Wednesday, April 27, 2011

BBQ'd tomatoes (to go with the sausage) and remembering a fine, fine writer

It was the summer of 1997, and we had rented a house on a vineyard in Southern France, and it was an unusually wet and stormy couple of weeks. The land all around us (a growing region of very good wine, called Pic-St.-Loup) was dry and rocky, and didn't absorb rain-water very well. There were signs for miles that warned that "this road" (virtually any of the ones we drove daily) was subject to a "flood" (inondable).  Our landlord's gravel driveway and yard would disappear under huge puddles; he had a weapon for these: a huge squeegee attached to a long pole. Not terrifically effective, but he must have found it preferable to standing in his doorway and cursing...

We did learn a lovely trick from him, though, as I wrote in my journal:

We shared the owner's BBQ, which turned out to be housed inside a beautiful round stone tower that (had lost much of its height and all of its roof and) stood perhaps seven feet high. In the center of the tower, he always placed old grapevines (from a stash he had collected) in a circle under the raised hearth, and, as we watched one night, our landlord laid out both sausages and half-tomatoes (the latter dressed in olive oil and, as my husband now remembers, oregano) and cooked them -- for the same length of time -- for his dinner. As soon as he pulled his dinner from the fire, we began ours. (The sausages and tomatoes are cooking, foreground, and the last few grapevines are resting behind them):

We had bought sausages earlier in the day and happened to have tomatoes, so we tried the same plan... it was wonderful. In those days, we would then gather on our big bed after dinner and I would read from Rudyard Kipling's stories about an English schoolboy, Stalky & Co., until we were tired...

That next day, we got up determined to find Lawrence Durrell's former house in a small town called Sommieres.  It was pouring rain and a thunderstorm came through very early that morning... but we got ourselves together and drove off to explore, hoping that none of our main roads would flood.  With the help of the tourist bureau, we found Durrell's house, behind massive stone fences, elegant, with a long expanse of fields behind the house. The house was for sale, as it happened, for 2 million francs, or about $317,000 then.  It was a deal. We didn't have the money, of course, and as we began to walk away I took one last photo... of the tiles, perhaps from Egypt, where Durrell had lived (and where his inspiration for his fabulous The Alexandria Quartet, four novels that are really lovely, deep, fascinating, hard, and real).  The tile in my photo was carved with the name Lawrence Durrell;  someone had crossed it out, crudely, in black paint:

It rained the rest of the day ... and we bought a Durrell biography on the way home.

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