When I think of my time in France, the song “Le Soldat” plays on repeat, “Je suis un soldat la la la la.” Reminiscing of the cigarette smoke fading into the night, as my friends and I drank wine on the balcony, is how I remember my time in France.
Summer 2014, I went to Bordeaux to visit my friend Manuel, whom I have known since middle school, and his wife Laura. I love telling people their story. They met in Australia and fell in love, he resided in Mexico and Laura was a native Parisian.
They lived near the city center and their apartment was accessible by tram. Antique houses, which were painted bright colors, surrounded their semi-modern apartment building. The walls were painted white and contrasted with the red couch, which I would be sleeping on. There were large double doors that led to the balcony. They had pictures above the television, taken on their many travels, some of those included Australia, Mexico and Thailand. She had candles and flowers decorating the coffee table. Stairs to the second floor of the apartment led to an open master bedroom.
While Manuel was at work, Laura and I had breakfast on the balcony every day the four days I was there. Laura said she fell in love with the apartment when she saw the balcony. Being big enough to fit a small table with four-chairs and a few plants, she would bring out a tray with coffee, tea, baguette, jelly and butter. The view from the second floor balcony looked over the rooftops of the quiet city.
The first full day in Bordeaux was the typical sightseeing, museums, shopping and eating. Mid-way through the day, Laura introduced me to her friend, Lisa, a blonde with a charming smile. It turned out she had lots to talk about. In the early evening, the three of us stopped by the market for wine, bread, dip and other things. It would be an interesting evening.
At dusk, we set the table on the balcony, so picture a red tablecloth, tea candles and wine glasses. It was out of a European food dream, a basket of thin cut baguettes, foie gras, a strange orange dip, duck sausage, fresh tomatoes and decadent Brie cheese. The three of us sat on the balcony and the wine began to pour, Bordeaux Rosé. The pink chilled, sweet liquid was refreshing on a hot summer afternoon. The air seemed to feel different in the south of France.
We waited for two more guests. Manuel would be arriving from work soon to join us and so would Lisa’s husband. Eric, was a charming Mexican man who ended up in France to be with his wife. Lisa and Eric met in Barcelona, and they had been married for three years. I was curious to learn their full story since they had just made the decision to split up. The morning I spent with Lisa, and Laura sightseeing, Lisa talked about her decision to divorce Eric in detail. In accordance, both of them decided to go through with it and move on with their lives.
Eric arrived at the apartment, he was loud and charismatic, and he gave me a hug and greeted me like an old friend. He right away claimed a piece of baguette for himself with the excuse he had herpes on his mouth (which was only a cold sore) his wife had given him. Lisa rolled her eyes and took a sip of her wine. I stayed clear of his piece of bread and watched to make sure he wasn’t double dipping.
The wine bottle kept going around the table and each time we would pour more into our glasses, and so did the cigarettes. I am not a smoker, but in France wine and cigarettes mix together like coffee and cream. Digging into the mouthwatering cheese craving, I took the butter knife and spread some cheese on the bread. The cheese melted in my mouth and the taste was creamy and strong as only Brie can be. My mouth was busy chewing and indulging in food, while my ears tried catching up with all the gossip, all my senses working at full speed. Lisa and Eric talked about the terms of their disintegrating marriage. I cut a piece of duck sausage, and held it in one hand as I continued to smoke my cigarette. Lisa made claims that they had never been happy and the arguing was just too much.
The sun began going down and Laura asked me if I wanted to try the foie gras. Canned duck liver, I didn’t like the sound of that too much but I couldn’t leave France without trying it and what better place to do it than with the locals. I took the knife and cut the soft paste that looked more like dog food than anything. I spread it over my piece of bread and held it in front of my face. I opened my mouth and took a big bite just so I didn’t have to do it again. It tasted salty and the consistency mushy and not to my liking.
While I chewed, Lisa went on with her marital problems and Eric began to explain his. When the argument got heated, Laura urged them to stop. After they got silent, everyone was looking at my face. I chewed it slowly and savored it, trying to like it with every swoop of my tongue. I nodded and smiled. And like the topic of marriage and divorce, I avoided foie gras for the rest of the evening.