The impetus for writing this book was long-held memories as a child and as a young man with my days spent in Paris, France, and those long summers at the old family house in Brittany. Those memories have relentlessly stuck with me to this day. I had to write and release those memories. Some good and a few not-so-good, such are memories. When I am in France, I return to Brittany, to the old house, only to find comfort in noting that nothing really has changed. I busy myself taking photographs as if something had indeed changed when in fact, only one thing has changed, and that's me.
The old fig tree in the courtyard seems larger, taller, if that's even possible, its figs continue to drop, waiting for someone to collect them and make fig jam. The apple and pear trees lining the path that cuts through the garden to the now long-dormant vegetable garden are the same. I tried one of the pears only to throw the rest high over the trees. Some things don't change. I can sit in the courtyard or in a deck chair in the garden on a late Fall afternoon and strain my ears to hear something, perhaps the occasional lone bumble bee zooming past, the occasional ringing sound of a bicycle bell, or a lone car traveling too fast on its way to the coast. But nothing else.
I finally do hear something, it's the voice of our dear cook calling us all to lunch. I can't wait to see what she has prepared but I know it will be delicious.
Waiting for Laddie
We sat on the outside steps to the courtyard, my brothers and I, awaiting the return of our Cocker Spaniel Laddie. On that late summer afternoon, when things stand still and quiet, I suspect we were all somewhere lost in our thoughts. I know I was. The low buzz of a passing bumblebee, an occasional sea breeze drifting in would gently rustle the leaves of the old fig tree that held a commanding presence in the courtyard. Somewhere in the distance, a bicycle bell rang as a lone rider made his way down to the village. A cow occasionally reminded us of its presence in the fields adjacent to our home. We waited some more. The grandfather clock momentarily shattered the silence and struck the hours solemnly, as if it too, were in pain. Then quiet again. A fig dropped with a sound as it hit the graveled courtyard and lay there momentarily before one of my brothers picked it up and threw it high over the gate and across the road to the farm. A well-placed shot was always a good thing, as the fig wars may have stopped for a while, but they certainly did not signal the total cessation of war.
Returning to France, my birthplace, and Brittany, the family home in particular, is always tremendously nostalgic. Our New Year’s Eve dinner was as simple as it was elegant. We started with mussels in white wine. A local foie gras (goose liver) en croûte de pain d’épices would be offered. There were cases of wine and champagne courtesy of the Super U’s finest selection of spirits, all stacked neatly outside the kitchen door, just waiting to be introduced. We all had a mighty thirst. More Champagne, please!
The diner’s center piece was a Gigot d’agneau à la Bretonne or a Leg of Lamb Brittany-Style. It tastes the same either way and courtesy to Monsieur the butcher down the street. A beautiful tossed salad and a selection of cheeses, and of course for dessert the very traditional Bûche de Noël or Yule Log, which had been ordered well ahead of time from the only boulangerie in the village. With the spectacular desert came a super-sized box of Godiva chocolates and Cognac. Champagne, wine, and brandy seemed to flow forever. Re-united en-famille, everyone sensed this special moment's power and meaning, wanting it to last forever.
The gears on the old Grandfather clock slowly wound up then solemnly and deeply chimed once, then twice finally, reaching twelve midnight. Glasses were raised to welcome the new year. It was a single, magical moment in time. Fireworks could be heard from somewhere in the village as they shot their way up into an incredibly clear and starry Breton midnight sky.