Saturday, April 07, 2007

from La Rochelle, France: alone again, naturally

The trick is to be enchanted by what you see, even if you are somewhat removed from it. So that even when you’re out alone for the evening, you are still touched, for example, by seeing before you the affection people feel for one another.

Walking to dinner, I am just so taken with the dusk colors. The harbor is spinning with the exuberance of people facing a warm season ahead. Love, everywhere I see people in love.


As a solo traveler (more often than not), I especially like being around people. Take this evening. I am by the ocean and so I go to a seafood place, Les Flots, reputed to be one of the freshest, most honest places on this coast of the Atlantic.

[Amazingly, there are four restaurants in town and Les Flots is one of these -- all with stellar reputations -- all run by various sibling; the one that has captured the greatest praise from French food critics is run by the dad and mom -- I'll be trying it Saturday.]

As usual, I am given an exquisite table, perfect for people watching. It’s as if they know that solo travelers need to look out onto others.

The waiters speak rapid fire French here. They have a lot to say about the foods and wines (if you ask). At the table next to mine, a waiter is describing a certain wine and the customer asks, yes, but at what temperature will you serve it to me? The waiter doesn’t even hesitate with the answer. It seems to be the way it should be served. The customer nods in agreement.

At one point, I’m a little lost in what the waiter is telling me about the two lobster preparations on the menu. Yes, the lobster is from Brittany. Yes, it has a special butter-based sauce, infused with lobster broth. Yes it has julienned vegetables. The rest I just am not following. A customer shouts over from a distant table to my waiter: talk slower, Jacques. You need to talk slower. She is a foreigner. She’ll get it if you talk slower.

Watching is a two-way thing.

The food here is absolutely fantastic. This is what you want from a coastal seafood place: a basket of fresh nibbles from the ocean to start with:


Followed by the best of the best:


Finally, capped with an original take on a traditional dessert (poire Helene, which my mother used to serve for guests by opening a can of pears, doing a jello brand vanilla pudding around it, and, for that special touch, sprinkling it with slivered almonds. My mother did not like to spend much time in the kitchen.):


I walk back to my wonderful little hotel (hint: it’ going to take first prize as the reasonably priced hotel of the year on Ocean View. Watch for details in a few days.) and I am just so enchanted by this little curved bay with its boats and cafes.


Madame is enjoying the warm air - a fisherman says this to me. His buddy corrects him. La jeune fille (the young girl) is enjoying the warm air. Alright, gentlemen, at some point, that line is just ridiculous. But the thing is, in this little port on a warm evening, it’s not. It’s intended to make you smile and it does just that.

Or maybe the smile comes from an entire evening of people watching. Maybe.