Where liberty dwells, there is my country. – Benjamin Franklin
The rattle of cars across the gravel of the courtyard below floats through the windows on the breeze like the distant roar of ocean waves. The shade washes over me, soothing, cooling, the shutters pulled closed against the searing heat. Voices on the street, the distant laughter of teens now out of school mingle with hotel sounds, the girls chattering happily in the laundry room, clients on the terrace, birds twittering all day, nonstop, and summertime is finally upon us. Summer sneaks up on us in Chinon, plays tag with our emotions, one day cool one day blazing, rain hot on the heels of blue skies filled with lazy white clouds. Today the sun beckons, luring us out for a stroll, whetting our thirst for an ice cream or cold drinks, inviting us to pull up a chair at any one of the innumerable sidewalk terraces in town and lose ourselves in the surrounding chatter.
I vaguely remember a 4th of July past, here or there, dad taking us out to Wickham Park where we could pay ball or jump into the lake while waiting to eat. Or tossing hamburgers on the grill set up on the driveway in front of the house, loading down our plates with store-bought coleslaw and potato salad. Or up in Albany at cousin Sandra’s tasting my first clams, chewy and strange but so intriguing, all the better for being dipped in hot, salty melted butter, or real New York hot dogs and homemade coleslaw on the back porch of our Long Island aunt and uncles’ house. Then chocolate popsicles in the yard, playing hard with a houseful of cousins waiting for the night to fall. Lighting sparklers wherever we were, fascinated by the dancing flame, silvery and bright, biting our skin, our cheeks, even better than the sky full of fireworks. Or standing on the lawn while dad, and later Andrew, shot off Roman candles, missiles, spinners and parachutes down at the end of the driveway to the delight of us (and later our) kids as we swatted away Florida’s inevitable mosquitoes. Watermelon, always icy cold watermelon, all summer long, bought at one of those ramshackle wooden stands lining the highway and set up in every gas station parking lot then shoved into the refrigerator to chill. Huge Florida watermelons sliced open with the biggest knife, the slices plopped onto paper plates to eat outside, their weight too much for the flimsy cardboard, each rosy slice threatening to drop onto the ground before we could make it outside. And those spitting contests, who could spit the tiny black seeds the farthest? And would we find a tiny sprout of a plant pushing up through the dirt next spring?
The 4th of July slips by unnoticed now, relegated to the rare trip home to the States and my family, consigned to memories of my youth. The 14th of July, the French national holiday, goes much the same way. Caught between two worlds, neither makes much sense to me. Two nationalities, two religions, sons a bundle of cultures, we often feel no allegiance at all, or too many. We’ve created our own little nation between the four of us, our own homeland, or none at all. Nomads, we have never felt an attachment so strong that we would not hesitate to pick up and wander off to a new land to discover a new world, add one more culture to our closet. So all those holidays, the Independence Days and Thanksgivings, the Christmases and Hanukkahs that come and go, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, as we watch our friends prepare and celebrate with food and good cheer, we snuggle up on the sofa in front of a good movie and dinner for two or four, we cook together or pop open the oysters, we clink glasses of chilled white wine and give a hearty hurrah to us and everything we have. We celebrate our life and our time together, as strange and a tad selfish as it may sound.
Far from family and friends, there is no joy in the backyard barbecue, no sparklers, no parades. We create our own holidays and eventful celebrations just as we please. Each vacation spent with family, whether special occasion or not, each get together with far-away friends is a cause for festivities. The feast is spread, the wine opened, no need for this date or that to enjoy what we have and give thanks. It’s all there, right in front of our eyes.
A Fourth of July celebration long ago, down in sweltering Florida heat, does come to mind. Another summer vacation with my two little boys, and my younger brother Andrew decided that we must have a celebration, embracing all of the traditional home July 4th festivities and sharing them with his two little French nephews; bring out their American side and show them what all of the hoopla is about. As the sweltering day turned into sultry, muggy evening, the grill was fired up, the burgers and buns were bought, the freezer stocked with ice cream sandwiches and popsicles and a great, hulking watermelon shoved into the refrigerator. And my brother being, well, my brother, who he is, he gathered the little ones around him and, his thumb pointed squarely at his own chest, explained to them that their Uncle Andrew knew how to throw a Fourth of July do and no Fourth of July party was complete without fireworks on the front lawn! And he would be in charge!
I didn’t know whether to roll my eyes or shudder at the thought.
The day before the festivities, Andrew showed up in his monster pick-up truck, pulled into the driveway at mom’s and hopped out, door slamming to announce his arrival. He swaggered into the house, called the boys and unveiled his plan of heading over the river to the big fireworks warehouse to purchase a few odds and ends for our holiday party. Just a few things. And of course, the boys must come! Two little boys jumped up and down “Please, mom, please, can we, can we go?” I glared at my brother, knowing full well there was no possible way I could oppose his plan, disappointing those two little boys with something that they found so exciting and such an integral part of the 4th of July celebrations. And anyway “Uncle Andrew says we can go!”
I hesitated. I stared at him menacingly and warned him in my best mother’s voice “They can go, but they DO NOT (words lengthened and stressed) sit in the back flatbed. They can only go if you promise that they will drive inside with you, seatbelted in securely!” Promises were made all around and I watched, heart pounding, as they all climbed into the truck and backed out of the driveway, watching the back of the pickup disappear down the street.
An hour later, I saw (from my vantage point at the front window where I had been standing since they left) the truck turn the far street corner and head back to the house, pull into the driveway. And what did I see? Two little heads, grins as wide as their heads, blowsy hair, like two little puppies with their heads stuck out a car window catching the wind, in the back of the truck together with two huge cartons. Happy as could be. Andrew climbed out of the cab of the truck, went around to the back and helped the boys out of the flatbed and then pulled out the two cartons.
“$500 worth of fireworks! “He exclaims. Roman candles, rockets, Jumping Jacks, sparklers, Fountains and Air Bombs, $500 worth of fireworks nestled in those two cartons snug up against my two sons. Two grade school kids sitting unattached in the back of a truck bed going 45 mph on the highway, bouncing and sliding around the back of the truck. Going 45 mph down the highway and over the bridge. With two cartons of explosives.
Heart pounding, I hugged my boys and bit my tongue and, once again, glared hard at my brother. “I asked you not to let them sit in the back!” I hissed, fury hanging on my every word, my eyes, undoubtedly, glowing red. He answered with his casual shrug and said “Look, still all in one piece!” And there they were, my sons, safe and sound and tickled pink, dancing in their sneakers, pleased as punch and impatient for the fun and festivities to begin.
That night after sundown, sticky with watermelon and popsicles, we stood at the end of the driveway in the 4th of July Florida heat and watched Andrew light one rocket, whirly-gig and Roman candle after the next. With wonder did those two boys watch the colors and lights flash and pop, twist, twirl and swirl, explode in a shower of rainbows and stars. We lit sparklers, their very first, and watched with wide-eyed wonder as the shooting sparks turned into flowing trails of light as we twisted them around and around in the darkness, tiny pricks against are skin. We waved at the folks down the street, the only other people standing outside and shooting off a twin collection of fireworks, synchronized with ours, and forgot about the days’ tussle in a glowing, patriotic moment of awe.
- 2 pounds (1 kg) total clams - see note
- 1 slightly rounded tablespoon flour
- ¾ cup dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon margarine or butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ - 1 onion, in fine dice
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- Freshly grated black pepper
- Pinch or 2 chipotle chili powder, optional but excellent
- 1 tablespoon or more finely chopped fresh coriander or flat-leaf parsley
- Finely sliced spring onion or scallion for topping, optional
- Rinse the clams in a colander under cold running water until the water runs clear. Allow to drain.
- Whisk the flour into the white wine until dissolved.
- Heat the margarine and olive oil over medium-high heat in a deep medium-large pot or saucepan until sizzling.
- Add the onion and garlic and sauté, stirring, until the onions are translucent and tender.
- Add the larger of the clams and the wine-flour and stir until the onions and clams are well and evenly blended and coated with the wine-flour mix.
- Bring to the boil – this should only take a minute or less, then lower the heat until the liquid is simmering.
- Allow to cook for 5 minutes, stirring everything up, then add the small clams and stir to blend.
- Cover the pot and allow the to cook and steam for an additional 10 minutes or until the clams are opened, the meat firm, and the sauce is slightly thickened.
- Add a grinding of black pepper, a pinch chipotle chili powder, and some chopped coriander a couple of minutes before the clams are done.
- Immediately ladle the clams into to soup plates with some of the juice/broth and top more chopped fresh coriander or parsley and sliced spring onion/scallion.
- Serve accompanied with the dry white wine and fresh bread with salted butter.