Wednesday, November 3, 2010

let me tell you about my provencal students

I'm back from my classes in Provence and Tuscany but not without a couple of hitches. "What? My suitcase is too heavy?" I said to the Luftansa ground staff at the Florence Airport.

Must be bottles of Renzo Marinai Chianti Classico Riserva and La Bastide of Chateau Campagne Baccus olive oil I'd wrapped in bubble wrap, a thousand layers of plastic secured with packing tape and bundled inside dirty clothes. Or could it be the dozen plus knives I'd carried from SF for my students to use. Maybe it was the handmade boots Carlo Fagiano made for me in Panzano, Tuscany? Or was it the apron given to me by Dario Cecchini, the one he tied securely around my waist one of the last nights I was there?

Oh come on! What's wrong with a suitcase weighing 39 kilo? That's only 85 pounds!

Well I made it home but my suitcase didn't. It got stuck in Frankfurt and finally, 2 1/2 days later, it arrived. You'll be happy to know that no one stole my new black boots, the olive oil hadn't leaked and the red wine hadn't broken in transit.

I know a lot of you followed my trip virtually on facebook as I ate and drank my way from Provence to Tuscany. Thanks for all of your comments!

But you really have to come on one of my trips sometime to get the full "flavor"of one of these weeks. I've been teaching in the South of France, Italy, Spain and Australia for the last 14 years and I can tell you that every single week long course I have ever taught takes on a life of it's own.

Sometimes the students meld and sometimes they form cliques. I've had weeks where one or five of the students drink too much and burn out by day three. And then there is the occasional students that develops a crush on my assistant and a few others who have had the quintessential Italian affair right under all of our noses.

Years ago, one of my students missed her 1 1/2 year old baby so much she went to the emergency room after suffering a panic attack and was on liquid valium for the rest of the week. Another student fell the night before she arrived and for the full week her leg was black and blue from toe to hip. One Tuscany trip, I had three cancer survivors. And last year, one tipsy student skinny dipped off the boat I'd hired for the day in the icy Mediterranean waters off the Cinque Terre coast.

I've had two sets of three generations of cousins. And then a couple years ago in Spain, there was the couple who thought they were going to Club Med and brought nothing but bathing suits, suntan lotion and flip flops. One group in the Piedmont drank 73 bottles of wine in the first two days of the trip. And in the Veneto, I've had the young, handsome, cocky next-wanna-be Guy Fieri. I could go on and on!

And every once in a while I get a group like I just had in Provence and it's simply magical! Let me give you a rundown of the cast of characters.

Lynn- Little did I know until the end of the week that her husband was Secretary of State. She exuded that wonderful kind of Southern charm and hospitality. Ya gotta love that accent too. I could have listened all day.

Kristen- Daughter of Lynn who kept us all entertained and laughing with her stories about her more-than-proper Southern grandmother.

Joan- Sweet, kind and a great listener. We need a Joan in every group!

Judy- Roomed with Joan. Judy takes the cake for the most ambitious cook in the group. She probably could have taught the class.

Vic- I'm not sure how old Vic is but he must be nearing 80. You'd never know it. Vic cried the last night when he gave a toast and said to his wife, "Sorry Florence, that was a great honeymoon 52 years ago but this past week in Provence has been the best trip of my life!"

Florence- Has roomed with Vic for the last 52 years. Laughed at every single one of Vic's jokes. Maybe that's the secret!

Elizabeth- She left her doctor husband and two adorable tiny daughters in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, the next village over, to join us for the week. Elizabeth, her husband and daughters drove down to Provence from Germany where he is stationed. She brought every single one of my books with her to be signed and was the only one lucky enough to be able to buy as much wine as she wanted and take it back home to Germany in her car. Move over kids!

Nancy- What a fantastic week for me! Nancy is my sister and a wonderful one at that.

David- My brother-in-law helped with the dishes. I've known him since I was in high school so he's like a brother, a great brother. He never complained. I'd kill him if he did!

Peggy- Peggy deserves a punch card for all of the trips she's been on with me; Tuscany, Umbria and the Piedmont to name a few. She's going through a messy break-up and this week was very rejuvenating for her. Lots of late night heart-to-heart talks.

Rebecca- OK, she deserves a medal. This is Rebecca's second week long trip with me this year. She and her husband spent a week with me earlier this year in the wine regions of South Australia. This time she brought her aunt.

Martha- Rebecca's aunt is just 6 years older than Rebecca. Martha had a birthday during the week and her speech brought tears to everyone's eyes. She was a gift to the trip.

Deborah- She could very well be a professional shopper. She and Susan were so excited about the St Remy outdoor market that they never slept the night before.

Susan- She came with Deborah and these two could give lessons on how to shop. Susan bought so much that rumor has it she had to wear one of the Provencal quilts home on the plane.

Martie- Martie gave herself a birthday gift of a week of cooking with me in Provence. My trip was recommended to her by her nephew, Khalil, assistant food editor at Ladies' Home Journal. Thanks Khalil!

Rob- Traveled with his wife Brett and helped David with the dishes. When he walks, he runs and has the best laugh in the whole group! Hats off to Rob and David!

Brett- My friend and assistant extraordinaire in the kitchen. I've known Brett since I moved to Boston in 1976. We both studied cooking with Madeleine Kamman. When Brett went on to be chef to the President of Wellesley College, I moved to San Francisco.

Carla- My assistant on the ground in France and Italy and concierge for the students during the week. Carla and I have worked together for the last ten years very happily. We have a word that we say when the sh*&%$t hits the fan,- "Perfect!" And Carla always makes it so.

Joanne- And then there's the teacher who keeps a smile on her face even when things are crazy, chaotic, and utterly out of her control. That's when she looks to Carla and they say in unison, "Perfect!"

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