My beef with the French The 9:38 to…

February 10, 2018



Another piece of new train knowledge I gained today was not to take a seat in a four-seat configuration. The rider sitting across from you means you cannot stretch your legs. Never mind that the rider in this case is a stunning brunette who could have stepped out of a Cosmo ad (a copy of which she was flipping through). At my age I need to stretch my legs or I may require the Jaws of Life to get me out of my seat by the time the trip is over, rather than have a pretty face to look at for an hour.

Unloading of goods in Mandirac (P. Cervellin, CNRS)

Unloading of goods in Mandirac (P. Cervellin, CNRS)

According to Ina Caro, Narbonne was the capital of Rome’s easternmost province in Gaul. Strategically located at the intersection of two of Rome’s main trading routes to Spain and the north, the Romans wanted Narbonne to become a thriving port. The only problem was that Narbonne wasn’t located anywhere near a coast. That proved to be a mere trifle to a civilization noted for its engineering and inexhaustible supply of inexpensive slave labor. In no time Narbonne had both a new harbor and a three mile canal leading to it from the center of town, all dug by the firm of Sparticus and Assoc. Excavation, Inc.

map of Narbonne, the canal cutting through the center of town

map of Narbonne, the canal cutting through the center of town

Another thing the conquering Visigoths were no good at, though, was running a seafaring industry, and eventually Port du Narbonne was silted over and filled in. What a relief. There was nothing today I’d have to avoid looking at or for.

There was, however, a charming cafe just across the street from the station, and as I had arrived during the lunch service portion of a French cafe’s working day, I sauntered over after a brief walk to stretch my legs.

I had a delicious spinach ravioli, very al dente, with a nice parmesan cream sauce. The bread was fresh and crusty, and I ate all of it.

I also learned how to properly ask for the bill. I’d been requesting “la facture” based on a Google search, since Rosetta Stone, while teaching me much about “grey, wet cats watching fish in a bowl,” had not gotten around to teaching me how to conduct business appropriately in a cafe.

A Frenchman next to me asked for his bill, using the term “l’addition.” I asked the waitress whether “l’addition et la facture were “comme si comme ca.” She did explain it and I think I understood it. What I’d been asking for apparently was a magazine subscription (maybe to Cosmo?) instead of the bill. I was quite filled with myself, mind you, that the French-only speaking waitress actually understood my question.

A station security check back at Avignon that afternoon demonstrated the importance of keeping an accurate, up to date Pass log. The security agent carefully perused my log, making sure my last entry matched the train I’d just gotten off. He saw my many entries and looked at me, smiled and said, “Enjoy.”

I wanted to cook my dinner that night. I had a kitchen, I wanted to use it. I got the supplies I needed for a tomato and onion salad, along with a piece of beef to fry a steak. I started home when I realized I’d forgotten to buy pepper. I was able to get what I wanted by sight so far, but I didn’t see any pepper. And I was stuck for the French word for it. I know, I know. I’ve ordered steak au poivre before, but I didn’t think of it in the heat of the current moment.

I then embarked on a series of admittedly awkward associations with the shopkeeper to try to get him to understand what I needed. (If the shop had featured a wet cat staring at a fishbowl, I could have had a stimulating conversation with him.) I held up the salt in one hand and held my other hand out empty. “Sel et _____,” I said, hoping he would fill in the blank. It was his expression that remained blank, however. 

I next tried colors, which having passed my exam with Lea, I felt on firmer ground. “Blanc,” I said, holding up the salt again. “Noir,” I said next, and held up my empty hand again. The same blank stare.

We stood there like two species of beings discovering each other for the first time. Then I saw the light bulb go off in his widened eyes. He walked me over to the proper shelf, where I saw immediately I’d known the word all along.

Tout alor.

Sitting down to dinner, I understood after the first bite that I don’t know what it is about the French and beef, but I haven’t found a cut here yet that wasn’t as tough as leather. I swore the steak I fried this night must have had the “Rawlings” name branded on it somewhere. It was pliable, though, and I thought it would make a good catcher’s mitt. And there I was wasting it on a meal.

  Happily, tomorrow is chicken day in Cavaillon.

  1. Bonnie acramond says:

    The U.S. has better beef than anywhere in Europe, I hear.

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