It evidently was not the seating plan of the maître d’hôtel, when I made my reservation, but at my request I am allowed, a lone diner, to sit and monopolize a table 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 is now the restaurant. I wonder if the chef lives upstairs? He’d have a fantastic view over the promontory, over the Casino Barrière, and to the Atlantic, the Bay of Biscay.

Anyway. So glad to be back. Back after that memorable, delicious Friday lunch here the day before the prime minister of France closed all restaurants and bars the next day, Saturday ­– abruptly and within six hours – to curtail what was fast becoming a pandemic, called Corona back then, now usually referred to as Covid.


That’s exactly what I plan on doing. I’m back!

I take a seat next to the entry to the Clos. I sit beside the hedge, and face the house and the restaurant proper. There is a massive 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. Last time, I sat inside at a table next to the bar with a view of the great stone-wall fireplace and most of the room. There was a group of ladies-who-lunch near the fireplace. It was that group that prompted my recalling that Biarritz meant old money, because these women radiated a certain easy gentility.  Next day, that fateful Saturday night, I felt I recognized one of them in a group gathering mysteriously (to me) at the bar where champagne corks were popping for reasons unknown. She saw me staring and seemed to recognize me from the Friday lunch, or so I thought. (Was this ever corroborated?) That’s how I met Léonie.

I am still just slightly out of breath, but my heart is not pounding. Biarritz means steep walking just about everywhere within a kilometer of 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; this is true even of the tourists who fit those categories.

And then there are the very old, very old-money people Biarritz is famous for. They go about slower, some have canes, but they seem very used to it all, too, and not out of breath either. I bet the exercise makes them nigh on eternal.

Is it too late for me? Should I move here?

I’m joking; I couldn’t afford to live 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!

         A 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 came to mind. Funny, Suze. I was sure it would soon vanish from the marketplace. It’s a very old, very Belle-Époque apéritif. 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 am ruminating over the tale of Suze, it arrives. I take a sip. Oh, perfect. I lean back in this perfect restaurant armchair, rattan 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? I sniff. Maybe. Like bay leaf? Not sure.

         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 this 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. Graves, because, as I realized that first time in Biarritz, we are at the periphery of Bordeaux, so it’s offered by the glass as a local wine.

Time I take the Suze seriously. Well, it’s almost gone anyway. One last sip and done.

         Connecting the interior of the house with the Clos are wide-open French doors curved at the top and painted white. The starter should be arriving soon from there, I think.


I look to the entrance right in front of me where diners enter, where I entered; the waitress came from there with the menu, so maybe the Graves might too?

So, I first see the cane.

It hovers horizontally. It has pierced the entrance, the end of the wall of the hedge. It pokes at the air ever so slightly, as if feeling its way, and then it descends archly, decisively to the pavement. With that, the silhouette of an older man follows. He has a slight hook at the bridge of the nose, pronounced features, and high cheekbones.

I think I might know him.

I watch.

         He is now fully inside the enclosure, and a woman appears and comes to his side, careful to not unbalance him. The wife, surely. She is an elegant woman with the standard bouffant hairstyle popular with old-rich women everywhere: the museum-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 some 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.

         Ah, I know. His breed is familiar.

There were two guys having a very late lunch in a café in the historic center of Bordeaux. I imagined immediately they were brothers and that they’d come in for business about the family estate, a vignoble, for sure, it being Bordeaux. They were seated at a table for two about a meter from me. I shared the banquette with one of them.

The brother on the banquette was speaking under his breath to the brother facing him. There was an unhappy aura about them. I surmised – fantasized – that they’d come from a starkly unpleasant meeting with a banker. They seemed united in solidarity against adversity: The family vignoble must be saved at all cost.

They were so somber for two guys that young and that elegant.

I’d just arrived in Bordeaux, checked in to my hotel around the corner. It was after two. I’d asked where I could have lunch at this hour and was directed to this café. They arrived well after me, so even later, but seemed to know the menu, and that this was a place they could eat a proper lunch despite the hour.

It was the one in the chair whose looks were riveting from the moment the two of them walked into the back of the café, the restaurant part. I was startled by him. Hook in the nose, high cheekbones, lean face, piercing but smallish but foxy blue eyes, a face that could be from Brit nobility? Fin de race? Roots going back to Aquitaine? No, he didn’t have any of that languor: no blue tinge to the lips. What he was, was a whippet, a thoroughbred. Elegant face, easy body and presence.

Before sitting down, he’d ordered the waiter to bring him un steak bleu, a steak charred on the outside and essentially raw in the middle. He’d then pulled out the chair, sat down, and flashed a silly grin to – which is when I assumed it – his brother: Steak bleu seemed a joke between them. Whatever. Young gents in cahoots and decidedly blue bloods, not yet thirty. I couldn’t stop looking at Monsieur Steak Bleu; he spoke even more softly than ­his brother. He was facing me almost directly, if a few meters to my left, so that I should have been able to hear what he was saying but couldn’t. His lips moved like those of a ventriloquist. I couldn’t read them.

He ignored me like a good actor does the camera. I felt free to study his face. It was fascinatingly reminiscent of someone, a situation.

Suddenly came an angry flash in my direction – he never exactly met my eyes – which sent my gaze scurrying across the restaurant to the expanse of back windows. I concentrated on the restaurant. Its walls were painted Bordeaux, Bordeaux red amusingly enough, and architecturally echoed the splendor of the eighteenth-century neoclassical city of honey-colored tan stone outside. The space was full of late-afternoon sunlight.

I relaxed. I smiled to myself.

Silly kid. I didn’t feel the least bit guilty. Someone who looked like he did always attracted stares. I wasn’t ogling. Sex? There was nothing lewd in the way I’d been looking at him, just appreciation: Physically beautiful people are fascinating.

         Rawboned, he was rawboned. That was his physical type. 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 so smooth. He had a slight tan from outdoor living: playing tennis or out in the vineyard.

I’d wanted to check back for more details about his look, but I’d blown it. Ha! I was forbidden to look at him again. He’d gotten the little he wanted from me. He’d won.

My own loss at the time, but actually I’d seen enough. And I could still muse over his look, because it was his look, handsome or not, that was fascinating because familiar, but I couldn’t place the person.

         A person from a past life?

I’d thought that and was chuckling as the café owner himself set my plate of steak tartare and frites and salad down in front of me. Chuckles also because ordering steak tartare I always think of La Callas and the apocryphal story of the tapeworm she’d contracted from eating lots of it, which supposedly slimmed a pudgy Maria down.

Still, I glanced up at the owner, hoping he hadn’t heard that chuckle or, if so, taken it wrong: “Merci, Monsieur.” I’d given him my broadest smile; he’d reciprocated. That’s a relief, I’d thought. My chuckle had nothing to do with the beautifully prepared plate of steak tartare before me.

I didn’t need to alienate the whole café!

When I ordered it, I’d asked the owner whether the steak tartare here in this café was prepared, mixed, by the chef in the kitchen. I wanted the chef’s take on it. I didn’t want to be presented with chopped raw steak, a raw egg in the half shell, along with the various seasonings, and be left to mix it myself. I could do that at home.

So, let’s try it. I took a bit on the tip of my fork and tasted. Nice. Just the right hit of tabasco: perfect.

Next, I’d taken a sip of the Bordeaux. Were we in Bordeaux or what? Whoa! Of course, this café had outstanding Bordeaux wines by the glass. The one I’d ordered was a Pauillac. Oh, smooth as polished oak, rich fruits hovering in the background, which would become more pronounced as I drank.

         I’d flashed to La Cité du Vin, as it’s called. It was a relatively new, ultra-modern building further up on the banks of the Gironde, Bordeaux’s river that meanders northwesterly toward the Atlantic, that very same Atlantic that sends surf onto the beach at Biarritz. La Cité du Vin vaunted a whole symphony of Bordeaux wines by the glass, even some quite pricey rare ones.

         And then I saw it. In peripheral vision – banned from looking directly – I saw that Rawbone had received his steak bleu. His maybe-brother muttered something about it like Are you happy now? – and Rawbone’s face lit up; he laughed softly, happily. He grinned! Now, that was a new face. His happy face. His eyes dancing with mirth. He had become his little kid self then.

         That was it!

It was his kid face I’d recognized. Did that mean I would also have been a kid and that it was someone I’d played with as a child?


Cold case.

I’d felt a pang of despair as I’d struggled, but I couldn’t come up with a specific kid from my past. I could see others, vaguely remember their kid faces, shapes of their heads oddly enough, but not one who matched Rawbone.

Voilà, Monsieur. Bon appétit.” Oh! I’m back. Back in the physical Clos. Seated under the restaurant’s awning.

Merci, Mademoiselle,” I reply.

         I stare down at my entrée, which Brits call a starter and which Americans misuse as their word for the main course. It 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.

         I glance over at the man with the cane. It is his features that just triggered all those memories about Rawbone. But he certainly doesn’t look like that Rawbone, though he might have when a lot younger. I guess that was it: the hooked nose, the cheekbones.

The man with the cane is not alone either. I noted his wife with the doyenne’s bouffant following him into the Clos, but there are also two other couples and a dog on a leash.

This is France.

Once at lunch in Paris with friends, as I looked around and checked out this restaurant I didn’t know, I caught sight of a woman, at a table smack in the middle of the restaurant, sit her dog up on the chair opposite her. The waiter arrived and served her, and next he served the dog a plate of what looked like chopped liver and carrots. Do dogs like carrots? I had looked so shocked that my friends burst out laughing at me. “C’est son petit ami alors,” shrugged one of them, Denis. He screwed his face up lasciviously so that the Gallic look he cultivated, based on pre-War movies, replete with pencil-thin mustache, got me laughing. Not to be outdone by the “canine was her boyfriend,” I had replied, “How do you know it’s not her girlfriend?” I got points for that.

Denis had the woman in full view; I had to half-turn around to see, craning my neck. So, we moved on to other subjects of conversation.

         I watch now as the woman places a towel halfway under the table next to her feet; it’s for Fido, on a leash, to lay down on. Instead, Fido does circles, noses around, seems in no mood to lay down, but, on the other hand, is at least silent. Gods be blessed. I look away quickly. Could be that all it will take is a look from me to set Fido off barking.

         I look down and take up my knife and fork. I ordered this entrée the last time here, which was probably two years ago. Reading the menu choices, it appealed to me immediately, and then I remembered having eaten it. So. So what if I have the same thing again. It was out of this world.

I start in.

         Yes, it still is. Oh, thank the gods 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. Again, I thank those same gods.

         It’s basically a toasted slice of country-style bread, pain de campagne, rough and tasty from whole grains, with different kinds of roasted peppers and a big daub of perhaps sheep-milk crème fraiche? There is rucola, which the French call roquette. In the US, they have arugula, which is a more peppery version of rucola: something I discovered not long ago. 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? Is that very Freudian and sexual of me or what? Oh well, sex and food.

         A sip of Graves, subtle red fruit on delicate oak, smooth, and quite elegantly Bordeaux in style, I’m surprised to note, considering the reasonable price. I sit back in the chair. Pausing, putting the entrée on hold for a minute. A slight breeze rustles through the laurel hedge into the Clos. Beyond the awning, the sun shines unfettered by clouds; there is a warmth here that is room temperature, but it’s refreshing for being outdoor air.

Let time stop right now in this paradisical instant.

No, just let time be slowed down and extended, because it’s a dream, isn’t it? I’m drifting. Again. Am I in control of the dream? I am to the extent that I’m enjoying letting my mind wander. Anyway, there’s a dreamlike quality to the elements of temperature and food and drink and light, and touch of fresh air, that is this now I am living.

         I freeze this moment.

Is this a kind of huis clos? Can I get out? Do I want to get out?

It’s not that nasty Sartrean No Exit kind, for sure: the ugly trap where Others Are Hell, L’enfer c’est l’autrui. Huis Clos is the title of a pIay by Jean-Paul Sartre that is hardly ever staged anymore. I’ve never seen or read it. Mea culpa.

         Hell is other people? Okay, okay, I get the philosophical business where the ego finds others to be creating a hell by not being 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, reveals bon ton. That outrageous French bourgeois term. Translation? Good taste (a poor, bland translation).

         Sitting back, entrée half consumed, I am drifting happily. I take another sip.

Yes, but here we become circular in our description when it comes to the wine. Tasting it reveals the bon ton of the winemaker, his taste in blending. But it also epitomizes bon ton to me. Bordeaux will do that. I think of Rawbone. Ha! Circular!

But it’s not circular when it comes to Biarritz. This town isn’t all bon ton. That would be impossible for an agglomeration of this size. But it is its overriding tone: Old money makes a fetish of bon ton.

Are surfers bon ton? No. So, I wonder how much influence old money has over Biarritz. Really. Could the Basque establishment and Old Money be in seamless harmony?

There are many kinds of bon ton. It is multifaceted.

         First time, decades ago, that 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. A bourgeois Parisian fixation for things aristocratically Brit: tea at four? Or was that a description of the outfit the speaker using the expression was wearing? Marie-Laure?

         Whoa! I haven’t thought about her in decades. I chuckle to myself, to myself alone hopefully. I look around. No one is looking at me. I go totally unnoticed, except for the restaurant personnel, who are unobtrusively attentive.

         I am that fly on the wall.

         And then there’s BCBG.

Once on an SNCF train, I also ran across small packages of cauldron-cooked chips labelled BCBG for sale in its bar. A slightly updated version of bon ton. A joke, in the case of the chips, which featured a kind of round-faced emoji of a female with bright-red pursed lips and a small black bowler hat at a jaunty angle. Actually, it wasn’t an emoji, it was a potato chip with pouty red lips and bowler! The first time I saw the package, I laughed like hell to myself, in my head (not to scare the train’s bar personnel, who probably didn’t find it as funny as I did). Come to think of it, by not making loud noises, wouldn’t this put me in compliance with bon ton? But surely not in the sense where you say a certain woman is so BCBG, bonne classe, bon goût, that is, embodying the height of French snobbery: right class, good taste.

And not just because I’m not a woman. Ahem.

         I still think that packaging is hilarious. The little face. The pouty scarlet lips. The jaunty bowler hat.

         I return to the entrée.

I’m glad I paused. It is so delicious. I feel like I’m having it all over again now as I go on to finish it. You could say I did stop time.

The Clos has filled up, not to the brim – there are a few tables free – but nicely full-house. The conversation from the various tables is lively but not raucous, generating a convivial effervescence in this tented outdoor space.

Are these people all “old money”? Doubt it, though why? 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, say I.

All of a sudden, I’m back to bon ton be boring, if not constipated.

         A last savoring, and I finally finish the entrée, getting every last sprig of rucola. And I daub up every last essence of puréed or foamed vegetable flavors with a bit of bread.

I place my knife and fork at the angle on the plate that signals finished, and lean back in the armchair. A sip of Graves. The Clos is humming with good food and wine: Once again comes the slight breeze that does not rustle the laurel leaves of the hedge to my right but carries the scent of its chlorophyll.

         Like old money to me characterizes Biarritz? I can’t help it: I’m thinking again of Rawbone in Bordeaux. He and his maybe-brother struck me immediately then as old money, but Bordeaux style. I’d then concocted the scenario that they’d come into Bordeaux from the family wine estate, which they’d inherited on the death of their parents, to face hard, unpleasant facts at the hands of bankers or the like, which was why they were so late for lunch. It was Rawbone’s skull-revealing features that made me think of old money, breeding, as in thoroughbred. Mummy was the child of British aristocracy, the countryside kind, who had fallen madly in love with an aristocrat but the make-believe French kind, who lived in château surrounded by his vignoble. Rawbone (and no doubt his  “brother” who I couldn’t see) was the product of that coupling of British and French aristocracy. Backing up my fantasy was a general one, based Eleanor of Aquitaine. This region of France was once English.

Wouldn’t that mean that scanning the crowds out shopping on the streets of Bordeaux I should see English-looking faces? But I didn’t. One did not.

Okay, this pedigree of Rawbone was unique.

Or I’ve just made it all up.

I’m back in the Clos.

         I look over at the man who first arrived just as a cane.

He and his whole table are speaking English. But now there he goes answering the maître d’hôtel in French. With a very pronounced and not very charming Brit accent. So, he can speak French, sort of. He and his wife live here? Yes. They are entertaining visitors. I overheard references to Australia several times. You can’t help picking up bits from a conversation in your native language. But these others, they were not Brits. They have to be Irish. And the reason they all know each other was some shared experience in Australia. Everyone at that table is retirement age except the woman with the dog. And then a woman furthest from me, on the other side of the table, speaks up: Her accent is thoroughly Irish. Do people still call it a brogue? I don’t think that term is used much anymore. Wasn’t it meant as a put-down describing the rough-accented English of the Irish peasant? Times have definitely changed since Ireland entered the European Union. Especially now since the appalling but oh-so inevitable Brexit disaster in the UK, where their obnoxious ruling class, in cahoots with right-wing rags, drummed up ugly islander chauvinism, and got the EU blamed for their own pig-headed, callous Tory austerity measures, along with neolib nastiness in general. Yes, and, since Brexit, Brits have become persona non grata here on the continent of Europe, spiritually if not physically. To meet a Brexiteer, you would, I guess, have to go to the UK. By their very nature, a Brexiteer would not be caught dead in France, land of bloody froggies. One reads that long-term British residents of France are obliged to opt for French citizenship in order to stay. I wonder if they have to pass a language test. So many Brit expats in Dordogne can’t get much beyond bonjour, I’m told.

That’s quite a rant. I smile to myself. Funny how riled up Brexit gets me. Of course, year in and year out the English-language media I tend to read was full of Brexiteer lies and abuse, including the absurdity that the UK was not Europe, not European. So, maybe that’s a sign of how much I’ve adapted to my surroundings, how much I identify now with the EU? I share this antipathy with all my EU friends. Identification, adapting, fitting in, blending in, sense of an expanded self, dual national, multi-national. A slurry of characteristics, labels. But not masks.

I sigh contentedly: It’s who I am. Right now, anyway. Sitting in this blissful Clos. Eating well. And appreciating eating well.

But stop. Can’t be bothered being piqued by Brexit. Can’t be bothered being piqued, period.

That breeze again. It carries a faint scent of the laurel without rustling the leaves.   

The waitress removes my knife and fork, sets them carefully next to the entrée plate on the white tablecloth, and then removes the plate itself. Merci, I say, ceremony complete.

I don’t get a change of cutlery.

Old money.

         This fixation on the concept, the image, of old money – is this an infatuation with aristocracy on my part?

No, definitely not. I despise the only aristocracy I’m familiar with: British aristocracy. I hate the sound of their simpering, obnoxious accents – though granted those accents might be coming from public-school people and not from true aristocrats.

My ear keeps picking up the sound of voices at the table of the “gent” with the cane. Didn’t I just talked myself into not getting riled or piqued? Why still so easily ticked off by the accent of a man who first appeared as a tapping cane?

I listen some more. Not a trace of condescension in his voice, Brit accent notwithstanding: no Rees-Mogg, grotesque Brexiteer faux aristocrat, he. This elderly Brit sounds very nice, very kind. And generous! I bet he’s hosting this lovely lunch.

The maître d’hôtel suggested a slice of foie gras to go with my main course. I had demurred the last time (Was it the same dish back then? Don’t remember. I might well be repeating the same things I chose on that Friday lunch before the Corona edict!). How about this time? Why not? Yes, there was a supplement. So?

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 verbal energy key to knowing you’re alive, becomes duller as the physical brain deteriorates. By then, though, has the mind not seen, had enough? How long do things 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.

The piece is over; it is time for “lights out”.

 Except that, how about 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 means 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. Okay. Hippocrates was definitely not thinking of symphonies or paintings when he supposedly stated this.

I find that satisfying enough, and click off, and redeposit the smartphone in my pocket.

I return to the Clos.

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 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 sautéed 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.


The word is pronounced with a chortle by the man with the cane to his group of Irish, bound by shared Australian pasts. The woman with the dog is smiling as she looks down to check her pet now contentedly lounging on that towel at her feet. Vegan, the woman with the brogue, echoes. That triggers general laughter, but a sad laughter. I glance over, smiling, to share their sorrow, but no one is paying attention to me. Just as well. Vegan, the abominable puritanical cult.

Calm down.

I take up knife and fork and delve in. Funny to hear that word echoing still in my head as the first moments of luscious flavor of slow-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.

My eye wanders for a moment.

The man with the cane who first said vegan is now being 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 on the table. I pick it up. Merlu. The fish is called merlu. I’m awful on translations of names 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 dessert 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 pick up the menu to make sure the cheese is still there and that the wine is still there. They are. And then I see 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 again out of the blue, and once again with an Irish brogue from the lips of the wife of the man-with-the-cane. I assume they are just laughing again at the absurdity of it in light of the gastronomic feast we in the Clos are all indulging in.

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.

“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 is 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 seem 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 be the elderly gent’s daughter, come to think of it.

“Christians were all over the empire and in Rome, too. And they were growing in numbers, though it was hard to know why.” (I’ve often wondered this myself: Why?) “And like Jews they were not keen on sacrificing to other gods. Keen? No strictly forbidden from worshipping any other than the one they’d adopted from the Jews. The one and only true god?”

“Oh, Jehovah,” his wife trumpets. They all laugh.

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

“Well,” he says, “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 murmur 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-god’s rays emanating out from behind him.”

“And Jesus?” the daughter with the dog interrupts.

“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.”


“What does that have to do with vegans?” the daughter, the woman with the dog, dares to ask. I am wondering that myself.

He ignores her. “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.” So, he hasn’t ignored her; he has answered her question. Oh, they must have rehearsed this numéro.

The host raises both hands in the air. “Ta-dah.”

And then they actually applaud, softly, but they applaud. In fact, I feel like applauding too. I have been royally entertained.

Without being at that table – and I would not have wanted to be – I feel included, though covertly. I like them. I also like the French family seated at the table behind me. In fact, I like everyone dining in this restaurant, because we all share – I see so clearly now – our love for this place and its chef.

As for this Brit raconteur – and perhaps historian? ­– I don’t know if he will pay the bill, but I do believe he’s the force that has gathered them all together in this wonderful restaurant to share in its pleasures and to celebrate because of the visit to Biarritz of one of them, a decidedly older and feebler gentleman with short, wispy and sparse, gray hair, nearly bald (and also with cane), who earlier had been guided to his chair and, if not helped to sit down as if an invalid, took pains to make sure he did so successfully and comfortably. I remember: He had positioned himself, rear end over the seat, hands on the arms of the chair, and then he’d sunk, no plopped, down with an audible sigh of relief.

That’s my future, I’d thought at the time as I watched out of the corner of my eye.

I’d already deduced that this very elderly man either 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 from time to time, their minds sharing memories as if telepathically. And the old gent was not silent. He talked a lot. I just couldn’t hear what he was saying most of the time.

He had taken off his jacket at one point and was wearing suspenders. Looked like he had no paunch, which the host did have, nothing you’d call obese but…

The waitress suddenly appears. I snap to attention and ask. She parts her lips to answer me. “Oui, bien sûr, les fromages Basques.” Her eyes sparkle, and she takes the menu and moves to exit the Clos. “Et un petit verre du moelleux,” I call after her.

She nods. There is only one kind of sweet white wine on the list of wines by the glass. That first time I ordered the Basque sheep cheese, I’d taken one taste of it and thought: What wine goes? 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 always 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? It can be delicious.

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, 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 off the aromatic fat.

The maybe-Irish group led by the Brit with the cane, who had triggered memory of Rawbone in Bordeaux, is making motions to leave, women checking into bags, the gathering up of canes. The host smiles as he puts his bankcard into the portable machine and pays the maître d’hôtel, who nods and even bows a bit.

So, he is a known customer? Oh, would that such 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 disappearing 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 vanish, because I am right at the hedged entrance to the Clos. A few steps and she’s gone. I slump back into my armchair. There is an emptiness now in the middle of the Clos. It’s a bit foreboding, meaning that soon I too will need to leave.

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. Le Clos Basque.