Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Our Taste of the Savoie

When we drove into the hamlet where we had reserved our gite we thought we had arrived at the right chalet and asked the woman in front of the house if she were our host. No, she replied, she lives in the next house on the left--you can't miss it. We've been waving hello and goodbye to this woman ever since.

We found the house and our host, who gave us a tour of the gite and welcomed us with a bottle of white wine from the Savoie. We asked her about a place to eat dinner that night, and she suggested the hamlet's own restaurant, a few minutes' walk to the main road. I think the restaurant is run by a married couple, where the husband cooks and the wife takes care of the dining room. The restaurant turned out to be wonderful, with Savoyard specialties. Indeed, the meal was so filling that neither Susie nor I could finish our tartiflettes. I hesitantly asked the wife if would be possible to take home the leftovers. When she learned that we were staying in the gite in the hamlet, she said that she would cover the serving dishes with plastic wrap and let us take them home; we should return the dishes the next day. Susie and I were completely charmed.

Today, after spending the day on an excursion to Chamonix (see Susie's blog for details), when we drove past the house of the woman who gave us directions to the gite we saw her, our host, our host's husband, and a bunch of other people having drinks. So, screwing up our courage and grabbing a bottle of red Savoie wine from the fridge and a couple of glasses, we walked back from the gite to this group. If you'll have us, I said, we'd like to join you--and we've brought wine! We were warmly welcomed. Remember the woman who gave us directions? Our host's mother. Also there were our host's father, a brother, and several other relatives, ranging in age from eight to eighty.

Our host's husband helped us understand a little about the hamlet. It once had several businesses, such as a cafe and a store. But, like in the nearby village of Les Clefs, of which this hamlet forms a part, these businesses had all disappeared by the 1950s, unable to compete in the age of the automobile with the bigger stores in Thônes. The center of Les Clefs still has its city hall and its school, but that's pretty much it. The families who enjoy rural life, and whose jobs don't take them elsewhere, stay, and everyone else leaves, and maybe comes back for weekends. And where circumstances develop, such as heirs fighting each other, a chalet can go abandoned and unmaintained. Nice chalets appear to be pricey--$800,000 and up.

Some aspects of rural life survive, especially dairies. Our host's husband said that the farm further up the gite's little road was an active dairy, making a tomme fermiere cheese. Here are some of the cheeses for sale at the marché in Thônes.

Indeed, you see cows everywhere, and when you don't see them you hear their cowbells. Coming back from Chamonix over the Col de la Colombière we saw two boys driving cows along a lane below us. And nearer Thônes, traffic on the main road backed up for about fifteen minutes as perhaps 20 cows wended their way down and across the road--slowly, eating grass on the shoulders as they went, meandering among the cars. A man and two boys herding the cows eventually got them all across the road on onto a side street.

Back at the gite, we're living la vida local. We'd bought fruit, vegetables, dried tomatoes, bread, rustic ham, and a roasted chicken at the marché Saturday morning in Thônes, and, supplemented by liquids from the supermarket we've been eating simple meals from this bounty for the last couple of days. We relax in front of the gite with a glass of Savoie wine, and have dinner as the sun sets over La Tournette and parapenters soar in the winds and oblique light on the mountain's crest. We can hear insects, birds, and cowbells.

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