By the time you read this, I will be gone.
By gone, I mean gone to Arles.
A few weeks ago I was offered a position as Chef de Rang (way less posh than it sounds) at the restaurant of a very well-known chef. Thus, once again this year and for the last time – mostly because the year only has two weeks left – I’ve packed up and moved: this time to Arles.
Arles is in Provence, situated about halfway between Marseille and Avignon. It’s an old city, and by old I mean there’s one of these 500 meters from my new apartment :
An ancient Roman amphitheater.
It was founded by the Romans in B.C. something and was one of the most important cities in ancient Gaul. Even more important than Marseille because of its location on the Rhône river which gave the Romans easy access to the rest of the region around it. After Nice it is probably one of the oldest cities in France.
Today Arles is still known for its ruins, but it’s also known for its gastronomic specialties such as bull, rice and salt. If you’ve ever heard of rice or salt from Camargue – that’s Arles.
If you’re into art, the city was made famous by Van Gogh who lived and painted some of his most famous works in the city, including this one.
The Café la Nuit still exists by the way. It’s around the corner from me at the Place du Forum.
Two things often catch me and most Americans when they come to a city as old as Arles. The first is how small everything is. The city center on a map might look large but in reality you can walk from one end to the other and back in about fifteen minutes. The streets are barely wide enough for the smallest of sedans and two-way traffic? Hahaha. Don’t even think about it. They probably wouldn’t even qualify as alleyways by American standards. In fact, Arles isn’t even really a city in terms of population – it’s a medium-sized town that feels like a city only because of how compact and on-top-of-each-other everything is.
The other thing that surprises people is how outwardly ugly these cities can be. Don’t get me wrong, they each have their charm, especially in summer when the city officials kick it into high gear cleaning the place up for the influx of tourists, but the rest of the year when it’s grey and cold (because the Mistral blows nearly everyday and it does get cold in Provence) it’s not exactly the most fetching of places. Don’t be alarmed. Remember that people have been living here, squashed together on streets that haven’t changed since they were first paved for millenia. Literally.
That’s bound to cause a little ugliness. Let’s face it, we’re not the cleanest of species.
But, Arles can still be charming. The little street my apartment is on, is one example.
So, if you haven’t looked it up by now, you’re probably wondering what a Chef de Rang is. It has absolutely nothing to do with cooking, if that’s what your thinking. In plain terms a Chef de Rang is a server. But this isn’t your 30-pieces of flair* type of service. This is shoe polish, manicures and white napkins over the arm type of service. Remember the opening to Downton Abbey where you see the butler in white gloves measuring the place settings for exact distance and continuity? I was given a pair of white gloves to wear when folding the napkins and I swear, the Maître d’ has a ruler.
It’s that kind of place.
It’s a prestigious beginning for me as I’ve decided to pursue further training as a sommelier. Working for a Michelin starred chef is nothing to sneeze at and it’s not easy to fall into an opportunity like this the way I did.
The downside is that I’m working twelve hours days. I start at 9:30am and I finish at 11:30pm (there’s a two-hour break in between). The other downside is that France’s internet providers are rather… slow… at setting up internet for new clients.
So what I’m trying to say is that this blog is going to be on the back burner until well-after the New Year. Blogging takes a lot of time… any blogger will tell you. Writing, photography, editing, formating, the process can take hours. And for now, I just won’t have the time or energy (or the internet) for it.
Thus I leave you with good wishes for a New Year as I settle into yet another adventure in French gastronomy.
And a photo of the little Christmas tree that I found under my sink.
*Kudos to you if you got the reference to Office Space. If you didn’t, go download or netflix that movie immediately. Immediately.