Do you ever find yourself bargaining with people? Over yourself I mean. “We’ve fasted,” she said almost immediately when we met. “We cut out all the sugar, the alcohol, the cheese. Dairy is terrible for you.” She looked thinner than when I last saw her. The whole family was thinner. “We gave them the house, and took the baby and stayed at my mother’s house,” she explained. “That way the kids (in their 20’s) could fast the whole week without being disturbed.” She, a harpist, looked me over, “I suppose singers would have a difficult time fasting for a whole week.”
I’ve been slowly losing weight. I look different since we last met, however, in comparison to my friend, I looked less different given our respective strategies. I’ve never been inclined to even consider not eating for a week. We met, as usual, outside Paris where I was invited to my friend’s house for a big French family occasion for which we traditionally graze for hours and drink until we want to roll around the grass to cool off our bloated skin. Despite her announcement, and a bit relieved, I still found myself eating small amounts of cheese, sugar and drinking alcohol every day. And then a lot more of all of that the day of the party. The French bounties and traditions seemed to override the idea of deprivation.
“I mean there is a reason that Jesus went to the desert for forty days,” she said. Granted, normally I would have been eating a lot more of sugar or let’s say normally xyz times everything a bit more, but this time the reduced quantities didn’t bother me – my teeth were hurting. I sent my dentist an email over the weekend.
She stirred her hot lemon water, and I stirred my deluxe hot chocolate. “What’s the difference?” I asked at the café. For four euros you get the powdered hot chocolate and for five euros you get real hot chocolate imperial style. Sensing that I wasn’t going to be eating the normal French way, gourmand, I ordered the deluxe for fortification.
What was I to say? “Sure, I’d love to eat less,” wasn’t the first thing that came to mind.
“Your teeth are in pristine condition.” My dentist announced this week. But we agreed that I would have a filling replaced because it looked like it, very slightly, may be leaking. “You are a bit sensitive. Do you eat a lot of fruit?”
A staple of my diet. I adore eating fruit. I reminded myself in the café in France that I had some extra apples in my bag, so in case I was going to eat less, I had a backup plan. My friend might insist on a light meal here or there. I could manage the new system.
Part of the big family celebration was partaking of the Mass on Sunday. Her first two children had gone to public school. The last one had been going to private Catholic schools. A thread of more serious Catholicism seemed to be wafting around the house. “The Russians did experiments for years with fasting.” Russians equaled Soviets, and the Soviet breadbasket. “It was really an ecstatic experience, you get an amazing level of energy after the third day.”
“On the third day he rose again,” the priest intoned. We were sitting in the icy church of St. Martin de Champeaux. This was my first ever visit to the ex-abbey which used to be affiliated with Notre Dame de Paris back in the middle ages. The choir stalls were from the 15th century and full of fantasy featuring carved heads on egg bodies, serpentine faces in profile, preaching pigs and other occupations. A right smart and contemporary rendition of the world of Breughel.
Those who could join Communion did so, however, being the Protestant in the tent I did not queue. There among the cold yellow stones, I did not belong. As a guest I was extended charity. As a friend I was extended compassion. As a person, I was given two legs to walk around by some merciful God.