Hello Marseille!


Honey roasted asparagus & goat cheese puff tarts 2 | Infinite belly

If Auvergne is green and brown all over, Marseille is blue by nature and black by spray paint. Reserved, Auvergne is surrounded by volcanoes and mostly unknown. Marseille is the loudest person in the room, the life of the party. The former smells like mushrooms in the fall and cows in the spring, the latter of sea and brick-oven pizza, but also trash flying in the mighty gusts of the mistral wind. In Verne, our neighbors were gentle, quiet souls who knew about self-reliance, building with their hands. When the city speaks, it’s a babble of Mediterranean tongues, a spectrum of tones in cheeky Marseillais accent; garlic and sea-salt give character to the breath and coarse hair to the passerby. The pizza man down the street is a genius, a descendant of Italians who dreams of moving his business to Brazil, dropping statistical and critical knowledge on the past 30 years of French political economy while putting mozzarella and cayenne pepper on the white dough. In the massif central the woods have soft, mythical names such as Montregard and Saint-Bonnet le Froid, while warm southern tones in Castellane and La Joliette over here make me think of the traffic, the noise, or the platters of fresh seafood served in a terrace while a guitar player sings Santana, cruise ships gliding behind.

Honey roasted asparagus & goat cheese puff tarts 16 | Infinite bellyLeaf illustration | Infinite bellyHoney roasted asparagus & goat cheese puff tarts 17 | Infinite belly

Leaving our cottage back in Haute-Loire, Mr. and Mrs. Rabeyrin were sad to see us go. As we loaded things in the truck they pulled up in their van and I came by the window. Mr. Rabeyrin had a brown paper bag with some goodies from Verne: a glass jar of rare autumn honey (only found once every six years) and a bottle of Côtes du Rhône Villages that he called un petit canon, which I interpreted as a “little boost”. But canon is actually a unit of measurement for wine that dates back to the 16th century. Other friends also came by and gave us some laurel leaves and a pumpkin that is for now decorating our living room.

Honey roasted asparagus & goat cheese puff tarts 8 | Infinite belly

On one of my first aimless walks around town, I stumbled upon Marseille’s music conservatory. Strangely, even though music has been such an important part of my life, I don’t think I have ever spent quality time in a conservatory! I guess those European temples of tradition sound a little bit daunting and austere from afar.

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But on that Saturday it happened to be open house and the place was filled with families and teachers playing music and talking about classes, styles, and ensembles. I felt like one of the giddy little kids sitting next to me on the floor watching the adults play and trying to pick which instrument I would like to learn. Cello? Percussion? Electro-acoustic composition?

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A maze of aged rose and white halls reminded me of something between the Sorbonne and Hogwarts with its unexpected turns, ornate wooden doors, ballet dancers, hidden passageways, sideburn-donning fathers holding their daughters’ hands, empty practice rooms, silence, steps, windows revealing a courtyard full of rowdy children, a couple of teenagers flirting by the entrance, the boy taking his shoes off for no apparent reason and pretending to swim belly-down on his chair, parents lining up nearby to see a lecture on drama.

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My head spun and I found myself in a large room, a library full of old leather-bound books, clean but slightly rundown, spots on the ceiling revealing the missing chandeliers of another time. A husky asian boy was singing an aria from a French opera, I don’t know the composer but it was a comic scene with a chorus of boys and girls that rehearsed a call and response, alternating jeering and cheering the soloist. I lost track of time and hours went by like this, going from door to door…

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When I finally left to get fresh air outside, the sound of a James Brown groove from the block above summoned me to a park where a pétanque tournament was going on. A wide view of the city revealed the Notre-Dame de la Garde church standing at the highest point on a distant hill pointing to the sky; the mother saint that welcomed the sailors of yore still looks over a city that is easy to call home.

Ribbon illustration | Infinite bellyHoney roasted asparagus & goat cheese puff tarts | Infinite belly

Saké and honey roasted asparagus puff tarts
with goat cheese & basil + cured egg yolk   |   Serves 6 

Continue reading “Hello Marseille!”

Cat therapy


Pear & praliné hazelnut tart 7 | Infinite belly

We venture into town only when necessary, and usually that is to buy bread or go to the post office. In the car we look forward with the same blank expression while listening to talk radio. I approach the post office and pass by people I don’t know, often asking myself who they are, what they are thinking, who they’re coming home to, what they had for lunch. Sometimes I get overwhelmed trying to imagine the immensity of thoughts, feelings, and memories contained in each of those individuals I will never get to know.

Whisk illustration | Infinite bellyPear & praliné hazelnut tart 9 | Infinite belly

But this year I am spending a lot of time getting to know cats. I never had one before. Never even lived with any animal at all actually. Now I have three. And sometimes they seem like these familiar strangers you see in a small village like Lapte or Grazac, living in proximity, yet unknowable.

I always wanted to ask Gaston, the tabby chubby cat we found at the pastry school stuck in an air vent, how did he survive the long Auvergne winter in the wild at below zero temperatures? Did he eat ungodly amounts of macarons and other pastry leftovers in the trash? That would explain his taste for desserts, unusual for a cat, I heard. And Frida, whom we rescued in the forest with a paw cut off. We were looking for mushrooms when this emaciated figure meowed towards us. Did she live in a house before? What happened to her paw? How did she end up in the deep of these remote woods?

Frida the cat | Infinite belly

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There’s also Boris, a kitten born in a nearby farm who decided to make our house his home (or maybe Adélaïde lured him in…). I still don’t understand why he meows like crazy every time I am about to feed him, as though I might suddenly change my mind. And he has another very special kind of meow the two others don’t have, like a little song, rolling and curling up, keen, high-pitched, mischievous.
During the warm months, they lived mysterious lives in the fields. We would let them out during the day and each one headed a different way, following his or her nose, looking for fast-moving objects to chase and grab. We managed to rescue quite a few little Cinderella shrews. When the sun would set on the far side of a grassy field, I could make out Gaston’s plump outline. I would call out his name, and like a dog, he would run back. Frida would stay close by, basking in the last rays of sun on our doorstep. Boris was too afraid to go to the outside world yet, but occupied himself at home all day scavenging for food scraps in unsuspected spots of the kitchen or the pantry if we forgot to lock the door.

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I feel like I know them so well, yet I will never know the things they see and do on these days. All the houses, gardens, hidden nooks that they frequent remain secret. I will never know what happened when Frida went missing for four days after a terrible stormy night. Sometimes, Adélaide and I muse about putting GoPro cameras on them to see what we would discover.

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We puzzle at their quirks as if they were children, entertaining the illusion they are unique when truly, they are probably like most other cats out there (although their latest fancy is to almost exclusively drink their water from an antique wine glass we have to leave on the kitchen table and fill up several times per day). Gaston has a propensity to find a cozy resting spot in a cupboard and has taken a liking for a golden teddy bear he carries around, forming the shape of massive lumberjack beard under his tiny head. Frida is a finicky one; she is often averse to petting, but will unpredictably perch herself on our laps and purr away for as long as we stay still, although she may bite your finger off out of the blue with unrivaled fury. She stands regally aside, gazing obliquely at the room to avoid getting entangled in kitten wrestling games, strategically standing next to the tap so that she can drink from it whenever we let her. Sometimes, she tries to devour our hair in our sleep which is absolutely terrifying.

Boris the kitten | Infinite belly

I often surprise myself singing songs to them, saying their names borrowing accents from Bollywood movies or Bob Marley or telenovelas. I also like to rewrite lyrics to old Spanish tunes and Broadway hits based on their personalities and freestyle (stupid) rhymes. On an especially productive morning, I even made a song for Frida inspired by Animal Collective.

Ornament illustration | Infinite bellyWhile their presence can veer from cute to annoying and back in a matter of seconds, what stays with me from getting to know them this past year has been how naked I can feel in front of them. They know us just as well as we know them. They know when I am about to wake up and feed them, they know if I am tired or angry, cheerful or rested. They look at me with their curious eyes and perceive my presence, intuit my thoughts. It makes one feel naked — not as in vulnerable, but as in equal to them, as just another animal doing the same basic things and living a similar existence.

Ribbon illustration | Infinite bellyPear & praliné hazelnut tart | Infinite belly

Pear & praliné hazelnut pie + cocoa crust  |  Serves 6-8

Continue reading “Cat therapy”