Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Boy Who Stole Salad and other Nutrition Lessons en Provence

A day spent meandering up and down the charming little streets of Aix-en-Provence with its tiny shops filled with fragrant strawberries and fresh baguettes and shoe stores with espadrilles in every window was one of my favorite “shore leaves” on a twelve day Crystal Cruise vacation.
Docking in the busy port of Marseilles, I knew I wanted to jump in a taxi and head to Aix as soon as possible with visions of Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence” and eight years of schoolroom French buried somewhere in my brain. I shared the day trip with three friends, none of whom spoke any French so I was the master communicator with our friendly non-English speaking driver. Thirty minutes later he deposited us in the center of town in front of the Tourist Office; perfect for picking up a local map and immediately soaking in the charm of the bustling boulevards dotted with fountains and lined with side walk cafés. The driver asked how long we’d like to stay before he came to collect us and my response had him laughing out loud. “Pour deux semaines, s’il vous plaît.”
I told him I wanted to stay for two weeks; so I wasn’t just speaking French I was even making jokes!

Our main mission of the day was to choose a place to have lunch, of course. The setting of a meal is so important for the enjoyment of the experience and if a place looks popular chances are the food’s going to be good. We sized up the crowds dining casually under market umbrellas at several cafes and bistros and using our “restaurant radar” decided to sit down at Le Grillon, which seems especially lively. It turned out to be a great choice because even though my French was rusty, the servers were smiling and patient. I ended up going with a green salad with blanched cauliflower and carrots to start, then a gorgeous grilled sole with a lemon sauce and ratatouille of vegetables on the side. Was I an instant expert at reading the menu en Française? No, I kind of cheated.
I liked the look of the lunch that the fashionable and fit couple sitting next to us was having, so I just pointed to that! We ended up chatting in French and I found out they were from Paris and had a country house in Provence; what a dream. As I looked around the restaurant I noted that there were several families having lunch including a large group that needed to spread out. Two young girls of about 10 or 11 picked up their plates of steak tartare and frites and moved to a table for two. They poured bottled water into their glasses and went back to grab a bowl of green salad from the parents’ table and began to eat. Just then little brother appeared and begged to have the salad back. Expertly using the salad fork and spoon he placed some of the leaves on their plates and then darted away with the bowl. Did I just witness children fighting over a salad when fries were clearly in the picture, too? American parents: there’s hope! Apparently, this enthusiasm for healthy foods can be taught as a way of life.

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