Innocence Lost, Dental Knowledge Gained

In June of my 17th year I went to Germany on a summer exchange program. I lived with a family in a large house on Lake Constance, a picturesque body of water that borders Germany, Switzerland and Austria. My German father was a former movie director turned naturopath, my temporary mother an ex-movie star. The children slept in a separate wing of the house, connected by a kitchen that was the realm of a full-time cook who showered us with cakes and tortes, three-course lunches and late night snacks.

There was a pool and a sauna, as well as a patio and a garden that backed onto a French army barracks. It was a relic from World War II when the Allies divided the conquered country into zones. I loved waking to the sound of soldiers singing as they passed by on their morning run.

My German family usually gathered in the sauna after dinner and I joined them… once, excited and eager in my one-piece bathing suit. They were there waiting, as promised, but had forgotten to dress for the occasion. To say I was shocked by their naked bodies would be an understatement. After all I was a quiet, somewhat conservative girl from Texas who had never sat around naked with anyone before, much less my own family. It’s just not something we did. I remember looking at the ceiling as we discussed who killed JR. They assumed, as a Texan, I had all the answers.


garlic at market

I can’t show you my naked German family, so here’s some fresh garlic at a market in Provence instead.

In July of my 17th year my German father announced it was time for the family vacation. He and his wife would be going to their house in Switzerland and I would be driving his two daughters, aged 15 and 17, to their condo in the South of France. He handed me the keys to the extra Mercedes and told me to have a great time. You see, the driving age in Europe is 18. In the States it’s 16, which meant I had a driver’s license and they didn’t. I pretended to be a woman of the world and took the keys, saying I was up to the task, even though I was terrified.

I told no one of my fear and just drove. I drove past medieval castles, poking my head out the window for a better view while cars zoomed by at a speed I never knew existed. I drove past lush green pastures dotted with cows standing against the snow-covered Alps. I was thrilled with the new sights and the adventure, but after a full day I was tried. I wanted to stop, but I couldn’t –there was no one to relieve me. The girls, slumbering comfortably in the car, said keep going, so I did. I drove into France and down to the coast, passing the lights of Monte Carlo along the way. At dawn, absolutely exhausted, I pulled into Bandol, a tiny village on the Cote Azur.


soap vendor

Sorry, no pictures of pristine Swiss cows.
So how about some soap?


Within a few days my 20-year old German brother appeared with a group of friends who traded their leather motorcycle attire for speedos. By then my German sisters had bronzed French boyfriends and all I had was a shopping list. I didn’t mind being the errand girl. I actually volunteered for the position. I preferred the markets, filled with the scent of lavender and wedges of fragrant cheese, to our condo filled with alcohol and hashish and people having sex on the sofa I had just cleaned.

Every morning I walked to town for fresh baguette and sun-ripened tomatoes, learning a smattering of French from the ladies who wrapped my warm croissants in sheets of brown paper.  I’d stop along the way for a café au lait and stare into the deep blue sea, loving the South of France, but not necessarily my roommates.



I don’t have any pictures of the bikers in speedos…anymore, so here’s some nice cheese.


I slept in a small room with two sets of bunk beds. Unfortunately it was also the guest room where the biker boys came and went. They were all very respectful, never out of line, but their late, rowdy nights made for little sleep. Luckily, a dental student drifted through one week. Markus was more serious than the rest. He would come into the room and we would talk, trying to block out the noise of the never-ending party.

Markus taught me about wisdom teeth, reviewing his technique for a good extraction. He explained how to fill a cavity as well as gave me detailed instructions on proper flossing. Sometimes, when the music kept us awake, I would quietly ask, “Can you go over flossing again? I want to make sure I have it right.” Markus always obliged, talking until he knew I had fallen asleep.


Nicoise Salad at Mas Cornud

Nicoise Salad at Mas Cornud


In August of my 17th year a family from Paris arrived at the condos. They disapproved of their wild German neighbors and felt sorry for the young American girl who didn’t seem to fit in with the boisterous crowd. Alarmed by what was happening next door, they decided to make my days more wholesome.

They took me for ice cream, teaching me the flavors in French, repeating each word with patience. They invited me for dinner and evening walks on the town’s promenade, comforting me with sugar-dusted crepes and piles of frites. This family from Paris, whose name I no longer remember, introduced me to France, its compassion and warm, its culinary traditions and gentle lifestyle. And it made all the difference.


Running of the Sheep Saint Remy, France

Running of the Sheep
Saint Remy, France
I know…more people than sheep


This was the story I recently told a group of French and American expat friends in Saint Remy when they asked if I had been to Provence before. I was at a lunch celebrating the town’s famed Running of the Sheep where we dined under centuries-old trees outside a traditional stone farmhouse. They seemed to like my story and I sensed they were proud of their countrymen and their kindness.

Long-forgotten memories of that summer flooded the rest of my day and lulled me to sleep that night…but not before flossing.


Lunch at Mas Cornud

Lunch at Mas Cornud


Salmon stuffed Eggplant

My friends, David and Nito Carpita, own Mas Cornud B&B and cooking school in Saint Remy, France ( This is one of Nito’s recipes from her class on traditional Provencal cuisine. Healthy and flavorful, it also makes for a great presentation.

4 servings


4 eggplant, about 7oz. each

salt, freshly ground pepper

2+2 tablespoons olive oil

1 3/4 cup chopped tomatoes (14 oz. when whole)

2/3 cup or 5oz.onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic

4 stems fresh basil

3/4 lb. Salmon filets

  1. Score exposed flesh of eggplants with cross cuts, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with a line of olive oil.
  1. Place eggplant flesh side up on oven tray covered with aluminum foil. Bake in preheated oven (350 degrees) until soft to the touch, about 40 minutes.
  1. Remove eggplant flesh with a spoon, being careful to keep the skin intact. Reserve skin.
  1.  Place cooked eggplant with chopped tomatoes in a colander lined with a paper towel to drain excess liquid.
  1.  Sweat onions in skillet over low heat in 2 tbs. olive oil without coloring them. Add garlic and stir together over medium heat. Once the aroma arises from the garlic, add eggplant mixture and toss together. Let cook over low heat for 15 minutes, season with salt.
  1. Remove from heat and let cool slightly before adding basil leaves, reserving some for the garnish.
  1. Fill each eggplant skin with eggplant mixture. Layer reconstructed eggplants with overlapping strips of salmon filets, place on the oven tray and bake for 3-4 minutes, just enough for the salmon to change color. Garnish with basil. Serve hot.






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