Wednesday, June 04, 2008

from Honfleur: gray clouds, gray shrimp

Honfleur is a small town. 8,000 residents. My guess would be that there are 1,000 artists, 4,000 involved in servicing both residents and tourists, and the remainder – in the production of regional foods (don;t quote me on that -- it's just a guess). Which, in Honfleur, would put the little shrimp, France’s crevettes, at the top of the list (followed by apple stuff and milk stuff).

In many sea-coast towns and villages in France, in those charming little restaurants that fill to capacity every beautiful weather day, they’ve given up. If you ask about their popular shrimp salads and shrimp entrees, they’ll reluctantly admit that the little crustaceans come from the coast of Africa. They’re good, but they’re not local.

Not in Honfleur. So much does this town jump around its shrimp business, that it celebrates it annually with a huge shrimp festival (in the fall). And if you can’t stand the idea of peeling a plateful of tiny little gray critters (pink, once cooked), you can attend the shrimp peeling contests and grab the stuff that gets pulled out of the shell.

And speaking of gray, today was a gray, wet day. So wet was it, that you could not make do with just an umbrella. I mean, you could, of course. But you’d get wet in spite of it.

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Over breakfast, we reviewed our options. Day trips were postponed until less wet days.

And here's a digression: I remain certain that the reason we are such good friends is that we have much the same orientation towards life’s essentials. We believe in being prepared against adversity and so we travel with supplies of food, wine, champagne, too, just in case. Even in France, where the chances of running low on any of the above are very minimal.

And even when supplies are not low, because we have managed to eat satisfying meals at least three times a day, we restock.

Today, we went into at least one candy store (purchase of choice: caramel au beurre salé), one sardine store (peculiar, as no one was especially looking for sardines) and one bakery.

Let me pause in the bakery, because we certainly did pause there, perhaps to demonstrate our support for the craft of fine baking in this part of the country (as if it were inferior elsewhere in France!).

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We bought provisions for lunch (the likes of which will not be described here, as you may find us to be perhaps a bit over the top in our food cravings) and waited while the proprietor took great care to heat them properly. None of this microwave stuff. (Do they even sell microwaves in France, or are they banned for reasons of culinary blasphemy?)

During our wait, we watched people come in for their lunch breads and supplements. I grew intensely jealous of the client who was known to Madame, so that she would reach for his daily loaf in a familiar way. Such intimacy seems to me to be a wonderful byproduct of living here.

After, we ate. And talked. In the way that only the closest friends, who believe that bread products can break all final barriers to communication, talk.

We then went on to pursue our various interests, which include painting (don’t look at me), photography, and writing – professionally and otherwise.

I felt my camera needed a work out after staring at food so much and so I set out in the rain. It was miserable out there for all but those under solid cover (“solid” is a matter of personal interpretation).

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The lens of my camera kept up a steady stream and steam of protest, but I was determined. Honfleur is about gray shrimp and gray skies and I want to sample both. At times, in combination. For example, let me poke around the fishing trawlers some and see if anyone is still out and about.

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Fine, camera wins. The lens refuses to stay dry.

I search for a café where the camera and I can recover. Though really, only a radiator will help me now as I am thoroughly wet. Still, I pause at a little place and study a book on Honfleur. (Did you know that the village of Quebec is just a few kilometers from here and that in the Canadian province of Quebec, there is a Honfleur?) And I study the jovial men that come for an early evening drink.

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I can’t tell if they are in the art, shrimp or service industry, but they are a happy lot and it warms me up to be in their presence. The outside weather seems less formidable now.

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Afterwards, I slosh home, passing two young boys who, like all young boys, don’t seem to mind anything having to do with weather.

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For dinner? Oh, crevettes, of course.

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