Flashback to Dinner Chez Laurence

posted 29 March 2005

On 9 April, Laurence invited us to dinner at her place. Her husband, Jean-Yves, made a special trip from Brussels just to be there. She also invited Jacques Soyer, an old colleague of David's, and his significant other. When we used to see Jacques regularly at meiofauna meetings, he was at the CNRS lab at Banyuls (as was Laurence), but since then he had become overall director of the lab in Villefranche (and ceased to have time to attend meetings), then retired, but still lives in Villefranche. We were pleased to have the chance to see him again, and we thought that was the extent of the guest list, but no—Laurence had also invited two other couples, Patrick and Odile and Jean-Phillipe and Germaine, so we were 10 in all. That's all that would fit around the table, so Laurence sent her husband's two grown sons (also visiting Villefranche) out to find their own dinner.

Laurence and Jean-Yves had just returned from a stay at their house in Greece and had brought back groceries, so they chose to serve a Greek menu. We started with "mezze," assorted hors d'oeuvres: grilled Greek sausages, chunks of white cheese grilled on skewers, marinated cooked octopus (which the marine biologists present revealed was not really octopus but "elode" because the tentacles had only a single row of suckers), tarama (purée of herring roe), hummus, two kinds of bread, olives, tiropita (cheese in filo triangles), shredded red and white cabbage and shredded carrots with oil and vinegar dressing, and others that slip my mind. The main course was dried salt cod long soaked in many changes of water, then carefully dried and fried in a very hot skillet until crisp on both sides. It was served with "skordalia," a sauce consisting essentially of puréed raw garlic and a little olive oil. For dessert we had a huge bowl of fresh fruit salad and authentic Greek baklava (cut into roughly half-pound pieces). Jean-Yves explained that the filo used in the baklava and the tiropita was hand-made, an art that is rapidly dying out, even in Greece.

Reaction to the wines was mixed. Laurence first served a light Greek rosé, supposedly not resin-flavored, although David said it still had a slight resinated flavor. He didn't like it at first, but it grew on him. Next, she served a real Greek retsina, often not popular with non-Greeks but, David said, well suited to the food. Finally, she opened the excellent red that Jacques had brought, which everyone agreed was great.

The conversation was loud, rapid, and entirely in French, but David and I managed to hold our own. Once they got into French politics, we mainly sat back and enjoyed the shouting, just sticking in a little zinger here and there. My favorite moment was when Odile, largely silent up to that point, suddenly shot to her feet to yell, over the head of her much larger husband, "You can't believe that!" at Jean-Phillipe (who greatly enjoyed his role as socialist agitator). These people had all known and liked each other for a long time, so all the arguments had been made before, and no one changed his opinion, but they seemed to enjoy it, and as a spectator sport it was very entertaining.

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