Gérard sat and had his breakfast with me, which seemed a bit strange. Gérard was the hotelier and the man in charge of the house but his breakfast was merely a few bits of bread wrapped up in cling film. My breakfast was just bits of bread too but mine was served, as you would have expected in an establishment of such high esteem, in a sort of rustic looking bread basket. We shared the jam from the huge jars that adorned the table. I wondered what the French words for ‘Cash & Carry’ were. There was nothing wrong with the bread and the jam was certainly in ample supply but there was nothing on the table other than bread and jam. Not even a plate.
As he carefully folded back his cling film Gérard told me that he ran the bed and breakfast on his own. His only companion in life seemed to be his small but surprisingly not yappy, spaniel-ish dog, Fabiola, named after the Queen of Belgium. He had originally come from Paris (Gérard that was, not the dog) but he hadn’t been happy there because it was too hot and noisy and the only bit he could ever bear to live in was Montmartre but that was too expensive.
He liked living in Arras in his big old house with a walled garden in which he painstakingly grew flowers. Much of the house was let out to visitors such as me but he retained his privacy in the ground floor rooms which he referred to as his apartment. However, for a couple of hours a day he opened his quarters to the public as he used his own dining room to serve his guests breakfast. This must have irritated him incredibly as it meant people invading his personal space to gawp at the beautiful way he had decorated it and furnished his home with lavish antique tables and chairs, old paintings and classical style statues and it meant careless people spilling crumbs and jam on his carpet.
Today I was his only intruder and he kept me talking throughout my meal. I think he may have even been taking the Michel a little as some of the things I spoke about using my admittedly poor grasp of the French language he said he had never heard of, such as the Ardennes region of south east Belgium to where I was travelling next. In an attempt to make myself understood I explained to him that it was where Pâté Ardennes came from but he reckoned he had never heard of pâté either. How queer!
The conversation moved on to where I came from. He had heard of Leeds. This wasn’t because of Leeds United as was usually the case when I talk to new friends from foreign climes. It was because Leeds was near York where there were many museums and galleries displaying the sort of antique furniture that he loved.
Gérard neatly folded up his piece of cling film and I put my dirty knife where there would normally have been a plate. We wished each other a good day and I was on my way out into the Pas-de-Calais sunshine.
Goo goo ga joob . . . at a village just outside Arras.