On the high-speed boat from Nice to Corsica — the name of the line, amazingly enough, is Ferryterranée — you stand at the stern and watch the fast boil of the ferry’s wake. Spray and a meridional hypnosis are your portion in this Mediterranean surround. Thanks to the curvature of the earth the boat seems to be scratching an incision down the middle of a great blue egg laid flat as a Dutch landscape. The sky, of course, has become a dome; the French coast is disappearing.
We traveled to Corsica to visit Henri Blumenfeld, Monsieur l’Inspecteur I call him, because he looks like a seasoned Maigret. Henri had the good sense to buy a vacation home overlooking the elegant bay of Calvi, a pristine crescent that reminds me of Carmel-by-the-Sea only there’s a fortress at its head instead of Point Lobos, and the mountains surveying the scene, with a toy train rattling by down near Lumio plage, are considerably more heroic than any hillside the Monterey Peninsula can muster. No highway in sight is wider than two lanes: this is a time-warp isle, a mystery even to savvy travel agents.
Henri also had the good sense to marry Marie Jacqueline who’s a keen chef as well as the superb designer and custodian of a bougainvillaea and cactus-stuffed jardin. Thanks to her I can tell you about a symphony of gastronomic browns providing a footnote to our Daube recipe several pages back.
Marie Jacqueline dished up a daube featuring sanglier, that’s wild boar, marinating it in red wine, garlic, shallots and local herbs, and cooking it long and well, without tomatoes you should note. M.J.’s harmonizations for this aromatic stew were the biggest cannellini beans I’ve seen yet, surpassing, I believe, their Oakland Greek counterparts, and chestnuts simply taken from the tin and boiled to perfection.
The warm, gently humid air on Henri’s terrace was superb, the company, including son Alexis, a marine biologist of a lyrical turn, excellent, the sunset a gorgeous rose, the Paris plane landed neatly in the distance, a ferry eyed its dock across the bay, the toy train mumble-rumbled by on schedule near crisp-cut little houses straight out of Cézanne, and, as Henri observed of it all, “C’est presque trop parfait.” But only almost too perfect!
. . . Then it was back to Nice, the crossing too rough for a passenger to conjure metaphors, and home to San Francisco where, at ebullient Plouf, I was seduced by an upwardly mobile but not too chi-chi Salade Niçoise, perhaps the most elegant in my experience while retaining bistro status. To “duplicate” it you could begin with our Salade Niçoise but for the tuna element employ seared ahi slices, for the olive component tapenade toasts with their caper-accented spread, and weave through the lot strands of poached fennel. And where is the book on 100 Salades Niçoises?
In Corsica I asked Henri (as I had other of the several European cousins I know on the Jewish side of my much-researched family tree – I seem, by the way, as what you might call an “artistic type” to identify much more with my Jewish half, although I was very close to my mother), at any rate I asked Henri how his immediate family had survived the Second World War in Paris, and he told me he and his siblings were distributed among several Catholic schools where, more or less as in a Louis Malle film, they sank into the Aryan woodwork.
Matthias my Berlin Blumenfeld cousin told me “a good German” saved his grandfather back in the 30s and Matthias’ uncle went on to be a distinguished diplomat in Willy Brandt’s post-war government.
In Holland my cousin Rob, the grandson of Freud’s larger-than-life colleague and eventual “victim” ViktorTausk (they had a disagreement and Viktor committed suicide) told me his Viennese father, working in Holland when the Nazis arrived, had to produce his pedigree, and when Marius Tausk’s lawyer back in Vienna tallied it up as extrmely damning from the Nazis’ point of view, Marius wired his lawyer, “That cookie recipe you sent me is not quite to my taste, would you send me another?”
But we’ve gotten a long way from Corsica . . .