Wednesday, October 24, 2007

surrounded by calabrians

I've heard that the weather back home is unseasonably warm. Here in France, it's unseasonably cold! The highs have been hovering around 50° Fahrenheit, and while the last few days have been full of blue skies, it's gone all overcast today making it feel even cooler.

But I didn't want to talk about the weather today, but about a very international dinner we attended on Saturday night. As you may remember, Stéph visited Romania earlier this month to attend a project conference with schools in France, Romania, Italy, and Spain. There are actually two groups in this project, and the Romanians and Italians in the second group were in our area at the end of last week and visited Stéph's school on Friday. Saturday night there was a big dinner in Troyes and we were invited.

I got the opportunity to meet Stéph's boss (and coincidentally, the only other man working at Stéph's school!) and probably the second thing out of Stéph's mouth was, "Oh, did you know that some of my wife's family emigrated from Italy and her maiden name is Italian?" and I could have sunk under the floor. The last thing I wanted to do is give the impression of knowing more about Italy than I do, especially when it comes to language, but Stéph's boss was intrigued. He asked me where my family was from, and when I said Calabria, he got excited because he has Calabrian roots as well! Then we meet a colleague of Stéph's whose husband has roots in Calabria as well, and we ended up sitting across from them during dinner.

The truth is, we were about thirty, so we didn't really get to mix with a lot of people (I don't think I spoke to a Romanian all night, except to say hello and goodbye), but we had a great conversation with the colleague and her husband and a couple of other Italians that were sitting near us. The teacher sitting next to me, who was French, spent four years in America, the colleague went to America alone when she was 17 to visit some family that had emigrated there, and her husband told us stories about his Italian relatives that had emigrated to New York.

It was an enlightening dinner; I only wish I could say the same about the food itself. The restaurant is more known for welcoming groups for weddings or the like, but the food was pretty disappointing. It was a fixed menu supposedly highlighting food from our area, but the entrance was a salad with salmon and shrimp (thanks to our close proximity to the ocean, here in eastern France? WTF?) followed by an uninspired dish of pork cutlets and a cream sauce with potatoes and lardons that clearly came from the frozen section. They could have made up for this with the cheese course, and as much as I love chaorce, the locally produced cheese, throwing a slab of it on a piece of toast and calling it a day doesn't necessarily impress. The desserts were equally as unimpressive, with a simple raspberry mousse that surely came in packs of ten from the local frozen foods shop swimming in crème anglaise. If I told you how much we paid for this "culinary feast," you'd be quite shocked.

The funniest thing was that the Romanians were clearly ready to go before the dessert was even served. The money was gathered while we waited for the dessert to arrive and most of the Romanian party had their coats on before the coffee showed up.

The most surreal thing happened just before we left. As we were saying goodbye to everyone, an Italian woman was saying goodbye to me, and I remembered enough of my rudimentary Italian to say "arrivederci," and then she place a hand on my cheek and muttered "che bella," before she turned around and left. Now, I am not exactly renown for my beauty, but I found this so touching that I nearly ran after her for a hug!

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