We settle into French country life with all the grace our four-teenager life in the American suburbs has imbued in us.
We break into the wine, pose for pictures with the pet sheep and strip the garden of fresh strawberries, tomatoes and carrot tops, which we mistake for parsley.
There are five of us on this trip, the Suburban Executive and I, our teenage daughters and the incredibly talented Fort Lauderdale photographer Rick McCawley, who has come along as our designated driver, teenage wrangler and travel guide. He is also the photo master, patiently coaching me on the secrets of his art: "You're going to want to take the lens cap off," he tells me. It makes a huge difference, believe me.
Here is an actual unretouched photo I took of my feet at the beach in Dinard.
On this portion of our trip, we are in Bretagne, about half an hour from the rocky coast, in a suburb of Rennes surrounded by works of French impressionism that double as actual hay fields.
Our success in ordering extra bread and "more wine please" in Paris over the last several days has left us feeling very authentic and we believe we are ready to take on the Breton customs like natives.
We begin at the grocery store, where my Dirty French guidebook is not as much help as you would think.
We decide to prepare the local delicacy known as "moules aux vin" which translates roughly to "moules aux wine."
The hardest part is figuring out the system at the French seafood counter where a handsome young man is scaling a fish for an attractive young woman in front of me with all the deliberation of a young man scaling a fish for an attractive woman. He moves as slowly as possible, but he cannot escape the inevitable; the last scale will fall and the woman will disappear from his life forever.
It is a classic French story, except for the part where the impatient American tourist interrupts repeatedly to ask things in a language she believes is French.
The following conversation ensues:
Handsome young fishmonger: Do you think she was flirting with me?
Me: I think I have never seen a man scale a fish with such deliberation.
Or possibly it went like this:
Handsome young fishmonger: Here are your moules. Be sure to prepare them exactly as I am explaning to you in rapid French if you do not wish to die. Also, that parsley you believe is growing in the back yard? Those are carrot tops.
Me: Yes. Okay. Please. Good afternoon. Thank you and goodbye. Can I buy you a drink?
Somehow, I manage to leave the store with a bag of fresh moules, some lemons and many bottles of wine.
Preparing the moules turns out to be very easy: You soak them, trim their little beards and simmer them in a mixture of white wine, olive oil, lemon, spices and fresh parsley from the garden. As a variation, we substitute carrot tops for the parsley.
When they begin to open in the pan, we remove the moules with a slotted spoon, which I know from five years of French class is called a slotted cuillère.
Actual Bretons serve them with pommes frites, dipping them into the leftover juice. We pour them over spaghetti because French fries are a lot of work and frankly, dipping French fries into mussel juice is just a bad idea no matter how much Cote dû Rhone you drink.
They are delicious and we congratulate ourselves on our unbelievably authentic French country selves. Then we drink wine by the pool just like a couple of French farm wives. On vacation.