It seems like another lifetime long ago in San Angelo, Texas when I would spend hours pouring over glossy magazines such as Metropolitan Home, Vogue, and Elle Decor. My parents in fact blamed my Vogue magazine habit as the reason I harbored such grand illusions as living in Paris and enjoying a refined lifestyle of high-end finishes in everything from travel and clothing and meals to interior design and backyard landscapes. (By then, to be clear, I was already teaching myself French with Berlitz records from the Tom Green County Library.)
And all of this was way, way before "foodie" culture took off. I did eventually wander over into Gourmet and Bon Appetit, and then Martha Stewart as she combined all of my favorite high-end visual aesthetics: food, lifestyle, interior/exterior design. I daydreamed about a life full of elegant dinners with happy (well-adjusted, satisfied in their careers and family lives) people, with lots of friends in stylish circumstances amidst some charming vignette or another. E.g., a beachfront dinner with driftwood-colored benches, some votives on a long weathered wood table that someone bought at a yard sale in the Hamptons, elegant wispy thin ladies in Eileen Fisher enjoying carefree and effortless banter with young rugged men slightly and adorably unkempt in faded linen shirts half-way buttoned because they had just nonchalantly tossed on that shirt upon exiting the water from say, an ocean kayak for the short trek over from a neighboring cottage. Yes, I thought all this was so easy to have and to hold, and that indeed it was one's birthright (i.e., mine) upon entering the adult world to enjoy such moments.
Of course, I would soon find out life was not a magazine spread. In fact, I spent the next 2 decades figuring that out, i.e., getting realistic a/k/a disillusioned and disenchanted.
But a funny thing happened on Friday, March 15, 2013. I figured it all out.
I arrived at Justine's at 10:45am, right after the Titi Robin Trio finished their gig on a TV morning show and we carpooled them back to Justine's for the Austin Angers Music 2013 event. This would be the second of the Chef Rémi brunches. The first one was the day before at The Bungalow--the one I already waxed on and on about.
It started out as an almost chilly morning at Justine's. The sun then started to come out. It started to warm up. Justine's owner Pierre was rewarded for his call on taking away the winter tents for this occasion. Yes, there was more of that same fine array from Chef Rémi: that duck pâté I so loved. The cheeses. The bread. Ah, yes, the smoked salmon and the duck tartare. But this brunch felt different from the one just 24 hours before. There was relief - a large, collective if perhaps unconscious sigh of relief that all had gone well. We were all so very relaxed. This was the end of the complicated logistics, and it was a gorgeous day. So of course, a brilliant, happy and prestigious sparkling wine from the region -- the Bouvet Rosé Excellence -- was in order.
François Delaunay, co-directeur of Le Chabada, organized the special toast with this very special sparkling wine as the Austin's Mayor, and France's Consul General, in from Houston, join in with the others who made this Austin-Angers connection possible.
There followed an afternoon of music, Justine's open for lunch on this out-of-the-ordinary Friday, and piles and piles of people making their way to Justine's, some of whom did not even realize Justine's is never open this early.
I stayed for brunch. I stayed for lunch. I stayed for more bands. Friend Amy came on down to catch some of them. We pulled a bench over from the sidelines and just sat there, front and center, watching the music, wine in hand whilst everyone else around us was milling about.
As the music time came to a close, we figured it was time to call it a day from our perfect spot, on that bench, with our organic white wine, talking to Francois about Texas, Texas food, Texas landscape, Texas monuments. He showed us his pictures from Bandera. We recommended they take in the Rodeo. We almost called it a day after all that. Almost.
But then kind and ever-polite and gracious Francois tells me we are invited to stay and dine with the Angers contingent. I say yes. Amy says yes.
It is cooling down again as the heat of the day goes away with the sun. A breeze kicks up. The group is large. Germain helps the kitchen and our server by taking orders for the very large group spread out among many tables.
And it is celebratory sparkling wine all around as we are placing our orders for steak frites, moules, cheese, escargots.
Pretty soon there is so much food, talking, laughing--mostly in French. I know it was wrong to order cheese as a meal to follow my escargots. Francois did not frown too too much on this odd food selection.
I look at our table -- and all the tables around us. There are wine bottles everywhere. Friends all around. The jazz from the turntable inside is competing with all of us who have taken over a vast corner of the outside patio there at Justine's. There is French all around. There is then a brief time away for Melanie, the documentary filmmaker documenting the whole week, to interview me. Chef Rémi gives me a gift.
Those last couple of hours with our friends from Angers, a chef, musicians, outside on a cool evening at Justine's--speaking French, were no different from those picture perfect magazine moments of charming vignettes of friends, food, wine, music I found so compelling when prettied up for a magazine.
And so I figured out.
The real life version is, of course, always better than the well-lighted glossy magazine picture spread. And the real life version of those vignettes is not so unattainable, but those scenarios do require a certain amount of just doing your own thing and finding your own groove.
And then, voila, what do you know. Decades after sitting in your bedroom repeating over and over "la plume" to a Berlitz record, you start figuring out you just need to get to France, and you just keep going and going, and before you know it, you're sitting at Justine's, speaking French all day drinking wine and exquisite sparkling wine surrounded by French friends and Austin friends, food--not to mention a young French chef, and (French) wine and music. So much better than a magazine. It just took, oh, some 30 years to realize that.