Bonnes Paques

Easter is a really big deal here, I think not so much as a religious holiday as because it’s the occasion for a big feast. I was told Bonnes Paques, Happy Easter, at least a dozen times today as I ran all over town, making my way through my grocery list. I tried to do a lot of my shopping yesterday, to avoid the foule pas possible, the crowd that’s just incredible, that I knew would be swamping the food shops and the stalls in today’s market, but no, there I was, along with thousands of other future feasters, stuffing my shopping basket with springtime delicacies.

Yesterday I did manage to get the lamb, which is absolument obligatoire here for Easter dinner, and fortunately I got both a shoulder and a leg, unable to decide between two recipes, plus kilos of asparagus, which although abundant at that moment might have sold out by 10:00 this morning. I’m pretty sure that every table in this part of France will feature lamb and asparagus tomorrow, and so will ours. We’ll be six for dinner, three French friends from here, and a German friend that we haven’t met yet, who’s driving 900 kilometers down from Mannheim to be with us. That would be the most special thing ever, if it weren’t for the fact that’s he’s already saved Shel’s life once, which tops anything that can be said about Easter dinner and how far we’re willing to drive for it.

By a cruel twist of fate I woke up this morning with a killer cold and not much voice, necessitating a lot of croaking and wheezing as I did my shopping, not to mention countless handwashings as I made the asparagus soup, stuffed the squash blossoms, pitted the olives, and all the painstaking tasks that involve touching the food of people I’d rather not infect. I made Mario Batali’s Lamb Shoulder Braised in Milk, which, as I feared, although delicious, is not presentable on such an occasion. No worries, into the freezer it went, and the leg of lamb will save the day.

Wanting some Easter candy to decorate the table, we went first to one supermarket whose shelves were absolutely denuded. “Oh  putain, il n’y a rien!” I heard one guy say to his wife, a vulgar but heartfelt way to say that his kids were going to be out of luck on the candy front. Shel went off to the other supermarket while I cooked, and although he did come back with some colored eggs and even some chocolate ones, he reported a fight between two women over the last chocolate bell in the store, a fight that engendered intervention from the store’s ever-present security officer.  Because, you see, in France it’s not the bunny who brings the candy to kids, it’s bells.  Yes indeed, on Easter Eve the bells leave the church towers and fly off to Rome, from whence they return laden with candy.  Don’t ask me, I’m just reporting this, so you can understand how an Easter without a chocolate bell might be disastrous enough to bring two frazzled women to blows.

So now I’m going to stuff myself full of French cold medicine and hit the hay, hoping that in the morning I’ll be able to taste, and will have all the energy needed to cook and decorate all day. And hoping that it won’t rain tomorrow, as it did today. And wishing bonne route to Wolfgang, and peace and joy to all of you, whether you are feasting tomorrow or not.  To sleep, perchance to dream of bells, winging swiftly south and east, Rome-ward, soon to return and shower us all with chocolate and cheer. Bonnes Paques to all, and to all a good night.

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