Sunday, September 13, 2009

Provence, July 2004

France, July, 2005

Auberge de la Lube lies just beyond the valley, a
car's breath away from Bioux, a tiny hamlet barely
visible amidst fields of purple lavender. We are among
the first to arrive, and the Chef and his entourage
are sitting on a table by the entrance of the
restaurant in the midst of eating, drinking, and
conversing. They seem nonplussed to see us, and take
their time, smiling broadly at us in welcome. By and
by, they get up and one of them, a younger woman who
seems part of the family rather than just another
waitress leads us to the cozy rooms inside the house,
each with three to four tables, laid out prettily with
flowers. We settle for a table by the gardens, and
are presented with menus with the day's four or three
course entree. We settle for four.

The aperitif is not part of the courses, a stiff drink
reeking of anise that promises to whet the appetite.
It does more than that, for it has forty percent
alcohol, and I am suddenly in a cheery mood, ready for
the entertainment to begin.

Our guide and server for the night, aka the waitress,
enters with a large tray with over fourteen small
porcelain vessels, each with a different
appetizer--mushrooms swimming in a delicately spiced
tomato sauce, whole sardines, their eyes glittering,
cherry tomatoes, just picked from the garden, three
different types of tapenade, a humus, sticks of celery
so fresh they crackle in my mouth. I am awed by the
variety, so much good food, and the thought that all
this is just the first course.

I have a freshwater fish for my main meal, cooked in
its own juices but the body still plump and inviting
with plenty of fluids. The red wine Ishwar chooses
compliments it perfectly, a gentle wine from the
region that rests calmly in the mouth, tongue, teeth,
and gums soaking in the sweetness wrested from the
barren soil, the rocky earth. I've heard it said that
the sweetest tastes, songs arise from the saddest
things and thoughts, and the wines of the Luberon are
no exception. The Luberon lying just above the
Cote d'Azur, the French Riviera, is characterized by
expanses of huge bare rocks upon whose escarpments,
villages were built in the past, barely clinging on to
steep cliffs. The houses were built of
stone, for stone is more prevalent than wood in these
parts, and so have survived centuries. The cultivation
of grapes has similarly persisted over generations,
and while the grapes are hard and barely edible as
Ishwar and I found out to our mouths´distaste after we
snitched some grapes off their vines earlier in the
day, somehow the sweetest wine is still able to be
squeezed from their hard bodies.

The chef comes out to check on us, a smiling portly
man, with a goatee that makes him look more artist
than cook. Louis IV, France's most envied,
authoritative Sun King, was among the most enthusiastic
supporters of cooking, raising food to the status of art, and
giving accomplished chefs the same importance reserved
for great musicians and artists. The tradition in
France continues today, and the chef of Auberge de la
Lube is a living example of the artist-chef. We are
his guests rather than his customers, and he, as with
all other good chefs and famous restaurants, will have
only one or maximum two sittings the entire night, for
the process of eating a meal cooked by a good chef is
a slow one, meant to be savored with every bite, every
passing minute. After a while, time and its
significance disintegrates... the meal is an
event, experience to be savored, an experience that
devours time. Hunger is also the most inconsequential
of factors; it is the tongue's palate that chefs'
target, not your growling innards, but by the end of a
good meal, the subject of a chef's artistry is
surprised to discover that with the night's wizardry,
his or her hunger has somehow also miraculously

The night slowly peels away time, and as with nearly
every restaurant in France where you have to almost
beg someone to get you the bill, we are completely
ignored by the staff who let us be on our own,
savoring, dreaming, making time a servant of
experience, our senses reigning sovereign for the
moment. Now and then, I spy an aproned woman amble to
the garden and come back with strips of lettuce, a few
tomatoes, which makes it to our dinner plates in a
couple of minutes. From soil, to plate, to mouth is
only blinks apart, and freshness tingles, the crunch
of lettuce bursting in my mouth. Again, the chef comes
by our table to see if we are enjoying his show, and
nods his approval at the utter satisfaction on our

Dessert is not the last meal but the preamble to other
great meals to come in this magnificent land where the
sun blazes orange over fields of Van Gogh´s golden
sunflowers, where the indigo seas turn a limpid
turquoise near the beaches to accommodate revelers,
where class distinctions are not tolerated but human
rights and the equality of all is celebrated over the
swinging face of guillotines. Ah, France! I adore
passion, your zest for life, your exuberance, your
ideals, your food, and I will be back for more, again
and again and again...

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