Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Vegetable Soup in Paris

After avoiding the flu all winter, I finally succumbed on Sunday night. Earlier in the day a scratchy throat I blew off as allergy related and I worked in my yard -- carrying two large bags of mulch from car to front, weeding, planting, and mulching. The harder I worked the more hopeful I was in beating back this menacing virus. It was not to be.

By Monday morning I didn't bother to make my pot of morning tea; I simply fed the two cats and the dog, and I shuffled back to bed. So overpowering was the pressure in my head, I had to squint my eyes -- too painful to open. Thankfully, I had soup on hand because I was in no shape to drive. One lentil (Wolfgang Puck brand) and a southwest black bean, the latter, not appealing when sick, but what lingered in my memory always, I ushered forward -- a simple, as simple can be, vegetable soup prepared for me in Paris by Madame DuBois when I was ill.

I was working as an au pair in Paris for M. and Mme. DuBois who had a three year old son, Fabrice. Well, this was not truly in Paris, I learned when I first made the trek from the left bank to a suburb called Courbevoie. The small apartment was in a modern high-rise and it was not how I envisioned my life in Paris, but the DuBois were a charming young family. Monsieur was a doctor and his wife, Catherine, a stay-at-home mom. She had a weaving loom in the living room where she weaved shawls, blankets, and such. Catherine wore long skirts, boots, and knitted shawls draped perfectly around her shoulders; she was full-figured, but healthy and so cheerful and lively. She wore her light brunette hair up, in a bun, nothing severe -- simple. Catherine always had a bar or two of Swiss chocolate sitting on the coffee table and she'd break off a piece every now and then. It was so tempting. The only chocolate I had eaten, in the US at this time, during the 70s, was Hershey's and Baker's.

After living with the DuBois family, for a month or so, I fell ill; it was similar to how I'm feeling now. Madame let me stay in bed, which was a true luxury. The French simply do not get sick. I think it's seen as a sign of weakness. I recall once my American friend, Joanne, told me her boyfriend, Dominique, who was sick with fever and chills, refused rest in bed allowing himself to be pampered, no, he took off in the elements to run in the park, until he could "sweat it out." I can't recall if his strategy worked, but it is the way of the French.

So, I was lucky to have one day in bed to rest. That day Madame prepared for me, a large bowl of vegetable soup which she brought to me in bed. She would never open a can; she simply roughly cut vegetables fresh from the outdoor market that morning: carrots, potatoes, parsnips, and leeks, and simmered in water. This was the most simple, the most pure, and the most comforting soup I'd ever eaten. I don't even think salt was added. We were still eating Campbell's with its over-salted mushy vegetables and creamed soups in the US. Oh, my mother did make vegetable soup and it was delicious, but it had so many ingredients including stew meat. This was different.

In honor of Madame DuBois, by the the third day of my illness, I bravely tackled a trip to Walmart. I picked over the sad limp vegetables choosing organic carrots, a large white onion, celery, and potatoes, along with a carton of organic vegetable stock; Catherine had only used water. I don't think it would've mattered. The soup was simply okay. It was soothing, nourishing -- I'm sure, but, not at all like the bowl of vegetable soup, made for me one fall morning in Courbevoie, -- thank goodness.

5 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Oh, I'm sorry you've been ill. How did you manage to write such a nice post while feeling so bad?? Thanks and hope you feel better soon. I'm just going back to bed with the flu too. I haven't been as sick as you though. Just one day of running back and forth from the bathroom and everything hurting.

Jane said...

Elizabeth, I wrote this a month or so ago, actually I was just recovering right before your visit. I didn't want to post it then because we were posting comments about your visit and then the health care bill passed and I didn't want to take away from that. So I just pulled it out and dusted it off this morning.

I'm finally okay, but it dragged on for a while with cough, congestion, etc.

I hope you get better soon!! Rest & liquids!

Casey Ann said...

In times of illness or stress, there's nothing like a comforting food - which I think is comforting because of the emotions associated with it. If you tasted that same soup, you might find it very ordinary. But you have wonderful associations of someone taking care of you - so it tasted wonderful. Your soup made you feel better because it reminded you of that kind woman.

Elizabeth said...

It's just like Proust's Madeleines. Did you read Remembrance of Things Past?

Jane said...

Yes, Elizabeth I remember Proust's madeleines!
It's been so long since I read that though, should read again.