Yes. We are in France at Long Last.
And nobody wore a beret or waved their private parts at our aunties. I saw plenty of people with armfuls of baguettes, and even lots of iconically stripey shirts. However, we encountered absolutely no snootiness. Everyone we interacted with, from train station assistants, waiters, store clerks, people at the next table at cafes, fellow guests at B&Bs, strangers at gas stations who let us use their credit cards... EVERYONE was so incredibly kind.
Actually, I have to admit I am a know-nothing about cheese. And French food. And a negative-know-nothing about wine. My first sip of wicked and experimental wine was not reminiscent of oak or mellow fruit-- it was paint thinner. So... I didn't exactly do my culinary homework before arriving in this country.
Even being as blind, ignorant, and mute as an infant.... it was a culinary explosion. It seemed uncouth to take pictures of all of our meals, but I wanted to. All of them. Every single meal-- even throw-away, cheapo, on the run, chasing toddler semi-meals-- was a revelation-- a tutorial in taste and excellence and detail and presentation and portion.
It was SO FRUSTRATING! Wonderful, and impossible. We don't speak french, I couldn't ask for clarification, I didn't understand the whole storied-ness of each item... but I knew it was there.
I tell people we didn't scratch the surface. We didn't even RUB the surface. Or even BREATHE on it. Maybe we just realized that there IS a surface-- like breathing onto a window, you see for a moment that there is actually something there.
Maybe, the emperor has clothes.
So, my treasures, here's a tiny taste of Normandy.
We stayed here-- La Ferronnerie, a tiny bit south of Rouen. A family run B&B with handsome stocky sunburnt Laurent and young ruddy cheeked farmwife and chef Isabelle, and their three kids and a grandma. Rosie was delighted and got a much deserved break-- playing with the cat named Tigress, and the little 3 year old girl Elisa and 18 month old boy Liam.
The home is gorgeous-- exposed shining wood timbers and beams, speckled natural plasters, wide bright windows and smooth stone and wood floors. But the food.... we ate breakfast and dinner here for two days. All afternoon the house is full of the smell of Real Beef-- a lean, grassy, gamey, MEATY smell, with red wine from the sauce, and butter and garlic in the pan fried potatoes, lightly dressed leaves of lettuce with cold meats, homemade Alsacian noodles and grilled summer squash, hot from the oven apple tarts with sugared fromage blanc...
Dinner is such a major event: we sat down, tummies rumbling, at 7:30. The first salad course appeared at 8:15. We were going MAD with desire. But the dinner crept along for THREE HOURS. The other guests-- all families from Paris-- talked and flowed and made thoughtful attempts to include us and our shockingly bad French. I set off a minor explosion when I asked, "so what is the difference between wine and cider?" The debate raged for an hour. It was astoundingly wonderful.
Here's the B&B playset
And after a slightly Harrowing journey to La Havre, we were rewarded with a hike and a picnic at this beautiful haunting atlantic beach. Ruins of bunkers, rebar, scrapmetal, wood and concrete are eroding away into the beach and cliff landscape. Really lovely.
Normandy is all about the dairy.
Here's our little cliff-top picnic, Rosie with her plush dutch "klompens." She had just started taking her first hesitant steps again. I told her, "won't it be wonderful when you can run and skip and jump and dance again?" She thought about that for a second, and then stood up and gave it a try.
My favorite little town in Normandy, that we just stumbled across while trying to find a freeway. Ry. Beyond picturesque.
Our other B&B! Another delicious dinner and quaint setting.
Rosie's first floppy steps...
We stopped at a little farm cheese store. I don't know what we got (did I mention we don't speak french?) but it was fragrant and bubbly and crumbly and with a cidery rind. And we also got a heart of Nuefchatel. *sigh*. I heart nuefchatel....