Nearly a month ago, I spent a Sunday at an English teacher’s house with a few other assistants and her neighbors. During the meal, Christine’s neighbor invited everyone over to another Sunday midi at their house to celebrate her husband’s birthday. She also mentioned that we would have to RSVP so that she could assign dishes for everyone to contribute. I had brought soup to Christine’s, obviously, and I was excited at the prospect of having another occupied Sunday and be able to spend even more time making something to share with everyone. A few weeks went by, and Christine sent me an email making sure that I still wanted to go. Upon receiving my RSVP, Christine shared my number with Marie-Rose.
Before I go further into this story, let me just say that one of my current fears is talking on the phone. Since I’ve been here, I have only called English-speakers, otherwise it’s been by text, even if that may be more expensive overall. I have enough difficulty understanding full-speed French speakers while having the aid of reading body language and miming. The usual scenario of my French phone conversations is confusion, misunderstanding and despite this, agreement followed by a quick disengagement. Nowadays, nothing will stop me in my tracks like the sound of my cell phone ringing.
Marie-Rose has now called me twice. She does not speak English.
The first time she called me, she asked me to meet her in front of la cathédrale in une demi-heure. I finally understood this after a few flustered minutes and she mentioned the 11 du december and les préparations de la menu and l'anniversaire de Jean-Luc. Ok. She wanted to assign me what I should make for the midi meal. I managed to make the three minute walk over to the cathedral and meet up with Marie-Rose and another woman I had never met before. Then Marie-Rose informed me we were going to un petit apartment nearby. This seemed mighty secretive to me, but I was willing to go with it. When we got the apartment, Marie-Rose began showing us the apartment; I quickly realized she was going to rent this apartment to the other woman. I waited patiently until she was ready to talk food with me. When she was, she showed me the entire menu, which is themed around poisson because fish is her husband’s favorite food. Thus, the menu items spell out “poisson” down the menu like an acrostic poem. She gave me the choice to make a vegetable dish or buy cheese–I choose the vegetable, salsifis, because I wanted to put in the extra effort, and let’s face it, I have time to spare.
The next day, I saw Christine at the lycée and told her about meeting up with Marie-Rose, pretty much exactly how I just did. Then, I asked her what “salsifis” is. She started laughing and asked me why I wanted to know. I proudly explained that I was given the task of making the salsifis dish for the birthday midi. The look she gave me really clued me in that I should have just bought the cheese. She yelled out to another English teacher to ask her what “salsifis” is in English–neither knew. Bad sign. She reassured me that salsifis is canned so I can find it at the marché, and there are recipes I can find online.
Marie-Rose called me again sometime that week. Initially I thought that she was calling to just tell me to buy the cheese and not worry about preparing this mystery vegetable that doesn’t exist in the USA and may not even have an English word. All I was able to make out from what she was telling me was “photo,” “surprise” and “au revoir.” I still have no idea what this conversation was about.
This Sunday is the day of feasting chez Marie-Rose. I am thinking about making a salsifis curry, but I’m not sure how French that will be. The pressure of preparing this mystery vegetable and making sure it is appropriate for a birthday celebration is daunting, but I will try my best. I can only hope that I don’t receive more phone calls. I cannot wait to see how this all turns out, and I’ll keep you all posted.