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15 Mar
Thu / 2012

Truffles, literary lions, and a new library

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The mayor recently dedicated the Ménerbes municipal library to one of the village's famous residents, writer François Nourissier. The event included a star-studded visit from four members of the Academie Goncourt and a lavish meal featuring truffles at La Maison de la Truffe et du Vin (House of Truffles and Wine).

The Prix Goncourt is France’s most prestigious literary award. The 10 lifetime members are writers and usually former laureates of the prize. Since 1914 they have met on the first Tuesday of every month at the famous Drouant Restaurant in Paris, where they eat well and discuss literary news. The prize is announced in November and the writer is awarded the grand sum of 10 euros, along with invaluable prestige. 

One of the members in Ménerbes on Friday was Bernard Pivot of Apostrophe, a  literary TV show that I used to watch religiously 20 years ago when I was learning to speak French. Pivot  is famous throughout France for holding the annual dictée. This is a quintessential French moment, when Pivot reads a passage on TV and in homes across the country people struggle to write what they think is correct French. For days afterwards there is avid discussion about the number of mistakes each person made and the complex rules of French grammar and spelling. To say that I felt intimidated to speak to Pivot in French is an understatement.

Luckily, during the lunch following the dedication, I was seated next to Nourissier’s daughter, who had spent years in Chicago and loved America. It was truffle gastronomic extravaganza. We had thinly sliced truffles on crusts of bread and little cheese puffs called gougères, followed by scrambled eggs with truffles and a salad with truffle oil and grated truffle. For the cheese, there was  brie with slices of truffle in the center, and at last we had a rich chocolate, praline, and truffle tarte.

Having eaten my share of truffles, I got up my courage and spoke to Pivot about the Maison Dora Maar. He was enthusiastic and genuinely interested, saying if only he had been able to go to a place like ours when he was a young writer. . . . 

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