Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Blanche and Gilbert came for drinks the other evening. They work at our bakery, or maybe it's more correct to say that we buy bread at theirs. Blanche's nephew is the owner--an elected member of France's national order of patissiers, merci beaucoup, and the gâteaux au chocolat to prove it--and it is a family business: there's Gilles, who is up the hill baking; Madame his mother, a little deaf and with orange dyed hair, but always smiling; her sister Blanche, ten years younger; Blanche's companion Gilbert; and assorted nieces and cousins whom we know by sobriquets such as the nice lady with glasses, the stern lady, and the one with the nose ring.

Anyway, we'd invited Gilbert and Blanche up for drinks so that C could give Gilbert the yarmulke he bought for him in Jerusalem. Gilbert is Jewish--his support for Obama hinges on his certainty that Obama is, in fact, half Jewish--and, when I mentioned to him that C was off to Israel for a meeting, he requested a yarmulke.

What color? I needed to find out if he really wanted one.

I don't care. Any color.

Do you want a pink yarmulke? A green one? I realized that he was serious.

Of course not. A blue one, blue like the flag of Israel. And crocheted, not cloth. Do you understand?

I did, and I told C, and he came home with one.

We gave it to Gilbert and he tucked it into his breast pocket, very pleased, and told us about Obama's Jewish heritage.

Blanche rolled her eyes at me. But you know, I've always loved Americans, she said, patting my knee and taking another bite-sized pissaladière from the plate E offered her.

I remember when the Americans came at the end of the war. I was only a little girl, and all through the war, my father, he had a little cardboard suitcase with all the money and valuables in it. Every time there was an alarm, any danger, I don't know what, I was just a little child, he would take the suitcase under his arm, and my brother in one hand and me in the other, and we would go and hide under the lavoir.

A lavoir is a large stone trough with a spigot. It usually has a shelter built over it, so that the laundresses can work in the shade. Every village has one, and every farm of a certain size. Blanche's family owned much of the valley below La Bastiole; it was to their own lavoir that they ran.

When we heard the news that the Americans were coming, I remember my mother burst into tears. We are saved, she said, and she cried and cried. Then they came, in their jeeps and their uniforms.

She fell silent. I wanted her to go on, but I didn't want to interrupt her thoughts. After a moment, I asked: What do you remember most about the Americans?

Then she smiled, a huge, radiant, girlish grin. They gave me chocolate, she said. I had never tasted it before.


  1. How nice that Blanche told you about her experiences with the American soldiers during WWII. Le Framéricain says that he first saw them in Paris and remembers their JEEPS most clearly! Boys!

  2. What a fascinating post.

    My friend Georges, who was also just a boy tells me stories of the German soldiers just walking into the house if they were hungry and passing by, and taking any food that was available or being cooked at the time.

    It must have been a horrific time for France.