I’d heard rumors earlier in the day that we were going to be having a fête to celebrate Bastille Day. Residents often try to eat dinner together, but people cook for themselves and the eating tends to go in shifts. Tonight’s dinner would be a collective effort, with everyone contributing a dish.
Judith, the opera singer, came knocking on my door around 5. “Did you hear about tonight’s dinner?” she asked. “I’m bringing meatballs.”
“I wish I could make something,” I replied. “But I don’t have much food left.”
Diane, Glenn and I, the only new residents, laugh a little everyday about our food situation. We were given shopping suggestions before arriving, and I had made a list and was prepared to buy more than I thought I needed. But the actual grocery store experience was completely surreal and overwhelming. I had just been picked up in Carcassonne, rode in a jeep with four strangers for 10 minutes, and then was deposited at the grocery store. We wheeled our carts aimlessly through the store, going our separate ways, studying the shelves and searching for the food items on our lists. After nearly an hour passed I started to panic, because it had been a long time since I’d seen anyone I recognized. I began moving quickly through the aisles, sometimes grabbing food at random, sometimes putting items back on the shelves.
Finally I ran into Diane, and she sighed with relief. “I thought I was the last one!” Soon afterwards we saw Glenn, with barely anything in his cart, looking a bit dazed. “I’m not much of a cook,” he said. We helped each other find the last, missing items: coffee filters, sugar, laundry detergent, and then checked out, satisfied that we’d done a good job.
But almost as soon as we arrived at La Muse later that evening and saw what the other residents had to eat, did we realize that none of us had bought enough. Everyday we put our heads together and talk about what we’re going to eat, giving each other ideas and sharing food. One day, Glenn brought out a can of Pringles saying, “You can each have three.” Diane shared her turkey, I shared my eggs. We have an excess of yogurt and stale bread. Glenn has started walking to the next village to eat at their cafe.
So when Judith appeared at my door, talking about meatballs, I looked at her with a bit of dismay. “I’ll bring a bottle of wine,” I said, “And next time I’ll cook something.”
The windows of my room look out onto the back of the house, and down to the bottom of the village. Around 7:00 I heard movement on the terrace, and leaned out my window to look down.
The table was set and Homer, the dog, was resting nearby (no doubt waiting for the food to be served). One by one the residents gathered, opening bottles of wine, finding candles for the table, plating the food.
Once the wine was poured and the 11 of us were seated around the table, Judith picked up her glass and cried, “Vive la France!” We echoed her toast, and someone launched into La Marseillaise. The first course began with hors d’oeuvres: roasted red peppers, little bites of sausages, slices of cucumbers and pears, tomatoes and mozzarella. A potato and egg frittata, Caesar salad, quinoa, meatballs, and beet risotto dishes followed.
Artis, Jean-Christophe and I cleared off plates and retreated to the kitchen. Artis began to heat water for tea, asking if it would be okay to serve tea with the cheese. “Sure!” we said. Seconds later she came back inside with the mugs. “I was told that the cheese must come first!”
Outside there was laughter and singing. Throughout dinner, Alain had been freely pouring wine and refilling glasses, often when no one was looking. We lit candles, Homer cleaned up forgotten scraps of food, we discovered snails devouring a plate of nuts.
Jeff and Susan invited us over to their cottage on Tuesday night, for another group dinner. We smiled and gladly accepted. Glenn looked around the table. “I’ll bring the Pringles.”