Some of the un-intentional language exchanges at the Food History conference have made me smile, some have made me snigger, some have seen me laughing out loud. But all have left me feeling totally ashamed. My French is so poor - whether at the conference, in a Tabac, the Carrefour or in a side-street brasserie, I have always been greeted with "Ah, it's OK, I speak English..." when I make a fumbled attempt. Can I blame Fanny for providing me with a limited selection of French vocabulary in her 'No Spik French' section? The language skills of the other conference presenters are impeccable, how easily they can switch between languages. The confusion has been all mine. Sessions led by an Italian, listed in English, have turned out to be delivered in French. Simply because, well, they can.
Not only the command of English and a host of other second languages, but the phrasing intrigues me. I often am made to think of words I use everyday in a very different way. Some words make more sense with alternative pronunciations. I can clearly see their origin. Why have I never noticed before? My absolute very favourite of the conference was the women, who, I thought announced part-way through her presentation that "I will F*ck You's now". Bold. She certainly got my attention. Until, I realised she had actually said "Focus". "Folk. Use."
I should make a note now not to throw in any of Fanny's dodgy French translations to my presentation. For now, my mind is foc-oo-sed on food. Last night as I wandered along Rue Colbert deciding where to settle, my eyes were drawn to a Bar À Fromages. L'Affiné. They proudly displayed a Gratin Végétarien on their menu. I was won over. The friendly waitress also explained, in perfect English, naturellement, that they did plates of local cheeses too, all I would need to do is decide how many portions I would like. She suggested fifteen or twenty as ideal, but more if I wished. This seemed like a lot of cheese to me, but when I saw my dining neighbours plates arrive, I was envious. Until that is, my Gratin appeared, blue and bubbling. With salad, bread, water and a matched local wine. They know how to make you feel at home here.
It seems almost impossible to determine what people in Tours do. How do they earn a living? Everyone appears to be just as I am, while there at least. Plenty of time. Just enjoying the world, and the food. No-one appears in a hurry. No-one looks stressed. No-one looks chained to their mobiles. Perhaps there is barely time with all the food and wine to be consumed? Fanny is no help whatsoever, as far as she is concerned, local people are simply there to serve her.
Speaking of which, it would appear to be a shameful waste not to sample the delights of the dessert menu while I am here. Fanny makes sure my eyes do not pass over Le Mini-Baba-Au-Rhum. OMG. Rum. Almonds. Chantilly Cream. This is exactly how I expect them to taste, based of course on Fanny's expert tuition. The rum is incredibly strong. In a good way. Fanny would undoubtedly have had ones such as these in her time. This is what she wants us to eat, to make, to enjoy. Together.