A Conversation With Eric: Table Service

Le Cornet à Dés

The following conversation took place at Chez Max, Quimper, between the restaurant’s waiter Eric and four visiting tourism academics from Plymouth University:

 

Charlie asks: Is there a Chestnut Roasting Fair here in Quimper each year?

[Charlie is thinking of the Max Jacob poem Scene From The Fair]

Eric: No, I’m afraid not. That’s a very good idea, though. That would be great. I am going to show you the documents, though. Here is his [Max Jacob’s] birth certificate. His photo. His mother. It is interesting, I’ll pass it round for you to look at.

[Eric tells of the Friends of Max Jacob, an association with 3050 members]

Charlie: Oui oui.

Eric: When he was young in Quimper he was playing in the garden, if you want, with very old trees and Max Jacob was fond of these trees. One day the city bought this garden and they cut all the trees, yes,  to build the theatre. So of course, today the name of the theatre is Max Jacob. But it’s amazing because …

Charlie: He would’ve really hated the loss of the trees

Eric: Yes, Max Jacob disagree. Ok, so you know the politics yes okay, Max Jacob say no, it’s not a good idea, but too late. That’s the name of the theatre, no problem, for a story it’s good.

[The group laugh in acknowledgement]

Eric: So he has written this book, the most important is La Carne a De, yes, La Carne a De

Charlie: The dice shaker?

Eric: Yes, Bushabelle, I have a list somewhere…

[Eric talks in French as he proceeds to the far side of the restaurant searching for examples of Jacob’s work]

Charlie: Are you guys alright time wise? Do you feel alright to stay a bit?

Zoë/Jen/Andreas: Yes

Charlie: Thank you, Mercí

Zoë: It looks like you’ve got some gems!

Charlie: These moments are really special.

[Eric returns to the table with a bound and printed bibliography of Jacob’s literary works]

Eric: Some explanation …is that right? The word? Yes ..  The list you see, all his books, perhaps you will find the books too. I don’t remember sorry …

Charlie: Perhaps he will have the poem in here, where he is talking about Quimper … Ah! La terrain Bushabelle. It’s the grounds, that bit of land that belongs to the Bushabelle family. That’s where they built the theatre …

Charlie: Oh Jacob was actually against the building of the theatre, the old conservative, a bit of progress … I’ve got to find this poem!

Eric: If you want to have a explanation really I can give you an address. There is an association in France called Association les Amis de Max Jacob. I know the president, is a woman …

I will give you the name of …

There are more than three thousand members .. they work of Max Jacob . The person, the woman who created this association was here last month, she is eighty six years old. She met Max Jacob here (Resto Chez Max, 8 rue de parc, Quimper).

Zoë: Wow!

Charlie: Fantastic!

 

 

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Charlie’s Search for Max: Part Two

My hunger pangs now too boisterous to ignore as we finally reach Quimper, I suggested a stop to refuel and regroup. Charlie, still keen to find any Jacob commodity, made his excuses and continued on his search. Andreas, Jen and I continued on our quest for nourishment.

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Andreas & Jen walking through Quimper

One of my fondest pastimes when journeying abroad is to immerse myself in foreign culture. This for me, starts with food. Sweet, savoury, á la carte, or artisan, my fernweh aches for not only distant places, but also the products it yields. France, undisputedly famed for its cuisine, never fails to impress. Obligingly, my colleagues pondered our rest stop.

This decision is made increasingly difficult here in Quimper by the diverse array of typical French cuisine including Crêperies and Artisan Boulangeries. A preference for more international cuisines is also catered for within Quimper’s restaurant scene. This includes Chinese, and international chains including Subway. Crêperie Chez Mamie was our chosen stop. Nestled within a quaint side street, the Shakespearean balcony above the restaurant-front is laden with potted Chrysanthemums and Geraniums, the same flowers that decorate the River Odet.

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Creperie Chez Mamie

 

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River Odet, Quimper

Our host Marjorie greeted us with a smile and seated us in a booth. If my cultural capital serves me correctly, a tourist should choose to eat where the locals do, to ensure you are not disappointed. This was most definitely the case here as I grew increasingly comfortable, rearranging a cushion whilst listening to the melodic hum of French conversation in the background. The bright colour scheme, traditional layout and quintessentially French atmosphere made Creperie Chez Mamie all the more inviting. What does this mean, quintessentially French? I use this adjective a lot. Too much perhaps. Use of such semantics is a very English trait according to my research director. What does that mean? After all, what quintessentially French means to me might not be the same for others. So I shall explain. It is, for me, not the sight of men cycling in monochromatic striped shirts, berets sophisticatedly tipped to one side with baguettes underarm. Nor is it the sight of well-manicured parisianesque women. It is in fact, hospitable local men and women completing mundane chores, with a smile on their face, who are always obliging when you may have lost your way or are struggling with the language barrier.

Lait aigre (sour milk) was the beverage of choice for myself and the other three tenderfoot travel writers. Before we could continue Marjorie alerted us to the restaurant’s use of local produce, detailed on the back of the menu. This terroir was extremely interesting to us tourism academics, and, as I peruse TripAdvisor from the comfort of my favourite chair post-trip I can see this is also the case for other tourists.

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Saint Corentin Cathedral, Quimper
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Saint Corentin Cathedral

We savoured the last of our milk, then donned our obligatory wet weather gear and headed back onto the main street. The spires of Saint Corentin Cathedral dominate Quimper’s horizon. You can see the imposing nonetheless beautiful architecture from most vantage points in and around the town, but I must insist you take a look inside. I am not religious. I went to a Church of England primary school. Does that make me religious? No. I do not think of myself as religious. Nevertheless, you might occasionally find me sat in a place of worship, quietly admiring the architecture. After a little investigation, it transpires that the national monument as it is now, was upcycled from the remnants of an ancient Roman cathedral. The ochre walls turn almost golden as the sun penetrates the commemorative stained glass windows. Its imposing gothic ramparts and towers  dress the skyline from head to toe dominating the town.

 

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Saint Corentin Cathedral street view

 

 

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St Corentin Cathedral Entrance

A faux par of this perusal around the town was the ignorance of myself and others in misremembering a mainland European tradition (not rule). Generally speaking, museums and such like are open for business on a Sunday and consequently close on either a Monday or Tuesday. The Musée Des Beaux Arts accepts this tradition, alas we never made it over the threshold. Nevertheless, we were treated to the sight of sounds an authentic French carousel.

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Carousel outside St Corentin Cathedral

 

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Musee des Beaux Arts

Magnetised macarons pulled me toward exquisite window displays, jewel laden with colourful pâtisserie and chocolates. How do the French stay so svelte I wonder?

 

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Chocolate shop, Quimper

 

 

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Macaron window display, Quimper

 

If I lived here I’d be the size of a Maison! My attention was interrupted by a zealous hand waving feverishly in my direction. It was Charlie. He had found Max!

Charlie’s Search for Max: Part One

Max Jacob, writer, poet, Frenchman, has interested Charlie in his exploration of French literary characters for a while now. Specifically, Jacob’s poem Scene From the Fair piqued his interest. Not content with just a literary association, Charlie went in search of physical representations of Jacob’s literary heritage. During his investigation, which involved countless informal conversations, reading guidebooks, travel articles and of course, Google  – he understood that Jacob’s parental home in Quimper, Brittany, had contemporarily been converted into a restaurant. Soon after, he booked his ferry ticket and our journey began.

We arrive in France on a mild October morning. The sky is a canvas of pastel watercolours brushed behind tall masts and weathered roofs that decorate St-Malo port.

 

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Charlie at St-Malo Port

 

 

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St-Malo Port, Brittany

 

Autumn in Quimper is bountiful. There are four distinct seasons not unlike our home of Plymouth. Now, as I narrate Charlie’s literary treasure hunt I think I ought to divulge the fact that Charlie and I are not travelling alone. Its him and me plus 40.

One of the hazards of travelling with a large group of people you have spent very little time with is you discover lots of new ways to embarrass yourself. I promise herein not to disregard the tiniest details despite their capacity to cause irreparable damage to some people’s reputations (mostly street-cred) including my own.

This is not the first time I or Charlie have found ourselves in such a ‘fish-out-of-water’ circumstance. Sheer lunacy, a sick sense of humour, or my preferred rationalisation – wanderlust prompts a group of lecturers (including myself and Charlie), each year, to accompany x number of students on a short-break. Usually a relatively recondite place (that admittedly I would neglect from one of my many bucket list drafts), these tourist destinations nevertheless, offer much more than most of our initial opinions recall or interpret. My first post Retracing Maigret’s Footsteps: My Experience in Concarneau, describes my first ResM fieldtrip and is a perfect how an unsuspecting destination makes for the best trip.

Grounded by a distinct tourism research agenda (sadly not a jolly as my friends and family all too frequently insinuate), previous field-trips have led us to Amsterdam, Lisbon, Concarneau and now Quimper. Our chosen travel route was relatively straightforward; a coach from Plymouth to Portsmouth, an overnight ferry crossing (Portsmouth to St Malo) a seven-hour south-westerly drive along the French A roads, through the Parc Naturel Normandie Maine to Finistére’s cultural heart and capital commune, Quimper. A little helping hand I would have greatly appreciated but unfortunately was never offered, is the destination’s pronunciation, which leads me to embarrassment nombre 1. Say ‘Cam-pair’ not ‘Quim-per’. This is a mistake I made frequently on the journey along the A303, until I was unceremoniously corrected in front of the forty-person cohort.

 

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Stonehenge, England

 

Alas, my embarrassment was soon muted by an inquisitive voice from the middle of the coach; “Did the Romans build Stonehenge?” spoke a male student as we passed the prehistoric monument. Fits of laughter erupted as disbelieving facial expressions were exchanged. As the hilarity subsided, the offender was corrected and the majority returned to their headphones and conversations.