Madeleine M. Kamman’s introduction to When French Women Cook talks of a lost France. The France she once knew as a child is gone and replaced with a faster and louder world. In my soundscape I tried to imagine some of the sounds that might match her description of the better years, the ones that have “disappeared” and “slowly receded into time past.” But also then contrast those sounds with the new present that she is unsatisfied and uncomfortable with.
The first part of the soundscape represents the France she loved. The constant footsteps in the background match her description of the “mountains [that] were climbed on foot, not by motocars.” The chirping of the birds symbolizes “clean, fresh” air and vast sunny areas “mostly covered with blond wheat.” The crackling of wood is meant to signal the “aroma of wood burning,” that she talks about. The splashes of water are supposed to represent the “salmon, shad and eel in most of the river.” The soundscape is also interspersed with audio clips that are related to more classic food preparation. Other sounds in the first part include cracking of nuts, chewing, dings of an oven bell and food being scrapped in a pan. These sounds are all meant to represent cooking sounds from the France Kamman once knew.
The second part of the soundscape begins when the footsteps stop. All of the sudden the chewing gets louder and more frequent. More modern industrial sounds arise, like cars, blenders, horns and microwaves. The notable difference in volume level is also supposed to represent the contrast of more peaceful and calm past with a louder, more urgent present.
Press play to begin
Kamman Soundscape by FSA Nantes
Original Kamman text:
I left France during the early days of 1960 and the France I left, my France, does not exist anymore; it has disappeared, slowly receding into time past.
When I was growing up, French cities were small, French houses were just a story or so high, unstereotyped, all different and all blaring the individuality of their respective owners. Fields were mostly covered with blond wheat to make bread, not lush green corn to make plastics; wines were bought in barrels and took a long time to mature. The game one hunted for was really wild and I recall fondly the distinct smell of hare pelts and pheasant feathers. There was salmon, shad and eel in most of the rivers, crawfish to be gathered at dawn from homemade traps lowered into deep cool pools, trout to be observed flowing silkenly through the clear waters of alpine torrents. Mountains were climbed on foot, not in motorcars. The air smelled nice; clean, fresh, and permeated with the happy essences of bread baking, the nostalgic aroma of wood burning, or the earthy smells of cattle ruminating in nearby barns.
Where are you, my France, where Sundays were gastronomic celebrations, where dinner tables were islands for animated conversations around plates of nuts being cracked and picked by nimble fingers? Where are you, my France, where women cooked, where the stars in cooking did not go to men anxious for publicity but to women with worn hands stained by vegetables peeled, parched by work in house, garden or fields, wrinkled by age and experience. Where are you?
Nowhere but in the folds of my memory and, in the pages that follow, I shall woo you and recreate you, bring back to life your women so that you know, dear readers, that there was once a civilization that was human, tender, enjoyable and lovable.
Maeleine M. Kamman
Newton Centre, Massachusetts