Warm sun, chilled wine, the sing-song of French voices and the scent of Gauloises. Where else could I be but Paris?
It was my first visit to Paris and at nineteen years old, I was doing my best to look sophisticated, and not betray the fact that I’d had only one or two glasses of wine in my whole life.
I was there because I had won a contest at college, the prize for which was a month’s work experience in Normandy. It hadn’t turned out to be an completely positive experience: the people in the office were very friendly and the work was interesting – but I was starving! Annabel (another student at the same college) and I were billeted with a French family. We’d been told our accommodation included breakfast and dinner every day, so we would just need money for our lunches, outings and souvenirs. That was a relief, as we were penniless students!
What we didn’t know was that “our” family was rather rich and terribly, terribly fashionable, so they dined “à l’anglaise” (which was fashionable in France at the time). That meant they ate their main meal at lunchtime and only had a light snack in the evening — so instead of enjoying sumptuous French dinners, we found ourselves served with leek soup, cold cuts and cheese (yes, it was leek soup every night, served from the same huge pot reheated every day!). As breakfast was a typical French petit dejeuner (coffee and a croissant or brioche,) and we couldn’t afford much for lunch, we were both starving by the end of our month’s stay!
During our last week, we were invited to Paris for a celebratory get-together with the other contest winners, hosted by Madame Bâtard, the organizer. So here we were, sitting on spindly wrought iron chairs at a mosaic table in the courtyard of a fancy bistro. The bistro was on the edge of a park, and finely-branched trees drooped their delicate lime green leaves over the surrounding black wrought-iron fence.
I ordered brochettes from the menu without quite knowing what they were. Mme Bâtard chose a Rosé d’Anjou from the wine list, which sounded lovely (but I had no idea what it was either).
The wine arrived first. Rosé d’Anjou remains my favourite wine to this day. Lightly chilled, slightly sweet with a tart edge, it was exactly the right drink for a warm, sunny spring afternoon.
Next the food came out of the kitchen. My brochettes turned out to be succulent chargrilled veal, threaded on two skewers and served on a bed of fluffy rice. Actually, I can’t swear it was really that good a meal, but I was so hungry it tasted like heaven! And by this time, I was floating slightly anyway, thanks to the rosé.
That may be why I did the one thing which slightly marred the whole experience. Never having eaten meat on a skewer before, I was a little uncertain how to remove it. Mme Bâtard helpfully told me to put my fork between the bottom cube of meat and the next one, and push downwards. I tried it. Nothing happened. I tried again. Nope. Third time was the charm – but I pushed so hard, the piece of meat shot off my skewer, skidded through my rice and hit an elegant lady at the next table on the arm!
That put a dent in my Audrey Hepburn impression, but I soon recovered, and we spent the rest of the afternoon laughing and talking in that courtyard, drinking in the sights and sounds of Paris. Vive la France!