June 24, 2005
This French Summer continues to heat up as the solstice keeps the sun high and hot over Gascony until nearly 10 o’clock. At the French Kitchen we celebrate the long day into night in our own mad fashion: a fete for friends, good food, strong drink, live music, a bonfire and a shadow show complete with a launch of a flotilla of small boats—alit like floating Chinese lanterns.
Like a fable, it started when my neighborhood shepherd, Yohan and his 200-strong troupeaux were munching the grass along the towpath. I asked how much it would cost for a lamb big enough to roast for a party. At 3.10€ a kilo, I couldn’t resist and the idea of inviting enough people to eat 30 kilos—15 kilos dressed out, was born.
Good Excuses for a big party: the summer solstice was fast approaching; the bonfires for St. Jean’s feast were waiting; friends where arriving from various global corners; Franny Golden was having an exposition of paintings in her French village- Francescas. Eh Voila! the Feu de Joie was born. By Thursday Elaine Tin Nyo had arrived from NYC via the Venice Biennale, Alvin and Renée returned to Ste. Colombe for the summer and Betsy Tobin and her 9 ¾ year old son Jessie TGVed in from Boulder Co via their Paris flat. Tony Coope of the Walter Harpman Band called and volunteered to be the bluesy soundtrack for the party. The bonfire had been ready for months.
I ordered the lamb, called in the troops, laid out the menu--lamb, lamb and more lamb: grill the racks; bone and butterfly the legs; rub with rosemary and garlic; save the neck and shanks for couscous. Assorted tapas from small tins that I brought back from Catalunya would be starters and flats of white peaches and kilos of fat cherries and ice cream cones (my newest fast dessert) would finish. Betsy’s arm was twisted to create a shadow puppet show on the barge (she performs as the ‘Now or Never Theatre’ out of Boulder,CO.) and with Jessie’s help began to assemble the props and make a fleet of paper boats. Elaine and I began shopping, shopping and shopping. We hit the Agen covered market, the village farmer’s market, the grand surface hypermarché, Carrefour, as well as the village 9-7, Shopi, before we were through. We bought everything but the lamb.
And just where was that lamb? And where was that shepherd? How do you hide a 800-hoof strong flock? Saturday passed without a bleat. By Sunday morning, the day of the fete, I had resigned myself to look for other sources. We lit out first thing before coffee for my favorite butchers, the Pineau Freres in les halles in Agen. The clan of butcher men had a great laugh at my expense “ah! Le berger disparu!” and choose two fat gigot d’agneau and several kilos of saucisses d’agenaise to replace the missing meat. E and I had a grande crème and chocolatine while waiting for the legs to be trimmed and butterflied (love those butchers!). By the time we returned to Camont with the boucherie's two legs, the first helpers had arrived as well as the missing shepherd with 4 other legs plus rack, ribs and tail.
Twelve hours later the moon rose, the bonfire was a memory of flame and ashes, little boats were burning their way to Bordeaux and we last stragglers ate lamb and garlic baquette sandwiches and the last bottle of Elian Da Ros's Cote de Marmandais. It was indeed a miracle that we lasted so long.
pix by Robert Lossen
Posted by Kate Hill at Friday, June 24, 2005