Circles, in words and pictures
Do you ever feel like you’re running around in circles? Who’s in your social circle? Do you get dark circles under your eyes? Do you get stressed out when you have to circle the correct answer?
I haven’t photographed any of those things, but I do photograph circles. It all began with the photo below right, “Scribed Circle.” We were walking along a street in Paris, I spotted this little scene, and a theme was born. I’m happy to report that eight years later, the scene is still there; if I’m in that part of town, I pay a visit to my partial circle.
A story of circles
People often ask me how I ended up in the tiny town where I live. The simple answer is that I looked online, found a house to rent, signed a contract from the other side of the globe, and arrived here seven months later, never having seen either the town or the house.
The more complex and interesting story involves circles.
It all began when Dale and I were planning a trip to France, our last, as it turned out. My brother and his wife—Jeff and Karin—decided to join us for a week in Nice, an area that they had visited but we had not. We had a splendid time together, and one of the highlights was a dinner with people none of us had met.
Jeff had contacted a friend of theirs, Bernard, who used to live in Nice. Bernard insisted we must meet his friends Sophie and François, and he connected Jeff with Sophie via email. Sophie invited us to dinner in their home. There was only one possible time slot, which was the day they returned from a short trip and the day before we were due to drive to another region. Also, it was a work night. But none of that seemed to matter, as we were all friends the instant we walked in the door, and enjoyed a most convivial evening.
Later, Sophie and François’s son spent some time in California with J&K, and later than that, I decided to try living in France for a while. We had all stayed in touch with each other, and when I signed that rental contract, I contacted Sophie to let her know. She’d never heard of the town, which is not a surprise because it’s tiny. When I arrived in France, but before settling in to my new home, I spent a week with them in Nice.
While I was there, Sophie mentioned that their family wanted to take a trip to Oregon, and asked me for ideas of places to see and things to do. We got out a map and looked at possibilities, but I only know a tiny bit about Oregon. Sophie, who is a travel agent, said it was OK because she’d soon be meeting with someone who knows a lot about traveling in Oregon, and he could help her plan the trip.
A few weeks later I was installed in my home for the next year, and I wasn’t thinking about Oregon. I received an email from Sophie, saying that she had met with the Oregon travel experts—two of them—and they would indeed be able to help her plan their visit. One of these Oregon experts is French and one is American, and Sophie, making conversation with them, mentioned that an American friend of hers had recently settled in the south of France.
“In Provence?” asked the Frenchman, because that’s where most Americans go.
“No, in Occitanie,” replied Sophie, with a wave of her hand. “The name is somewhere-Minervois.”
“Bize-Minervois?” asked the American.
“Yes, that’s the one!” said an astounded Sophie.
“That’s where my mother lives,” replied the Frenchman.
Still reeling from the surprise, Sophie wrote to ask me if she could give my contact info to this Frenchman, and I said yes. Shortly after that I received an email from this man—Olivier—saying he’d soon be in Bize to visit his mother (Maryse), and would I like to meet for coffee?
Of course I would! Unfortunately, the one place in town to get a cup of coffee was closed, so Olivier made a quick call to Maryse to see if we could go to her house. Of course we could, said she, and thus we went to the home she shares with her partner Claude, joined by my friend Kelly, who was visiting at the time. Five people, two who speak almost no English, one who speaks no French, one who tries to speak French, and Olivier, who is bilingual. We sat there for a good two hours, happily finding our conversational way, and we parted as friends.
Maryse and Claude have taken me under their wing, introducing me to their friends and to this region. They urged me to join the town’s social club, especially for the weekly hikes. They suggest a day’s outing to visit some interesting place or other, or a trip to a nearby town for a jazz concert. We hike and explore and eat together often, and I feel so very lucky to have met this family!
There’s another connection, as it turns out that a friend of Sophie’s knows a woman whose parents also live in Bize. And now I know them, too: Paul and Brigitte. Sophie still marvels at the quick confluence of three connections to a town she’d previously never heard of. And we will soon be able to complete the circle, as I’ll be joining Claude and Maryse in Grasse this autumn, and Sophie has already invited us to dine with them. They will all be meeting each other for the first time, and I love the symmetry of this particular circle being completed in the home where it first opened.
A tangential circle was also completed last week, when I got to meet Karen, the American who offered “Bize” when Sophie couldn’t think of the name of the remote place where her American friend had settled. Karen, friend and business colleague of Olivier, is a delight, and I look forward to getting to know her better in the future.
I will publish the French version of this story soon, but first I have to translate it!
Je publierai la version française de cette histoire dès que je pourrai la traduire !
New circles open frequently, but there is a particularly delicious satisfaction when we’re able to complete one so perfectly.
Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty. (Albert Einstein)
A circle is a round straight line with a hole in the middle. (Mark Twain)
Circular food: onion tart
I love a good onion tart, a culinary basic that can be modified to fit the season. After trying several recipes, I ended up combining a few to create my own. Here it is.
For the crust:
I live in a place that has beautiful pre-made crusts in the grocery store, and I’m happy to take advantage of this. Perhaps you have something similar where you live, and if not, there are many recipes for a basic savory crust.
For the filling:
2 TBS (3 cl) olive oil
sea salt and herbs (I use herbes de Provence; thyme is especially good)
2 eggs + 1 yolk
1/2 cup (12 cl) heavy cream
1 cup (24 cl) grated sharp cheese (I use cantal; emmental or swiss also work.)
salt + pepper
Caramelize the onions:
1. Cut the onions into thick slices, then cut those slices in half. (This isn’t necessary, but I find the finished tart easier to eat if the slices are cut in half.)
2. Use a large pan to caramelize the onions; I love my big copper pan for this job. Add the olive oil to the pan and heat to medium.
3. Add the onion slices to the heated oil, gently breaking apart the sections of onion. Stir to lightly coat with oil. You will start with a large quantity of sliced onions, which will reduce dramatically in the cooking.
4. Let the onions cook like this for about 15 minutes, stirring often, then turn the heat to low. Cook uncovered for 1-2 hours, checking often to give a stir and be sure the onions aren’t burning.
5. When the onions have softened and reduced in size (for me, this is usually somewhere between 1.5 and 2 hours), I like to add some sea salt and a teaspoon or so of herbs. Stir well, and then cover and cook another half hour. When they’re finished, the onions should be soft and golden. Remove excess liquid.
* You can caramelize the onions up to two days in advance and refrigerate them until you’re ready to make the tart.
Put it all together:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 350˚ (180˚ C). Place the uncooked crust into a tart pan and press into the sides of the pan. Use pie weights and/or dried beans to keep the crust flat, and bake for 8-9 minutes. If the crust puffs up, you can poke it with a fork. Remove from oven, and remove any weighting material.
2. An optional step to be sure the liquid of the filling doesn’t make the crust soggy: you can brush the crust with some of the leftover egg white; be sure it dries before adding the filling. Another possibility: I met someone in the grocery store who said that he brushes on a thin coating of mustard and returns the crust to the oven for another two minutes before adding the filling. I haven’t yet tried this, but it’s intriguing.
3. In a bowl, combine the eggs and yolk, cream, and salt and pepper, and mix well. Add most of the grated cheese (reserve some for the top) and mix again. Add the onions and mix yet again. Pour into the crust, sprinkle remaining cheese on top, and bake about 30 minutes. Allow to cool 10 minutes before cutting and serving.
Since we’re on the general subject of mathematics, I’m including some food for thought. It’s a tweet by @brandalintipton, and I think it’s a good idea. I’m probably not alone when I say that I could have used this, too, and by the way, the work listed here would easily cover much of the algebra curriculum anyway. Here you go:
“It’s 2019… get rid of Algebra 2 in high schools and replace it with Finance Fundamentals. Teach kids about careers (not just college), salaries, credit, budgeting, money management, taking out a loan, buying a house, filing their taxes.”