21 March 2007

A Mystery, a Memento and a Spring Salad

Among my father’s mementoes of World War II is a yellowed and tattered calling card.

My mother always believed it held the names of the people with whom my father might have stayed while in Paris in August 1944; it certainly must have been a couple he befriended, as he was friendly and charming as a young man.

The last time my husband and I went to Paris, my mother could not put her hands on the card and did not recall the address. But my niece has a WWII project and together they were rifling through the family archives.

The card reads “Mme. and Mr. Pierre Harel.” It gives their address as 23, Avenue Foch in Vincennes-Seine.

Thanks to Google maps, I found such an address near (but not in) Vincennes, one in Paris and about five other Avenue Fochs in Ile de France.

I will never know, unless I chance upon a 1944 phone book, which one it was.

I do know that American writer Henry Adams stayed at 23 Avenue Foch in Paris. (Thanks to Google, I know that.)

But I don’t know who the Harels were or what the card means. (The card is pictured above set against one of my father’s toques, in a box for a quarter century now, still neatly starched but growing fragile.)

I was pondering this mystery as I prepared a simple salad today. It was cool and damp outside and I could hear the lilting songs of finches and other birds as I worked. Spring!

It’s mid-week and I’m trying not to overspend on groceries. So tossing something together from odds and ends was my intention. I made a Caesar Salad from leftover red leaf Romaine and butter lettuce and then topped it with roasted asparagus.

Very simple, very springy. I ate it with a hunk of jack cheese rolled in chives and dill.

My father once told me you could make a meal of anything if you were inventive. He could do that, and his hands were deft as he invented something for us.

"You will never be hungry if you learn this," he told me.

Once when his combat engineer unit was hungry, they scrounged for dried vegetables in a barn, somewhere in France perhaps or in Germany. My father liked to retell those stories and relished the challenge of making a meal from very little.

16 comments:

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Your musings are always so lilting! It would be such fun to know if there is a Mme. and Mr. Pierre Harel in Paris today.

Mimi said...

I tried Google maps, there is an address lookup. There seems to be a Pierre Harel, but I who knows???

Mary (www.ceresandbacchus.com) said...

My mother is always one to pull dinner out of nothing, I'm glad I was paying attention.

Must be some sort of common wavelength thing going on Mimi, because I'm making a Caesar right now (well the croutons are in the oven and the dressing is already made). That's two for two.

Mimi said...

We are en rapport again, Mary! Amazing!

Hmm...wonder what you'll have Friday night?

Lydia said...

Thank you for sharing another glimpse of your father with us.

Mimi said...

Thanks for visiting, Lydia. I always think about him a lot when I think about Paris. He loved Paris.

Blame It on Paris said...

Your father was right about the meal of anything. In fact, I always say a culture that could not only make a meal of snails but turn them into an international delicacy, really has no limits to its culinary abilities.

I love this picture and the story and question behind it.

Christine said...

Lovely story Mimi. Will you try to find the address and the Mr. Harel when you go to Paris this trip?

Katie said...

I have a friend who does research for people from 'the Great War' (WWI) but don't know of anyone to help with WWII.
You could have fun giving it a quick look in Paris though!

Mimi said...

I agree, Laura. It has alwys been my belief that you can make a delicious meal out of scraps. I guess that's one of my reoccurring themes.

I will certainly chek the phone book, Christine. Maybe we will take the RER to Vincennes.

Katie, I hope to find out how the 4th or Ivy Division marched into Paris. I know a man who was in that division and he says they slept in a park the night before, but he does not know which park. The Bois de Vincennes? I have a request into the 4th's association; perhaps they can help me.

Anonymous said...

Scrounging leads to some particularly delicious meals! Last night, I made a salad with green leaf lettuce, a tomato, a piece of leftover "chicken under a brick," a piece of gruyere, some defrosted corn, defrosted green beans, sherry vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and topped it all off with Bosari seasoned salt. Fed the two of us with leftovers! I love scrounging.

Judy said...

What a wonderful story as always. I don't know if I look more forward to stories about your family or cooking adventures. I think both. Wouldn't it be exciting if you found the place while in Paris? Gives me goosebumps just thinking of it.

sher said...

I hope you find the answer to this mystery. And I think some of the best meals are put together with odds and ends.

Mimi said...

Scrounging leads to some great taste pairings!

We may just decide to make a side trip, I'm not sure. I hope to learn more in the next few months, Judy.

I like the salad so much, Sher, I am making it again as I type this.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story, I was going to say the same as Christine, perhaps you can find out when you visit? Is your trip soon? I am off for a few days on Saturday and staying in Honfleur.
Anne

Mimi said...

Well, if not this trip, then another.

We plan to go back in 2008, and probably again in 2009.

We'll always have Paris (to visit). I hope.