Écart: The Gap between Illusion and Reality

When I was taking a required course in philosophy in college some years ago, I chose this as the subject of my term paper. It was actually my second choice as I didn’t have the guts to go with my first choice which was to write 10 Platonian inspired words as follows: “Words cannot express all that I learned in this class.”The professor said that he would have given me an A had I dared that. I got the A anyway but with a lot more work. No regrets though—the concept I had chosen gave me a lot to think about. Écart is a French word that someone taught me many years ago. I don’t think there is one single word for it in English. And it is a word that has become more and more relevant to me as I view the heightened hype beloved by our culture. What is real? Hard to tell. I’m fortunate in that what I do has a tangible proof of reality as in “the proof is the pudding.” It’s a complex issue for sure, but when I happened to read an article about Peter Mayle who wrote “A Year in Provence” the article of which implied that he is still living there to the great joy of everyone around including himself it reminded me of a wonderful experience we had 13 years ago on a visit to the Luberon which gives credence to the fact that truth is stranger than fiction and makes one wonder why hype or illusion should even be necessary!

For one thing, several natives of the region told us that they were so disgusted with the way in which they were portrayed in the book, quoted as their most common response to everything being “c’est normal” (it’s normal) and all the tourists that ensued as a result of Mayle’s rhapsodizing about the area, that every time a bus load of tourists asked for directions to his house they would point a finger to the exact spot. Finally, according to these informers, Mayle was so inundated with tourists he was forced to sell his house and leave for YES: the Hamptons in Long Island NY! But according to this article he is once again living in the Luberon. At any rate this is a two-part story because the first part is our experience following in the footsteps of Peter Mayle and the second is our culminating experience at Alain Ducasse’s famed restaurant in Monte Carlo. Part 1: We drove for a least an hour through twisting steep mountain roads to arrive at the restaurant which Mayle had described in his book as the neighborhood place that allowed him to bring his gigot to cook in their oven the first Christmas in his new home when the oven wasn’t yet working. The surrounding white cliffs were renowned for rock climbing and had we realized how difficult it was to drive through them we (meaning Elliott the driver) might have missed the experience. Exhausted from the trip and eager with anticipation we perused the menu when my eye caught the warning words in French that credit cards were not accepted. Panic! What to do. The owner came by seeing our distress and I explained/reproached him for not warning me when I made the reservation. I said with genuine sorrow in my voice we didn’t have the cash to pay for lunch. His immediate reply: “Pay next time!” As a New Yorker I was totally blown away in disbelief. “C’est tellement gentille” I gasped in amazement. His response—the words of the ‘peasants’ that appeared in Mayle’s book numerous times: “c’est normal.” I wonder if he wondered why I giggled! So Mayle was telling the truth! I explained that we were tourists and didn’t want to make the hazardous journey a second time just to come back to pay. Suddenly I remember the traveler’s checks we had purchased and never used. Those were acceptable. We sat back to enjoy a guilt free lunch of numerous tasty things none of which I remember specifically. What I remember is that all was bathed in a golden joyful light of love and trust and the inherent goodness of mankind-especially those who value la bonne cuisine and can recognize it in others.