Tuesday, June 14, 2011

wrong guesses

Ed says – this is the only place in the world where at dinner, your drinks (wine) come out cheaper than mine (juice or mineral water). Damn right they do. Rosé here is like a bathtub overflowing. I bought several bottles to try, to determine which to take back home and I can’t make a dent in them. Our hosts gave us a bottle as well and my immediate thought was – darn, now I have to get through this one too.

Monday -- the holiday. Don’t know the motivation behind it, but do know that the French are taking time off. The little tourist office remains closed.

That’s okay, there is a bakery, there is always a bakery that’ll sell you bread and pain au chocolat. Ed is still catching up on sleep (from what? I cannot tell. Suffice it to say, the man still seems to need an extraordinary amount of rest time) and so we are up and out only at the late hour of 10. And it’s raining outside. It had thundered throughout the night but I mostly slept through that. Now there is the steady drizzle that you know will soak you silly.

Let’s take the car down for the pain and café – I say. We do. We park, get out and the rain stops. Well now. Wrong call.

Our best bakers are closed today, but the lesser one stays open (these evaluations are purely subjective and obviously not shared by all villagers as the bakeries are within a couple of blocks of each other and both continue to thrive). But no more pains au chocolat.


Sigh. We settle for the apple pouch and the apple tart.

On the big square, the bar–pizzeria is nearly empty. Tables that are beyond the umbrellas are wet, but we find a pleasant spot that’s perfectly dry. I settle in for square watching.




What do you watch for? It’s a quiet morning. A Monday, but a holiday. Some stores are closed, some are open. The butcher is open. There he goes, crossing the square to talk to a guy on the other side.

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And there, by the wine shop, a man on a baguette errand runs into a friend and before you know it there are three, chatting away.

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So, all this is interesting to me. Ed in the mean time picks up free reading matter. Which in this case means a free magazine with recipe ideas for the busy cook. A four ingredient apricot tatin (you buy ready made puff pastry). A leek and cucumber side dish. And so on.

We play the cat and mouse game with the camera. Mostly he wins.


This is life for me in Sorede. Uneventful, unhurried, superb.

And now the question: shall we go somewhere? The rain left me unprepared. I thought we’d return and read at home. But the skies are clearing somewhat, even as the forecast still calls for intermittent rains. I suggest a short walk into the hills, just a touch west of Sorede. We drive up the valley a couple of kilometers, and leave the car at a randomly chosen spot.

We walk along the road, past the occasional house, this one with the sweetest set of clothes out to dry...


...then along a mountain river's edge. We pause to watch dragon flies fight for their territorial rights to hunt insects.


When I first met Ed, I was surprised that for a person who reads so much, non stop really, he kept very few books in his sheep shed (he’s a library and computer hound). But there are a few. Notably, books on dragon flies. Ed loves dragon flies and over time, I have caught his feverish excitement over them. You have to love a bug that eats mosquitoes for you.

Further up the valley there is a rough road that leads to the ridgeline, connecting to the summit that we had scaled yesterday. This other side of the same mountain is new to us and so we walk up the wide and pleasant path, even as the sun becomes more pronounced and we realize that we are completely unprepared. After not even an hour of uphill walking, we stop. No water, no sunscreen. Wrong call. We admire the views and turn back.


We’re passed by a car – a lovely old Citroen. The driver rolls down the window and leans out: do you want a ride down? – she asks. No no, we’re happy to walk. Eh bien, bonne journee!


It’s like that here: spontaneous acts of friendliness. Come have a bite to eat. Sit down and rest for a while. Ride down with me.

Lunch. Time for lunch now. Outdoors, on our patio. Cheese and bread and tomato. Fruit. Cookies.


When does an afternoon end and evening begin? Maybe 6? Okay: as the evening rolls in (and Ed is done with his afternoon nap) I suggest that we take another, somewhat longer walk. Say to the next village (Laroque des Alberes). We’d spotted an eating place there last year and now seems the good time to try it out.

It’s a gorgeous time of day to be out walking.

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After a small number of kilometers, we’re there. And it’s pleasant to stroll through the old hilly streets.

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And the restaurant is there, yes, just behind the church, but it's closed for the day. Wrong call. Maybe we’ll be back. Maybe not. This is the level of decision making that we allow ourselves for these days. At home, I sell condos, banter with students about property and child labor, fight weeds and paint porches. In Sorede, nothing I do is of consequence. There are no lists to check off. No clocks ticking, no chore demanding my attention. It’s not for everyone – this minimalist type of pause in life. Me, I love it.

We return to Sorede and consider our eating options. And again we take a wrong turn. After several days of pizza and a promise to cook at home the next day, we decide to finally try Sorede’s best little restaurant. We never made it there last year. We got too happy with our simple routines. Eating Sorede’s best was not meant to be. That was then.

But as we peek into the place, we note that it’s empty. At 8:30, we would expect at least a few diners. No good. We don’t want to eat in silence. Ed says – they’ll hover over us. Ed doesn’t like hovering of any kind. Unless it’s by a dragon fly.

So we go to the place across the street – a place brimming with families and couples.

Mistake. We’d eaten there twice before and thought the food was okay but not fabulous. Uninspired. Flavors -- a little tired. Fresh, but flat. And it is that way tonight as well.

But why the odd balance of patrons? It’s not hard to detect that nearly every diner here is an expat. The place draws on the British that have bought up some of the modest properties in the region of Languedoc. They love this fairly modest grill and the waiters love them right back. The restaurant has energy in the room if not the food.

French diners, I have found, are a polite lot. You rarely (ever?) see food sent back, you rarely hear a complaint coming from anyone eating in a restaurant. It’s as if they do not want to acknowledge the possibility of a bad eating moment. It would take away from the pleasure of dining out. But they will kill a place by snubbing it henceforth. Eat a bad meal once, grin through it and do not return. This place, without the expats, I’m almost sure would suffer the closure that another even less expensive spot in Sorede suffered in our absence.

We eat our various seafoods, helped enormously by the sangria and rosé and smile at the quite charming exchanges at the tables around us. We play cat and mouse with the camera. I win.


As for the empty place we had wanted to go to? Crowded as hell by the time we walk past it again!

And now up the hill, past cats and dogs and chatty Sorede folk, standing by the gate, reviewing whatever it is that you review with a fellow villager.

The moon shines bright and strong. It’s good to know that there are times when wrong turns and bad calls can be completely without consequence.