Les Américains, Marty and Eileen, throw open the doors (and blue shutters) of their ancient stone farmhouse in rural France and welcome the reader of Beginning French by Les Américains with open arms. This couple are in love… with each other, with life and most passionately with all things French – the literature, wine, food, customs and culture. They’ve worked hard, scrimped and saved, dreaming of buying a second house in France. Now the time has come and they approach the search army style, sticking pins in a map of the Dordogne region. Their family motto: “have a setback, have a belt” means that they’re keen to be near the vineyards.
They are such a likeable couple – Marty humorous and laid-back but hugely organised, focused. He gives great common sense advice on the typical faux pas that a newcomer to France will commit and he will motivate and inspire those who seek to ‘become French’ too, but may be dragging their feet, unsure. Eileen is – quite simply -fabulous! “Elle est petite!” she is little but she is fierce and a great driving force, quietly industrious and capable but very spirited and ‘spunky’! Together, they’re a formidable team… Marty drives and Eileen navigates.
When they find “Le Rêve”, their dream, their wonderfully supportive and resourceful daughter Sara does the homework, giving them the final push they need. They go for it! Negotiating, communicating in French proves to be a challenge they rise to and when they come together to celebrate these little victories, the moment is as tender sweet as the roasted figs with goats cheese, wrapped in pancetta.
Sara muses “we could be French” – she could be right, she shops like an experienced French woman with her knowledge of produce and price; she is an intuitive, skilled chef, sharing the authentic recipes in the book so you can rustle up a peach and tomato salad or a deliciously easy Tarte au Citron à la Christine when you have to give in to the food lust.
This book makes you hungry! Every recipe is a good ‘un, Sara shares the back story to each as well as some great chef secrets!
This book is a practical guide, it’s a beautifully written story and it’s a fabulous cookbook too.
Their charming friends, neighbours and the French ‘helpers’ that come with the house aid them to settle in and survive as they land in hot water more than once – the boiler explodes, the pool is contaminated and they endure all manner of setbacks. But when they triumph, it makes you cry because they so deserve it and appreciate it. And, when they find themselves in difficulty, you laugh with them because they meet it with wry humour and are real troopers who work together to overcome.
The family immerse themselves in French life, learn the language, take up dancing, boules and discover the night markets. Each village has its own specialities such as pork spiked with garlic, spit roasted over a bed of smoking grapevines with a gravy of pepper and Monbazillac wine! Marty explains how each village is different, the people sociable and able to gather together with alcohol, but without trouble, to celebrate.
Boodles and Bingo, their all singing, dancing, trick-performing ‘action’ pugs arrive! Boodles has big ideas and a bucket list to match which includes walking the Champs-Elysées in a rhinestone collar! Monsieur Bingo just wants Boodles to be happy and both just want their owners’ laps to sit on!
It is not just the destination, but the journey that they appreciate deeply. Marty does sometimes misread the French signs but he has great depth and a self-deprecating outlook that is endearing and gets him back on track with Eileen when he goes off road. When she and Sara pull off the perfect workshop event with colossal hard work and effort, he realises he has underestimated how exhausted she is and how much she truly does. They weather the ups and downs of married life with great humour and charm.
They dispel many myths on owning a house in France; that you need to be wealthy or inherit, that your life is one long vacation! Their wealth is measured in experiences, friendships. They found a place in the world to rest. As they say, they came to France by mistake. They thought if they bought a house they might even become French. They succeeded and although they will always be “les Américains” in the village, they learned to become the best etrangers they could be. They are very grateful to have what they have and know that their real wealth is in their depth of experiences so it is a pleasure to join them in a toast of French Sgroppini, recipe included: A frappe of citron sorbet, champagne, crème epaisse and vodka with a mint leaf atop. La vie est belle!
“To food, beauty and the transformative nature of France” and to Les Américains who became French!
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