France et les Francais

July 18, 1994|By ANDREI CODRESCU

The French eat. And how!

I went to Brittany on the French Atlantic coast a few days after the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

I have this thing about going places a few days after something big happened.

That's when you see people as they really are.

The guests have gone home and the natives finally relax.

''C'est incroyable, Paupette, m' petit chou, what bad table manners our liberators had!''

I was a guest too, but at something smaller than D-Day, namely a literary conference about the Romanian avant garde at St. Nazaire.

The Romanian avant garde, you may know, has given France some of its brightest moments. Along with General de Gaulle, Tristan Tzara, the founder of dadaism, is one of France's most arrogant personages.

The conference took place in a hotel right on the beach. From the restaurant, which was the true heart of the event, one could see topless bathers, turning slowly on the spit of the bright noon sun.

At the four-course lunch -- which might begin with two shrimp-filled avocadoes, followed by a local fish in a lemony bearnaise with white rice and white wine, followed by thick slices of Camembert and red wine, topped by a fresh strawberry tart and black coffee -- at this lunch one could, if one wished, JTC position one's fork and knife to chart the course of one of the roasting beauties on the beach.

At dinner -- which might begin with a light cauliflower cream soup, followed by salmon on a bed of mushrooms with sauteed onions, rare lamb fillets with french fries, Gruyere, pastry, white and red wines, coffee and brandies -- at this dinner one could watch the sun set over the coast of Brittany and reflect, if one wished, on the pleasures of civilization and shiver at the thought that only 50 years ago Nazis bunked in this hotel and their machine-gun nests took the place of topless bathers.

Andrei Codrescu's new book, ''Zombification,'' has just been published by St. Martin's Press.

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