Noilly Prattle: Chez Nous, Chez Marie

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Chez Nous, Chez Marie

the little town of Grand Vabre, France
     What could be more heartwarming than feeling chez nous [at home] in a strange town? 

     Traveling by car here in rural France I get a feeling like coming home to the ancestral land. Before delving further in that topic, I would take a moment to sing the praises of GPS Navigation, those wonderful little gadgets that you put in your car, program the route you want to take and an almost human voice talks you through the trip. If you screw up it never looses patience with you or gets snippy and sarcastic, just reprograms and gets you out of the jam. It takes most of the headache out of driving on strange roads in an unfamiliar country. I simply love my "Navi".

     Now the heartwarming stuff. For those who don't know me, I am of French ancestry and although I don't hold a French passport, traveling here in central France and communicating with locals in my reasonably fluent French (although with a French-Canadian [Quebecois] accent, it feels a little like coming home after a long (five centuries) absence. 

Square and Abbatial church of St. Foy, Conques, France
golden reliquary of St. Foy
     That's the "Chez Nous" part. Now, what could be more prosaic than eating at a restaurant called "Mary's Restaurant"? That's exactly what happened by a happy accident tonight. We drove from a three-day visit to the Medieval town of Sarlat-la-Caneda to another, older, Medieval town called Conques. Conques is a way station on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain -- Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.  As a matter of fact we saw several pilgrims walking on our way to Conques this afternoon. It is also well known as a repository of several reliquaries in the treasury of the Abbatial Church of St. Foy. Of particular note is a reliquary in the shape of a golden statue of 4th Century martyr St. Foy, a female saint. Inside is said to be a finger of the saint. 

Medieval town of Conques,
St. Foy's church in the background

pilgrims walking to
Santiago de Compostela, Spain

insufficient outlets - had to use the computer on my lap--
well, it IS a laptop
     After spending some time exploring the beauty of this steeply sloping hillside town we drove a few miles to our hotel in a village called Grand Vabre, the Hotel Solomiac. When we arrived at the hotel there was a sign on the door informing me that the hotel was closed on Wednesday, but that our room was No. 2 and the key was in the door--easily the most casual hotel I ever stayed at. The hotel is very inexpensive and very basic but very clean and comfortable. It reminded me of cheap hotels I have seen in 1940s and 50s French films. But, imagine my surprise at finding an original George Braque print, signed and dated, in the room!

Hotel Solomiac, Grand Vabre, France
George Braque - 1953

colorful terrace of Chez Marie
    At any rate, the hotel restaurant was also, of course, closed, and the little village looked rather deserted. I saw three older people chatting in a doorway down the street and went over, excused myself very politely in my most formal French and asked them if there was a restaurant in the area. They assured me that there was, pointed out the direction and told me the name of the restaurant--Chez Marie [Mary's Restaurant]. We walked in the direction the old folks indicated and soon found the place. There were a few people sitting around in front of the bar, so I asked them if they were open. They replied that they would open for dinner at 7:00pm and did I want to make a reservation. The place looked pretty deserted so I wondered if we would be the only diners and asked if a reservation was necessary. The proprietor said that it would be wise to do so, so we did. 

Chez Marie
     Imagine our surprise to see the place fill up with people soon after we arrived. The atmosphere was warm and animated and the food was very good. 

    All in all, an unexpected adventure and pleasant surprise. In our family we're all French now!

at Chez Marie


renopete said...

Fantastic! That's what I love about Europe and Asia. There are some many old quaint towns in England, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Japan and other countries. They embrace history, tradition and a local ambiance that doesn't include golden arches. The US may be a cultural melting pot, but the homogeneous cultural goo that came out of it, makes one yearn for the uniqueness and character of the original sources.

Noilly Prattle said...

Well put.