An Armorican visit – of armies and highwaymen (continued)
Aerial view of the walled city of Saint-Malo,
We cleaned our plates (real china, not paper) with pieces of crusty French baguette while J-Claude finished cooking a large bowl of haricots verts à l'ail (green beans with garlic) covered with butter and served with pork chops cooked over the camping gas stove they kept in their truck with frying pan and a host of other cooking utensils. This was a far cry from the baloney sandwich on sliced white bread gulped down by an American worker in thirty minutes or less. We'd already been at the table for almost an hour, and hadn't even started the main course!
To accompany the pork chops and haricots, Serge opened a bottle of red wine which he poured liberally. Meanwhile, the conversation about the war continued. I asked a few questions, but was mostly content to listen to Lucien reminiscing about the war and the occupation. During all this time, I couldn't help but wonder about how long these guys normally took for their lunch and whether or not I was keeping them from getting back to work.
Calvados AOC is made only with
The main course finished, J-Claude brought out a plate covered with several kinds of French cheeses. I followed their advice, starting with the milder cheese and progressing to the stronger ones.
Throughout the entire meal, both wine and conversation flowed freely, and I was most enjoying the company of these proletariat bons vivants.
We finished off with the obligatory cup of strong French coffee, before Serge broke out a bottle of 90-proof Calvados, an apple-based eau-de-vie produced in Normandy which would serve as the digestif of this memorable meal.
"À plus jamais la guerre!" (No more war, ever!), said Lucien, lifting his glass in a toast.
"À plus jamais la guerre", we all repeated – downing our shots of Normandy apple fire-water.
I looked at my watch. It was 14h30. We'd been sitting on tiny stools around the table in the back of that small truck for almost 2 hours! Quite a lunch break, I thought! American workers should have it so good!
I explained to my gracious hosts that I still had over fifty kilometers to pedal to St. Malo where I hoped to spend the night at the youth hostel there, and that I must be on my way. We all stood outside where I took a few photos and we exchanged addresses with a promise to send copies of the photos as soon as I had them developed.
After bidding each other adieu, I climbed on my bicycle just as the first few drops of rain began to fall, hoping it wouldn't rain too hard. I had assumed that my hosts would be getting back to work, but having noticed that it was raining, albeit ever so slightly, one of them said: "Allez les gars, il pleut; on ne peut pas travailler" (Gentlemen, it's raining; we can't work). So as I was leaving, they were breaking out a deck of cards and taking their seats in the back of the fourgonnette – as everyone knows that you can't paint in the rain.
As I zigzagged down the road, I got to thinking that I might like living in a culture where people live by the maxim: "Doucement le matin; pas trop vite l'après midi." (Easy does it in the morning; not too fast in the afternoon). One could understand why French workers enjoyed on the average 39 days of paid vacation per year, compared to the 12 days of an average American worker. Vive la France!
Marc J. Mailloux was born in 1953 and raised in a French-Canadian community of Rhode Island. The subject of his first book, Discovery on the Katmandu Trail (1987, Quill Publications), explores his embrace of Christianity during a trip to India in 1973. Marc settled in France later that year, where he met his wife, Aline. They have three children – Calix, Justin, and Anaïs. This feature article is an excerpt from a chapter in his book, God Still Loves the French, published by Xulon Press, © 2006; available at most bookstores and online. Reproduced with permission of the author. All Rights Reserved. For further information and reader reviews, visit Amazon.com.
Image Sources: American Cemetery near Omaha Beach, Tristan Nitot (photographer), from Wikimedia Commons. 1/18th-scale model of a 1955 Citroën 2CV fourgonnette (mini panel truck) from Capachat.com, Collections et Passions. U.S. Army troops landing at Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944, Robert F. Sargent, USCG (photographer), from Wikimedia Commons. Aerial view of the walled city of Saint-Malo, Brittany, photographer unknown, from La Maison du Pêcheur. Calvados Busnel still life, © 1978 Société Ricard, from Memory-Pub.com. Photo of Marc Mailloux and highway workers in Haute Normandie, from Marc Mailloux. All Rights Reserved.
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