There’s the possibility of ordering something hideous for lunch like sautéed calf brains and having to eat it for fear of outraging the chef; of going to the doctor and agreeing to something and before you know it you’re missing your kidney and owe thousands of dollars; or getting totally lost and having nobody understand you well enough to direct you home and dying alone on some deserted mountain road.
Well, one and a half of those things happened to me in Cassis.
Cassis is a lovely fishing village nestled between cliffs between Toulon and Marseille. I’ve always wanted to go there simply because I like the name.
I get up early and take the train, which stops about 3 miles from the actual village and port. A bus is waiting at the train station and takes you the rest of the way.
I gasp when I actually see the village, because it’s so charming and beautiful, with an old castlelooking down from one of the cliffs towering above the town. Lots of little shops and restaurants line the harbor . I saunter through the village before the shops all close for lunch. The place is one photo op after another. Gorgeous little flower lined side streets, blue, blue water, colorful buildings and shady squares.
I’ve done my research on where to have lunch and start searching for one of the recommended places as the shops start to shutter up. One restaurant is serving tiny little fried fish and several people are wolfing them down with a frosty glass of rose. I’m intrigued and stop there. I ask a French family enjoying theirs what they are and they tell me “jols fritture”. I figure they’re some sort of sardines and place my order along with whatever the special of the day is…some sort of poisson.
My jols arrive and I’m mildly disconcerted by the dozens of tiny little eyes staring at me. I dip one into the lemony sauce that accompanies them, certain that they will be the most delicious thing I’ve ever had.
Ugh. I really don’t like them. The little bones crunch and there’s a very fishy taste to them (surprise!). I’m sure it’s the eyeballs. I eat as many as I can bear, washing them down with l’eau and pain (I mean bread, not physical suffering, although there was that too). Then I try to figure out how to hide the rest of them so the waiter/chef doesn’t get upset. I distract the people sitting next to me by showing them how the sunlight magnifies through their water glasses causes the tablecloth to smoke. While they’re mesmerized by their fuming table I put several jols in the centerpiece, cover the rest with garnish and bread and pray the waiter doesn’t notice.
The main course isn’t much better, but at least I can cover what I don’t eat with my napkin.
Fortunately, the café crème (café au lait) is strong and purges my tastebuds of the fishiness. For a few minutes anyways. I pay the check and wander awhile longer before heading back up to the place the bus dropped me off.
According to the schedule, the bus to the train station should be here in five minutes. About 15 minutes later, a bus comes rolling in and I board it along with several other people and pay my one euro. I kick back and enjoy the view as the bus climbs the cliffs inland. I know the train station is the last stop, so I can relax and enjoy the winding ride inland. Finally we reach the final stop and the bus empties. It doesn’t look familiar to me, but I follow the other people towards an official looking building I assume is the train station. It turns out to be a school or something. Now I’m confused. I ask a man walking by “ou’est le train station?” and am informed “ce n’est pas ici” and he waves vaguely towards over some hills and and tells me “c’est la”.Uh oh.
I know I have to walk down the hill at any rate, so I head down. Did I mention it’s sweltering hot? I pass another man and ask if there is a bus from here that will take me to the train station. He babbles a bunch of stuff in French, of which I understan two words (allez and arret) but his gestures lead me to believe that I’ll find a bus stop at the bottom of the hill, to the left.
Sure enough, there is a bus stop. It seems to be on the wrong side of the road, but it seems my best shot considering I’ve lost all sense of direction and can’t even remember which way the Mediterranean is.
So I wait. And wait. And wait. And sweat and sweat and sweat. I feel the strength draining from my body. Just as I’m considering calling my family to say my final farewell, a bus approaches and arrets. The driver informs me, oui, it is going to the train station.
I find a seat and kick back triumphantly, feeling oh so competent. If I can get myself out of that mess, I figure I can handle just about anything. But just in case, I check to make sure I still have both my kidneys.
FYI, when I get home I look up “jols.” Near as I can tell, they’re smelt.