We wanted to stop being American for a while. Pedal-to-the-metal lifestyle, always something next on the schedule, always a work email regardless of the time, wake up and check your phone… Treadmill on steroids.
Medieval stone sure puts the brake on hectic America. We found stillness in Uzès, a stone-built town in southwest France where we spent Christmas week. We wanted to experience, as far as we could, the way that the French lived in it. Totally unamerican.
It’s hard to hurry when you’re surrounded by stone that hasn’t moved a millimeter for a thousand years. Stone stands still; stone slows you down.
Our Christmas dinner consisted of eight courses and took five hours. It was perfectly paced – each dish arriving at exactly the moment we felt ready for it.
The dining room was stone and small, but just outside it was a staircase – stone and superb.
At midnight we strolled back to our Airbnb through the softly lit, silent, stone town.
Mornings we’d amble to the bakery half-a-dozen doors away for bread and croissants straight from the ovens in the back of the shop. We couldn’t lie-abed too long: she baked just enough to last until about 10.30 – who in their right mind would buy the day’s bread any later than that?
There was a boulangerie every hundred meters or so, butchers were just about as frequent, and local cheese was everywhere you turned. You bought what you would eat that day, and ate it fresh, not refrigerated. And you never saw anybody on a cell phone. Unamerican in spades.
On Saturday morning, the whole town became a market. It took us ten slow minutes to buy three cheeses: the fromager insisted on taking a huge knife to give us paper-thin slivers from all around his stall. He wanted to make sure that we hadn’t overlooked a cheese we might have preferred. His stall was crowded, but nobody was impatient: that was the way you bought cheese.
Our Parable of Fishes and Wine
We thought we needed a quick coffee to warm up, so we found a café-bar. The proprietor murmured “bonjour” as we sat down, but made no move.
At the next table were a couple of men with long, thick white hair: a dog with thick, white fur lay at their feet, he had no collar or leash and got up every now and again to amble around the room. People liked him.
The men were drinking white wine and had a blue plastic plate of oyster shells pushed to one side on their table. They spoke no English, but they clearly indicated that we should have oysters and wine in preference to coffee. They didn’t have to twist our arms very hard. They gestured across the street, where a stall holder was selling fresh oysters on plastic plates.
Lisa ordered half a dozen and he said he bring them in to us. We sipped our wine, and after about 20 minutes, our oysters had still not arrived. Pesky Americans that we were, we wanted to know if he’d forgotten us. “Too many people,” he smiled and gestured around the stall. Ten minutes later, he laid the oysters on our table.
They were delicious – huge, briny, slurping in seawater. Of course, we had to have another half-dozen and another glass. A quick cup of coffee had morphed into two hours of oysters and wine. The stone arch above us probably thought we were still in too much of a hurry.