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Peaches and Cheese


 If you were to travel to the Loire Valley town of Chinon, here is what you would see:

      A low white train station with an elevated clock tower.

      A fruit and vegetable store, the Marché Rabelais, across the street.

      Many houses for sale, Tudor-style and stone, lining the cobbled-stone streets.

      A histrionic-looking Joan of Arc astride her horse, straining against the reins.

      A wide river with wooden skiffs moored along the banks.



     Many young people whipping along the sidewalks in state-of-the-art wheelchairs.

      A statue of the French novelist Rabelais (who was born here) with a square cap on his head, at the end of a street that ends at the river Vienne. 

     A fortress high up on the town's highest hill.



 If you were to stay at the hotel, Lion d’Or, here is what you would notice: 

     A hot color scheme: not just the bright red Indian bedspread, but also pink walls, and burgundy carpet. You might think you’d been trapped in a box of Valentine’s Day candy.

     But then, when you opened the window, you’d feel as if you’d opened the box and bit into the tastiest little chocolate.

     Geraniums (more red!) in the window boxes.

     Plane trees arching above your room and the street. 

     A breeze of precisely the right temperature.

We had traveled by Métro to Paris’ Montparnasse train station.

We’d taken the high-speed TGV for just over an hour to Tours. 

We’d disembarked with our suitcases, and boarded a bus for a ride of equal length to Chinon, past rural villages and bright fields of sunflowers.



Friends were getting married. They got married each time they had a child, and the second one was now on its way. We’d missed the first wedding, but were glad to be here for this one.

The celebrations would begin the next day. Now we wanted to rest after our travel.

But first we needed to stock up on water and snacks. We unpacked, then wheeled our empty suitcases back along the cobbled street to the Marché Rabelais.

How can I convey to you the dearness of this market? It was so simple, mostly fruit and vegetables, with some nuts and beans and olives. Nothing fancy. Nothing slick. Neither a supermarket nor a farmer’s market. But the owners clearly had the most personal relationship with their vegetables and fruit.

They treated heads of lettuce like little people, friends of theirs.  A sign said, Touchez moi avec délicatesse.... Je tiens à mes feuilles



The shelves were stepped, with no refrigeration, each step containing just a few bouquets of broccoli or carrots, with plenty of breathing room. As if each were being displayed as a discrete offering, an individual life calling out, Pick me! No, me!

The peaches were fairly screaming, Adopt us! Take us home!

The figs were humming in low voices. I couldn’t resist picking up a container, though I hadn’t had a yen for figs in years. Richard was seduced by the trail mix.

The farmer-merchant stood among the potatoes, giving them his full attention. He called out a few gruff words to his stout wife at the cash register. She barked back, but was friendly, though shy, with us.

“Ahh!” she said, as Richard loaded the six packs of large water bottles evenly into our carry-ons. “That’s why you come with suitcases.”

We rolled our suitcases back to the Lion d’Or, and unpacked them onto the desk in our room.



I bit into a peach which dripped so that I had to lean out the window and "water" the geraniums.

Richard opened a container of trail mix so fresh that it seemed as if the nuts had been cracked that day.

We stretched out and listened: to the doves calling, “Amour, amour,” the crows engaged in a strenuous quarrel, the murmur of French and English in the sidewalk café below.

A breeze. A nap.

At 6, we went out to find dinner. In the section of town west of the hotel, we found cobblestone streets closed to traffic. We scanned the menus along the way. None served dinner before 7:30 p.m. Mais non! It’s France.

We were too hungry to wait. Meandering down a side street, I saw a wine bar, La Cave Voltaire. Inside was a big butcher block, with a freshly-baked loaf of bread on top. To tide us over till dinner, we’d have a bit of bread and cheese.

We settled at a table outside with a view of the fortress.

After a while, a young woman with abundant curly blond hair and a wholesome manner brought us a plate of cheese.

“Now I will explain the cheeses,” she said delicately in French.

They were arranged in an artful circle around the edge of the plate—five made from vache, five from chèvre. The waitress lovingly named each one.



By the time she had finished her litany (it was a song!), we were enchanted. Richard neatly divided the plate in half. “La vache pour moi; le chèvre pour toi.”

But on his third cheese with bread, he began to mew, and said (though he knows I prefer goat cheese), “You have to try this one.”

Obedient wife, I spread it on bread.

The taste began as mild, then turned slightly disgusting, then lingered, a delicate taste. It was the best cheese either of us had ever tasted.

We scoured the plate.

The girl came back and asked us brightly if we had enjoyed our cheese.



“What is the name of the cheese which has a slight aroma of garlic and onion?” Richard asked.

Ca n’existe pas,” she said. (Really? It doesn’t exist?) “Only our fromager makes it. It’s called a Coulouvier mascarpone ciboulette.” (Only their personal cheese-maker makes this particular cheese? Ooh la la.)

I took out my small Moleskin, and asked her to list the cheeses in the notebook. She carefully wrote down each one, with a “(v)” for vache, or a “(c)” for chèvre beside each.

The sidewalk café had filled, perhaps with people who’d smelled our ecstatic food trail pheromones. We heard German, English, Dutch, Spanish, French all around us.

The restaurants were open now.

“Do we want to eat any more?” Richard asked.

“I need an omelette,” I said.

We returned to At’ Able, an inviting restaurant we’d passed on rue Rabelais. 

The hostess brought us menus. Cold. A brusque waitress came to take our order. Cold. She had all the humanity of a rock. Opaque, not a trace of kindness about her.



The omelette had local mushrooms, tiny buds. It’s a simple dish—how could you ruin it? But they did. “It was almost inedible,” I said, as we walked back to our room. “Runny in the middle, tasteless, and gray.”

“My pasta sucked, too,” said Richard.

Back at the Lion d’Or, I tried a fig. It was exquisite. I began to sing.

All day, the food had matched the spirits of the people serving it. Cold and lousy at one restaurant. Warm and astonishingly good from the Marché Rabelais and La Cave Voltaire.

Maybe it was the spirits of the writers hovering over their namesake food purveyors. Perhaps it brings good luck to name a restaurant or market, Le Café de Beauvoir, or Le Marché Baudelaire. What do we really know about the magical links between the material world and the spirits, anyway?




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Reader Comments (18)

Gee whiz, what a good time you two are having!

Thanks to both of you for depicting.


Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 23:48 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Moody

May we have the names of the cheeses, please, since we cannot eat them, alas.

Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 3:49 | Unregistered CommenterTristine


I remembered, after writing this, your telling us earlier that you wanted to see what we saw, taste what we tasted, so this was a slowing down and savoring of details in a perfectly sybaritic day.

Thank YOU!


Kaaren & Richard

Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 14:24 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren

What sensual writing! And as usual, the pictures complete the experience. Cheese might be one of the only foods one might describe using the words, "slightly disgusting," in an accurate and complete way. It reminds me of something I read long ago about how the French have a word that describes that type of note when smelling perfumes; it made me realize that there is much more to a scent than its sweet top notes. I'm also fascinated that your friends chose to wed with the birth of each child -- it makes sense to renew/reaffirm/perhaps redefine vows when you are about to enter such an intense experience together. Thank you for this! xo

Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 15:44 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Genest

Stunning visuals. Words to match.

I was particularly struck by "Je tiens à mes feuilles." I've been trying to think of the English equivalent of "je tiens a" (in Italian, "ci tengo a"). Weird that English, which has a zillion more words than either French or Italian, doesn't really have a translation for that expression. "I care for" is too formal, bloodless. "I'm protective of" is too defensive, "I'm fond of" has a snarky undertone (when said by vegetables) that doesn't suit it.

"Je tiens a" is a hug, a smoosh of the cheek. But then again, I might be missing it. Maybe someone can think of a worthy English substitute.

Until then:

Je tiens a mes amis.

Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 16:15 | Unregistered CommenterAnna


Bien sur! The names of the cheeses, just as the waitress wrote them down are:

--Sainte-Maure (c)
--Coulouvier mascarpone ciboulette (v)
--livarot (v)
--Courrone lachaise (c)
--lingot de chevre (c)

There were more cheeses, but these were probably the ones she knew.

(c) is for chevre, goat; (v) for vache, cow. I know you know the French but this is for those who'd like the translation.

There's a link to the cheesemaker, Rodolphe Le Meunier, on our post. You can have their cheeses sent anywhere in the world, though it would probably be costly to the U.S.

Are you in Hawaii now or California?


Kaaren & Richard

Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 16:25 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

I enjoyed your last piece in the marketplace and the hot and cold waitresses!

Play on in Paris!!


Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 16:30 | Unregistered CommenterScott MacFarlane

Dear Jennifer,

Thank you, from both of us!

It’s apt that you, who write the best smells in your prose of any writer I know, would bring up perfumes. I found this excerpt from an article by Jessica Gallucci in “More Intelligent Life” about CB I Hate Perfume Gallery/Christopher Brosius Limited, 93 Wythe Avenue; Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Christopher Brosius hates conventional perfumes, and makes up individual ones for clients.

"Christopher's perfumes are not for everyone," writes Jessica Gallucci about the man behind CB I Hate Perfume. But you might consider a dab of "Wet Pavement" or "In the Library" behind each ear ...

“Gorgeous fragrances often contain notes of something nasty, it turns out. Even the daintiest jasmine perfumes contain indole, which Christopher likens to the smell of dead mice. (Indole is "probably the most unfairly maligned molecule on earth", writes Luca Turin in "The Secret of Scent.")

“A client once told Christopher how she loved the scent that wafted from her summer home's air conditioner after it had been out of use all winter. After some experimenting, Christopher hit upon what the woman found so appealing: mildew. Now that scent lends a fusty bite to his otherwise bright-smelling Locker-room accord.

“Pure amber, which is distilled from tree resin, can smell "almost slightly pissy", in Christopher's words--but he insists that when it's used correctly it is quite alluring. "Americans have this idea that everything needs to smell clean, clean, clean", he laments, with a shake of his head. He counters the trend for sanitised fragrances with creations like Wild Hunt, which is full of delightful earthy notes, including (according to his literature) "torn leaves, crushed twigs, flowing sap, fallen branches, old leaves, green moss, fir, pine and tiny mushrooms."

Isn't it fascinating that what would have been scandalous in the early 1960s, doesn’t raise an eyebrow in 2011? And there was a range of ages at the wedding from people in their 80s to the bride’s and groom’s daughter of two.

Love to you,
Kaaren & Richard

Monday, August 15, 2011 at 13:50 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

Dear Anna,

We have the same taste. It was that phrase that so tickled me. In two online translations, “Touch me gently….I want my leaves,” is given, but I like the affectionate subtlety of your translation better: a hug, a smoosh of the cheek. I think those heads of lettuce would feel the same, understood by you.

Thank you, and yes, nous tenons a nos amis!


Kaaren (& Richard)

Monday, August 15, 2011 at 15:55 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

Fascinating how the qualities of the proprietors trickled to their products and services. I certainly experience trickle down (of consciousness) at the various venues I work at. At Scripps Mercy Hospital sites where I do bio metric screenings and counseling, the compassion and competence of the Sisters who founded it trickles to my superb supervisor, Andrea. She greatly values awareness and has us giving a free meditation CD to all of the staff who participate in the wellness screenings. Andrea's spirit exemplifies that same ultimate combination of compassion and competence.

At the Marine Corp Recruit Depot, where I teach yoga (first yoga teacher there) the fitness supervisors there displayed power struggles, constantly, needlessly strategic nonsense. Two yoga teachers were fired. Imagine that, creating drama with yoga teachers. The numinous would always give me a heads up energetically when the dark energies were cycling around. I managed to avoid the fray and continue to serve some very grateful patrons.

However, with the Obama administration (coincidentally?) my current supervisor, Giovanna, has softened. She expresses utter loyalty to me now.

The photos as usual are stunning and speak volumes. I got a kick out of the graffiti on brick and felt mild grief for the empty nest.

I'll be frolicking in your stories for the next 24 hours minimum.

I appreciate your generous and rich sharing.



Monday, August 15, 2011 at 19:00 | Unregistered CommenterMarguerite

Dear Kaaren & Richard,

Have I told you how superb the photographs are? Are they Richard's? They are quite exquisite...


Monday, August 15, 2011 at 19:34 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Fish

Nancy, Richard thanks you for the gracious compliment. All the photos on Paris Play are his.

Monday, August 15, 2011 at 19:36 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Chère Marguerite:

We loved the personal experience that informed your comment. You are sensitive, observant, and quite compassionate yourself.

Incidentally, we tried three times to respond to your post, and have been having serious trouble here on Squarespace with the comments section. Our missives often don't go through, despite all the ways we try, and the Help Folks here say simply that it's a "known issue." That doesn't help. Frustrated.


--R and K

Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 20:11 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Who but you could make a little market so sensual and arousing! Remember when I told you that the fruits and vegetables tasted so much better in France? The melon we had at our lunch in Uri was the sweetest, tastiest cantaloupe I have ever had. And the peach you described - delicious! The photo of the sunflower is stunningly surreal; reminds me of the earliest color film. What a pleasure, this lovely trip to the countryside, very intimately described, as close as one could get to being there with you. xox

Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 5:45 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Sherry

Dear Diane,

Now I remember your saying that, after visiting your sculptor friend in the country. The peaches we bought were so outrageously tasty that since we've been back in Paris we're buying them by the bucket. I cut them up with figs (also a renewed taste) and walnuts and mix with a bit of whipped brebis yogurt and orange juice. The perfect summer snack.

I so appreciate your comments. I think you get the experience we were trying to convey: not any great gourmet meal, just simple food (though of the highest quality) presented with great love. The French have such a pure relationship with food, it's inspiring.

Richard thanks you for the compliment on his sunflower face. It IS surreal, and one of my favorite photos of his.

Much love,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 19:34 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren & Richard

Dear Marguerite,

You are describing my own work experience from the time I was a teenager. Whoever’s at the top determines the quality of care--both caring and careful craft—in the way work is done, to who is hired and how they're treated. It all begins with the spirit of the head honcho, and just about everything delightful or distasteful comes from that.

But you are also describing a trickle up effect: your seeing clearly the power games at the Marine Base, and staying out of them affected your supervisor. Yoga--what a good thing to teach Marine recruits. I can imagine the calming effect of doing asanas and meditation under the stars in Afghanistan. And If they do yoga long enough, they might even lose interest in waging war.

Richard thanks you for the compliments on his photos.

We are happy that you're enjoying Paris Play. Now if only we could be back in your yoga class this very minute.


Kaaren (& Richard)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 20:04 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Peaches! I thought of sending you this poem from The Blind Beekeeper (1997)... here t'is. I tender it to thee...


The heart is a white bowl of fresh
sweet peaches set in the
windowsill in the sunlight.

The head is a slow nod
in the direction of Truth.

The body is a highway in a
Third World country in
constant need of repair.

The soul is an endless measure of moonlight.

The soul is a white spot in a black field.

The soul is a black spot in a white field.

the soul is a green estuary in a
shadowy area.

I stand up inside the
shadow of the soul.

I look out through the eyes of
no one.

The seeing is God's.

What is seen by His Seeing
is visible proof of His existence.

The sunlight the white
bowl of fresh peaches sits in.

The white bowl of peaches,

and the ray of yellow sunlight in which
the white bowl of sweet peaches sits.

Saturday, August 20, 2011 at 0:50 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

Yow, Daniel! I just read your Peaches poem! I love this. Every part of this poem pleases me. Begininng with:

"The heart is a white bowl of fresh
sweet peaches set in the
windowsill in the sunlight."

Your interweaving of the sensual and metaphysical is divine.

Merci beacoup, et bisous,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 20:54 | Unregistered CommenterKaaren

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