather Jojo. That was the first time I met all of them. We had dinner out at the terrace overlooking the garden. It was getting late and I had difficulty staying alert. Until the mother-in-law brought out dessert. Or shall I say, desserts.
Before you label me a snob, allow me to explain that Valrhona is only as expensive as the airmiles it has clocked. It is undoubtedly expensive in America and the Far East. That's because someone else has taken a cut somewhere between you and the factory. It is also human tendency to yearn for what is unattainable. Like when you're in Boston and wishing for even a bowl of mediocre Katong laksa; or in Valence and yet fantasizing about tonkotsu ramen. The problem with most of us is we don't appreciate what is immediately around us let alone make the best of it. Isn't it true?
For example, if I had shared my adaptation of Bourdain's recipe here, you would just scroll through it. But by not doing so, you are more likely to Google it now. In any case, let me know if you really want it and the internet fails you. I'd be happy to share.