Yesterday, driving my rental car, I traveled back roads from Auvillar, a village in south west France to Beaulieu sur Dordogne, a village north and east. I circled roundabouts, two, sometimes, three times in order to read road signs. I took a sharp left, drove for maybe five miles, feeling as if something was wrong. Pulling over, I read my map, doubled back, found my route. I was ready for a morning coffee, so following my son’s suggestion—Mom, get off the road. Have a coffee in a café. It’s the best—I followed signs into the village of Montoc.
So there I was happily drinking a terrible espresso—believe me Starbucks is better—because I loved this village, loved this sunny terrace and the sibilant sounds of French surrounding me. I wrote in my journal, I day dreamed, when suddenly, I heard words in English, British English. Two women had settled at a table in front of me. A third approached on the sidewalk, and all three began a lively discussion about bees and a sting.
I’d started out that morning fog and cold, and now at ten-thirty, the sun was strong, and this terrace was filling with men and women who came, as the French said, “to take a coffee.” A man in his forties with dark hair, a lock curling onto his forehead, sat alone a table reading La Depeche; three older men held court a table near the restaurant’s door greeting everyone who entered or left. “Bonjour.” “Ca va?” Volleys of rapid French and laugher.
A couple crossed the terrace, found a table, she wearing tight jeans, tight tee shirt, a short jacket, he wearing jeans and a leather jacket. They were of a certain age.
The conversation about bees continued, and I was struck with a realization—no cell phones, no computers, no one speaking with or texting with someone who was absent.
A gray-haired man, solid and square with an open pleasant face approached the table of three British women. Directing his attention to one, a woman with curly gray hair, small and pleasing features, he wished her a happy birthday, then said, “Is this a birthday coffee? Are you having cognac in it?”
“No, I’m not,” she said.
“You should be, darling,” the man said, rounding the table to join them.
I didn’t want to leave this place where the music of conversation filled the air, where I was looking out at ancient buildings, where behind those buildings the countryside fell away into fields, where in front of those buildings flowers bloomed in pots, geranium and trailing vinca, where no one was plugged in or distracted by electronics. But I had a meeting in Beaulieu, and I needed to find my way.