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Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Cheese Blog

This blog is all about cheese.  If you don't like cheese, move along.  Also, I have a cold, so its not going to be as funny as usual; sorry.

Okay, I'm back in Auxerre, with my family.  I was going to visit my truly amazing cousin Celine but the train strike (damn you french workers and your silly belief in democracy!) has put a stop to that for now.  Its a pity; Celine is a freakin rock star and I was really looking forward to spending some time with her.

Anyway, on to the cheese...
France is a country that knows how to take care of the important things in life; wines, food, clothing and revolutions.  But, what the French do really well is make cheese.  No meal is complete without the cheese platter at the end.  Now, there are more than 400 varieties of cheeses in France; each region has its own distinct cheeses and is proud of them.

In Franche Comte, there are two especially good cheeses: canquiette (which comes in a tub and essentially liquid brie with garlic) and Comte, a hard cheese with a nutty flavour.  In Bourgogne, where my grandparents live, there are many, many types of cheeses.  This are is a big agricultural area and many of abbeys and nunnerys made money by making specialty cheeses.  This continues today.

Now, my mother took me to the super market with her and told me, "Sara, pick out ze three cheeses for ze family tonight...and make zem good ones!  I don't wantz you to embarrass yourself..."

Let me break it down for you re: the cheese shopping experience in France. There are ENTIRE rows of cheeses; there are more than 400 varieties now...the choices are...extreme.  There is no Tasty, Edam, Colby or Cheddar cheeses...its not like that.  Each one comes in its own unique packaging; wooden round boxes, glass or plastic casing.  And you have no idea what the cheeses actually are because my french ain't so hot right now.

I have to breathe deeply.  I consider my options.  Now, I love Epoisses, so I get a real old one.  Epoisses is a white cheese with an orange rind.  It smells vaguely like a sewer but tastes divine.  Its an old joke that you have to hold your nose when eating Epoisses.  So one down.

The second is a tub of canquiette from Franche Comte.  Its another safe choice.  The last one, however, I take a punt on.  There is a round cheese that has a somewhat orange rind made by monks in Bourgogne.  I figure monks who are distracted by silly things like women or society, surely will make an awesome cheese.

Nervously I hand my three cheeses to my mom.

"Hmmm...okay...not sure about the monk's cheese but lets give it a go."

We arrive at my grandparent's house.  I wait for dinner.  I watch them open up the package of cheese.  Picking out the right cheese is really important; people in France talk about cheese constantly (its sort of a national pastime).  Dinner finishes.  The knives come out.  The cheeses are unwrapped.  I look at my grandfather's face expectantly.  His eyebrows raises as he tries the monks cheese.

"Ummm...son bonne!"

Yay!  I find out later that he gets people to BUY him the cheese because he loves it so much.  I don't really care for the cheese myself  (its kind of weird; sort of like a bizarre mixture of creme frache and string cheese, not much taste) but he loves it.  I have passed an important family test.  Why this is extra important to me is that Pepe doesn't eat too much anymore; so to get him to eat a pretty large chunk of cheese is a HUGE accomplishment.

Its wonderful to be in France and discover interesting facts about yourself and your family.  I look through some old photographs and there is Primo, my great, great grandmother's first son (she was Italian).  Looking through all the baby photos, wedding photos, photos of family reunions.  I enjoy the photos of my grandfather caving, wearing his helmet, harness, ropes tied around his waist...reminds me of RATS (the rescue team I was a part of).  It's good to see where I get things from.

I also have enjoyed spending time with Meme, my grandmother, who has significant memory issues.  When I come to see her, she doesn't remember me being there the day before, so its like a whole new visit!  She is always thrilled and happy to see me.  I wonder if maybe there isn't an upside to the whole memory loss thing. If we treat people like its the first time we have seen them, maybe we would appreciate them more and make the time we have together that much more special...its just a thought...

Anyway, I have less than a week now until I get to the Solomons and I'm started to get very excited about my new life there.  I can't wait to start working, get my little garden set up and look after a little home again.

You know, its been a year since I separated from my husband.  During this year, I felt like I was in a war, mostly with myself.  There was a great deal of anger, guilt, loneliness, grief, longing, resentment and other emotional crap to wade through. This trip really saved me from becoming a bitter old woman and now I'm just a peaceful old woman.

Don't get me wrong; I would have been lost without my friends supporting me too but sometimes you just need to deal with yourself without leaning on anyone else for awhile.  I was hurting people caught in the cross fire of my emotional civil war; I clearly needed a break just to deal with myself.  I didn't realise how exhausted I was until I got on the plane; tiredness from more than three years of dealing with difficult things, trying to be strong and shouldering the responsibility for a lot of things.

Anyway, I've raised the white flag and called a truce with myself.  I've signed the peace treaty and both sides have put down their guns.

Maybe its because the cheese. Maybe its the travel. Either way, I feel like a whole new person; excited about the possibilities in life, forgiving myself and my past. I am looking forward to the future, excited by the possibilities of my life.

Even if its a future without much variety in cheeses...dammit.