Monday, April 6, 2009


We ate lunch today at the crêperie in Biot. It's one of our favorite places, though we've only been there a few times. That village is out of our way, and the crêperie has what you could generously call limited hours. You could also say that it is closed more often than not. The result is that we never make a plan to go there--we plan either on one of the cafes with tables in the place near the fountain, or the boulangerie with its sandwiches and plastic chairs. So when the crêperie's door is open, it's always a pleasant surprise, a welcome change of plans.

There are only a few tables--maybe 10 tables for two, but most are usually pushed together for groups, so it feels like only four or five. The ceiling is held up by old beams, the walls decorated with silk flowers and small slates with notes about the menu: the kir maison is made from hard cider with a shot of myrtille liqueur; the vin chaud comes at 2 euros a verre, or 4 for a pichet. The kitchen is across the back wall--tins of herbs ranged on shelves, wooden spoons, bottles of olive oil and vinagers, and crème de menthe for drinks competing for space. What takes up the most space is the crêpe stove, the large, round cast-iron griddle on which Madame makes her crêpes. More than likely, that's what you'll notice first, because when you come through the door, Madame will sing out a welcome from where she's standing at the stove.

Madame seems to be about six feet tall, though likely she's shorter; it may be that it's just a small room. She's blond and lean and pretty, and yet manages to be more maternal than anything else, laying her hand on your arm to welcome you, rearranging the furniture and finding some extra cushions so that everyone in your party can sit comfortably, passing out menus before retreating to the stove. Today we were with our visiting friends--their last stop before their next stop--and so there was extra bustle as she got us settled and then went to find colored pencils for the kids. And, a minute later, an eraser and a pencil sharpener.

Traveling with kids is hard. The food is different, and in a village miles from most places, there's not a lot of choice. Our friends' patience was endless, even when their kids ran out of patience with the strangeness of it all. It's a helpful mirror for us: to see what feels strange and, by that reflection, to see what has come to seem normal to us. We don't notice, anymore, the smallness of the spaces, the sharpness of the flavors, the torrents of French. It's what we see, every day, what gets reflected back to us. Visitors give us the chance to turn the mirror a little and see what it's like to glance into our borrowed world. I think it can feel magical, but it can also wear a person out.

At the end of our lunch--C had a salad, I had a crêpe, and there were various omelettes and salads and crêpes besides--I availed myself of the toilette. It's the kind of restaurant that is heavy on the silk flowers, as I think I mentioned, and the charming signs. Still, though, I was unprepared for the decoration above the sink. Framed by a wreath of pink ivy was a translation of Rudyard Kipling's If, translated into French:

Si tu peux rester calme alors que, sur ta route,
Un chacun perd la tête, et met le blâme en toi...

If you can keep your head when all about you,
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you...

It's an awful poem, in any language. But as I washed my hands it made me smile. I thought of Madame printing it out, framing it, and hanging it on the wall. I wonder how many visitors have come through her crêperie--how many sibling meltdowns she's seen from behind her stove, how many jet-lagged families who needed nothing more than a good meal in a comforting place. She's so nurturing and warm and welcoming, and she infuses her food with the same spirit--but I wondered if she thought that, even with her singsong French and her extra cushions, there wasn't still more to be done to buck up her guests. Like maybe a poem that they could read, in private, that could offer some encouraging words. If you can fill the unforgiving minute / with sixty seconds' worth of distance run: maybe that sentiment, she figured, could just about give all those footsore and worn out tourists the strength to make it to the next stop. And--en plus, perhaps, she thought--it sounds better in French. I stopped by the stove to thank her on my way out. But of course! she said. And then, with a smile, bonne chance.


  1. Your visit to the crêperie sounds idyllic. I'm glad that you had such a nice time there with friends. Events like that seem all the more meaningful when shared.


  2. What a nice surprise! Well, hello Rudyard! fancy meeting YOU here!
    He sounds ever so much better in French, but everything does :)