Friday, July 31, 2009

To Dieppe, 24 July 2009

A few days before leaving for foreign parts one begins to think of what to take in the luggage, and to look at a list of “reminders”.
A glance before leaving this last time revealed, quite naturally, no mention of “teeth”. Had there been I might have taken more serious notice of a slight tooth ache that was being subdued by the application of neat TCP.
At the same time I should have connected the facts that, even to me, my breath smelled strange, and that I had a bad tooth.
A day before we were due to leave it felt as if the offending tooth was rising from its painful socket. Moreover, whenever I closed my jaw the protruding and painful wisdom tooth was the first to make contact with others.
We go to France to eat – among other things. So to be unable to enjoy French food without pain was a prospect not to be contemplated.
Margreet almost forced me to visit the dentist for an emergency appointment. She was absolutely right to do so. The tooth was extracted to my great relief.
Less one tooth (the first ever to have departed my jaw) we set off the following day for, unusually for us, a summer crossing of the Channel.
Because of the crowds of parents and children, coupled with the sea of rollers being funnelled into the Channel from the Bay of Biscay on a westerly wind, for Margreet to have booked a cabin was another piece of wisdom aforethought.
I write about Dieppe quite often, the changes over the years, the restaurants, people and history, because the town is really our second home in France – a home without the hassle of actually owning a house abroad.
We were last there barely four months ago. The changes in that short space of time were considerable for such an unchanging port. The recession had arrived. Shops (many) had closed and been re-opened by other hopefuls. Sales were in progress everywhere – and at the height of the holiday season. The place, mid-week, seemed to be only a little busier than in winter months.
The cancaillerie, where we bought Pro Ven Di soap, taps for our mother of vinegar jars, and accoutrements for winemaking and bottling, had closed for good.
Piles of scrap metal sat waiting on the dockside, waiting for times when steel would be more in demand – the gathering rust not making a lot of difference to its value. And on the quayside near to where the ferry pulls in to dock, the usual few piles of ballast were now enormous, with aggregates unwanted for building work.
And yet, a change of quite unnecessary expenditure was to be seen outside our favourite bar, the Café de la Paix, at the very hub of port and town activity. A monstrous bronze sculpture had been placed where before had been a hump roundabout. It depicts three mutilated women. Perhaps an awful disease had struck down the females of France in our absence and been commemorated. Or is it that, as I have been told, French men rather fancy crippled women. Who knows?
On the optimistic side, bars and restaurants were doing great business, like the New Haven, where it was necessary to book a table at week-ends or take a chance and arrive before 7 o’clock or after 9.
As a spectator sport, to see human kind and sheer efficiency of waiting and restaurant organisation, I can think of few places better to do it than at the Tout Va Bien Brasserie on a busy week-end evening or lunchtime.
On market day (Saturday), the main thoroughfare was packed with people and goodies. So there was certainly no sign of recession there.
And to relax after a good meal on a still summer’s evening, there are few more spectacular places for food to settle than to stand on the rounded seaside stones to watch an orange sun slide slowly into a deep blue sea, leaving behind a few coloured clouds. But in Dieppe it is often windy, and wet, too.
That dark blue sea must have been full of mackerel, because Maqueraux MarinĂ© was on most menus. But scallops (the speciality for the seamen and diners of Dieppe), were resting safely on the sea bed, being out of season (15April – 15 October).
A bonus point on this visit was that a small booklet, called “The Taste of Dieppe”, was back, with its original author, Peter Avis, in command.
The booklet told us each year about where to eat and much more about the seaside town and its environs.
For some reason or other he had been no longer the author of it. Now he had regained his rightful place as a genuine informer of vital information for the interested tourist. Copies are available at no cost from the Tourist Information Office in the centre of town.