I'm writing this on a packed flight from Nimes to Luton, or London Luton as Ryanair calls it, after a surprisingly productive week in St Quentin. The plan was to do some work without distractions, and, on balance, it worked. But not completely so, because I encountered many distractions and - you will not be surprised to learn - several of them proved singularly difficult to resist.
The first distraction is St Quentin itself, which is unchanged from when we left it last October. Or is it? Actually, it only appears unchanged, because much has gone under the surface while we've been away. Fred has taken over behind the comptoir at the Bar du Marché, and Magalie is cooking up a storm in the kitchen; to the extent that they are serving more covers on a January Monday lunchtime than was previously achieved on an August market day. I hope they've got their sums right, because their food is very generously portioned and of excellent quality.
Meanwhile, down at Le Marina, Momo is rumoured to be passing on the baton to Xavier, the chef, and the mot on the rue is that a total refurbishment is taking place behind the closed doors of the restaurant, with Xavier planning an 'up-market' menu to compete with, or perhaps complement, the carte at the Bar du Marché.
In fact, it appears that St Quentin has renewed aspirations on a number of levels: the Bio boulangerie is being converted into no less than five new shops, we now have our own bouquinerie, and the commune has just acquired the ugly old wine warehouse outside which Ch'ti, the mobile friterie, plies its trade. The details of the new development will be announced soon. Watch this space.
Things are also on the move in Uzès. Paola and Olivier have re-branded Au Fils de l'Eau into Le Bistrot du Duché, with a more Bistrot-style menu which I didn't get a chance to try, and the Parisienne couple have now taken over from Thierry at Du Chai d’Uzès in the Passage des Marchands. I spent my last hour in Uzès in their company, discussing and drinking their new wines (which include La Gramiere!)and being reassured that oysters are still available at le weekend.
All these things and the gossip about them were distracting, but not so much so that my work fell too far behind schedule. No, the big distraction is friends.
It would be invidious to name names, so I will mention in this despatch only the following: Archie, Linda, Dianne, Parn, Joan and Joy. That's just the Brits and the Estonians. If, at some time in the future, an editor calls me for missing the deadline, you will be to blame.
Lunch was excellent - all of them. Coffee-into-pastis-into-wine breaks were brilliant. Aperos were great. The conversation, the wit, the humour, the erudition, the goss - they were all the most wonderful distractions. Thanks, guys.
For all the beauty of Uzès and the charm of St Quentin, this is actually why Jill and I love this part of the world so much.
It's all about friends. A bientot.
A reminder for this first 2012 lettre d’Uzès. As you know, the original Lettres d'Uzès were sent by Jean Racine during 1661 and 1662 to his friends in Paris. Racine had been sent to Uzès by his family to stay with his uncle, the Vicar-General. The hope and expectation was that, away from Paris, he would put poetry aside and embrace the priesthood. He never did, succumbing inevitably to the life of a town where “one bookseller starves as a score of traiteurs flourish”. These 21st century letters bear no resemblance to those of Racine, but are nonetheless dedicated to him - with respect, admiration and a thousand apologies.
Today's listening: Without the distraction of television, I've listened to some great stuff over the last week - from the Dead to Debussy. But right now, on my Ryanair flight, through my headphones, I'm listening to some outtakes from Dylan's Real Live album, with Mick Taylor on guitar. As ever with Bob, one wonders why some of these tracks never made the final cut (and why some that did, did!).