Thursday, July 17, 2008


Olivier was here the other day, advising about this and that and fixing things. The girls and I were awash in apricots and plums--bins, litres, gallons, pounds of each (about which more later)--and I was trying to figure out how to make jam in French and in France . Olivier's visit was really about the (still open) trench at the bottom of the garden, and the ground water that has collected or seeped or wandered into it, but while he was here, and since he is the source of most of my reliable information about the mechanics of daily life, I asked him about the jam.

Comment fait-on de la confiture en France? I asked.

He tilted his head and looked quizzically at me. Comment fait-on de la confiture aus Etats-Unis? he replied.

I explained about cooking the fruit, adding sugar, boiling it, and putting it in sterilized jars. He nodded his head at each step, following my pantomimes. And then you take the jars, screw on the lids, and turn them over to seal, yes? he said.

Exactly, it's the same process, we do it the same way. But where do I find the jars?

He shrugged. Clearly he was not the person in his family who bought the jars; he was just around for the cooking. At the supermarket? was all he had to offer.

I nodded: I had been to the supermarket, and there were no jars--but there are other supermarkets, and I envisioned passing my afternoon in making a tour of them. Still, I was ahead of where I had started out, so I thanked him, and he turned to go.

Then he remembered something he had wanted to tell me, and turned back.

Speaking of Violette, he said, although we hadn't actually been.

Oui? I said.

Je pense qu'en anglais, on l'appellerait une redneck. I think that in English, she would be called a redneck. Roll the r, give the d a nice strong echo, and come down hard on the k and you'll just about have it.

I laughed, taken aback at this sudden influx of colloquial English. Bien sûr, I said, that's exactly right.

Olivier laughed, pleased with himself. Mon fils--Olivier's son spent a few years studying in Florida--told me that I should tell you that word for Violette, and that it would make you laugh.

Tell him he was right, and thank him for me. Violette--lifting the dead sanglier into the trunk of her car, wearing her rabbit-fur trimmed jean jacket, and speaking without opening her mouth--could, as L pointed out, be dropped straight into the middle of a Flannery O'Connor story and, without a whole lot of linguistic difficulties, be crochetting pastel Barbie-doll dress toilet paper covers in about six months.

Olivier shook my hand to say goodbye, picked up his tools, and went back up the hill.

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