The Old Port in Marseilles, France
Bouchon by Thomas Keller
"It may be the best cookbook ever about bistros and bistro food."
--The New York Times
amitié (a-mee-tyay) noun, feminine
1. friendship 2. amitiés = best wishes/regards
L'amitié se nourrit de communication.
Friendship is nourished by communication.--Montaigne
A Day in a French Life...
Autumn 1994. Six months pregnant, I dug through our three drawer commode* to find something suitable, hopefully attractive, to wear. I was returning to the Chamber of Commerce in Marseilles, where I had taught English a few years earlier, to meet with a former supervisor for lunch. "There will be another American joining us," she had said, in her charming écossais* accent, before hanging up the phone.
At a café at the Castellane metro stop I sat facing my ex-supervisor, the American sat beside me. "Is this place OK?" the écossaise asked. "Have you ever been to Tarte Julie, just down the street?" the American replied. We hadn't, but before we could change our minds the middle-aged waiter with the black ponytail said, "Qu'est-ce que vous désirez?"* I became concerned that there were no vegetarian items on the menu--concerned for my new friend. "I'll have a salad au chèvre chaud,"* the American said, unconcerned. How I knew she was végétarienne is a mystery. Perhaps it was the Tarte Julie comment. Back then, in my mind only French people and vegetarians ate quiche.
*Back then* I was giving Marseilles another try. You might say France (and a certain Frenchman) was giving me a second chance. Several factors, including my failure to seek and nurture friendships, led to my being expelled* one year earlier. Believing my French was not up to par, I did not pursue friendships with the Francophones and the expats I had encountered were wary of making friends with the newly arrived--we newbies were a gamble--why take a chance on befriending a newcomer who might call France quits after the charm wore off? Those expats who were now well-adjusted and getting by just fine on their own didn't seem to need us needies--or at least didn't want to risk losing us once a friendship was established. As if to prove their theory, I lasted ten months before heading back to the Arizona desert, to my cactus-prickly but warm and predictable security blanket.
I did eventually make it back to France and there I was at a café with the écossaise and the American from California who liked antiques, art, theater, books and adventure. I learned she'd moved to Paris a dozen years ago after marrying a Frenchman. I guess she didn't care about my track record, didn't find me a high-risk friend about to catch the next plane home when her rose-tinted glasses cracked. When lunch ended, she invited me to visit her in the country. A week later, I nervously fastened my seatbelt after Jean-Marc gave me a few tips on how to get to the northern village from Marseilles. I was scared to drive in France. Friendship gave me courage.
Chez Corey I discovered a warm and friendly Franco-American home decorated with French antiques. Her English-speaking children bounded up and down the spiral staircase, leaving giggles in their wake. As we sat chatting over jasmine tea, opera music filled in any conversational gaps while spicy aromas wafted in from the kitchen to the salon, redirecting our talk from books to food.
I returned to Corey's as often as possible to laugh and to learn to make my first quiche--you didn't have to be vegetarian or French to eat them after all. Corey gave me her son's crib for my soon-to-be born Franco-American and she threw in a bunch of baby clothes, baby instruction books and nursing paraphernalia, reminding me to ring if I needed anything at all. She was there when my son was born, attended his baptism and was ecstatic to welcome my baby girl into the world two years after Max was born. "I can give her all my daughter's baby clothes!" she enthused, after sneaking past the nurses' station to my hospital room, her arms toting sacks of real food, a Corona beer thrown in for good measure.
A year after Jackie was born, we moved. The distance meant that I saw Corey less and less. On Sunday I had the chance to visit my friend again. Around a grand table dressed in thick linen with vibrant fall leaves decorating the top we shared another meal sans viande* and caught up on the passing years. When our stomachs were as full as our hearts, Max, Jackie, Jean-Marc and I bid Corey and her family farewell, until next time.
Driving back to my village, the conversation with my friend continued in my head; words that I had not said were finally spoken. "You see, chère amie,* I am still here in France, after all these years! Thank you for believing I would eventually settle, even before I believed it. Thank you for your offer of amitié,* and for taking a chance on me, the newcomer to France."
*References: une commode (f) = chest of drawers; écossais(e) = Scottish (accent); Qu'est-ce que vous désirez? = What would you like? (to eat); au chèvre chaud = with goat cheese; dismissed = In 1993 I was told to leave France--for the full story please read the intro to my book; sans-viande = without meat; chère amie = dear friend; amitié (f) = friendship
Charles Faudree's Country French Living. Famed for his Parisian buying trips, where he negotiates with flea market vendors using a pen and paper, Faudree confides "a signature piece doesn't have to be expensive. You can get the look without the seventeenth-century armoire. --Publishers Weekly.
Best Foot Forward from the publisher: Why would an unfit, fifty-something Englishwoman embark on a solo walk across France from La Rochelle on the west coast to Lake Geneva over the Swiss border? Best Foot Forward is a hilarious and heart-warming tale of English eccentricity, the American pioneering spirit, and two women old enough to know better.
A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette's Perfumer is a wonderful window into the world of France during its most brutal and violent days.
Hear Jean-Marc pronounce the word "amitié": Download amitie.wav
French terms and Idiomatic expressions:
par amitié = out of friendship
mes amitiés à votre soeur (mère, fils, mari...) = my best regards to your sister (son, mother, husband...)
sincères amitiés de... = best wishes from...
une étroite amitié = a close friendship
nouer une amitié avec quelqu'un = to "knot" (or secure) a friendship with someone
concevoir de l'amitié pour quelqu'un = to take a liking to someone
se lier d'amitié pour quelqu'un = to make friends with someone
faire mille amitiés à quelqu'un = to give someone a warm and inviting welcome
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