In my twenties, I lived and worked at an equestrian center near Nice, in the South of France. The stables and house were recessed in a wooded valley, set far back from the main road, leading to Grasse, where the perfume factories grow their jasmine, and where nightingales called to one another across the scented crepuscular calm.
FanFan was my boss's sister, who also lived with the family. Mature, but not an old fashioned "Auntie"; FanFan zoomed around in a rattling 2CV Renault; graceful, slender build, flaming red toenails and vigorous curls belying the marks of time that many decades of sun-worship had inscribed, like tree rings, on her neck and forearms.
Little by little I gleaned the story of some of FanFan's adventures. We would gather fresh raspberries from the garden and sit chatting for a while after work. FanFan had a secret recipe for a lethal rum punch, brought back from her life, with her husband, in Tahiti. An inch or two of her marvelous nectar, combined with tales of her colorful existence, confirmed the incongruity of her presence in such rustic surroundings.
FanFan was living with her brother's family whilst her husband completed his prison term. On one voyage home from the islands, their yacht had been searched and some packages "they'd been carrying for a friend" turned out to be contraband. They had been charged with drug smuggling. The yacht was confiscated and their money was drained, whether as fines or legal fees, no matter, and FanFan made the best of it, in limbo.
I thought of FanFan this morning, when I came across plump, ripe, green limes at the vegetable market, ten for a dollar. First I scraped the zest with a fine grater, into a jar with brown sugar. Next I squeezed in the juices and added finely chopped crystalized ginger. I warmed the mixture to melt the sugar and release the other flavors and then I added dark brown rum. Well shaken and poured over ice cubes, that was FanFan's memorable secret sipping potion.
We varied it up today by adding pineapple juice, to make a long drink, more suitable for midday consumption. There will be other moments when we will open the potion jar again and sit outside on a warm evening with a glass of lime, ginger and vanilla scented memories.