Eating well in France is important to me. Sometimes I organize my day around eating in a specific restaurant.
I live in France six months during the year, three months in Antibes, two months in Paris, and one month in Marseille. During those six months, I will eat lunch in a restaurant every day. Most of the time I will not repeat a restaurant. One can do the math. I eat in French restaurants 180 times each year.
If I am going to fly to France twice a year and spend between $1,000 and $1,500 for each ticket, I do not want to eat sandwiches or pizza or other fast foods while I am there. When I leave the apartment or hotel room in the morning, I do not want to carry a sack lunch nor do I want to eat “grab and go” meals. I want a good hot meal and I want to drink some wine. I will not become French when I am in France, but I can certainly pretend.
How does a visitor to France pick a restaurant? After all, eating in France should be an experience in itself. I suspect that most tourists choose a restaurant on the spur of the moment. If they are at Notre Dame, they will look around and choose one nearby, or select one that offers a menu that they understand, or pick a place that seems inviting or does not appear threatening.
That is a mistake. But, what should one do?
What do I NOT do?
Rarely will I rely on Yelp or TripAdvisor. (In fact I have blocked TripAdvisor on the my browser.) I am in France. Why would I take the advice of English speaking tourists, mostly Americans, when choosing a French restaurant in France?
I do sometimes make an exception. On the advice of Annie Sargent from The Join Us in France Travel Podcast, I have begun looking at Yelp reviews written in French by the French. That means typing into the search engines yelp.fr instead of yelp.com. But wait, there’s more!
The streets in medieval villages are narrow, and in some villages, such as Grasse, France, one can stretch out the arms and touch the walls to each side.
Often the walls are tall, denying access to the light, except for parts of day when it manages to cut across the shadows and illuminates briefly patches of the bulwark and warms an otherwise gray day.
These tall walls, when built, needed support that the stone and construction could not provide.
Flying buttresses were devised to support walls from outside of a building. These structures projected perpendicularly from the face of a wall and served either to strengthen it or to resist the side thrust created by the load on an arch or a roof of the building. Notre-Dame de Paris in Paris is a good example.
While not considered flying buttresses per se, medieval buildings in France do rely on buttresses of another kind to prevent the walls of two adjacent buildings from collapsing into each other.
Projecting supports were built between the walls of two buildings and serves the same purpose as flying buttresses: they maintain the stability of the two walls and thus the entire building.
Besides the practical architectural reasons for putting these supports into place, they became passages for walking between the buildings. Some were built large enough to serve as small residences.
For obvious reasons these supports were built in the middle of passages between outlying streets. They are not portals per se or gates or doorways, although they do provide access to other public areas. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)
My wish, easy enough to accomplish, amounted to following a tourist map to the corner of rue Croix Baragnon and rue des Arts in Toulouse, France. I wanted to see the oldest house in Toulouse, dating from the 14th century.
I found it and took my photos.
When I do some research online, one moment I am focussed on the project, and in another instant I am somewhere else, far away, reading material I had not originally intended to read.
It is like reading a page and forgetting what I had read, because my mind had wandered somewhere between the distance at the end of the line on the page and the beginning of the next line.
A flâneur wanders. Meanders a bit from here to there. It is not a loss of concentration; it is experiencing another new moment, possibly unrelated to the previous one. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.) But wait, there’s more!
When visiting France, which is usually twice a year for two to three months each trip, I eat lunches in restaurants. Last winter (2016) I was on the Côte d’Azure for 90 days, and I ate lunch 89 times in restaurants.
I have eaten some very very good meals in France. I have swooned. I have eaten some terrible meals as well. I do not believe anyone who says, after visiting France, “All my meals were wonderful in France!” Nonsense.
Most of the meals I have eaten in France have been ordinary. I can say the same for the United States: I live in Portland, Oregon, a foodie city, acknowledged as such in Portland by its own citizens and by the national press that frets about such characterizations. I have eaten many many ordinary lunches and dinners in Portland. Too many.
A charge can be made, I suppose, that I am not choosing restaurants very well.
In any case, I have found what I call a ‘sweet spot” in value for restaurants; it serves as an ur-meal for later experiences. The impeccable service that the restaurant provides and the quality of the food–the flavors, the freshness of the ingredients, and the surprises–combine to make a memorable experience at an excellent price. But wait, there’s more!