Not long after we arrived here on the Rue I noticed that a house across the street, previously shuttered up tight, was slowly coming to life. Each day out came a serious looking fellow of a difficult to say age with a thick gray mustache and beard and a myriad of tattoos. He wore exotic leather sandals with soles that curled up over his toes, you know the kind you see on movie characters who ride Arabian horses through the desert and cut people’s heads off with giant curled swords. In my head he was mysterious, dangerous even and I had all kinds of wild stories attached to him.
Despite my intrigue, timidity trumped curiosity so I never got beyond a quiet bonjour to him. Then one day Neil and I were huffing up the hill and there he was again. He stopped in the middle of the street and offered us a deep and solemn bonjour and said, “Jean-Claude.” Finally someone in France opens with their name. He paused for a moment, looked at us intensely, “Do you like apples?” Of course we like apples. Then he raised his large arm and with a toss of his hand directed us to his truck.
Next thing I knew we were driving up the road with this stranger who in my mind was the local mafioso bringing the feckless immigrants to a local dog fight arena. He stopped in front of a large plot of land full of bushes and trees and got out. Curious indeed. I decided to trail behind the men you know just in case I had to make a break for it.
The ground was covered with hundreds of apples and the bushes were heavy with blackberries. Suddenly the formerly stoic Jean-Claude was smiling and talking about his bounty and then turned to Neil (not to me now, to Neil), “You know these apples make a lovely tarte. But I would avoid the darker ones, they can be a bit sour.” And with that they were off into Betty Crocker land. Well I never.
He offered us the use of his land whenever we liked and even invited us in for a tour of the small house next to his where he keeps his office. I was ready for anything, bounty hunter, hired assassin, arms dealer but settled for the truth … plumber. While his line of work may not be exotic his office sure is with shark jaws, huge snake skins, African statues, military medals and a cold war peace commendation signed by Donald Rumsfeld. So much for my dark side theory.
Since then he has come to our door many times with apples and other fruit and Neil has gone to his door with bowls of hot apple crumble. Next thing you know the two of them will be quilting and going for facials. This week he returned from his vacation with a gift for us, a jar of Corsican honey from his father-in-law’s farm.
He’s the sweetest man you could ever meet and as I’m writing this yet another bag of apples has appeared on my doorstep. I think he and Neil are kindred spirits because in addition to sharing a passion for all things fruity JC also consents to be plastered all over the internet.
And, just in case there was any doubt of his connection to Rusty, Jean-Claude offered me this one from his personal archives: