Packing lunch

posted 9 February 2005

The lab is equipped with quite a large communal kitchen, much used by both the staff and the groups of visiting students that life in the dorms for a week or two at a time. It has a full stove and sink, TV, table, chairs, a couple of fridges, and two microwaves (plus more tables, benches, and a pingpong table in an open shed outside), so sometimes we bring in bowls of left-overs to zap for lunch. And once we forgot the lunch and had to resort to the "Baleine Joyeuse" (the Joyous Whale) at the marina for the plat du jour (braised endive with ham and cream sauce for David, baby octopus in niçoise sauce for me, soft white cheese with honey and pine nuts for both).

But mostly we make sandwiches. Fond as I am of roast turkey on home-made white with mayo, pepper, and alfalfa sprouts, sandwiches here are a different thing altogether, and highly addictive. We've bought them in railway stations for years to eat on trains, but now we can make them ourselves and eat them every day. You take an appropriate length of baguette (about half for a train trip, a quarter for a weekday lunch), split it lengthwise, butter it generously with top-quality demi-sel butter, and add one thin slice of raw Bayonne ham. That's it. Outstanding. If you get tired of ham, you can substitute a thin slice of country-style pâté, or a slice of "rosette de Lyon" (French dry salami), or even "rillettes" (a rich spread of pork, goose, or salmon). Yum. I add a couple of clementines or a comice pear (they're in all the markets now, along with a tall, funny-looking green Italian pear I've forgotten the name of; the stem of each comice is dipped in bright red sealing wax, just in case they could be confused with any other variety). David has a pastry, preferably from Sansona--a "millefeuille" (Napoleon), a square of apricot tart, or one of those chocolate-hazelnut dealies with the crisp meringue base--Sansona really is shaping up to be the venue of choice for sweet pastries.

If it's warm enough, we go out the big double wooden doors from the lower courtyard onto the "ponton," the lab's square stone dock, and eat our lunches while admiring the view across the bay to Cap Ferrat and our apartment. If it's not, or if (as was the case Monday) the wind is so high that waves are breaking over the ponton, we adjourn to the communal kitchen or one of our offices. There's always something to see from the ponton--a cruise ship coming or going; various members of the lab picnicking like us; the crazy people (they must be Germans or maybe Norwegians) who show up on the little neighboring pocket beach every day in their bathing suits (even when its 2 degrees C and blowing a gale) to sunbathe standing against the seawall, loll on the beach (keep in mind that the average "grain of sand" on this beach is the size and shape of a hen's egg), and swim (!); one of the lab's boats landing a set of samples. We see at least two kinds of gulls and a tern, but I'm not sure yet what kinds. One day last week, the water was suddenly full of jellyfish--six-inch pink medusas and egg-sized white comb jellies. They were gone again the next day. Another time, one of the lab's maintenance crew was fishing for octopus. He had an 8-inch boat-shaped chunk of wood, painted red and heavily weighted with lead, to which he had nailed a piece of white rag and attached two large fishhooks. He attached a line to the pointed end, swung the thing around his head a few times for momentum, and launched it out over the water. He would let it sink, then slowly pull it in, hand over hand. Octopuses are apparently known to like rags and the color red, so when you feel a good tug on the lure, you jerk it toward you, hoping to set the hooks in the octopus. He admitted he'd never actually caught one but assured us that people had been catching quite large and tasty octopuses from that dock for 20 years.

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