“The best poet is the man who delivers our daily bread: the local baker.” Pablo Neruda
For the past previous five winters my wife Sue and I have lived a few months on the Caribbean island of Carriacou, at the bottom of a chain of islands known as the Grenadines. We live very simply there with no car, television or newspapers. Every second or third day we walk into town, thirty minutes away, and go directly to the fish market. Later we visit the many fruit and vegetable stands to buy tomatoes, chicken (sometimes if there was no fish in the market), mangoes, pigeon peas, papaya, yams, onions and anything else that looks fresh. Then we check out one of the small grocery stores to pick up essentials like, rice, sardines, chick peas and, of course, wine and rum. With our shopping bags loaded up we get on one of the “dollar” buses which are actually large vans that seat as many as ten people and, literally, cost the equivalent of one Canadian dollar.
Back at our rented house we cook up our groceries over the next two nights, and prepare a list of shopping items for our next hike into town. When in Carriacou we have a feeling that we are living simply, on a day- to-day basis. It reminds me of a passage from Henry David Thoreau’s book “Walden” – he writes:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to confront only the essential facts of life, and see what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
This past year we decided to spend part of the winter in the little village of Lourmarin, in Provence, France. Here again we have lived simply, depending on the weekly market for our main groceries and buying delicious bread daily. We have also stocked up on the local wines, mainly roses. Just like in Carriacou we have no television and most newspapers are in French so we rely on the internet for news of the world and the weather forecasts.
One thing that has become more obvious to us in that the French love bread, and it must be fresh daily … and it is delicious. As Pablo Neruda wrote in the opening quotation, the local baker is held in high esteem in France. The strength of the farmers in French political life is now more understandable. As a nation they love food … in fact they treasure it. This obsession translates into the support for farmers. “Eating is an agricultural act,” wrote Wendell Berry. In France it is also an act of solidarity.
Food is also not just a source of nutrition but it also conjures up memories of family and friends’ get-togethers, especially those that are celebratory meals. Every memory contributing to our collective well-being. Each meal a source of pleasure … “Happiness rarely keeps company with an empty stomach”, goes an old Japanese proverb. Being not only a “foodie”, I am also a devoted fan of the fermented beverage made from grapes – yes, wine.
The French have a lot to say about this subject, as well. One of my all-time favourites comes from Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin where he even attributes characteristics to some of France’s greatest wines, as follows:
“Burgundy makes you think of silly things,
Bordeaux makes you talk of them
And, Champagne made you do them.”
This fascination of food and drink has infused our lives here in Provence. It has brought a sense of peace and contentment. It brings the words of Gandhi into our hearts and gives it profound meaning, “The earth provides enough to satisfy our needs, but not everyone’s greed.” Living simply, day-to-day has lowered our expectations and defused many of our unnecessary “wants.” Just living, sustaining our bodies with earth’s bounty, in a mindset filled with gratitude suffices. “My trade and my art is living,” wrote Michel de Montaigne. I think he was referring to the practice of living consciously; living in the moment like an artist getting lost in his/her creation.
Tomorrow I’ll go for a fresh baguette. Celebrating life: it’s the way I’ll meet my baker.*
*Apologies to Rod Argent’s song “Gonna Meet My Maker”. Note: Argent was a keyboardist, formerly with the Zombies.