But now I can get it whenever I want, and my preferred kind (Lamb's) is available in the supermarket down the street for two bucks a bag. (I have no idea why this kind is so much better than everything else I've tried, but all I know is that I asked a friend to mule me some cornmeal when he visited from Texas one time and the results were stupendous).
Diligent research had settled me on the Northern Cornbread recipe from The New Best Recipe, but I was mooching around the Internet one day after I moved back to Texas and found one that looked pretty good. Hey! I told myself. That sounds good -- and I can easily make it. So I did.
|Last Sunday's sunrise|
I guess as far as revelations go, that one's sort of a "Duh" moment. Still, at my age you take the revelations you get and are happy you're still getting them.
* * *
I forget who's directly responsible for this, but at long last I have a concise explanation for what it was about living in France that bothered me and why I finally had to move. I do know that it came about because I had read and enjoyed a book called Provence, 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste, by Luke Barr, who's Fisher's great-nephew. The book's kind of inside baseball for anyone not fascinated by the subject, but it did remind me that Fisher is a fascinating character. At any rate, someone recommended Two Towns in Provence by her, commenting that I might get more out of it than the average person.
The book is actually two books, the first, Map of Another Town, about her time(s) in Aix-en-Provence and the second, A Considerable Town, about Marseille. Both are fairly close to where I lived, in Montpellier, although I never visited either during my 20 years in Europe. So I went down to Book People and picked up a copy (which I had to special order, but hey, the price was the same as Amazon and they're an indie bookstore). One evening I started reading it, and immediately fell under the spell of her prose. All I'd read by her up until then was her food writing, collected in the classic The Art of Eating, and the prose there was also magnificent. But this, this was a different matter.
The basic story is that as a young woman, Fisher had lived in (and, I think, studied in) Dijon, and had discovered France and its ways there. The man she was married to at that time died young, and she had two daughters to look after. But when they were old enough, the three of them went to France and stayed for a while in Aix, where the girls went to school and Mary Frances Katherine...observed stuff. She talks of this as a map, an ordering of her surroundings that permeates her consciousness, just as Dijon, which still showed up in her dreams, did. Living in a boarding house, she isn't exactly a resident of Aix, and in a chapter called "The Foreigner," she nailed something I'd certainly experienced, but never managed to solidify into words. Here's the passage. The second paragraph, in particular, made me sit up straight and re-read it several times before I could go on.
In Aix, I came in for a certain amount of the old patronizing surprise that I did not have an "American accent," which I do; that I did not talk through my nose, which I don't; that I knew how to bone a trout on my plate and drink a good wine (or even how to drink at all), which I do. I accepted all this without a quiver: it was based on both curiosity and envy.
What was harder to take calmly, especially on the days when my spiritual skin was abnormally thin, was the hopeless admission that the people I really liked would never accept me as a person of perception and sensitivity perhaps equal to their own. I was forever in their eyes the product of a naïve, undeveloped, and indeed infantile civilization, and therefore I was incapable of appreciating all the things that had shaped them into the complicated and deeply aware supermen of European culture that they firmly felt themselves to be.
It did not matter if I went four times to hear The Marriage of Figaro during the [Aix] Festival: I was an American culture-seeker, doing the stylish thing, and I could not possibly hear in it what a Frenchman would hear. This is of course probable; but what occasionally depressed me was that I was assumed to have a deaf ear because I was a racially untutored American instead of simply another human being.
This wall never falls, yet she persists. To do so, she has to create a shell which practically nobody but her girls gets through. She's forced into a selfishness in her relations with others, while accepting that this diminishes her in some ways. But it also allows her to deal with France on her own terms, to do the things she wants to do, and, in its egotism, perhaps makes her the amazing writer she was. France's loss, by all means.
There's still the second half of the volume to go, and I'll jump into it soon. But it's a relief to be reminded that it's not just the draconian demands Americans have to satisfy to get a visa, not just the absurd banking regulations (on both sides) that prevents them, effectively, from having a bank account, not just the absurd bureaucracy that stymied me. No, there was, as they say, something in the water.
I fully intend to go back to France as many times as I can in the future, but I know I can never live there. It was there, after all, that I learned an important lesson: that beauty is as important a factor in making me happy as accomplishment and love and good health, and that, furthermore, it's far easier to make happen. I suspect I'll find that principle espoused in pages of Mrs. Fisher's that I still haven't read because a lot of the time, I think we're on the same road.
* * *
Incidentally, one of the really rewarding things I've done since I've been back has been teaching a history of Austin music course at the University of Texas' "Continuing and Innovative Education" program. I learned a bunch of stuff myself, and not just about how to teach it far better the next time around. I'm teaching it again in August, and I guess enrollment is open, because two people have already signed up for it. I know: Texas in August. But the room's air-conditioned, and there'll be neat photos you've never seen, cool music you've never heard, and UT's air-conditioning, which they're paying for. If you've got to be in Austin during August, it's a great way to spend Wednesday evenings. Sign up! See you there!