Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ode to an Apéro

I’m a mom with a kid just out of French primary school.  This means that for the last eight years, a gong has been going off in my head at 4:30, when school gets out.   If there’s study hall, the gong gets postponed to 6.  But when it goes off, someone needs to be at school for pickup/childcare, and since I work at home, I am usually that someone. All of this points to one grim fact:  no late-afternoon apéro for me. 

I realize this may seem selfish and petty, but on the rare occasions when I’ve actually been in the city in the late afternoon when the sidewalk cafés are crammed full of people enjoying an post-work drink, and watched the sun slanting through golden globes of Belgian beer, I have felt a profound and lasting envy.

Short for apéritif, the apèro is the French version of cocktail hour, without hard liquor.  In theory, it involves lightly alcoholic beverages and crunchy things to nibble on.   In reality, American-style cocktails are becoming quite fashionable, as are Spanish-style tapas, so the Parisian apéro experience can be many things, but for the sake of argument, let’s stick with tradition. 

I was first introduced to this tradition in Provence, where the apéro has been raised to an art form.  On a sunny afternoon, the cafe terraces in Avignon are filled with happy customers sipping bright yellow panachés, green perroquets, and red diabolos (which sound exotic but are actually beer flavored with sweet syrups or lemonade).  At the time my son was a baby and I wouldn’t have dreamed of indulging in such non-maternal behavior.  Recently married, my French mother-in-law was already shocked that I frequented cafés.  Apparently, in the old days, virtuous women did not drink coffee unattended, and here not only was I sipping in public, but I was exposing my tiny tot to my unorthodox behavior.  So a late-afternoon pastis was definitely out of bounds.

This year, my son has entered collège (junior high school), and not only does he get to and from school on his own, but he would prefer that I stay as far away as possible during his commute.  He has his own keys so I don’t have to be on hand when he arrives in the afternoon.  All this points to a new reality:  I can indulge in non-maternal behavior.

And so, yesterday, when a beautiful Indian summer afternoon presented itself, I took the plunge.  A friend and I parked ourselves on a café terrace and ordered an overpriced demi of rosé and indulged in a full-blown Parisian apéro.   We gulped down our doubts about our continued usefulness as mothers, and toasted our newfound freedom.  We felt young, daring and debauched. 

Then we both ran home to make dinner.

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