We've been here almost a month now, so the time had come for David to present a seminar at the lab. He spoke at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday (February 3), in English, about his deep-sea work on assessing the effects of CO2 sequestration, and the lecture was apparently well received. I'm told there were many questions, in French and in English and that he handled them masterfully (of course). I didn't actually go--I've heard that talk before (and edited it in a couple of forms). Instead, I volunteered to help those in charge of the cold buffet lunch that routinely follows such seminars, and I must say that it put our department's "colloquium food" seriously in the shade. Of course, it was intended as a meal and not just cocktail muchies . . .
A tablecloth was thrown over the large table that stands in the center of "la halle aux filets"--the net hall, so called because its 50-foot vaulted stone ceiling provides the perfect place to hang the lab's huge plankton nets for storage. The lower ends of the longer ones are pulled back against the wall so that you don't actually walk into them on the way to the library. The stone floor underfoot is rather lumpy and uneven, because it was, until recent memory, set with great iron rings to which galley slaves were chained a few hundred years ago (the building dates from 1597). The rings and the stone posts to which they were attached have now been chipped away because people were always tripping over them at receptions.
Anyway, on this table were spread the dishes of the first course--all supplied by Carrefour, the same upscale K-mart where we bought our shower curtain: platters of raw ham, cooked ham, salami, and rare roast beef; big bowls of shredded carrot salad, "celeri remoulade" (shredded celery root in a mayo-based sauce), cherry tomatoes, marinated artichokes, marinated semi-dried tomatoes, a couscous-based tabouleh, marinated roasted red peppers, and (for some reason) baskets of potato chips; bigger bowls of baguette chunks (I sliced the baguettes) and plates of sliced round country-style bread; jars of mayonnaise, mustard, and "cornichons" (sour gherkins). A side table held bottles of red wine, rosé (a much more serious wine choice in France than in the U.S.), and mineral water. I was impressed by the quality and variety, but the locals apologized profusely because it was all cold.
When interest in that assortment seemed to wane, it was whisked away (except for the bread and wine), and large platters of cheese brought forth: gruyère, brie, and lovely logs of semi-ripened chèvre, sliced into rounds (I sliced the chèvre).
After that, the cheese was moved aside (not removed, since it's considered a viable dessert alternative here), and the desserts appeared: a huge bowl of whole clementines; two broad wicker trays spread with dates, dried figs, prunes, dried apricots, raisins, almonds, and hazelnuts (the staff member sent to choose the fruit felt that the grapes and strawberries were not up to par this week); and two vast fruit tarts, one apple and one pear, each about 20 x 30 inches (I, as directed, cut each tart into exactly 50 pieces).
Toward the end of the affair, word was descreetly passed among those most closely involved that the leftovers would reappear at the picnic tables in the lower courtyard the following day, so on Friday, we, the organizers, and the director and members of Laurence's research team assembled there and polished off the rest.
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