Family Life

Birth, Death and the Whole Damn Thing

Elisabeth Luard

Family Life.

“The villagers, also dependent on the single journey of the daily bus, had their own ways of laying in supplies. We bought bread from the baker's van which set up shop by the beach each morning. We negotiated for the fish caught by the boys from the shore – a silvery bucketful which might include anything from eels to anchovies. Sometimes there might be real treats – a haul of clams or razor-shells or weed-crusted, spiky spider crabs. We begged eggs from anyone who kept hens and had a few to spare; we had crisp lettuces, sweet-fleshed red-skinned onions, fat white garlic, peppers, tomatoes and aubergines from the smallholdings flanking the little river which formed the fishermen's estuary.

On market-day we brought back strange fruits the children had never tasted before – creamy-fleshed custard apples, persimmons and scarlet-pipped pomegranates, grenadines and water melons, bananas on the stalk, fat ripe figs, nisperos – little apricot-colored fruit with shiny brown pips and delicately juicy flesh.”

The passage quoted above comes from Elizabeth Luard's memorable book, Family Life. Subtitled Birth, Death and the Whole Damn Thing, it's part memoir and part cookbook, including as it does recipes along with stories of this English family's sojourns in Spain and France during the years when her children were growing up and learning to make their ways in the world.

“Each day's bird-watching was balanced by another spent exploring the pleasures of Provence – both cultural and gastronomic. The markets of Provence are a cornucopia at any time of year, but especially at Eastertime, when the scent of spring flowers fills the air, and the stalls are piled with new-cropped honey and the first berries of summer.

The beauty of Provence appeals to all the senses. It has something to do with the landscape – with hill-slopes ridged with lavender; red-earthed groves of olive trees with rope-twisted trunks and silvery leaves; sloping fields of poppies; sunflowers turning their bright faces to a heat-hazed sun. Something to do with jasmine hedges and wisteria starred with swallowtail butterflies, with little white-walled villages cascading down hillsides carpeted with juniper and thyme.

It has, too, something to do with the history of the people which can be read in the landscape. Here are olive trees whose root stock goes back to the Greeks. The wines of the Rhône have been famous since Roman times. In the Chateauneuf-du-Pape, among the vines which grow miraculously in fields of polished pebbles, the captive Popes of Avignon once spent their gilded summers. The Moors reached the fortifications of the Rhône, their passing marked by the almond sweets and honey-preserved fruits you find in every corner confiserie.”

Ms. Luard's not-so-simple tale of family life captures the spirit of bringing up four children as she and her husband travel with their offspring across Europe. From learning how to hitch up a mulecart to surviving in the rough-and-tumble world of an urban London classroom, the Luard children (and their parents) experienced life in ways that many of us only dream of. Be sure to read all about it.

Copyright © 2005, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.