Since I moved to Portugal, I have “inherited” two new families, one Portuguese consisting of my partner’s step-children and their families, and one French consisting of his brothers and sister and their families, his mother and his ailing aunt.
Both his mother and his aunt are now in their 80s, his mother providing ’round-the-clock care for the aunt who has — as the French say, “has diminished responsibilities” — a softer and kinder phrase than the harshness of Alzheimer’s or senile dementia and which describes her condition with accuracy and grace.
When I first met this good lady, her memory was better than now, and although prone to getting stuck in a groove, she still had a variety of grooves to get stuck from stories of her time in Morocco or her time spent as a nurse in various hospitals in France.
They were time and context specific and were good stories in their own right which deserved to be told and amusing enough to be heard several times.
As the real-time clock has moved forward the number of grooves has diminished along with her responsibilities and we are now stuck in the land of a thousand tarts.
Her tarts — especially those made with the tiny Mirabelle plum famous in this part of France are superb — she has been renowned throughout her life for her tarts and her pastry is the stuff legends are made of.
When dinner conversation lulls she gallantly restarts the conversation with “I must have made thousands of tarts” which then trails off to a wistful contemplative silence where you can almost envisage her at the kitchen worktop kneading her pasty and selecting her fruit, adding the sugar and then placing in the oven to cook.
Today, she almost jumped out of her groove when the inevitable, “I must have made thousands of tarts” was uttered after we had eaten tart for lunch and my partner replied, “and I must have eaten thousands of tarts.”
There was a pronounced silence from her at the totally unexpected answer, all of us at the table hushed and held our breath, exchanged anxious glances and then issued a collective sigh of relief when we heard the words “I must have made thousands of tarts.”
When the time comes, I think I will settle for the land of a thousand tarts, it seems a very comforting and benign place to be.