I have no idea about the typical food of those who live bathed in the Provençal sun of Martigues. I visited it by chance last summer and my relationship to food changed there.
We had boarded a coastal train with a day pass, and always desperate to get as much as I could, I wanted to ride all along its journey, but quickly realised it wasn’t going to be the spectacular seaside train we were experiencing all the way. So we got off as the train went inland at Martigues, a little town by an inland sea water lake, and after wondering whether to get on a bus, how to get on a bus, which side of the road to wait for the bus into town, or just to go back to the sea side village a few stops ago where all the normal people had got off the train, we got the bus through an unpromising industrial estate to this charming little spot, and decided to explore what seemed like the old quarter on an island on the edge of the inland lake.
We paced around, everything was shut for lunch, and a sinking feeling began to bubble that our day trip was about to go under, when a voice from somewhere inside me said, I’m not that hungry, let’s go to a patisserie and get a slice of pizza.
As we looked at what was on sale in the bakery, pizza slices, the Provençal fougasse, cheese cones, mini quiches, a time in my youth, the distant memory of which had called me here, arose. I was a student in France, busy meeting people, discovering new things, new ideas, and one of these small, delicious pieces would be my meal in between activities. Suddenly that old me, was me again, choosing two small pieces to share with my partner, taking them across to the shade of a tree to eat, and eating a light calm meal at the sunny water’s edge.
I have been continuously hungry for the past 6 years since just before I took on leadership roles. I did a workshop the weekend before that journey started. At one part of the workshop, I watched myself on video and suddenly saw that in the intensity of past few months shadowing my boss to become the boss, I had hidden in food.
I thought the insight would be enough to release me but no, for 6 years, I would stay with the insight, watching with its light my fear, my hiding from fear in food, slowly strengthening my determination to override the fear, noting my impulse to numb the fear, creating only little respites in the crashing fear. That sunny day in Martigues, the journey of understanding was seemingly complete and that needy relationship evaporated in the sun of Provence.
A spinach pie was my favourite. I would stop work, buy one at the university cafe, eat it outside in the sun and return to the library. I would leave classes, pick up a cheese cone, or a crepe, eat it on a bench under the plane trees and walk home. That time in France was a luminous break in a world of personal suffering. A suffering that I have slowly unravelled, although spots remain, or have returned, such as the soothing of anxiety with food.
This past autumn my meditation and morning walking practice have taken a consitent place in soothing the emotional hunger from the frustrations and the exhaustion that my perfectionism brings, and the anxiety my insecurities create. I feel more cleanly what is my physical hunger and it can be fed by the calm inner voice of the Martigues diet.