Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Foods and Festivals

I just came back from the gym with two new recipes. Some time ago, I joined a class for women of my age that focuses on stretching, some abdominal exercises and maintaining flexibility. No machines or aerobics for this group. We do many of our exercises from a prone position which lends itself to chatting and, not surprisingly, the subject of discussion is usually food and how to prepare it. This French obsession has its good side: recipes, advice, and good addresses are constantly being offered. Curiously, these women never talk about diets and not, I can assure you, because they are all pencil thin. In fact, the prototype of the elegant petite Frenchwoman is rapidly changing and a French fashion industry study has shown that French women have gone up one size since the 1980s. When they do acquire bulk, I believe French women simply cover it up better. They have a way with scarves that draws the attention to this accent and away from the waist; they will wear an elegant loose blouse rather than a tight top that reveals bulges, and they will wear high heels till they drop rather than go for the comfortable but sloppy look of running shoes. It’s all in the packaging and the presentation.  

Speaking of food, this month we pay homage to a lowly cookie – the age-old boat-shaped NAVETTE – which either represents the boats that brought the Phoceans to Provence where they established the city of Massalia (Marseilles) more than 2600 years ago, or it replicates the boat that brought Mary Magdalene, Lazarus and others to the Mediterranean shores where they spread the gospel. The celebration takes place in Marseilles where church-blessed navettes are distributed freely and often consumed with a little Pastis in a nearby cafe. In Aix, another sweet – the famous CALISSON – commemorates the city being spared from the plague by its patron saint, Our Lady of Seds. Religion and food are often intertwined here. Taking Root in Provence tells the story -- click here.  

A great getaway from winter chills is the Lemon Festival in MENTON in mid-February. This pretty town on the Riviera near the Italian border has a micro-climate that favors citrus fruits which grow in abundance here and are piled high on the many magnificent floats rolling down the sunny avenues. Almost makes you forget it is still winter elsewhere.