We had every intention of making Bordeaux a brief stopover before the final stretch to the border. But, with our usual boundless energy and unstoppable willpower, it has stretched into rather a long break. It is not entirely our fault; we have been aided and abetted in our laziness by Fanny and Ghislain, two wonderful friends of Cecile.
We phoned them shortly after arriving and arranged to meet at their home for lunch. They live in the centre of Bordeaux with their children. Despite the fact that they had been to a rather glamorous sounding Film Festival at “a local chateau” the night before, and had very little sleep, they welcomed us with an absolutely wonderful lunch and the kind of hospitality which put us at ease immediately. We had been intending to leave Bordeaux the following day, but it transpired that Ghislain has a flat in central Bordeaux which is unused for much of the time, and with extraordinary generosity and trust, they suggested we stay in it for a few days.
We were utterly dumbfounded. The kindness and hospitality of French people is an unending source of amazement to us, particularly on such short acquaintance; and the option to spend a few days in blissfully peaceful and private surroundings, not to mention in a BED, was not one we were likely to refuse! So here we are, in central Bordeaux, in Ghislain’s beautiful flat equipped with every necessity for a thoroughly decadent existence: coffee maker, stereo, bed, bath, and stove. Despite well founded intentions to explore every corner of Bordeaux, our sightseeing has consisted mainly of an intensive inspection of the food market and wine cellars, and much languishing in bath tubs and eating of produce. Not to mention exhaustive reading of the full range of English Sunday papers, which the Presse on the corner thoughtfully sells.
To my great interest, as I sat stuffing my face with almond croissants and coffee, I discovered an article in one of them by a French woman, on the methods employed by her countrywomen to avoid gaining weight. Now, the eating habits of French women have held a particular fascination for me for some time. There are no overweight women here; they simply don’t exist. And yet, to look at them in restaurants, is to always see happy women tucking merrily into three course meals with the most wickedly creamy sauces and glorious cakes imaginable.
During my sojourn in Paris, I spent an inordinate amount of time pursuing my favourite habit of gastronomic study in a variety of restaurants. One of the things I noticed, as I sat dripping food down my front and reading trashy novels, was the amount of women who came in for lunch on their own, and happily ate the three course menu of the day. I loved it. There is something really fabulous about a culture which values it’s two hour lunch break, and sees nothing remotely odd in a woman sitting down by herself to a long lunch and a glass of wine. As a long term devotee of the solitary meal out, I was enchanted.
But then I looked closely at what they actually ate. And it began to dawn on me that although they ordered three courses, they only really ate a little bit of each. A scrape of pate on a sliver of bread for entree. The meat but not the frites at Main. Some tiny pieces of cheese on another sliver of bread at the end. One tiny petit four, a thimbleful of coffee, a couple of sips of wine, and half a cigarette. These women might be tucking into every sin in Western society; but only in small pieces, thanks very much. The only thing they consume with abandon is water.
So it served as confirmation of my own observations when the article in the Daily Telegraph (stupid newspaper by the way, never read anything so politically biased in my life. Atrocious rag) “exposed” the secret of French slim bodies as being the practice of eating what you want, but in small doses. Apparantly if we all eat only at the table with beautiful napkins and cutlery, making eating itself a ritual, and concentrate on just enjoying a very few foods of excellent quality, we can all maintain size eight figures.
I have no doubt this is so. It is definitely the way the French eat; everything is beautiful, meals are a work of art, and the business of food is treated with the kind of holiness Australians reserve for the footy grand final. In some ways I love this approach, and the longer we are here, the more we have adapted to it. But a part of me – the ravenous, gourmandising beast within, you might say – is hanging out for the chilled out, put-it-all-on-the-table-and-help-yourself approach of Australia and the Mediterranean. The wonderful al fresco style of eating and eating different bits and pieces, lolling in chairs on warm terraces and drinking far too much wine. I know it’s bad for the health and does nothing at all to help one squeeze into a bikini, but I reckon it’s worth it. Not all the time. But sometimes.
In the meantime, I know the secret to their skinniness. And do you think I am now going to adopt this very civilised approach to dieting? Well, let me put it this way. After giving the matter serious thought, I have decided to embark on a test run. That is, I will still go for all three courses, and the wine and coffee, and I will aim to at some stage in the future reduce the amount of each that I consume. You know, like around about the year 2050 or something. No point in rushing these things.
We are meeting Fanny and Ghislain tonight for dinner, which we are really looking forward to, and are planning to walk tomorrow. One could see this evening as a perfect opportunity to trial the new eating program. I’ll think about it. But since I have already bought croissants, chocolate, cheese and baguette for this morning, I’ll think about it while I eat. On the couch. Without cutlery or napkins. By then it should be time for lunch.