by Eugene Barter
(Reviewed by Katja Willemsen)
Take two dollops of Peter Mayle, add a generous measure of Julia Child, drizzle with red wine then simmer slowly under sunny skies for seven years. The utterly charming result will be Eugene Barter and her tales of running a guesthouse in the Pyrenees-Orientales.
Throwing caution to the wind, Eugene Barter, or Gene, as she is known to her friends, leaves the comfort – and boredom – of retirement in Wales, buys a rambling house with uninterrupted views of Mount Canigou, and turns it into an auberge called Rozinante, after Don Quixote’s mule. “The exploits of Don Quixote, the elderly Spanish knight who set off late in life for new adventures, sparked a reciprocal feeling, so that to me it did not seem at all strange at the age of sixty to find a house to use as an auberge and prepare to tilt at whatever obstacles came our way,” muses Gene.
And there were obstacles a-plenty: an eccentric water pump, a drainpipe-climbing guest, forest fires licking up the slopes towards Rozinante, and language challenges such as the time she asked a neighbour, “Comment vont vos boules?” and was kindly advised, “Madame, never ask a Frenchman how his balls are, you might find it… inconvenient.”
Blackbirds Baked in a Pie is Eugene Barter’s thoroughly entertaining account of rural life in the P.0. Bursting with cheeky humour and wry observations, it’s a series of spirited tales that will leave you longing to share un verre with this charming raconteuse.
Blackbirds Baked in a Pie is available on Amazon.