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Monsieur et Madame Overoften en vacances de Noël

January 3, 2008

One of the highlights of an already wonderful Christmas was a trip to France with (and thanks to) my parents.

Being able to engage the natives in their own language is of course a huge aid to communication. But not navigation. For the natives of the north-eastern corner of France are a playful lot, and have replaced all place-names with random strings of letters, giving rise to indecipherable and unpronouncable gems like Zudausques, Muncq-Nieurlet, Audruicq, and Zouafques. Ah, those crazy Almost-Belgians.

Nestling in the middle of this linguistic minefield is Tilques, and its picturesque chateau, where we were to stay.

Chateau Tilques

Northern France, a week before Christmas was cold. Frost lay everywhere as thick as snow, unmelted even by mid afternoon. The following morning the car reckoned it was -4. And a thick fog engulfed everything while the sun tried to break through.

La campagne francaise en hiver

The trip was defined by its gastronomic moments. The moment I saw oysters on the chateau’s dinner, I knew they were for me. And what monsters they were. And the desserts were worthy of an art gallery.

Arty dessert

Lunch the following day was in Mont Hubert, at Le Thomé de Gamond, a restaurant affording panoramic views. I can’t describe the views, alas, as the stubborn fog still hadn’t lifted. But it all added to the wintry, pre-Christmas feel. I stopped reading the menu there when I got as far as “indecent quantity of mussels”. It was, and I enjoyed them very much.

An indecent quantity of mussels
Another highlight was the very “French waiter” French waiter. In England he would have been cited as an example of the falling standards of customer service. In France, however, he’s probably lauded as the perfect embodiment of national aloofness. Despite the restaurant only being peopled by a handful of diners and two goldfish, he was unimpressed by our lack of booking, but wandered off, without actually inviting us to follow, to an empty table nonetheless.

When it came to serving cheese, he really came into his own. He desultorily shoved the cheese trolley in the direction of our table, stopping it just short of a spectacular and messy crash.
(translated from the original French)
FW: So what do you want?
Mum: What’s the name of…
FW: Which one?
Mum: Well, all of them.
Showing all signs of being tired and irritated, he let out an audible sigh and proceeded to reel off a succession of long, rapidly-spoken, and of course entirely made-up words while slapping each cheese in turn with the blade of a knife
FW: This one’s (*slap*) Poftuique de Ghefreauq, this one’s (*slap*) Grosdruife en Tuidhaoecque, this one’s (*slap*) Petit Suecq de Waflinghem, and this one’s (*SLAP*) Camembert.

He then proceeded to serve the cheese according to the Chop ‘n Chuck method, and we continued with our meal, while he retired to a corner of the restaurant from where he could ignore us. Bless him, he was a legend and I would hurry back to be served by him in a gourmand’s erratic heartbeat.

No pissing

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