Eastside Road, August 4, 2010—SLIGHT VARIATIONS TONIGHT
; of course it's the variations, slight or not, that give texture to daily life. Soup, cold roast chicken, baked potato this time, peas. No green salad.
When we have soup I always think of l'Atre Fleuri, a country hotel-restaurant we stayed in (or near) a few summers back in the 1970s. The first two times we were there it was owned by a young chef, recently mustered out of the French Air Force (which maintains vacation chalets for its members nearby — what an elightened policy). He'd bought it from the two ladies who were made famous by Roy Andries de Groot's remarkable book The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth
, which had attracted us to the place.
The second time we were there there was one other couple staying en pension
, a charming old couple from the south of France, I think. They must have been in their eighties. We saw them at mealtime, and we occasionally walked past them on one of the trails through the flower-filled pastures; they'd invariably be sitting on a bench, as close as lovers, he in tie and jacket and cradling his cane in his folded hands, she in cardigan and skirt, nestling against him. We'd nod and smile; we never spoke.
Every dinner began with a soup course; we quickly took it for granted. Once, though, Madame the wife of the chef and the patronne
of the dining room (and the waitress) told us, in almost a conspiratorial voice, that tonight the Chef proposed a bouillabaisse, and that for that reason our first course would be an omelet. I quickly looked across the dining room toward the other couple: how would these creatures of habit take this departure?
Madame crossed to their table, bent down, and spoke quietly to them, setting their omelets before them. Then: "Oui, Madame, oui, je comprends, bouillabaisse, c'est superbe. Mais où est la soupe?
She apparently repeated her explanation, because he then became almost agitated. No: that's not true: he was always perfectly calm and reasonable. "Mais, Madame, nous acceptons la bouillabaisse, c'est superbe: mais où est la soupe? C'est pas possible dîner sans la soupe."
And Madame shrugged and walked into the kitchen, and a few minutes later came back out again, carrying a small tureen of soup, and two soup-plates, to their table.
Rouge du pays de l'Hérault, Moulin de Gassac, "Guilhem", 2008