In 2008, my father came for the first time to visit Paris for little over a week and for four days in Bordeaux, with my then-boyfriend (now husband’s) family. Prior to his arrival, I reminded him multiple times to prepare himself. My in-laws were very excited, and anxious to make him feel welcome. My father is a five-star general level foodie, and Paris was already a big deal. But I knew that wasn’t where the danger lay. It was in Bordeaux.
Just before lunch on the second day, my father excused himself from my father-in-law and ran into the kitchen to find me. He had a glass of the anise-flavored aperitif, pastis, in his hand. It had been given to him by my father-in-law, in spite of the fact that he still had not completely recovered from the six different wines served with dinner the night before.
“You have to drink this,” he whispered to me. “I can’t drink anymore!”
“Sorry,” I said. “I can’t stand pastis, and I told you these people are professionals.”
“That’s just the warm-up,” my husband added, gesturing to the mantle in the dining room where my father-in-law had lined up a battalion of wines and rums.
I’d never seen my father tear up out of fear before.
The following evening, after having taken an afternoon trip for oysters in the seaside village of Cap Ferret, my father refused to eat dinner. We tried to cajole him, with no success. I’m not sure what did him in. Maybe the confit de canard, roasted duck with its sinfully crunchy, crisp skin. It could have been one of the four sausages or the two homemade patés we had as appetizers. I imagine the foie gras had an impact. Or the Sauternes we drank with the creamy, salty Roquefort cheese. He did get a little too excited with the traditional cassoulet the first afternoon. The slow-cooked stew of salt pork, duck, beans and vegetables is enough to make you want to go out into the forest and fell some trees. Or just snuggle under the covers on a cold, rainy day.
Trying to give him some sustenance that night, my mother-in-law whipped up her light version of garbure soup, going heavy on the root vegetables and broth, light on the ham. But nothing doing. The man could not take another bite. He ate nothing else for the duration of his stay. Even after we’d returned to Paris two days before his flight home.
My father still tells that story with great fondness. He admits being concerned that he was going to have that very French malady, a “crise de foie”. But the thing that impressed him the most was how he was welcomed. The experience was emblematic of Bordeaux and its region, Aquitaine in southwestern France.
You come, following a long journey, to a place you have never been before. Preparations have been made for your visit long in advance – ducks have been fattened, grapes made into wine.
A French family opens its doors to you, and begins to feed you. They feed you and feed you and feed you. When you can’t eat anymore, they are happy to show you their city and the region.
They take you to the ocean, or to the mountains – both are nearby. They do their best to speak your language, and when communication gets difficult, another bottle is opened, and the conversation starts flowing again.
My father enjoyed his time in Paris. He took lots of photos and enjoyed seeing the city. But when he tells people about going to France, he talks to them about his trips to Bordeaux. And he did cry again during his second visit – but that had more to do with walking his daughter down the aisle than anything else.