Last night was my last night in a week of travel in France – 3 days in Paris and 5 in La Rochelle. La Rochelle smells and feels a bit like home, Palo Alto. The air is always fresh; the wind comes straight from the Atlantic, and the temperatures are mild even in the summer. The sun seems to shine a little even on the cloudiest days. And there are little ports weaving in and out of the old town. It is a beautiful place to spend a week in a conference, even though I didn’t spend a lot of time outdoors.
But on my last night I needed dark chocolate, dark chocolate hot cocoa. Traveling alone is not easy. I don’t like walking into restaurants with only a big fat novel as my travel companion. My hotel was not in town as I was led to believe by the hotel website. It was 15 minutes away by taxi. So I was even less tempted to take the long ride into town only to talk to myself. Each night I ordered room service and ate in my room. The large windows of this renovated castle were open and the gentle breeze rustled the leaves in the trees outside. Last night, the second time in a week, I was told by the receptionist that room service wasn’t available. Come on, I said, there is a card sitting next to the bed which reads “room service menu!” I ordered in the room last night! Why offer room service if it isn’t really available? Oui, madame… but tonight the restaurant is fully booked. I wasn’t asking to eat in the restaurant. But madame, the chef is too busy. It took arguments with three different people to get something sent up to my room, and in the end it was a simple omelette with no seasoning and no accompaniments. What a pitiful dinner in country known for its cuisine. This what triggered my little depression. And my need for chocolate.
I was doing something very hard for me to do this week, challenging myself. So I needed comfort. And food is what I look for whenever things are hard. Yet, in a week here I didn’t have one amazing meal. And I really tried. Even in Paris! Well, there was one exception – my favorite Italian restaurant in the Marais, l’Enoteca. Italian food is pure comfort. France is kind of my second home after London. I spent years living here so I shouldn’t be so surprised. My feelings are just hurt. I feel like a jilted lover. I’ve been down this road before, and should have known better, but I’d been so hopeful.
If I’m honest, the food on this trip wasn’t all bad. I loved my bread, butter and jam each morning. And, of course, the hot chocolate, something I’d never have ordered unless I’d been truly desperate. But the next time I come to France I think I’ll rent an apartment and bring a separate little suitcase filled my spices and things I can’t live without. Life is hard enough without being challenged by unexceptional food, especially when you’re trying to earn your bread and butter. Next time I take the Nomad Chef on the road again with me.