There is snow high on the Pyrenees. We are on a 45 min drive to Tarbes due east of that majestic range. Today we have an all day rehearsal of the music of Sidney Bechet, the Creole genius of clarinet and soprano saxophone. A hell raiser and musical hero in France after WW2, Sidney brought the emotional power and glory of New Orleans jazz to the world. We love playing this music (with special guests Olivier Franc and Bob Wilber (who studied with Sidney) because early jazz is optimistic, hardy, and always fun to play. Wycliffe Gordon is also on this concert, so Vic and I will have a great time playing 3 horn collective improvisation with him.
For twenty years, in Marciac, I stay in the home of Marcel and Christiane. Their three kids are around my age and they have shown me and my kids much love through these many years. All of my kids have studied French and love France because of their experiences in Marciac and in the house of Laberriere. They are family to me. We sit at the kitchen table (Frank Stewart's picture of that same table is in our book Sweet Swing Blues on the Road) and speak in broken Spanish about all kinds of things. When their daughter Cathy is home, she translates, all the while adding her own passionate commentary and arguing with her father.
We talk this morning about: the quality of ham in Bayonne; the various shapes of tomatoes from south america (they pull out a tomato that looks like a pepper and another shaped like a heart); the glories of a pepper festival in the city of Espellete; how they loved taking their kids to the Basque region when the family was growing up; how Basque people adorn the outside of homes by hanging peppers on draped strings (also, I observe, a tradition in the U.S. south). Out comes 4 or 5 Basque cookbooks with commentary on memorable past meals.
We are eating confit de canard and sliced potatoes fried in duck grease. They say you can only get a proper magret in homes because it takes 6 to 8 months of soaking the duck in its own grease and restaurants don't want to take the time. This meal reminds me of the cuisine my great aunt used to make in a little bitty shotgun house on Gov. Nicholls street in New Orleans (my momma and them speculated her recipes came from slavery, well, my great uncle was born in 1883 so that's not far fetched)…. anyway, New Orleans was founded by the French and we eat the same bread and like our coffee the same way and, regardless of economic status, have that same high regard for savory sauces and ornate sugar bowls and taureens.
Marcel and Christiane have been married for 48 years. Yesterday we had a long conversation over a section of roasted pork. This was an intense back and forth about black and white folks and France and America and imperialism and Charles DeGaulle and wars and generations and what people know, want and expect, and progress and, of course fraud and frauds. Cathy and I represent a younger more progressive and liberal (we think) way of thinking. Marcel says when he was young, he was with Gen. De Gaulle who was against all kinds of imperialism (including American) and long before that, he remembers German soldiers occupying his family's house. He is proud of what his generation has achieved and, like most who remember the American effort in WW2, he loves the United States.
In his early 20's (1958), he fought in northern Africa for 2 and a half years. He says war opens you up for life (for better and worse). As we get deeper into a rumination on black and white folks and old and young folks, he becomes more forceful. He says France fought in Senegal and the Congo and Algeria, Vietnam and so on and a lot of lives were lost over trying to oppress people and take their things because their skin color was darker.
He says he understands what is the battle of the races and that the loss of life in those wars made many people in France realize they would rather accept people of different colors and cultures coming together than continue to die trying to prevent it and or trying take people's stuff free of charge (or so cheaply as to be free).
About the generations he says you go to school you think you know something.
You do something (like fight in a war)——you know something.