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Chapter 3 Surprises We

Chapter 3 Surprises We now had until September to explore our adopted country. Instinctively we headed southwards, stopping at a town called Périgeux, the second, in fact, on my list of possible language schools. As we drove through endless suburban streets of grey houses, I thought how glad I was that I would be teaching in La Rochelle. This was a BIG town. We parked near the cathedral, also grey but with a distinctive roof shaped like a pineapple. We parked and wandered past a gateway into the narrow streets of the old town. “I don’t know about you, but I think we should look for a restaurant. It’s nearly twelve and I’m hungry.” When Bill says ‘look for a restaurant’ I know now this means comparing menus, which could mean trailing from one to another for another half hour or so. However, on this occasion we settled unanimously on one in a small square with a fountain in the centre. It was hot and as we sat sipping our kir, white wine with a peach or blackcurrant spirit added, the sound of water was not just soothing, but somehow cooling. 18

Bill’s choice of salad with gésiers, (gizzards) followed by cervelles à la génoise, (calf brains fried with tomatoes and cheese), didn’t tempt me at all, even though he said they were absolutely delicious. I preferred goat’s cheese on tiny rounds of toast amongst a variety of salad leaves followed by lamb cutlets. When my main course arrived I felt I should photograph it for its artistry: two bundles of green beans tied with a sliver of bacon so that the whole resembled a sheaf of wheat, the cutlets tastefully sprinkled with fine shreds of carrot, coriander and cherry tomatoes, a heart-shape of puréed carrot and a block of potato slices in a creamy mixture. Neither of us realised at this point how typical all this attention to presentation is to wellserved French meals. Replete, we continued wandering and found workmen placing barriers between the historic centre and the rest of the town. “S’il vous plait, monsieur, is something happening here?” “Mais oui!” he replied. “La fête de la musique!” Realising I was looking puzzled, he added, “It’s the 21 st of June today, music in the streets of every town in France to herald in the summer. You mustn’t miss it, madame. Come back around five.” We duly returned just after five to find a band playing at the first barrier. Precise, regimented and in impeccable navy and white uniforms. We stood, arms round each other, listening appreciatively, for a while before moving on. Turning a corner, we were surprised to see a boy of about eight standing playing his violin. A rather anxiouslooking lady stood behind him holding a sheet of music. 19