“Bonjour. Ça va John and Barbara?”, our neighbor, Olivier, calls to us as we walk past his house.   “Tres bien, merci,” I respond.   Olivier's yard is filled with countless odd items; dolls, a rocking horse, metal scraps arranged like sculpture that he has collected from the local dump, a water wheel, and a stuffed badger.  In the rear there is a vegetable garden and a “still” for making pastis. 

“Please come in and have an appertif”.  It is 11 o’clock in the morning.  John accepts the invitation and I come along reluctantly.

Olivier runs to the kitchen to fetch snacks – almonds, potato chips, popcorn, home-cured boar sausage, and marinated anchovies.  He sets three glasses on the table along with a bottle of pastis and a pitcher of water.  As he pours my pastis I wave my hand, “Just a little.”  He pours John a more generous amount then for himself he fills the glass half full.  We add some water and the pastis turns milky white.  I take a sip of the pungent licorice liquid which burns my throat when I swallow.  “Il est tres bon,” I lie.

 “Mange, mange,” he urges us to help ourselves to the refreshments on the table.  I pick at the popcorn.  He offers us the bowl of fresh almonds still in their husks.  Instead of a nutcracker, he takes an almond and cracks it with his teeth.  Now I know why he’s missing some.

Bravely I sample an anchovy and am surprised that it is delicious, fresh, fishy, sour, and salty.  The boar sausage I am not so crazy about.

Olivier asks John if he likes escargot.  “Oh no, never.” Since I don’t see any snails on the table, I say that I love them, “Je adore escargot.”  Olivier tells me that before I go home to America he will make me some.  I hope he will forget this offer.

Over the summer Olivier frequently stops by our house to give us vegetables from his garden; tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, lettuce, and radishes.  Occasionally he includes two fresh brown speckled eggs.

The doorbell ring the day before I leave to return to San Francisco.  I open it and there stands  Olivier holding a saucepan with a potholder.  “For you, Barbara, escargots.”  “Oh how kind of you Olivier.  Merci beaucoup.’’  He sets the pan down and removes the lid.  Inside are steaming snails in tomato sauce.  I am sure they are from his garden.  Knowing I will insult him if I don't try them on the spot, I take  one out and pluck it with a fork.  Courageously I pop it into my mouth, chew and swallow it. What a nice surprise, it tastes of garlic, tomatoes, onions, and chorizo.  Actually quite delicious.  Even so, I confess I do not eat many after he leaves.

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