I’ve felt frankly overwhelmed by cultural experience and opportunities to reflect and write about. Thus, I’ve put off this latest entry until it could be perfect, or reflect exactly what is marinating in my head. But it won’t.
However, speaking of marinating. I’m going to write about food again. There are countless things to cover…the great “Mexican Pizza” we’ve discovered at the local joint, the two entire rows devoted to yogurt and like products at the local grocery store, why vegetables here are so cheap and good here, but no one seems to eat them, etc. But rather than vent or brag about particulars of the local eating habits, I want to rave, and reflect on the act of eating, the art of the French meal, and what we can learn. Particularly in light of Thanksgiving and the current Christmas season which will provide us opportunities for feasting with friends and family. I hope we do it well.
Le jour de l'Action de Grace (Thanksgiving) came and went here in Nantes without much great fanfare. I heard echoes of certain restaurants or home gatherings that would feature turkey (or some sort of available fowl) and other fixins. Jeff and I had a good friend from Atlanta in town, and decided to spend the evening with her, being thankful for being in France by enjoying a long, delicious French meal. I had a sumptious Boeuf Bourguignon and in true Thanksgiving style, when I was sure my stomach could hold nothing else, I still topped it off with a warm apple dessert, a la mode. In this case, it was Tarte Tatin - a regional specialty.
But what has my mind really spinning about the joy of communal eating and gathering at a common table, is our trip to a friends hometown the weekend following Thanksgiving. The drive itself merits a tall tale as it involved a freak snowstorm, iced-over highways, roadside snowmen, strange foreigners (that’s us!...well, just Rocky) pushing cars up a slippery hill which evidently locals deemed impassable. Ultimately, the trip which should have gotten us to the warm fires of Sylvain Le Mauff’s home in L’Hermitage Lorge at 9pm, drug us in around 11:15.
Despite our extreme tardiness, Sylvain’s family had let the set table sit for those 2 or so hours, and the feast commenced upon our arrival. Aperitif and snacks for an hour or so. Dinner served around 12:30, and we somehow managed room for dessert around 1:45. Come 2:30 or so, we realized we were quite tired. Spanish, Greeks…eat your heart out! (Well, actually the Spaniard and Greeks would have gone to the disco afterwards).
L’Hermitage Lorge is a lovely, quiet, Breton (in the Brittany province) town. I suppose viewing our little slideshow will do as much to describe our trip as my words could. BUT BEFORE YOU LOOK…You will notice a common theme in many pictures: food. The table of community, of feasting. Particularly in this weekend of being served as we were, of being in community with others, of paying no regard to time or calories, enjoying good food and wine, I am convinced again that sharing the table is in many ways a spiritual experience.
To Christians, this points to our celebration of the Eucharist, the Lord’s table where the community gathers, as Christ did with his disciples, to celebrate mystery, and to remember the Sacrifice which happened just a few hours after that first “last supper.” But as was discussed on a recent edition of Public Radio’s “Speaking of Faith”, Christ was just initiating a ritual that was already rich within Jewish and other mid-eastern cultures. In many religions and faiths, the act of sharing the table holds a significance that is easily taken for granted in our distraced, high-speed culture.
A Native American “Speaking of Faith” listener wrote in that “There is an ancient belief held by many First Nations people in which the act of taking and eating food is a kind of covenant between two beings.” Eating with one another is relational, and I have experienced this joy in France many times now. And for that, I am extremely thankful, and humbled.
And, in case you don’t visit the SOF website to read about this particular episode, I will highlight another important feast tradition: “in the earliest churches, which gathered in homes, the community meal was afterwards shared with outsiders and especially the poor. Communion was inextricably linked with service.” I hope that as Jeff and I have been served in the homes and apartments of our friends here in France, so we can give that gift to others, just as in bread and wine we recall sacrifice, and are spurred toward it at the grace-full table of Eucharist.
So now, take a peak at our Mobile Home table, Brittany Raclette communion (a little bread, plenty of wine), and other memorable experiences with friends. Hope to sup with many of you when we return…we’ll provide the table and the Pastis ;-).