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The Surprising Perfection of a Picnic in France

Somewhere in the neighbourhood of Nîmes, France, is a sweet little country road through a vineyard that leads to a barely passable track that ends in a path that will take you to a crumbling Roman wall that is perfect for picnics. I know because I was on that wall one day many years ago, enjoying exactly the kind of picnic one should have in France: a perfect crispy-on-the-outside and tender-on-the-inside baguette, three choices of foie gras, five kinds of cheese, a container of olives, marinated just so, some grapes bursting with juice, and a delightful bottle of Chateau L’Ermitage.

My husband and I were on one of several trips we took together to France, and he had finally figured out how to picnic. As an American with five-star tastes, he had initially resisted this idea of tramping off into the countryside with one’s lunch in a bag. And he was not a man who relished the idea of sitting on the ground with the bugs and brambles that are common outdoor companions. But, after his first cup of wine under a brilliant French sky, I had him hooked, and it had become a common practice for us ever after.

It was early fall and the sun was shining with all its might as we clambered up onto the wall with the booty we had purchased from a variety of stores in a nearby town: we’d been to a boulangerie, an épicerie, and a fromagerie, and every time we had entered a store we had been greeted by the sing-song welcome of the lady or man behind the counter: “Bonjour Madam, ‘Sieur!” Now, with our lunch tumbled out onto the sturdy table the Romans had unknowingly built for us, we could smell the tang of the fields around us. The occasional bird twittered above. It was Divine!

Our little Renault had passed a couple of people working in the vineyard as we bumped along hunting for our perfect picnic spot that day. They had barely turned their heads. And we were so absorbed on the track ahead, and the thought of a memorable lunch, that we had barely noticed them, either.

Truth to tell, by the time we had unpacked our lunch and spent an hour languishing on the evocative old ruin we had found, we had forgotten there were any other people on the planet at all. It was just us. We had left the kids behind in Canada and we were enthusiastically rediscovering the romance of our marriage.

The time spent on the ancient bulwark the Romans had built to protect against Gaulish incursions was paradise, but, eventually, it was time to pack up the evidence of our visit and head off. We were cheerful and relaxed until we drove past the line of men with shotguns standing beside the little road that connected to the major road we needed next. Now, it was hunting season. But we did wonder if we had inadvertently angered a landowner by trespassing on his or her property in our quest for the perfect picnic spot. I never knew the answer to that question. But it sure did make for a wonderful memory.

Would you like to make some memories of your own French adventure? Talk to me about the French Writer’s Retreat I’m holding this September. We are going to have a wonderful time!


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