Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I am talking to author and travel writer Maribeth Clemente about what France means to her.
Maribeth, who currently lives in Colorado, has lived in Paris and travelled throughout France gaining experiences which led her to write her four books The Chic Shopper's Guide to Paris , The Riches of Paris: A Shopping and Touring Guide , Riches of France and a book I really enjoyed A Tour of the Heart: A Seductive Cycling Trip Through France, see here for my review.
Firstly, I think France is a special place and it is famed for many things including its cheese, wine and diverse holiday locations plus, dare I say it strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?
Maribeth: There’s so much that makes France special from food and wine to culture to the French people’s deep regard for family. It’s no wonder it’s the most important travel destination in the world. What comes to mind most for me is its beauty and grace. From how a table is set to the lavender fields of Provence to the Tuileries Gardens and more, everywhere you look in France I see the imprint of beauty and grace. Much of this is manmade, much is natural; either way, France is a blessed land and the French know how to show her off in the most lovely manner.
2) What is your fondest memory of time spent in France?
Maribeth: Wow, that’s really tough---I have so many. I loved discovering Paris for the first time when I was sixteen. Then when I did my junior year abroad I truly fell in love with the city and the French way of life. I became une vraie parisienne when I went back and lived there for another ten years after college. I was totally immersed in the French life then and like most Parisians over the centuries, I felt the world revolved around Paris---or at least France did. When I first moved back to the U.S, I was like a long distance commuter to France. That’s when I was researching my book, The Riches of France: A Shopping and Touring Guide to the French Provinces. I did many long trips to France for that, primarily in the provinces and that’s when I came to fully embrace the great diversity of its many regions. After that, I became much more all about France than just the City of Light. Thankfully, I’m still flooded with many extraordinary memories from each phase of my French life.
3) You are very well traveled in France, but is there one special place you love to return to?
Maribeth: That’s like picking your favorite child! I love all the regions of France for different reasons and, of course, I’m crazy about Paris. Here’s an area I hold near and dear that I’ve actually been thinking a lot about lately: la Camargue. It’s a magical place where I experienced some special times. I love the wildness of Camargue, its horses, its pink flamingoes, its colorful culture, its food and music. (I’ve always been a fan of The Gypsy Kings.). But I never went to a bullfight at Saintes-Maries de la Mer nor do I chose to ever go.
4) Every region in France has it’s own culinary specialty, do you have a favourite regional dish?
Maribeth: There are so many French dishes that I love: I sometimes find myself thinking about une bonne blanquette de veau or une sole meunière like the best you find in Normandy. I’ve always been a huge fan of confit de canard and les bons plats mijotés like those you find all over France. I also relish the freshness and aromatic flavors of the dishes of Provence.
5) Is there any French dish you won’t eat?
Maribeth: I steer away from organs and the like as much as possible although I have had ris de veau and found them to be delicious. I’ll never forget when I first arrived in France with my mother for my junior year abroad. I felt that my French was good enough to confidently order some food on the train. I was appalled to discover that I had ordered tongue. Later on that year, I remember going to the university cafeteria and discovering that the plat du jour was liver FOR EVERYONE. Unlike in the U.S., there was no alternative. That normally wasn’t a problem since the food was so good but that day I decided to pick up un sandwich elsewhere.
6) What is your favourite thing to buy in a Boulangerie/Patisserie?
Maribeth: Another tough question. I love it all. Really. I think what I miss most are the wonderful pastries you can’t easily find outside of France. I sometimes find myself dreaming of quintessential French gâteaux such as une réligieuse au café, un fraisier or une barquette aux marrons. Good bread and pastries such as pain au chocolat are easier to procure beyond the borders of France.
7) Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what do you order from the waiter?
Maribeth: Un grand crème avec un croissant ou bien un pain au chocolat.
8) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? A hard and mature Tome, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or maybe the salty and serious Roquefort?
Maribeth: I’m definitely a Camembert. What I love about Camembert is that there are so many varying degrees of ripeness. You can go to the market and ask for a Camembert and a good fromager will ask you “pour quand?” It makes a difference if you say for today’s lunch, tonight’s dinner, tomorrow’s lunch, etc. I feel like everyday of my life I have different degrees of ripeness and it’s especially wondrous when I can be described as bien fait.
9) Do you prefer French or New World wine?
Maribeth: I enjoy wines of all different provenances. I like a nice, oaky chardonnay from California yet a crisp Sancerre blanc can make me swoon. I am much more adept at reading a French wine label and have visited many more vineyards in France than elsewhere, so I feel more knowledgeable about French wines in general.
10) Can you describe your perfect French apero for us the drink, the nibbles, the location and the company?
Maribeth: A perfectly chilled glass of champagne with just a few chips or crackers outside en plein air with some of my oldest and dearest friends from France---that would be divine, s’il vous plaît.
11) Do you have any plans to visit France again soon?
Maribeth: I have a trip to France in mind for this fall. It’s to be a surf/spa combo trip to Biarritz. I love the Basque country and the Southwest of France in general. I’ll also do at least a week in Paris, bien entendu.
Finally, do you have any current projects you would like to tell my readers about?
Maribeth: My big project for the summer is promoting my new book, A Tour of the Heart: A Seductive Cycling Trip Through France This July marks the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France, so I want to join in on all the Tour hoopla. A Tour of the Heart highlights love, romance, travel, culture, food and wine, and, of course, cycling and the Tour de France.
Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.