One of my friends is a countess, as I found out more than ten years after getting to know her. Her nobility, as it should be, is in her perfect manners and bearing rather than in her clothes or house. Like much of the old nobility, she's a bit of a cheapskate and doesn't like to splash out except when it's really necessary. Dior bags and Louboutin shoes? Très peu pour elle! But you can invite her anywhere and she will turn up dressed perfectly and impress your friends. She lives in a small apartment crowded with the furniture of relatives' châteaux, and serves coffee under a gilt eighteenth-century portrait of a handsome young man in a white wig and a blue silk suit.
The other day she was telling me how to raise snails. "The ones you can buy are big and expensive and tasteless," she said. "The little gray snails that you pick off the leaves are much tastier and much cheaper too. When I was a child I learned how to raise my own. We would go pick them off the vines and then bring them home. Then we kept them for a month before eating them."
"Why don't you eat them right away?" I asked.
"You have to clean them. The ones you buy are raised in cages, but the outdoors ones have been on the ground and pick up all kinds of saletés. So you leave them for a month and feed them and water them every day, on a board with a groove around it. At the beginning, their crottes are black. Once the crottes are white, you can eat them. And they're delicious!"