October 19, 2010

25| La Fête de la Mère

Ambialet is a town I had looked forward to. The monastery I mentioned is here, and the hotel-restaurant. Just the thing for me, I hoped. Because of the rain, the hotel-restaurant is appealing, and anyway, as I entered town I saw that the campground was not yet open, it is too early in the season. I thought: I will stop, there, eat rest, listen to a mass in the morning and continue tomorrow to Albi. I found the restaurant, which had many, many other people arriving at the same time as I did. They are of course  also in the rain, but emerge dry, in their Sunday best, from cars. I was fearful that the restaurant was booked for a private party. And I knew that I must look like a drowned rat. But I peeled out of my raingear, combed my hair, put on a bit of lipstick and a decent shirt, locked my bike, stood up straight, went in and asked for a table. Sure enough, I was told there was none. Could I wait, I say. No, not possible, I was told. Is there somewhere else in town, I asked. Oh no, I’m told. I was quite hungry, having not eaten much of anything  for close to 36 hours now, so I explained that I am on a long bike tour, and would like to wait as long as necessary. No, there will not be a table today, I’m told. Is it a private party I ask? No, I’m told. If there is a room at the hotel, can I stay, and so also eat? I can stay, but not eat. Well, that seemed totally unreasonable and I had no intention of staying if I could not eat. It is, it emerges, La Fête de la Mère, a bigger holiday in France, as best I can tell, than Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled into one in the U.S. No one in their right mind would ruin these happy family’s celebration by putting a tired, wet cyclist next to their table … even if there is a table, which there almost surely is not.
It didn’t occur to me to appear at the back, kitchen door, of the restaurant, asking to buy some food, or to fling myself on the mercy of the monks. Instead, I rode on to Albi. The only food in my panniers was a box of Ricola’s – menthol, sans sucre, about ¾ of the box left. I read the label and learned that if I ate them all I would gain about 100 calories. Hungry, and knowing I will cycle better with food in me,  I ate one, but just couldn’t bear it and put them away.

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