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TitleCork Screwed
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Corkscrewed

Page 107

90 Drinking with Uncle Jacques

7. Uncle Jacques and the backdrop of �le Canigou� from Château MossØ

his midsection a bit too large to be considered a mere tire. Two
fenders of thin white hair bulged from the sides of his bald crown.
He wore a navy sweater-vest and carried a leather pouch�no doubt
for those oversized French documents such as his driver�s license
and checkbook. He was the picture of an old-school professional
in what the French politely call the troisième âge (third age).
After a series of embraces and French let-me-look-at-yous, we
climbed in Jacques�s well-polished Citroºn sedan. He told us that
he had been surprised by the location of our accommodations. It
was not usually, he said�giving me a once-over�a place where
Americans stay.
Within minutes we were on the autoroute to Versailles, where we
walked the famous gardens. Jacques pointed out the old engineering
academy where he had studied as a young man. When we arrived
at the small, tidy suburban home nearby, I was struck by the smell
of something meaty and delicious wafting from the kitchen.
Jeanne and Jacques had a similar look and shape�a phenomenon

Page 108

Drinking with Uncle Jacques 91

I attributed to their forty years of marriage. They both stood about
�ve feet four with rounded bodies balanced atop small feet. Their
soft, pale faces were bespectacled with the same style of large, and
dated, gold-rimmed glasses.
On their dining table draped in Old World lace, Jeanne served us
one of those simple but extraordinary Sunday lunches the French
expect as a way of life. I remember the main dish as being a stewed
chicken smothered in mushrooms, but neither the chicken nor the
mushrooms smelled or tasted like their standard American counter-
parts. The meat had just enough gaminess to resemble something
that had actually come from a living creature; the mushrooms were
profoundly earthy. The bird was surely farm raised and was prob-
ably purchased with its head and a few stray feathers intact�not
one of those colorless critters that look and taste as if they were
born in the �uorescent glare of the supermarket meat section. The
mushrooms were cèpes that Jacques had picked himself and frozen
that winter. The wine was from some Bordeaux appellation, perhaps
Saint-Émilion.
We spoke about family and plans for our vacation traversing the
country. At some point the subject of French cuisine came up. To
me, at the time, it was all French food, and as long as you stayed
away from the obvious tourist mills and fast food joints, it was all
good.
�Ah, but in Paris, you cannot eat well!� Jacques stated authori-
tatively.
I must have looked as dumbfounded as I would have if he�d
announced that for an entremet between courses we would be nib-
bling on a pâtØ made from the family cat. Was not Paris, after all,
the capital of world gastronomy?
�It�s true,� Jacques continued, shaking his head. �In Paris, all
you can �nd is la boof . . . la boof for the tourists.�
�Boeuf?� I said, wondering, what was the beef?
Everyone else laughed at this, my son included. My wife then
explained that Jacques wasn�t referring to le boeuf but la bouffe�
slang for �chow� or �slop.�
Jacques went on, explaining with an engineer�s know-it-all that

Page 213

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