It started to rain.
At first I tried to ignore the drops that splotched onto my open book like so many childish tears but then I did the natural thing, grabbed my wine glass, stood up and hugged to the wall. No one had seen the storm coming, least of all me, who had gone to Le Violette, my favorite restaurant in Avignon, for the comfort of their hospitality and a taste of my go-to salad, les Dames de Shanghai.
Busboys ran to bring out the massive umbrellas that usually protect this beautiful courtyard from a beating sun. One of the owners - I like her; she is a no-nonsense blond - waved for me to go to find a table inside instead. I had too much of my meal in front of me to be blown about needlessly.
There were several of us milling about, table hunting through muffled laughter at the surprise of it all. The unexpectedness. Having been a waiter, I knew not to take a table for four but felt shy about sliding into the only "two-top" left as it was next to one already occupied by a gentleman looking at his menu. I slid onto the banquette with a nod.
Because of the sheer proximity, the details of him popped into focus, one by one. White hair in curls on the top of his head, glasses perched, yet tattoos peeking out from his shirtsleeve, watch hanging loose at his wrist.
My salad arrived - I am so addicted to it - and as I snapped open the chopsticks he wished me "Bon Appetite" with a slight smile. His cell phone made a ridiculous beep that made me laugh and remark how much we rely on those little machines. A few minutes later, I also offered a "Bon Appetite" to the trio of ladies to my left and then offered him a "I copied you," with a smirk. "I see that," he responded. And that was it; the floodgates of the conversation opened and began to flow.
We talked about everything and easily - including the moving art that was being featured in the Collection Lambert, where Le Violette is perched. He had driven down from his home in Curçuron, in the Luberon, to see it. I appreciated that. After tasting his caramelized travers de porc, he asked me if I wanted to try it. And I really did, it looked fantastic, but refused out of politeness sake as that is something that is simply not done in France, not between strangers, even if we didn't feel like ones. Somehow neither of us took for granted the facility of our exchange but accepted it rather hungrily.
Of course, he wanted to drill me about the state of American politics, everyone does, and shared certain perspectives that made me think that he was of the generation of the soixante-huitards - from 1968 - when the youth uprising shook Paris. Despite having known success, like many from that generation, he had chosen a less obvious path and then a quieter life had chosen him. He was forced into an early retirement from his company...and then, quite recently, his wife had died from cancer. It was hard for him to say those words aloud and yet he did with dignity. How obvious it was that he loved her so dearly, how she was with him, with us, at the table.
In having told my story - and I tell it patly now, "16 years in France traveling the world as a...then he...now I..." - he had understood why I was here, also dining alone, knowing no one in a new town. Although I had already taken a second glass of wine to stretch out the lunch, I did not want dessert, even though I had ordered him to get the cheesecake, mandatory. So a decision had to be made.
Maybe I am wrong, but I think that not that long ago, perhaps I would have tried to...push something into being, grasping. But there had been no flirting, the difference in our ages and our respective tenderhearted conditions denying that opportunity. That wasn't this experience. I asked for my check and still we were laughing and sharing non-stop. With an inhale I announced, "Well, I am going to go..." and stood up.
"Comment vous appelez-vous?"
"Michel," he answered and extended his hand, I took it to shake but held it.
"Je m'appelle Heather...It seems like we are both at a time of rebuilding our lives, aren't we?"
"We are, c'est vrai."
"I wish you well as you continue forward."
"And I to you."
Both of our eyes were shining, locked with gratitude, pure. I released his hand and smiled again while turning to go.
5 rue Violette
Tel. 04 90 16 56 20
*PS. I have had this post in my head for two weeks now, but waited to go back to take some photos to illustrate it and the wonderfulness that is Le Violette. I told the manager/owner about my intentions to write about my experience. She remembered the day well and said that Michel had spoken to her about our meeting after I had left and what it had meant him.
I will keep repeating it, but there is so much beauty available to us. All the time...
Thank you for being here,