One of the many humiliations of living in France is trying to speak French and getting words mixed up. My French is passable, which means I can now understand the voicemail message left by the Orange France fiber-to-the-home technician after listening to it three times (he was speaking rapidly) and making sure to press the “3” button to supprimer or delete the message, not to be confused with imprimer, or print. Imagine the trouble people get themselves into when they confuse supprimer with imprimer.
The French language is filled with dangerous potholes into which a foreigner can easily fall. Today it was my turn.
I went to a wonderful restaurant called Les Saisons in the 9th arrondissement of Paris to have lunch with two friends. On the menu was lièvre à la royale. One friend asked me what it was and I said, “It’s a fish.” The other friend, a local, corrected me and said, “No, it’s hare. You are probably confusing it with lieu.”
Lieu jaune. Of course. I have seen it many times at our twice weekly market on Avenue de Saxe. A white fish called pollock in English whose proper Latin name is pollachius pollachius. How on earth could I confuse a cute bunny rabbit with this vile looking sea creature?
When I got home, I became more curious about lièvre à la royale and dove into that Great Destroyer of Ignorance called the Internet. Had I been classically trained in French gastronomy or at least acquainted with the great mythical dishes of the French cuisine, I would have known that the full name of the dish is lièvre à la royale du sénateur Couteaux. It has origins in the 19th century when a senator (and political columnist) named Aristide Couteaux from the Vienne, went hunting in Poitou and brought several dead specimens of this fine animal to his restaurateur friend’s kitchen and cooked it there with great panache. The dish lives on in the imaginations of French people (who probably rarely cook it at home and only eat it at restaurants) because it takes 1 hour to prepare and 7.5 hours to cook (in an oven at 120C) using ingredients that include blood of hare, lard, pork, foie gras and red wine (source: December 2012 issue of Cuisine et Vins de France). It’s most likely I won’t eat this dish because I can’t stand the thought of eating a cute little bunny rabbit.
When I left Les Saisons, I noticed that across the street (rue Lamartine) stands a building with a plaque that says: Alphonse Lamartine, 1790-1869. Walking around Paris really does expose the gaps in one’s knowledge. Who is Alphonse Lamartine? I’ve heard the name before. I should know of him. So I looked him up on the Internet and found out that he was a statesman and French poet, indeed, one of the major poets of the French Romantic movement in literature. He was born in Mâcon into an aristocratic family and died almost penniless in Paris.
Now I’m intrigued about his poems. Perhaps I can read them after all in French.