THE BIARRITZ SAGA: TRANSLATING “HUIS CLOS”

LUNCH

         It evidently was not the plan of the maître d’ when I made my reservation, but I was allowed alone to sit in the outdoor clos. This area probably would have been the front yard of the three-story house. The living room or the ground floor was now the restaurant. I wonder if the chef lives upstairs? He’d have a fantastic view over the promontory, over the Casino, and to the Atlantic. Anyway. I take a seat next to the entry to the clos. I sit beside the hedge facing the house and the restaurant proper. There is a vast awning over the clos. I don’t think it ever comes down. It’s 22 centigrade, feeling deliciously body temperature, with the slightest of breezes coming over the hedge.

         The hedge is the thing that makes this the clos. In Burgundy, vineyard parcels, some that can only be cultivated by hand they are so small, are usually separated by low stone walls.

         This is my first time at a table in the clos. I am still just slightly out of breath, but my heart is not pounding. Biarritz is steep walking just about everywhere along the seaside. Biarrots are used to this; I’m just a visitor. Younger people, mothers with strollers, surfers, they all deal with this as if not dealing with anything, even tourists who fit those categories. But Biarritz is famous for very old, very old-money rich people. Many go slower, some have canes, but they seem very used to it all and not out of breath. The exercise will make them nigh on eternal. Is it too late for me? Should I move here?

         A French group of six people including two adolescents, one male and one female, are now entering. They have been assigned a large table behind me. The adults are no strangers to the place. I feel that. They speak clear French in low tones and are in a very good mood. Well, so am I. I know the food here will be sublime, and so do they. Plus, what weather!

         The twenty-something waitress appears. I order a Suze. I had thought of ordering a pastis, which I do when I’m thirsty. But not especially thirsty, despite the hike to get here, suddenly Suze comes to mind. Funny, Suze. I was sure it would soon vanish from the marketplace. It’s a very old, very Belle-Époque aperitif. It’s a syrupy canary yellow drink made from gentian and bitter if not puckery. It’s perfect as a prelude to very good food. Lucky Suze, it’s been saved by cocktail mixologists. Its addition to a drink is unusual and so has been seized upon to invent very out-of-the-ordinary cocktails.

         In the minutes I was ruminating over the tale of Suze, it arrives. I take a sip. Oh, perfect. I lean back in this perfect restaurant armchair, outdoor furniture but very comfortable. A little breeze. It carries the sweetness of the hedge. No idea what kind of hedge. Certainly not box, which would be unpleasantly pungent. I’m no gardener. But I am a sort of cook. Those leaves look something like bay leaves. So, the hedge is some kind of laurel?

         Behind me the orders of the French contingent are being taken. Jovial. Banter with the waitress. Yup, they are at home here. Regulars.

         I am slipping happily into the idyllic noontime. The waitress is at my side. I know what I want and order. I think I might just be ordering what I ate last time. Is that bad? It was a glorious meal. Off she goes. I know that in minutes the glass of Graves I ordered will be set down. I take the Suze seriously. Well, it’s almost gone anyway. One last sip and done.

         I look to the entrance where not only diners enter but the food. The starter should be arriving soon. I first see the cane. And then an older man half-appears. His profile: a slight hook at the bridge of the nose. The pronounced high cheekbones. I think I know him.

         He is now fully inside the enclosure, and a woman moves to his side, careful to not unbalance him. The wife, surely, an elegant woman with the standard bouffant hairstyle popular with old-rich women everywhere: the doyenne look. Pearl-gray blouse and tan skirt: no little black dress. Nice colorful jewelry: a necklace that is long enough to drape, mix of colorful stones and bits of somber metal. I know even less about women’s jewelry than I do about bushes.

         I don’t know the man. But he is very familiar looking.

         There was a pair of brothers having a very late lunch in a café in the historic center of Bordeaux. Felt immediately they had come in for business about the family estate, a vignoble, for sure. It was nearing three o’clock. Most restaurants had stopped serving lunch, but this café vaunted non-stop service. They arrived well after me and seemed to know the menu and that here was a place they could eat something. They were at a table for two only a meter from my table. The brother seated on the banquette as I was speaking very quietly to his brother. There is an unhappy aura about. I guess they’ve come from a starkly un pleasant meeting with a banker. They seemed united in solidarity against adversity. I imagine: The family vignoble must be saved for the family at all cost. They are somber and young. It’s his brother who is startling. Hook in the nose, high cheekbones, lean face, piercing but smallish blue eyes, a face that could be from Brit nobility. Fin de race? No, he did not have any of the languor, no blue tinge to the lips. He was a whippet, if a dog. Very elegant face, body, presence. Not even seated he had ordered the waiter to bring him un steak bleu, a steak charred on the outside and essentially raw in the middle. He then pulled out the chair and sat down flashing a silly grin to – let’s call him – his brother. Young gents in cahoots, decidedly blue bloods. Both looked not yet thirty. The one whose face I could fully see spoke even more softly than ­his brother. He was facing me almost directly, if a few meters to my left. His lips moved almost as if he knew ventriloquism. I couldn’t hear what he was saying – well a word or two – or read his lips. He deliberately ignored me totally like a good actor does the camera. I felt I could study his face. It was fascinatingly reminiscent of someone, a situation; I felt free to stare. Suddenly a second’s flash at me, angry, stopped me immediately. I immediately gazed across the floor of the café. In this splendid late sixteenth-century neoclassical city all of honey-colored tan stone, the walls of the café were painted Bordeaux, a factor that had amused me initially. Caught staring, I didn’t feel guilty though. Someone who looked like he did must always attract stares.

         Raw-boned, he was raw-boned. That was his look. His conservative shortish haircut was darker than auburn. His skin was flawless and taut. Skin like that? I suppose it’s what they would call ivory, although an elephant’s tusks are hardly smooth. He had a slight tan from outdoor living: playing tennis or out in the vineyard. I’d like to check back at more details about how he looks, but I’ve blown it. Ha! I am forbidden to look at him again. He’s gotten what little he wanted from me.

         I can still muse over his look, because it is his look that is familiar, but I can’t place the person.

         A person from a past life?

         I chuckle as the maître d’ himself sets my plate of steak tartare (I always think of La Callas and the tapeworm from eating much steak tartare and which supposedly slimmed her down) and frites and salad down in front of me. I look up. Has he heard that chuckle? “Merci, Monsieur.” I take a sip of the Bordeaux. Of course, this café has an outstanding range of wines by the glass. Is this Bordeaux or what? Mine is a Pauillac. Oh, smooth as polished oak, rich fruits hovering in the background, which will become more pronounced as I drink.

         There’s a relatively new, ultra-modern architecturally institution further up on the banks of the Gironde as it meanders northwesterly toward the Atlantic, that same Atlantic that surfs onto the beach at Biarritz. La Cité du Vin.

         Rocky coasts. The Atlantic coasts of western France are mostly rocky, cliff sentinel affairs, from Brittany down here to Biarritz, to the south of which the western Pyrenees meets the sea or comes close. Hendaye. Hendaye in France; Irun in Spain. The place where railroad track gages change, making a through train service impossible. Still. A good fifty years after the dictator’s death, his final death rattle, his death hidden while Falangists plotted what to do next. Ah, the King! Franco! Franco! Franco! A regime infamous for garroting, strangling alive prisoners to be executed, the last one, I think, being a Basque separatist. Spain now like all EU member states has abolished capital punishment.

         My native land has reverted to barbarism federally and in many states. That, along with machine-gun mass murders at least monthly somewhere, makes the country a scary place. On the other hand, what are the odds? Traffic accidents are still the worst percentage-wise. Funny, I don’t find that consoling.

         I checked to make sure that the steak tartare here in this café was prepared by the chef in the kitchen. I want the chef’s take on it. I don’t want to be presented with chopped raw steak, a raw egg in the half shell, and the various seasonings. I can do that at home; I do do that at home. I took a bit on the tip of my fork and tasted. Just the right hit of tabasco: very good. Capers too?

         In peripheral vision I see that Rawbone has received his steak bleu. His “brother” is muttering something about it, and Rawbone laughs softly, happily. Now, that’s a new face. His happy face. His eyes dancing with mirth. He’s just a kid now.

         And that’s it! It’s the kid face I remember. Does that mean I was also a kid? That it was someone I played with as a child?

         Cold case. Huis clos? No, impasse. No follow-up. No ensuing revelation. Huis clos is something else entirely and is known as the title of a pIay by Jean- Paul Sartre that is never staged anymore, not that I know of. I don’t see a kid from my past. I can see others, vaguely remember their kid faces, shapes of head oddly enough, but not one who matches Rawbone.

         I’m back.

         I’m staring down at my entrée, which Brits call a starter and which Americans use as the word for the main course and which now seems to have miraculously appeared before me on the table. It hasn’t. I remember the waitress setting it down and taking away the empty glass of Suze.

         The man with the cane was not alone. I’d seen his wife with the doyenne’s bouffant, but there are also two other couples and a dog on a leash. This is France. I once at lunchtime with friends saw a woman at a table smack in the middle of the restaurant sit her dog up on the chair opposite her and a plate set before said canine with what looked like chopped liver and carrots. Do dogs like carrots? I had looked shocked. My companions laughed at me being shocked. “C’est son petit ami alors,” shrugged Denis, looking more Gallic than ever, a look he cultivated based on pre-War movies, replete with pencil-thin mustache. Not to be outdone by his statement that the canine was her boyfriend, I had replied something like: How do you know it’s not her girlfriend? I got points for that. Soft chortling all around. Denis had the woman in full view; I had to half-turn around to see. So, we moved on in our conversation.

         The woman places a kind of towel, a cloth meant to be a bit soft, at the side of her feet halfway under the table for Fido, on a leash, to lay on. Instead, Fido does circles, noses around, seems in no mood to lay down, but, on the other hand, is silent. Gawd bless. I look away. Could be a very look from me would set Fido off.

         I ordered this entrée the last time, which was at least six months ago. Reading the choices, it appealed to me immediately, and then I remembered. So. So what if I have the same thing again. It was out of this world. I start.

         Yes, it still is. Oh, gawds in Hades for the brilliance of Michelin chefs who can perfectly reproduce a creation time and time again. The chef here is Michelin, right? Can’t remember now. The prices are certainly not Michelin.

         It’s basically a toasted slice of country bread, rough and tasty from grains, with different kinds of roasted peppers and a big daub of perhaps sheep-milk crème fraiche. There is rucola, which American call arugula, probably, one thinks, because it’s either a Sicilian or Neapolitan word for it. There are drizzles of one kind of sauce, little mounds of a pale green cream, other little mounds of taste. One goes from one to another, mix and matching in the mouth. The key genius is the beauty of the local Basque ingredients and that of the chef. The effect is dazzling, one spurt of pure pleasure after another. Spurt? That’s very Freudian and sexual. Oh well, sex and food.

         A sip of Graves, delicate red fruit on equally delicate oak, smooth and bon ton. I sit back in the chair for a minute. A slight breeze rustles through the laurel hedge into the clos. The sun shines unfettered by clouds, a warmth here outside that is room temperature but refreshing for being outdoors. Time might stop right now in this paradisical instant and freeze, frozen in time. No, time slowed down and expanded because it’s a dream, isn’t it? Dreamlike quality to the elements of temperature and food and drink and light and a touch of fresh air.

         If I could freeze this moment, wouldn’t this be a kind of huis clos? Not the nasty Sartrean No Exit kind, the ugly trap where Others Are Hell, L’enfer c’est l’autrui.

         Hell is other people. Okay, okay, I get the philosophical business where the ego finds others as creating a hell by not in total harmony with the desires of said ego. Blah-blah. An infant in his playpen. Other people can just as easily be    Heaven.

         Which, on another sip of the Graves, is bon ton. That outrageous French bourgeois term. Translation? Good taste. Here we become circular in our description when it comes to the wine, but not when it comes to Biarritz. Oh, it isn’t all bon ton. And yet old money makes a fetish of bon ton.

         First time I heard that expression, I found it such a cramped concept, so boring. Girls in tartan-plaid short skirts, cashmere sweaters, and a small string of real pearls. Or was that a description of the outfit the speaker of the expression had on?

         On the train, for sale in the bar, I also ran across small packages of cauldron-cooked chips labelled BCBG. A slightly updated version of bon ton. A joke, in the case of the chips that feature a kind of round-faced emoji of a female with red lips and a small black bowler hat at a jaunty angle. Actually, it’s not an emoji, it’s a chip. I laughed like hell internally the first time I saw the package, just grinning for the outside world at the bar, not making loud noise, which makes me having conformed to bon ton. Where one says a certain woman is so BCBG, bonne classe, bon goût, the height of French snobbery: right class, good taste.

         I still think that packaging is hilarious. The little face. The pursed bright-red lips. The jaunty bowler hat.

         The clos has filled up, not to the brim – there are a few tables free – but nicely full-house. And the conversation from various table is lively but creating a convivial bubbling. Are these people all “old money”? Doubt it, though they could be. Would one call them all examples of bon ton? No. The French group behind me? Two of the men are wearing shorts. Certain Parisians would call this an absolute non-non or no-no when not literally on a beach or rambling the countryside. Bullshit, of course.

         I slowly savor and finish the entrée, every last strand of rucola, and I get ever last dab of puréed essence of vegetable flavors with a bit of bread. I place my knife and fork at the angle on the plate that says finished and lean back in the armchair. A sip of Graves. The clos is humming. Again, a slight breeze that does not even rustle the laurel leaves of the hedge.

         Old money. Biarritz is renowned for old money. They also say this is true of La Baule, further up the coast and near the mouth of the Loire. So, these people, this atmosphere here in the clos, is that really that of old money or is it my illusion?

         One thing, I’ve never ascribed BCBG to Biarritz. Then what is this old-money thing?

         I’m thinking now again of Rawbone on Bordeaux. He and brother struck me as old money, Bordeaux style. I fantasized that they had come into Bordeaux from the family estate to negotiate or face some hard, unpleasant facts from bankers or the like. They, first of all, were very late for lunch. But the old-money bit? It was Rawbone’s skeletal features that made me think of breeding, as in the thoroughbred kind. I pictured Mummy as the child of British aristocracy, the countryside kind, who had married the heir to a vignoble estate in Bordeaux, had fallen madly in love with the man who, contrary to French law, was also an aristocrat, the ephemeral French kind. Rawbone was the product of that coupling of British and French aristocracy. The other idea lurking was a general one, based on regional history. Eleanor of Aquitaine. This whole part of France was once English. So, should that mean that scanning the crowds on the streets of Bordeaux I should see English-looking faces? But I don’t. One did not. So, this pedigree of Rawbone was unique.

         I look over at the man who had arrived first in my perception as a cane. He and the whole table are speaking English. And he is now answering the maître d’. In French. With a very pronounced and not very charming Brit accent. But he can speak French, sort of. So, he and his wife live here? They are entertaining visitors. I had overheard reference to Australia several times. You can’t help picking up bits from a conversation in your native language. But they were not Brits. They had to be Irish. And the reason they all knew each other was some shared experience in Australia. Everyone at that table was retirement age. And then a woman furthest from me spoke up: Her accent was thoroughly Irish, what used to be called a brogue. I don’t think that term is used much anymore. It was meant as a put-down describing the rough-accented English of the Irish peasant. Times have definitely changed since Ireland entered the European Union. And now since the appalling but rather inevitable Brexit disaster in the UK, where that obnoxious ruling class through right-wing rags drummed up ugly island-type chauvinism and got the EU blamed for all their own austerity measures – yes, since Brexit, Brits were persona non grata here on the continent of Europe spiritually if not physically. To meet a Brexiteer, you did have to go to the UK. By their very nature, a Brexiteer would not be caught dead in France, land of bloody froggies. One read that long-term British residents of France applied for French citizenship. I wonder if they had to pass a language test.

         The waitress removes my knife and fork, sets them carefully beside the entrée plate on the white tablecloth and removes the plate. Merci, I say.

         This fixation on the concept, image, of old money, is this a love of aristocracy? No, definitely not. I despise the only aristocracy I’m familiar with: British aristocracy. I hate the sound of their so obnoxious accents, though, grated, those accents might be coming from public-school people and not from real aristocrats. And as if on cue, for Brexit purposes, up came the caricature of this Brit creature itself: Rees-Mogg. Lanky, indolent, disdainful, every word an insult to ordinary Brits, but who, in turn, fawned over him. Sick nation.

         As is, of course, my own. Four years of a gross charlatan in the White House? An eternal stain, a historic humiliation. How historic? As a kid in school, didn’t we learn about Warren G. Harding (amazing how I remember the full name, including abbreviated middle name) in grade school, Tea Pot Dome, corruption at the highest levels? Prohibition and the Roaring Twenties?

I can’t help thinking of Gore Vidal, the self-created archetype of the American expat, who would return to the motherland to help advertise some new book of his and who would appear on TV talk-shows and regale American viewers with caustic descriptions of the present-day land they lived in, Oh Say Can You See… The shivers of outrage from the talk-show hosts. Precious. And that was before the con-artist became president. Had Gore lived, what would he have made of Putin’s puppetry, the KGB revenge for the collapse of the Soviet Union? I think Gore would just have pouted: Told ya so.

The maître d’ had suggested a slice of foie gras to go with my main course. I had demurred on previous occasions. This time: Why not? Yes, there was a supplement. Life is short.

Of course, life can also be long, relatively. Not that any of us are eternal. The physical self wears out. The mind, that burbling verbalized energy key to life, because duller as the physical brain deteriorates. By then, though, has the mind not seen, had enough? How long do thing need to go on? There are hour-long symphonies. They are wondrous, but we are glad when the climax is reached and we are set free, no matter how transporting and breath-taking the aural experience. So, when finally it is time for “lights out” … Oh, I know where that comes from: Ars longa vita brevis. Art is long, life short.

I extract my smartphone from my pocket and Google receives the Latin expression. Oh! Seems that ars is more technical, artisanal experience, as in the knowledge and technique of the physician, since the aphorism is attributed to Hippocrates, whom we all know was the father of medicine, right? But, reading more, the meaning that a work of art outlives its creator.

I find that satisfying and click off and redeposit the smartphone in my pocket. The main course is set down in front of me by the smiling girl, the waitress. She is lovely, but where did she come from? Last time, and the time before that, there had been a young male waiter. Has he moved on in his career? Does he not work on Sundays? This is Sunday lunch, as the Brits would say. Since Brexit, I have instinctively set up a cordon sanitaire against Brit expressions slipping into my own language. But would I call this Sunday dinner? Dinner conjures up evening.

Braised pork. Crushed potatoes. Fresh broad beans in salted butter. And there resting coquettishly, sliding to one side of the pork, is a thick slice of pan-roasted foie gras. The aroma rises. As you see all the time now on cheffy shows, I lower my nose toward the plate and breath. Ah. Surprisingly rich and meaty, because the plate is scales of beige with speckles of pale green, the broad beans tucked to one side. I take a sip of the Graves to top off the aromas in my head. Nice.

Vegan.

The word is pronounced with a chortle by the man with the cane to his group of Irish bound by Australian pasts. The woman with the dog is smiling as she looks down to check her pet now happily lounging on the towel at her feet.

I take up knife and fork and delve in. Funny to hear that word as the first moments of luscious flavor of long-roasted pork in its own redolent sauce and a bit of the crushed potato hit. I find and slip two broad beans onto my fork. I then take a sip of Graves. Oh.

The man with the cane who had said vegan is now served fish. I saw the fish on the menu. What kind was it now? From where I sit, it looks like cod, but I know it is not. I got the waitress to leave the menu in the free space opposite me. I pick it up. Merlu. The fish is called merlu. I’m awful on translations of name of fish. No idea of the English name. There could be a Brit name but no American one. Brit waters are still after all European waters. They all share the same fish schools. And now Brexiteers fight over it. The fish wars. Well, really fish skirmishes. The Brexiteer regime needs to huff and puff for Her Majesty’s subjects.

I return to my main course with all its corners of tastes and sauces ready at each mouthful to change the tone of the umami experience. And then it’s done. And then the Pauillac is done. I sit back in pleasurable exhaustion, actually, surfeit. I’ve had enough. Or have I? There’s desert in the three-course menu. I already know what I’ll have. I had it last time and the time before that. I always have it. The selection of Basque sheep cheeses. All the other desserts? I could order them anywhere or make them myself. And the last time with that cheese I had ordered a glass of sweet white wine. And it was good. I’ll do that again.

I picked up the menu to make sure the cheese was still there and that the wine was still there. They were. And then I saw merlu again.

Out comes the smartphone. Google Translate. Oh, hake. Hake. What is hake? I know it’s the name of a fish, but is it the name of an American fish, an American Atlantic fish? I think back to the ancestors, the women of the family who loved their fish. Did they ever talk about hake? Haddock, yes. Halibut, blue fish, pollock, mackerel, swordfish, yes. And the poor relative in those days, cod. But hake? I Google hake. Oh, it’s also called whiting. Now whiting? That was always a very cheap fish, much cheaper even than cod.

Times have changed.

Vegan. I hear vegan pronounced, and this time with an Irish brogue, from the lips of the man-with-the-cane’s mouth. I assume they are just laughing at the absurdity of it in light of the gastronomic feast we are all indulging in in the clos.

No. She is cueing her husband. I make out Christianity and then cult. And then he sits back and raises his voice a bit for the entertainment of his guests. Well, I don’t know if he’ll pay the bill, but I do believe he’s gathered them all together because of the visit to Biarritz of one of them, a decidedly older and feebler gentleman with short, sparse gray hair, nearly bald, who had been guided to his chair and, if not helped to sit down, made sure he did so comfortably. He had positioned himself, rear over the seat, hands on the arms of the chair and then sank, no plopped down, with an audible sigh of relief.

That’s my future, I’d thought.

The man knew the host or was reintroduced to the host in terms of things and times Australian. Though his back was mostly to me, I could see that host and elderly gentleman beamed at each other, their minds sharing memories almost telepathically. And the old gent was not silent. He talked a lot. I just couldn’t hear what he was saying. He had taken off his jacket and was wearing suspenders. Looked like he had no paunch, which the host did have, nothing you’d call obese but…

Christians were a cult in Rome and elsewhere in the Mediterranean world along with many others, more popular ones like Isis and Mithras. Mithras was particularly popular with the army. He was a sun god and a warrior. Initiation required being drenched in bull’s blood. Isis was of course Mother, the eternal maternal. But Christianity was this off-shoot of Judaism. The Jews were a problem with their one and only god thing, because emperors were often deified and offerings made to them as symbols of patriotism and fealty more than praying for a quick profit from Mercury or…

There was a murmur of enjoyment.

But the reluctance to sacrifice to the emperor was basically a Judean problem, not that this problem was not problematic. Remember Trajan?

Murmurs. They all seemed to. So, they all had old-fashioned educations that included Roman history. I suppose that was very paramount in school when the British Empire still existed. They were that old, well, all except the woman with the dog, who might have been the elderly gent’s daughter.

Christians were all over the empire and in Rome, too. And they were growing in numbers, though it was hard to know why, and like Jews they were not keen on sacrificing to other gods than the one they had adopted from the Jews.

Oh, Jehovah, his wife trumpeted. They all laughed.

Something now made me think that husband and wife had rehearsed this numéro. The Irish have a knack for theater.

Well, you all know how the story ends. Constantine. That battle. His Christian legions. What you might not know is that recently they discovered that in fact Constantine had finagled an amalgam of Mithras and Apollo and Jesus.

A cry of skepticism.

No, it’s true. They have found evidence in the placement of a long-gone statue of Apollo Triumphant next to the Arch of Constantine. Constantine would ride triumphant through his arch with the sun-gods rays emanating out from behind him.

And Jesus? The daughter with the dog interrupted.

Look at the mosaics of the Triumphant Jesus in the basilicas of Byzantine buildings. Head shooting out rays of the sun. Helios. Apollo Triumphant. He’s no longer the guy feeding the poor and healing the sick. He’s the emperor. Constantine is the emperor.

Silence.

What does that have to do with vegans?

I am wondering that myself.

You know what makes us all despise vegans? It’s because they proselytize, pretend that only they and their awful food choice will save the planet. You don’t get vegetarians bothered with that. No, vegans are cultists. And they are out to convert the world in the name of righteousness. All they are waiting for is to convert an authoritarian figure, a Putin, a Trump – maybe someone even worse in the future – and we are all forced to abandon cuisine and become vegans. This is their greatest wish. They are fanatics.

The host raised both hands in the air.

And then they actually applauded, softly, but they applauded. In fact, I felt like applauding too. I had been royally entertained.

The waitress suddenly appeared and moved her mouth to speak. Oui, bien sûr, les fromages Basques. Her eyes sparkled, and she took the menu and moved to exit the clos. Et un petit verre du moelleux.

She nodded. There was only one kind of sweet white wine on the list of wines by the glass. The first time I ordered the Basque sheep cheese, I took one taste and thought: What wine? Something a bit sweet, like for foie gras? And it worked. Unlike a red or a dry white, it brought out all the sumptuous nutty flavor of the cheese. I wonder now whether an Italian vino santo would do the same for a nice piece of pecorino or even an aged piece of Parmigiana Reggiano? I have to get over the name, vino santo, that it’s the wine priests use at Communion. They probably don’t and, if they do, who cares? But it’s not as multi-faceted as a French moelleux, the likes of a sauterne or a Monbazillac or a Loupiac. Or even a Côtes de Gascogne, which my humble glass is. Because I don’t want it super sweet, just lightly and tantalizingly so that it delves into and enriches the heart of the sheep cheese. Much like an inexpensive Gewurztraminer does with sautéed foie gras. Ah. That hint of honey, berry sweet.

The maybe-Irish group led by the man with the cane, who had triggered memory of Rawbone in Bordeaux, is making movements to leave, women checking into bags, the gathering of canes. The host smiles as he puts his bankcard into the portable machine and pays the maître d’, who nods and even bows a bit. So, this is a known customer. Oh, that a known customer could be myself. I love it here. But it cannot be. I will never live here.

And now they rise at difference paces, collecting things, dog being readied, its blanket swiftly disappeared into Madam’s handbag. And then like a flock of penguins, because quite silent and dignified, they move out of the clos.

Is it time I go too? I check my smartphone. The French table behind me shows no sign of tiring from their plaisirs de la table.

Oh, I haven’t ordered my coffee even. As if on command, the waitress appears and asks me if I would like coffee. I smile. I do. And she disappears. She seems to disappear because I am right at the hedged entrance to the clos. A few steps and she’s gone. I recline back in my chair. There is an emptiness now in the middle of the clos. It’s a bit foreboding, meaning that soon I too will need to go. I put that out of my mind. I am surfeited with fine food. There are a few last sips of the Gascogne that I am savoring. The warmth of the day has remained constant. And here comes another mild breeze.

I don’t want to leave Paradise.