Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Des Voyageurs: Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire

Yesterday evening we received the terrible news that our much-loved restaurant Des Voyageurs in Castillon had suffered severe, extensive damage by fire. Madame Mimi and Monsieur Marches have been running this incredible restaurant for as long as anyone can remember and I am so glad I have been able to eat here regularly over the last 5 years. The food is fresh, rustic, country French cooking, using produce purchased at the early local markets each day. The menu changes everyday and normally a choice of two or three main dishes will be on offer.

The 70-year-old deaf chef Yves Marches (a top French boules player in his heyday) is larger than life, shouting and bawling with a smile, cooking everything on the vine fuelled BBQ. Communication though is non-existent and the various mad waitresses would be challenged to deliver each plate to the right person. Luckily, the tireless Madame Mimi runs the front of house, bar, till and generally keeps the ship from sinking. Claudette the waitress once managed to serve nine wrong plates out of nine to us, impressive! But you just eat what you’re given as everything cooked up is superb.

A special mention must go to ‘chip man’ whose daily task is to buy the fresh spuds, peel, wash, change the oil and fry the frites to perfection without uttering a single word. Unless it’s cold outside; then the electricity tariff is raised. Chef then bans the use of the chip fryer, on which a red light comes on and delivers the soul-destroying news of ‘no frites’ to the dining room. The ambiance of the Le Voyageurs is like home and I feel happier nowhere else than sat amongst what feels like the ‘voyageur family’.

It is truly tragic that one of the last of the real bistros in France has disappeared. Not only did it serve wonderful French food, it was a place to meet, to learn, to gossip, to relax, to forget, to laugh. Most importantly, it was a pillar stone for the community where the rich, the poor, the professionals, the old, the mad, the travellers, the locals and the lost could find refuge. Long live Des Voyageurs.

The last Voyageur meal I had was Good Friday and the 13€ menu was:
• Œuf Mimosa avec Thon Mayonnaise and Carotte Râpe et Olives Noirs
• Bavette Steak échalote, salade et Frites
• Selection de Fromages
• Chocolaté Éclair Maison
• Vin rouge de Castillon et Pain
• Café
What was your last meal at Des Voyageurs?

However if asked what would be my ‘last supper’ this is what I would reply:

What would be your last Voyageur meal on earth?
Whatever the Voyageur was serving that day, but I would have my fingers crossed for vegetable soup, duck hearts (and praying that the red light was off), followed by cheese and frangipane for dessert.

What would be the setting for the meal?
Tuesday at Midday seated on the long benches and tables in the ‘back room’ of Des Voyageurs Restaurant in Castillon La Bataille, France.

What would you drink with your meal?
Tuesday’s local wine (tip: Mondays wine is usually left over from last Friday) but as it’s a special occasion; served out of magnums into tumblers, maybe a sneaky Pertuisane 2002 and Calvados to finish.

Would there be music?

No. France 3 news on the TV in the background. Chef wouldn’t be able to hear the music and everyone would be loudly talking and laughing.

Who would be your dining companions?
Mum, Dad, my sister Lindsay and niece Aimee, Libby, Libby’s mum, dad and brother Pete; the Laithwaites Tony, Barbara, Henry, Kaye, Tom, Will; Yves Gelie, JMS, Hartley, Jose, Janet and John, Martin, Lucie and Jessie Crook, best mate Glyn Le Var, Alistair Nesbit, James Macdonald, Petit Denis, Caleb, Todeschini brothers, the ‘back room’ locals, Keith Floyd and Bob Dylan.

Who would prepare the meal?
M. Yves Marches and ‘chipman’

Who would be serving?
The evil bitch and braless Elizabeth, of course.

You only realise and appreciate what you have once its gone, so what would your answers to these questions be?

My heart goes out to Mimi and Yves Marches and the community of Castillon. Will we ever see the ‘Des Voyageurs’ again?

A poem by Delmore Schwartz:
Calmly we walk through this April’s day,
Metropolitan poetry here and there,
In the park sit pauper and rentier,
The screaming children, the motor-car
Fugitive about us, running away,
Between the worker and the millionaire
Number provides all distances,
It is Nineteen Thirty-Seven now,
Many great dears are taken away,
What will become of you and me
(This is the school in which we learn…)
Besides the photo and the memory?
(…that time is the fire in which we burn.)

(This is the school in which we learn…)
What is the self amid this blaze?
What am I now that I was then
Which I shall suffer and act again,
The theodicy I wrote in my high school days
Restored all life from infancy,
The children shouting are bright as they run
(This is the school in which they learn . . .)
Ravished entirely in their passing play!
(…that time is the fire in which they burn.)

Avid its rush, that reeling blaze!
Where is my father and Eleanor?
Not where are they now, dead seven years,
But what they were then?
No more? No more?
From Nineteen-Fourteen to the present day,
Bert Spira and Rhoda consume, consume
Not where they are now (where are they now?)
But what they were then, both beautiful;

Each minute bursts in the burning room,
The great globe reels in the solar fire,
Spinning the trivial and unique away.
(How all things flash! How all things flare!)
What am I now that I was then?
May memory restore again and again
The smallest color of the smallest day:
Time is the school in which we learn,
Time is the fire in which we burn.

1 comment:

Martin C said...

Fantastic post Mark, truly a sad day..... "ok, who had the brochette ??" it was me !! .... it was worth that extra 2 euros..... and if I think about it I can still taste the "horsey" wine.... I take it everyone was safe, Mimi & Chef etc. ? I will gather my photos of Des Voyageurs and send you a selection.