France, Pastis

Thanking Peter for Pastis

“For me, the most powerful ingredient in pastis is not aniseed or alcohol but ambiance, and that dictates how and where it should be drunk. I cannot imagine drinking it in a hurry. I cannot imagine drinking it in a pub in Fulham, a bar in New York, or anywhere that requires its customers to wear socks. It wouldn’t taste the same. There has to be heat and sunlight and the illusion that the clock has stopped. I have to be in Provence.”

Peter Mayle, Toujours Provence

I won’t lie. I’ve read every “move away to live a new life” book I can lay my hands on. Walden Pond in high school, Chop Wood, Carry Water, in my 20s and uncounted others since – including Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence (which came along when my son, Justin, was entering the terrible 3s and running away to start a new life seemed like a sensible thing to do.) Four years later, when the book was turned into a mini-series, Justin and I loved watching it together so perhaps running away from him wasn’t the point in the first place.

We watched the video so many times that it wore out. Then the DVD until it was so scratched that we had to go to France in the real world. We never stayed in Provence because the reason for going to France was to visit our dear friends who live in the anti-Provence region of Languedoc, but you get the point. Peter Mayle ignited in this Italian-American, anise-loving woman in inexplicable love of France. When I learned that he had died in January 2018, I mourned as if for a lost family member.

On neither that trip nor any of the subsequent trips to visit our friends in Languedoc did I drink pastis. But that changed on my walking tour from Collioures to Cadaques.

I knew the route in reverse by car. On one of our visits to Languedoc, Justin and I drove by autoroute to Cadaques in Spain. The road from the highway to Cadaques was a torturous winding and narrow affair. I daren’t take my eyes off the road – any oncoming vehicle had a 1 in 3 chance of forcing us into the mountain or down to the Mediterranean depending on the hairpin switchback. But I could tell that the view over the Mediterranean was exquisite. “Justin, what do you see?” I asked. His answer – as logical as one could make given the situation – “We’re going to die! We’re going to die!”

Not wanting to die, we opted for the coastal route home. And it was exquisite. Views over the Mediterranean that we could actually see. Charming small towns. AND verdant beauty. Who knew that there was a Côte Vermeille?

Years later, I’m looking for an adventure and I can’t pass up a walking tour from Collioures in France to Cadaques. At my overnight stops, I begin a tradition of reviving myself with a pastis as my aperitif. The lovely clear liquid, the water condensing on the pitcher of icy water, the magic of the louche transforming the pastis from clear to cloudy, and salty snacks end up being the absolutely perfect way to literally take a load off my feet after 10 – 12 miles of walking the rugged coastal route.

Thank you, Peter for my discovery of pastis.  I know that the Côte Vermeille is not Provence, but you did write that pastis is something your friends drank to revive themselves. And what better way to honor your memory?