A small town is a place where there’s no place to go where you shouldn’t. – Burt Bacharach
I like the small-townness of Chinon. Everyone seems to know one another but not in an American small-town way; the knowing is very discreet, a restrained nod of the head in passing, a simple acknowledgement of recognition, of being a neighbor. At times a cheerful “Bonjour, Madame! Belle journée, non?” as he or she scurries quickly by, never one to invade one’s privacy or take up one’s time. The occasional handshake, usually firm and strong, and a question of how are you doing today? Without really expecting too detailed, too personal of an answer. A quick chat about the weather and vacations, is the hotel full and how are we acclimating to our new life?
But everyone does know everyone else, among neighbors, among commerçants, business owners, in such a small town way. Discussions can indeed delve into more intimate, minute affairs where affairs are concerned… no, not those kind of affairs! Rather business, tourists and the tourist season, the sharing of clients, the renaissance of our town. Maybe it will push on towards our children, where they are, what they are doing. And, of course, we talk wine and food, food and wine.
I like the small-town feel of Chinon, where the neighbors drop by to introduce themselves, saying “We knew that the hotel had been sold and have been meaning to stop by and say hello but knew that you would be rather busy. But here we are now!” Neighbors and colleagues, others who own hotels and restaurants, colleagues with whom we will be trading business. Others invite us over for drinks, un apératif de bienvenue, showing us through their marvelous home, a well-preserved building from the Fourteenth Century, now luxuriously modern behind the stunning, ancient limestone façade. And then handing us over the key to their front gate, offering us the use of their swimming pool while they are away on vacation.
And a sudden, urgent call in the middle of the afternoon near the end of their vacation away. “We forgot about the turtle! We forgot to leave food for the turtle! What a nuisance but could you possibly feed it?” Well, of course Jean-Pierre jumped at the chance to not only feed the beast but to bring him home. Cardboard box on the floor lined with newspapers, a tuft of lettuce (from Mme. Lainel’s garden), slim slices of tomato and kiwi. Only to come back later and discover that the poor turtle had been licked from head to tail, his shell slathered in wet, and that a silly dog had purloined everything edible.
And the hotel is small-town convivial, attracting a clientele often looking for a home away from home, a place to put up his or her feet, kick back on the terrace while sipping a chilled local wine, and to chat. Just a short walk into town, our clients find themselves, nonetheless, in a quiet, peaceful haven. Surrounded by roses on all sides, under jaunty umbrellas, wine glass on the table within reach, we get to know each other, trading life stories, sharing our astonishment at the beauty of historic Chinon, our experience at this restaurant or that, jam recipes, and discussing roses. Of course.
And while we swallow our pride and our tears at the words of the rare disgruntled client, we delight in our clientele, those guests who very quickly become friends. This is a very small town and our small town hotel has a way of cultivating and nurturing friendships.
My friend David Santori writes a beautiful blog named Frenchie and the Yankee, one of my favorite blogs. His photographs and his writing are poetic, moving, wonderful. He recently visited Chinon and stayed at the hotel; we finally got to meet in person, spend time together talking. He wrote a lovely blog post Frenchie and Chinon and shared his experience and his thoughts.