And we were back on the autoroute encore. This time not headed deep into lavender-country Provence, but into La Camargue. But what did we find? The elusive bloomed purple lavender. And where else, but on the side of the highway…
We picked a few stems and scattered them around the car.
We drove through Arles, but missed everything about the market but its seedy flea side. On our way to Aigues-Mortes, we stopped at the Intermarche, starving. All we needed was some cheese, some fruit, some bread, and some pastries. I sat in the back and passed around sandwiches of Brillat-Savarin and Tomme Noire des Pyrenees. When I was fifteen, I went to Brest in Bretagne, and stayed with a French family and went to school to become fluent in French. Everyday, the mother of the house set out a wedge of Tomme Noire des Pyrenees, a semi-hard cheese wrapped in an iconic black wax, that looks hard in the cold refrigerator shelf, but immediately starts to soften. You have to eat it at room temperature–it is so hard to find and so expensive in America, that I usually gorge a bit when I’m here. But you have to try it–so mild but so expressive and distinctive, with a paradoxical creamy solidity. I adore it.
What I’ve also noticed about French supermarkets are the pears. I love pears, but every time I buy one, I have to leave it for four days to soften on the counter. And then, the morning I know it will be ripe, I wake up, eyes bright with anticipation, only to find that at some secluded moment in the night, it turned black. The disappointment! But here! They are all ripe on the shelves–perfect, sweet, juicy. I was in the back seat covered in sticky pear juice, as if I had been to Goblin’s Market.
We Americans think we have a culture! Did you know that cowboys orginated from the gardiens of La Camargue, and that Levi Strauss invented jeans in Nimes? As in cloth de Nimes, which became denim? This is certainly a departure as far as what I’ve seen of France. In fact, it reminded me a good deal of the pampas in Argentina–tall, wind-worn grasses, sparkling waters, and horses. In fact, bull fighting is as popular here as it is in Spain. The planes were dotted with black bulls and the iconic Camargue white horses. We took a boat ride through a wildlife reserve, where the flamingos normally stand guard, but not today. And we saw some real French cowboys in blue deNimes wrang some black bulls on their white horses.
I always use La Baleine sea salt. My mom always bought it; so I buy it now. I had no idea where it came from. But right outside the walls of Aigues-Mortes is where they harvest this salt, from the pink waters of the marshes. Yes, the speeches there were informative, but I think the photographs tell more–of the colors, the size, the spectacle that is the salt harvest. It was a windy day, and some of it flew into my mouth. I loved it!
In the heart of Aigues-Mortes in a square of touristy cafes that serve the local bulls up for dinner surrounding the presiding statue of Saint Louis. I was a bit bulled out and shared some iconic Soupe de Poisson with my mom, and then had Sole Meuniere, with a medly of vibrant vegetables, and a vegetable flan. To top it all of, some sorbet a la framboise. Alain had white asaparagus, and then Brandade, which is a kind of white fish puree, blanketed in roasted peppers, followed by Tarte Tatin with caramel and cream. It was light, lively, and lovely. The restaurant is Le Minos, if you’re ever there.