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The Partridge Family en Auvergne

I spent the weekend travelling in the Cantal department of southern Auvergne with a group consisting of three Americans, two Colombians, and Stefan, the partridge in our pear tree. We picked up Nelson, a Colombian friend of Andrés' and Stefan's and a non-stop dragueur, in Clermont, and continued south in Stefan's famous Orange Van, a VW camper with a moose on the side.

We stopped for lunch at Super Lioran, a cross-country/downhill ski station with a great view. We hopped up and down in the cold while Stefan worked his magic, converting the Orange Van into a kitchen/dining room. He made us soup on the van's stove, using water from the van's sink, then the six of us sat around the van's fold-out table and had a sort of picnic. It really is a wonder to behold, the Orange Van.

We continued after lunch and arrived at Aurillac just after sunset, so we had a lovely view of the lights of the city as we descended towards it. Aurillac is the umbrella capital of France, although that wasn't why we went there. We didn't know that until we arrived. We went because Andrés, in addition to his 12 hours divided between Presles and Valéry Larbaud, commutes down to Aurillac every week to teach in a school there on Wednesdays. He worked in this school last year, so he still helps them out and makes a special trip to Aurillac every week to do so. When he goes down, he stays with Claude, a sort of host-father he's adopted. So we were all invited to crash at Claude's as well.

We dropped off our stuff, then the two Aurillacois took us for a tour of la vieille ville d'Aurillac. There was lots of lovely medieval architecture and colombage and a former convent with sarcophagi dating back to the Middle Ages. There were medieval passageways, stairways, balconies, and Renaissance-style architecture that was built on later.

Vichy is the victim of one of the peculiarities of the French administrative system. This is the same peculiarity that put Nantes, the ancient capital of Bretagne and home of the ducs de Bretagne, in the Loire Valley region instead of Bretagne. Vichy is in the ancient region of Bourbonnais, home of the ducs de Bourbon, who later became the kings of France. The Bourbonnais is different historically, linguistically, geographically, culinarily, and geologically from Auvergne, but has been lumped in with it for administrative purposes. So after our tour, we went to an Auvergnat restaurant to taste la vraie cuisine auvergnate.

From everything I had read about Auvergnate cuisine, it was with not a little trepidation that I entered the restaurant. First of all, Auvergne is one of those rural farming regions where tout est bon qui vient du cochon, and second of all, the only specific dish I knew of was tripoux. Tripoux is some kind of horrible unmentionable food, but I'm not exactly sure what. I was under the impression that it was sheep's feet stuffed with sheep's stomach, but Renata thought it involved testicles. Alors, as I'm sure you can imagine, I was not particularly thrilled with the prospect of stuffing myself à l'auvergnate.

Once I got to look at the menu, though, I discovered that Auvergne does offer quite a few edible foods as well. I ordered rumsteak et truffade and tasted various elements of Renata's Auvergnat Cheese Salad as well, while waiting for my main course. The rumsteak was a thick steak which was rather bloody, considering I asked for well-done. I would never as for anything less than bien cuit in France, because their idea of well-done is often about equivalent to the American medium or even medium-rare. Anyway, I didn't mind because, being underdone, it was nice and tender and easy to cut. The truffade was a side dish of mashed potatoes, Cantal cheese, and a bit of bacon.

O Truffade! I told Renata and Jennifer that I would write poetry to you, but very few things rhyme with you, so I will have to leave off at O Truffade!. If you, the reader, did not already think me insane, perhaps you will once I tell you that I spent a goodly amount of time speaking to my plate last night. At first it was just little nummynummynummy noises, growing into quiet groans of pleasure, but then I actually started talking to the truffade, telling it how much I loved it, and even at one point giving it a little kiss. The funny thing is that this was not looked on as particularly insane by the other assistants, who are always talking to their own food and beverages. So the moral of the story is: Eat truffade. It is good.

During dinner, conversation turned, as it is wont to do, to the subject of Having Sex With Donkeys. Just a normal over-dinner topic among assistants, quoi. Apparently this is a popular pasttime in the countryside of Colombia.

After dinner, we went out for a drink in a gay bar before heading home. I didn't realize it was a gay bar until Nelson started squirming and looking uncomfortable, at which point I looked around and realized there were Gay and Lesbian Rally posters on the wall and men dancing together. The Americans had a little giggle at Nelson and his discomfort, because he'd been trying to pick us up all day and we weren't very sympathetic. I had an apricot juice.

Then we went back to Claude's apartment and had dancing lessons in salsa, merengue, and various native Colombian dances. I refused but was eventually physically dragged into involvement. Nelson threatened us with a striptease, but thankfully didn't take anything off.

Then we went to sleep. Tomorrow to come in a later post.

srah - Sunday, 15 December 2002 - 5:47 PM
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