Mort is an American journalist who, when he's not in Uganda, Bosnia, Beirut or some other equally far-flung place, spends his time growing olives in the idyllic landscape of eastern Provence, where the June air is scented with wild thyme, lavender and the haunting fragrance of a yellow-flowering broom called genêt. He is also--like several of the Romanas, the large family of olive farmers who are his neighbors and closest friends here in the little village of Ampus--a Gemini, born under the sign of the Twins. It is a sign that nourishes elusive, mysterious, moody personalities. Or so says Mort's companion, Jeannette Hermann, an astrologer with whom he shares a stone cottage perched on a terraced hillside amid olive groves.
It is also, Jeannette adds, the sign that governs the hands. What better way, then, to celebrate a bundle of Gemini birthdays than with a grand aioli, with fish and snails, vegetables and hard-cooked eggs and plenty of aioli to dip them all in--lots of things to eat by hand and lots of hands reaching and passing up and down the table? As Lucie Romana Martin informs me, here in the Haut-Var region of Provence a fête isn't truly a fête unless it includes copious quantities of aioli, that thick, unctuous and alarmingly garlicky mayonnaise that is sometimes called le beurre provençal.
Fortunately, by June 21, the last day before Gemini would merge into Cancer, everything had fallen into place. Mort was home safe from African wars, the gas-fired camp stoves were set up in the farmhouse kitchen, and the stone mortars for blending the aioli had been taken down from their high shelves and dusted off. I was lucky to be here, Lucie told me, because the twin ingredients of aioli--garlic and olive oil--are better, richer, sweeter and more authentic in the Haut-Var than anywhere else in the world. Everyone knows that.