For some reason, I’d never fully experienced the French tradition of “making the bridge,” or faire le pont. I knew what it was, of course, but somehow had never really felt its full effect. Until today, that is.
When the French font le pont, it means that they are taking a Friday as a vacation day to act as a “bridge” between a national holiday that falls on a Thursday and the weekend. (Americans do this when they use the Friday after a Thanksgiving Thursday as a vacation day.) But May provides a special opportunity for an extended vacation.
It actually began this past Wednesday, which was May 8 — or Victory in Europe day. The next day, it turns out, was Ascension, another national holiday. So yesterday (Friday) was a great day to “make the bridge” and head out of town for a bit of vacation. And obviously, that’s what a great many French families did.
The proof was the crowd that greeted us in the parking lot today when we arrived in Beynac for lunch.
We were with our friend Tish, and her longtime friend Gina, who is visiting from London. The four of us had started lunch at our house in Daglan with Aperol Spritzes, made with a good glug of the Italian drink Aperol that is topped up with a few ice cubes, a piece of fresh orange, and some sparkling white wine (Kriter, for us). The conversation flowed easily and we didn’t leave our house until 1 p.m., so we arrived in Beynac just before 1:30.
What greeted us was a parking lot that was absolutely jammed with cars, with not a single space available and with drivers idling their cars all over the place, hoping that someone might actually leave. Luck was with us, because as Tish drove into the lot, a car immediately in front of us was pulling out. Success!
Then it was a short walk to La Petite Tonnelle, which I last reviewed on April 16 in the posting “Nice twists on some yummy classics.” Despite the packed parking lot, I confess I was still surprised to see how completely and utterly full the restaurant was. (I know. Duh.) It was so busy that people were eating their lunch outside on the restaurant’s small patio, despite the cool and somewhat blustery weather. “This seems more like a peak day in July than early May,” I said to Tish, as we were seated upstairs at the last remaining table.
To its credit, the restaurant handled the crowd with commendable care. As we expected, it took quite a while for us to be served, but we had good conversation and a nice Tavel rosé to keep us going, and the food was worth the wait.
My wife Jan, as well as Tish and Gina, began their lunches with an asparagus plate, and then went on to a roasted daurade royale, which is a Mediteranean sea bream. As for me, here’s a look at my plat principal, a delicious omelette that was chock full of black truffle, with more black truffle slices on top:
By the time we finished, we were the last ones in the restaurant, but we never felt as if we were being rushed out the door.
As we walked back to Tish’s car through the parking lot, I was explaining to Gina how French licence plates include a number that signifies the département where the car is based. The numbering system is based on the département‘s name in alphabetical order — so that the Dordogne is 24 while the Lot is 46, despite the fact that the two départements are next to each other.
It suddenly occurred to me that out of all the licence plates I was pointing out, there were none from 24, the Dordogne. (We did finally see one Dordogne plate, as we drove out of the lot.)
In other words, Beynac had been invaded by tourists from all over France, who were enjoying a vacation as long as five days, from Wednesday through Sunday. Clearly, they were making the most of le pont.
C’est la France!