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Pizza in Provence

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Provencal pizza is different from Italian-become-global pizza. The international delicacy is one source for Provencal pizza; direct from Italy across the border is another; but so is Provencal tradition. Pissaladiere, an onion/olive/anchovy tart from Nice (which until the 19th century had been Italian much longer than it had been French) bears some resemblance.

Provencal pizza has a very thin crisp crust, at its best it is baked in wood-fired ovens, and it comes with a wide variety of toppings, many of them quite French like onion confit , French cheeses, and crème fraiche.

Ordering and eating pizza is also different.

The other morning, my wife, Carol, and I left our little apartment in Vaison la Romaine in northern Provence and drove a short distance to the neighboring town of Villedieu. We parked in the lot by the cave cooperative, one of the 200 or so winery and (free) tasting rooms within 45 minutes of home, and we took an hour's walk in the little village, and through the vineyards in the neighboring hills.

By the time we returned to the village, the excellent local pizzeria, La Maison Bleue, had opened, so we made a reservation for 8 PM. The amiable proprietor/baker guessed that the unsettled weather would probably be appropriate for seating in the tree-shaded square with the pizzeria on one side and a bar on the other. A third side is faced by a small walled town abandoned by the Knights Templar when they were brutally put out of business by Phillip IV in the 14th century.

When we returned in the evening, the square was filled with tables. Those nearest the bar were occupied by drinkers and light diners but those near the pizzeria were empty. The weather was lovely, so we asked the proprietor why he seemed to be serving inside his restaurant but not in the square.

He replied that the skies had looked threatening at 6:30, so he had decided not to set up outside. We pointed out the blue sky and asked whether he could nonetheless serve us in the square (five meters from the restaurant). He replied that regrettably he could not; the decision had been made. We immediately came to agreement, however, that we could order pizzas to go, and his waitress would bring them to an outside table.

I then asked for a bottle of wine, but he said that regrettably I would have to get that from the bar. So Carol sat down at one of the bare tables, and I went into the bar and ordered a carafe of a rough but OK local wine and a bottle of water. I pointed out to the amiable waitress the table where Carol had seated herself, but she responded that regrettably she could not serve there--it was the pizzeria's table.

She found us a bar table, however, and the pizzeria's waitress agreed that our pizzas-to-go could go there. She delivered them quickly, and, aside from eating out of cardboard boxes rather than plates ,we had a pleasant meal Many of the other tables were occupied by families, with a mixed group of white and black (but absolutely no visibly Arab) kids playing together. Most of the diners were enjoying pizzas not from the pizzeria, but from a pizza truck parked almost next door. The arrangement is apparently an amicable one; the pizzeria does an excellent business anyhow; their pizzas look better to me than the truck's.

So we ate our dinner enjoying the food, the ambiance, and the lovely weather and surroundings. And as we were finishing up, an attractive young lady walked through with a basket from which she distributed packets of fresh cherries from local trees--no payments or advertising involved.

Carol and I have a saying about the inexplicable we so often find--sometimes not so benign--"Parce qu'ils sont francais"--because they're French.

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