How Many Hours Until One Starts Eating Wildlife?

Four kilometers and an hour later, we finally were in Ars-en-Re, the slightly larger town we’d been directed to from Saint-Clement. At any other moment, an hour’s walk along a bike path through marshes, with horses and donkeys grazing in the fields on either side of the path, would have been one of those delightful moments us city dwellers like recount as our moments with nature.

But we had gotten up at 6am in Paris, barely had enough time to down an espresso, and run out the door to catch a bus to the train station. As we searched for lunch, our stomachs growled louder, reminding us we’d already taken one wrong fork in the road and had to backtrack. And as we kept reminding ourselves, we’d already walked the several kilometers from the house to the town of Saint-Clement des Baleines.

“Is there anything edible out here?” one of us asked. It looked like there were some wild currants growing along the side of the path, but it still being March, nothing much was flowering let alone bearing fruit.

“Well, anyone brave enough can try some of the flowers,” I suggested. “They’re probably edible. But I’ll let you test it first.”

“If we can see the town, I don’t think we want to take that risk.”

But the marshes were deceiving. The ducks quacked as we walked by.

“Maybe we could catch one of those and eat it.”

“What? By jumping into the water?”

“We are hungry.”

But we kept walking and though we may have thought we were dying, we managed to get to Ars, which was an even more charming village than Saint-Clement. It had the same buildings, but the narrow cobbled streets and people with dogs or older men on bicycles seemed to echo that picture of French life we hadn’t gotten to see since our high-school textbooks.

We decided to go to one of the two places open. The first one we looked at was a creperie that seemed to cater to tourists with things like “le hot dog” and “le hamburger.” So it was the second, a bar like place that advertised fresh oysters in the window (Ile de Re is famous for their oysters).

“I’m thinking it’s not too early for some wine,” Ana said. So we ordered a carafe of white wine, a plate of oysters, a charcuterie board, and a cheese plate. The waiter also convinced us that we needed a terrine of tuna as well. (A terrine is similar to a pate in that it is a mixture of meat–or fish in this case–that is pressed together and served anywhere from cold to mildly warm. The biggest difference is that a pate usually has a very smooth texture, while a terrine is much coarser.)

Of course, in France, bread is not optional and with our beautiful selection of meat and cheese, it only seemed logical that there be more than one kind, which there was. We ate and ate. The walk back seemed more and more illogical, so we asked the proprietor of the restaurant about a taxi. The only taxis were in La Rochelle, we were informed, but the island had a car service: Le Magic Bus.

A Parked Magic Bus

First we decided to go to the grocery store and pick up things for dinner and then, if need be, call Le Magic Bus. But rather to my dismay, the regular bus was running so we took that back to the house.

Cultural oddity learned: whole chickens in French grocery stores come with feet still attached.

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