Monday, August 17, 2009

60 thrushes and an ex-wife for dinner

A friend invited me to dinner to celebrate his 60th birthday. An ex-chef and sailor turned stonemason and painter, Felix is a big, barrel-chested, expansive, local guy of Spanish origin. His new girlfriend has a little girl, conceived late during what her mother mistook for the menopause. He lives in a large agricultural hangar which he's converted into a muscular, masculine, open-plan home with a mezzanine and a bar and large easels here and there holding up big paintings that never seem to be quite finished. His soon-to-be-ex-wife moved out a while ago, to a house in Avignon.
So the idea, he says, is to eat 60 thrushes accompanied by good red wine from Chateauneuf du Pape. 'You probably won't eat a thrush' he said, with a certain disdain 'because you're English. They're not wild, trapped. They're elevage.' I still wasn't keen. So he said he'd give me fish.
On the evening, I arrived with another friend to find him standing over a huge cauldron of fish stew - a bourride from Cassis. He'd made tapenade and laid a great long table for 22. Wine was decanted. His son and girlfriend were handing out aperos. A friend who makes wine arrived from Chateauneuf du Pape with a present - a red wine bottled in 1929, the year Felix was born.
But where were the birds? Why was he cooking bourride? In between stirring the great stew and chucking in additional herbs and seasoning he gave the explanation. His ex still has a key to the place. His girlfriend had recently stayed for a week and the ex had come in one day to be confronted by a cot next to her husband's bed.
Hearing from mutual friends about the dinner plans, she'd returned on the day of the celebration, let herself in again with the key she'd hung on to, opened the huge fridge where the birds were peacefully laid out - and swiped the lot of them.
It was a great meal and a great evening even so, finished off with champagne, cheese and sorbets.
A good birthday but not an amicable divorce in the making...

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