Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bastille day and a French garden party!


As a French woman who married an Englishman, I have always been intrigued with our fascination with food, and the English indifference to it.

Samuel de Champlain brought a chef with him from France as he explored and Louisburg was known for its cooking. I am not sure if he had a chaplain with him as the English or Spanish did, but he sure had his cook! In contrast the poor English who were stationed in Fort Henry had to live on boiled potatoes, spruce beer and some salty meat.

When Cyril and I used to canoe camp in the wilderness we were always struck by the difference between wild sites in Quebec versus Ontario. The Quebec sites had glorious fire pits and log seating but little sanitation. The Algonquin Park sites had great outhouses but pathetic fire pits and certainly no log seating.

Yesterday was Bastille day and I was at the French embassy. It was a celebration of food, with ice sculptures displaying delectable meringue cakes stuffed with fruit, there were masterful artistic displays of carved fruit and vegetables, beautiful cups with red white and blue sherbet, a hot and cold buffet and mountains upon mountains of cheese. There was a children's tent with colorful candied apples, jars and jars of assorted candies and caramels, chips and water. As for the adults, while the water did run out, the wine never stopped flowing!

For the champagne there was a beautiful cake with the French flag on it. The entire affair was a feast for the eyes and the stomach. There was also a group of chamber musicians playing Bach and a choir to sing. Wonderful.

I have been to similar affairs with the English. There are lots of speeches, a few monuments, an unveiling of something or other, and the food, if there is any, is never presented with such artistry and delicacy as do the French. The closest thing the English have to a French garden party is English high tea. English high tea is nice but has many rituals and traditions. The French garden party for bastille day seemed to celebrate only one tradition...and that is pleasure and gastronomy. All French are free to enjoy the pleasures of the vineyard and the table at this party!

The French truly understand that living and food is an art. Anyone who had taken a bite from a blue blanc rouge meringue biscuit while admiring one of the four melting ice sculptures with a glass of wine in hand will surely know what I mean!

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