My friend Didier is ... shall we say a trifle eccentric ... and now and again he decides to take me out to lunch. His taste in restaurants takes me to places I would never find otherwise, and this lunchtime I found myself in the depths of Bègles.
Bègles isn't my favourite suburb of Bordeaux. It's quite famous for its green mayor, the first mayor in France to conduct a same-sex marriage - the supreme court sanctioned him for it and annulled the marriage because it was against the law in those days. However you'd never guess from looking at Bègles that its mayor is green - the town is full of ugly apartment blocks, the new ones built too close together with few trees and wide concrete plazas everywhere. Older places are covered in graffiti. Basically ... well ... you get my drift.
Didier lives in a new flat in one of the new areas and he's just got a quote to put blinds up over his window wall because he reckons the people in the flats opposite are fed up of watching him all evening. Certainly as you hang out of his window - which I do a lot because he smokes very heavily - I could imagine each of the fifteen or so windows opposite filled with faces gazing with rapt attention at what Didier is up to.
After a lot of talk - Didier loves to talk - we took a tram to the middle of Bègles and walked to the restaurant of his choice. It's not posh, but you get a lot of traditional food. It's a shop-front restaurant with perhaps eight to ten tables in the main building but the part Didier likes is behind, a large marquee fills what was once the garden and allows another 20 or more tables where you can smoke, because you're not actually inside a building, are you. Didier smokes throughout the meal.
"Do you want the soup?"
"What's the soup?"
"Vegetable soup" - sooperderlégumes it comes out.
It reminded me of my mother's cawl - there were big chunks of vegetables loaded throughout a thin broth - it was very good and hearty.
"Elle est bonne la soupe."
After the soup came the entrée - moules or jambon macédoine. Here the wise chose mussels, they came in a big pan and Didier consumed them with gusto. I chose the ham - a slice of ham wrapped round some chopped vegetables in mayonnaise, accompanied by a bit of salad.
Next course was andouillette - pig's bowel sausage, which smells just like you'd imagine - or grillade de porc (mixed grill), which I chose, mainly because I didn't want andouillette. Now then, because my friend spends all his time talking and smoking and not eating, by the time we got to this stage there was no more grillade de porc, so I ended up with steak and chips. I wasn't complaining. Didier needed a doggy-bag to take his andouillette home. He'll eat that tomorrow.
Then comes dessert or cheese. I got a nice piece of raspberry tart, replete with big, firm, fresh raspberries. Didier got some cheese that went into the bag with his andouillette. I ought to explain, too, that the meal comes with copious amounts of wine and a coffee at the end. All for 13.50€.
I'd love to take you there. I'd love to take photos of it. The flustered waitresses charging round at a rate of knots. The substantial gentlemen doing the cooking, ladling mussels into pans, the marquee with the gas powered space heater blasting, the carafes and jugs of wine, the LOUD conversations. It is not at all what you might expect of a French restaurant.
After all that it was a pleasure to stride through the damp streets of Pessac, breathing hard. It'll take more than that, at least a few days to clear the smoke from my tubes, though.
And I shan't need to eat much for a couple of days!