“In Paris they just simply opened their eyes and stared when we spoke to them in French! We never did succeed in making them understand their own language.”, Mark Twain – ‘The Innocents Abroad’
We were ready for lunch about now so we stopped at the first brasserie that we came across, La Corniche, which was beside the road overlooking the beach and was encouragingly busy with locals, so we took that as a good recommendation and selected a pavement table in the sun.
Now, most French must surely have met English people at some time especially in a place like La Rochelle but they acted as though we were space travellers passing through on an intergalactic mission and the owner’s daughter young treated us as a curiosity as though we were a firework about to go off and enquired from a safe distance if we were real foreigners. I thought she might actually be about to poke us to see if we had real human flesh and to make sure that we weren’t wearing latex rubber suits concealing an alien life form within.
The French are proud of their language of course and their reluctance to communicate in or even simply acknowledge English gives me the opportunity to demonstrate my fluency in everyday essentials and I had to use all of that knowledge ready here:
‘Vin blanc sil vous plait’; ‘Vin rouge sil vous plait’; ‘bier grande sil vous plait’; ‘bier grande vite’. And so on.
Actually I would try harder but language is another area where the French are so rude. They call us ‘Anglo Saxons’ or ‘les rosbifs’ and hate English because they have never come to terms with it replacing French as the World’s principal language and they constantly sulk behind a barrier of impenetrable rules of grammar, pronunciation and protectionism. The paradox that they have created for themselves is that whilst they would like visitors to speak French they stop them doing so because they mercilessly take the piss out of us when we make a mistake – so it’s hardly surprising that rather than be subjected to ridicule we stick to pointing and shouting!
The French are easily the most arrogant people in Europe (probably the World). They assume, routinely, that given the chance, everyone would live in France, be French, eat French food (wherever it might come from), drink cognac, watch impenetrable French films, visit the French Riviera and listen to weird French punk music. The French are completely insufferable in their patriotic arrogance.
To be fair, we had a really enjoyable hour sitting in the sun and ate an exceptional salad and drank some beer. We had trouble with the vinegar again but it didn’t spoil our lunchtime sojourn and after we had rested we returned to our shuttle craft and went back into the city and later walked around the city’s second harbour that was home to a lot of expensive looking boats and finished the day with a drink in a harbour side bar.
Much later we returned to the same restaurant as the previous evening and we enjoyed another simple but delicious three-course meal. We also outwitted the waiting staff on the vinegar thing by holding back the red wine vinegar that accompanied the first course so that we could put it on our chips with the main. That’s what I call Anglo-Saxon initiative!
On the way back to the hotel we witnessed the most bizarre example of street entertainment. First we heard the roar of a motorbike engine and then the squeal of brakes and the smell of burning rubber. At first I thought that we had witnessed a near accident but then the rider drove down the street at high speed and did it again. Here was a certifiable maniac on a mission to kill himself and others too most likely. He made several passes along the promenade each one at high speed and each time accompanied by a new trick culminating in a pass while sitting precariously on his handlebars. Even though it was ludicrously dangerous it was certainly entertaining and the mad biker was drawing a crowd of spectators that ranged from those that were totally speechless to the enthusiastic thrill seekers shouting encouragement and impatient for the site of blood and brains spread across the road.
The performance was absolutely crazy and he entertained us for a full five minutes or so and in all that time there was no sign whatsoever of the police. The best bit of all however was a moment of pure farce. The crowd were eagerly awaiting an encore and began to throb with excitement when a motorcycle headlight appeared and came towards us. It was slower this time and there was growing expectancy for a final magnificent trick but the crowds screams turned to an outburst of hysteric laughter when a middle aged man on a knackered moped drove by at a sedate pace totally oblivious to the mad activity and thoroughly bemused by the crowd of spectators that were applauding his ride into the city.
Finally the mad rider rode away at very top speed and did not return.