Demystification Guru

Just because we don't understand something, doesn't mean it isn't understandable.

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Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Friday, June 06, 2008

France 2008 - Arles, May 14

Arrive at 6 pm, try to use the bathroom at the train station and both are out of order. The map says we are very close but we get a cab anyway because we aren't sure and we have to pee. Should have gone on the train but the toilet there was in a horrible state. Turns out it is less than a 10 minute walk away (we checked it later) but anyway, we had to pee.

We checked into the Hotel du Musee and get a much bigger room than the closet where we stayed in Paris our first night. Very picturesque, lots of plants in open courtyards, overhanging rambling roses on the exterior stairs on the way up. No elevator but we only have to walk up two flights.
France 2008
We stagger out to get a real dinner, as we have not had one of the prix fixe menus we have heard about and we missed lunch effectively and are starving. We walk around a fair bit and get disoriented. We choose a place that turns out to be a 5 minute walk from the hotel, when we eventually finish dinner and return to our room. It is on a street (Rue du Docteur Fanton) we realize has three very nice restaurants in a row and later, we try them all. This first night however, we are still new to France and to Arles so we choose one, "Les Oliviers Sont Bleus", based on the plants shielding the patrons from the traffic, which thankfully is light.

The menu has two sides: one says "Carte" and the other "Menu 25 euros", so we figure it is the prix fixe. There are two sections on the prix fixe and each section has about 7 or 8 items on it. We try to translate all the different items to figure out if they fall into a class and eventually decide that you choose one section or the other and get all 7 items. This sounds extravagant now, but at the time, we had just finished reading Peter Mayle's book and he talked about the many course dinners and how the Provencals love their food so we figured 7 items for dinner wasn't a stretch. I also think we were still suffering from jet lag.

Both sections have a "tartare" item of which I am wary - one is thon or tuna and the other is beef (cut by hand, "hache la main"). I have eaten beef tartare once and prefer most meat cooked to break down the fibre. When the very young (and we later discover, Italian) waiter comes to ask for our order, I point to the top section on the prix fixe and say, "je voudrais cet chose" and Peter says, "le meme pour moi". We also order an Appellation controle Minervois, a blend of Syrah and Grenache grapes, for only 17 euros, a bargain!

Our food comes, starting (we think) with some cold layered vegetables (I identify zucchini and eggplant) with brie in the layers and diced red pepper in the sauce. we later realize this is the Terrine de Provencal vegetables. It is accompanied by a mix of lettuce and other leaves in a nice vinagrette and slices of baguette. After we do everything but lick the plate and scarf down the dozen black olives that were on the table when we arrived, we wait with anticipation for what we think will be the second of the many dishes but nothing happens. Eventually a young female waiter brings us the dessert menu and now we really get confused. The dessert menu says "6 euro" and we look at each other and say, "wait a minute! We paid 25 euro for some limp eggplant and now we have to pay 6 euro for dessert?"

We get the waiter's attention and try to figure it all out. It turns out (of course) that you choose one item from the top section - that's your appetizer - and one from the second section - your main course. Then you also get dessert included in the 25 euros. We felt embarrassed but for some reason the female waiter seems even more embarrassed and Peter said she turned quite red. We then order something from the main course part of the menu and I cant even remember what we had but I do remember it was tasty.

At this point, we notice the couple beside us is watching us, amused because we don't seem upset about any of the mix-up. We try to explain that we were confused (we don't know the word for that) and then Peter says in English, "I'm sorry, I didn't get the memo!" This cracks us up and we have to take some time to compose ourselves. For all that we may have seemed like idiot tourists, we had a fun time in spite of it.

They turn out to be an older couple from Switzerland, touring the area on bicycles. She speaks English, French and German but he mostly just speaks German but understands French. He speaks German to Peter who understands it perfectly and we women round things out with French and English and so we manage to have a polyglot conversation that is a lot of fun, even if tiring. We finally finish our dessert (creme caramel, I believe, what else?) and stagger back to the hotel with turns out to be completely quiet and dark, in total contrast to our Paris hotel. Small screaming birds (swifts or swallows) wake us up at about 4:30 am when the sun starts to make its presence felt.

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Anonymous zoom said...

Julia, I finally got around to coming over here and reading up on your trip (so far). It's a great read, I'm enjoying it very much. I love your daily anecdotes.

8:11 p.m., June 08, 2008  
Blogger JuliaR said...

Thanks Zoom! As you'll see from the next (and other) entries, I do seem to be obsessed with dog shit. But I tell you, it was everywhere!

11:24 a.m., June 09, 2008  

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