1.13 Cleo, Waitress

1.13.1 Alenby and Ada Take Lunch, with Cleo in Attendance

Restaurant Les Dhuits, Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises

1:30 pm Wednesday 2 April 1987

Seated with Alenby in the comfortable dining room of Restaurant les Dhuits, Ada had every reason to suppose all was well with the universe. A window wall gave them a view of the restaurant's extensive vegetable garden and orchard, and a large greenhouse in the distance. Early-afternoon light flooded the room, illuminating the white napery and setting the glasses and cutlery aglitter. No sound but the subdued murmur of conversation among the other customers, the click of waitresses' heels as they went about their duties. Ada smiled, relaxed. No one seemed to have taken any notice of them. Apparently no one had remarked her companion's unusually husky physique, which to the suspicious-minded would seem sure signs of a user.

Alenby also felt relaxed--remarkably, since he hadn't taken a single Paxitin since leaving the airport.

 "Before we begin," Ada said, "may I say grace?" And without waiting for an answer:

"Gaea, earth mother from whom wellness flows:

We thank you on tippy toes,

For nutrients phyto-chemical,

Whose benefits immune-systemical,

Shield us, health-mavens vouch,

From CHAOS AND OUCH,

Menopause stayed, and PMS,

All with a content of calories, less.

"Less is less," she concluded, making the sign of the circle.

"With a surreptitious sigh, Alenby also made the sign of the circle. And after a pause, "What’s that about tippy toes?"

"Tippy toes, that’s the élévation, a gesture of respect. It's like making oneself taller than another person to acknowledge her more worthy status--the reverse of the bow or curtsy of olden days before Prohibition. It's of a piece with the custom of using honorifics such as Your Lowness--an acknowledgement that, generally speaking, small is best. It's just a custom, but a custom supported by reason. Small people suffer less lower back pain and fewer joint problems, for example, and they use less of our planet's finite resources....

"Of course there are holes in the smallness ideology. In certain rare situations, big is really better…." She allowed herself a brief reverie.

"Well, perhaps in not so rare situations," Alenby objected. "One can easily conjure up other important exceptions. Take football, the mainstay of funding of our American institutions of higher learning. Coaches agree that eleven big men are better than eleven small ones."

"That may be true," said Ada with a smile of one with a ready rejoinder, "but in u, the rules of football specify, not a fixed number of players on each side, but a maximum aggregate weight. Coaches agree that a ton of small men is better than a ton of dimensionally disadvantaged ones. Anyway, the big college fund-raiser these days is women's synchronized swimming….

"Incidentally," she added quietly, "our impressively small waitress is coming...on tippy toes, notice."

The waitress indeed impressed, not only by her smallness but also by her dark-brown skin suffused with the blush of youthful well-being, lips like ripe plums, eyes sparkling like a friendly puppy's.  Physically a mere child, it seemed to Alenby, yet in her evident ease of balance on tippy-toes she appeared self-possessed as any adult.

"Are Your Lownesses ready to order?" she asked in a soft voice.

"Please, Mademoiselle, resume your normal pedal configuration," Ada urged politely. "While we appreciate your gesture of respect, we are not worthy of a sustained élévation. We are not members of the lower classes. My companion is not even entitled to be addressed as 'Lowness.' 'Excellency' is perfectly adequate. May I ask, what is your name?"

"My name is Cleopatra Kirwan, Your Lowness, and I am, like, a senior at Bennett High in Buffalo, New York, and I am in France to learn how to talk French and how to be a waitress and stuff—"

"An admirable vocation," said Ada dismissively, "and may Gaea bless you!" And after a brief glance at the menu she gave her order: Volutée of green-pea with twists of deep-fried spinach. Salad of white beans, asparagus and wild arugula. And for dessert, if Excellency concurs, a Bombe Glacée for two."

"Thank you, Your Lowness," said Cleo, "and Excellency?"

"First, an item not to be found on the menu, for which I request you intercede with the chef on my behalf--Pâtée Ducru. A double serving. Enhanced, if you please, with droplets of of olive oil, preferably from the groves of  Maussane-les-Alpille."

Inferring from the girl's expression that she was not familiar with Pâtée Ducru, he offered a clarification of a sort he had found helpful in similar situations:

"Pâtée Ducru," he repeated, pointedly exposing part of the hundred-dollar bill that he held in his left hand. "Pâtée, meaning swill, and Ducru, as in Château Ducru-Beaucaillou." As he spoke the name of the venerable vineyard, the dusky young woman's eyes momentarily flashed white--a sign of comprehension that encouraged him to complete his order: "To follow the Patée Ducru, green salad dressed with huile de noix truffée, and together with Her Lowness, Bombe Glacée. A bottle of red Bergerac, two goblets."

"Thank you, Excellency," said Cleo, with an élévation of such energy that her toes rose quite off the floor. "Thank you, Excellency, Lowness," she added, backing away on tippy toes. Then she spun about and headed for the kitchen, much as a real waitress might have.

***

Ada's right, she's not a real waitress. That was Alenby's thought as he savored the last precious drops of Patée Ducru. But at the same time he admitted inwardly that her skills in that occupation were of a high order. The alacrity with which she'd transferred that C-note to her apron pocket testified to that. And that sudden gleam of her eyes when he happened to mention Château Ducru-Beaucaillou! That suggested--well, he didn't know what it suggested. At the very least a deep intuitive feeling for the red wines of the Bordeaux region, especially St Julien. Perhaps she had the makings of a sommelière....

 ***

They lingered over the shared bombe glacée, spooning up with many a chirp of pleasure the last drops of banana purée and the last morsels of the macédoine of exotic fruits that had served as the filling--an lean substitute, in Alenby's view, for the classical custard of egg yolks and whipped cream, but enjoyable anyway.

Ada lay down her spoon with a sigh of satisfaction. "Alenby, you are a wonder!" she said. "Thinking of me like that--how did you know that a bombe glacée was just what I wanted?" And dropping her tone half an octave: "You have the knack of pleasing a woman...and in more ways than one. Let us take coffee in the salon." Upon Alenby's acquiescence, or at lease the absence of his demurral, she summoned waitress Cleopatra Kirwan and announced her requirements.

And so the couple concluded their visit to Restaurant Les Dhuits, shielded from public view by screens decorously depicting, in the manner of Fragonard, flushed lovers cavorting in a hollyhock garden.

1.13.2 Cleo Connects the Dots

 Mid-afternoon, Restaurant Les Dhuits

Cleo had a mission-accomplished feeling about the waitress phase of her investigation. The big guy's mention of the name Ducru Beaucaillou, as in Paul D (Ducru?) Beaucaillou, had put all her senses on alert. And with the skill in mindful loitering acquired in her shop-lifting phase, she'd registered via the Fragonard screen whispers that added up to a nugget of information: Ada had a place--a pied à terre perhaps--in Chezelet. And she had an uncle named Paul.

Who was Uncle Paul?  For Cleo, as it happened, the answer was just a few steps away, in the copy of Larousse Gastronomique she'd noticed on the kitchen book-shelf. The chef was still there, and he was annoyingly amused but otherwise quite nice about letting her take a peek in the tome so obviously beyond the comprehension of a beginning waitress.

Pâtée Ducru Bouillon aux truffes Périgordine (d'après Paul Ducru, biochimiste et biotechnologiste Français, né 1900 --). 

Cleo felt a joyous frisson at the confirmation: Uncle Paul, Paul Ducru, Paul D Beaucaillou were one man! And what a man--lover of Edith Bollin, father of Ada Lynch, and most important, witness at age 20 to the birth of Prohibition and the acceptance of science and reason as a way of life.

She permitted herself to look ahead at to the triumphs that could be hers if she could somehow manage to make the acquaintance of Paul Ducru Beaucaillou, persuade him to grant an interview, become his confidante. It would rate a publication in the Journal of the American Historical Society. And an HV show. Maybe a miniseries!

A few minutes later, having resumed her own clothes and backpack, she ran out of Restaurant Les Dhuits and kept running until she reached Bar-sur-Aube. From there she took a train to Richelieu, the town nearest to Chezelet that happened to have a Youth Hostel.

 

1.13.3: Alenby Agrees to a Small Mac

Alenby and Ada travel along the Loire en route to Pouzay

Mid-afternoon Wednesday 2 April 1987

For some time the couple traveled in companionable silence, broken only by exclamations of pleasure as especially attractive riverine vistas came into view. Then they happened to pass two men in plaid kilts running along the footpath beside the highway, one of them displaying on his back an autostop sign reading ST-DYÉ / CENTRE DUCRU.

"What splendid young men!" Ada exclaimed. "They must be Scotsmen—mmm, those short kilts! Alenby, they want a ride. Let’s pick them up. They’re headed to St-Dyé—that’s just this side of Blois."

"Why would they go to St-Dyé? St-Dyé has no restaurant of any particular distinction, does it?"

"No, there’s nothing there at all, only the Paul Ducru Biochemical Research Center. The Scotsmen must be Uncle Paul's couriers. Uncle Paul--he's secretive to a fault. Paranoid, actually, doesn't trust the post office. But never mind that. Do let’s pick up those mini-kilted Adonises. Oh, how I adore those shapely legs, and those buns. I am so partial to nice buns!"

Alenby was partial to nice buns, too, but only to the kind consisting of small, round yeasted rolls flavored with cinnamon or raisins and served at afternoon tea in Britain.

Nevertheless he brought the car to a stop, allowed the Scotsmen to get in, and stopped again to let them off again in St-Dyé. He was glad to be rid of the Caledonian duo. Fellows had absolutely no sense of correct attire. Kilts all wrong. Too short for a start, and from their limp hang, obviously not wool.

But that was in the back of his mind. His focus was buns, the afternoon tea sort. He craved a bun. Not necessarily an actual bun, just a nosh of some sort. He mentioned his feeling to Ada.

"Sounds like hunger," said she. "Your lunch was okay for  phyto-chemicals, minerals fiber and so on, but lacked beans. You need beans for energy--calories. You need a Small Mac."

"A Big—I mean Small—Mac? Does that mean that McDonald’s has a foothold even in u?"

"McDougall’s, not McDonald’s, and McDougall’s has more than a mere foothold. It has the concession on many of the French highways nowadays. There's one just this side of Blois."

"But tell me," Ada continued, "what is a Big Mac?"

Alenby didn't answer. He was getting tired of  the tone she used to inquire about the oh-so-amusing grotesqueries of U.

"But it’s big?" Ada persisted.

"Well, yes—not as big as a human head, mind you, but certainly bigger than the human mouth. A multi-bite size, one might say. Six or eight bites at a guess."

"Well, the Small Mac is a lot smaller than that," said Ada. "It's a mono-bite sized purée of spiced baked beans wrapped in an envelope of collard leaf, wilted al dente. I'll order half a dozen?" She took out her palmtop.

"Yes, that sounds about right." said Alenby. "But isn't there a, uh, problem with baked beans? Unless the beans are rigorously soaked, or something, to remove certain gas-forming—?"

"Well, you have to soak them--"

"But the discharge of flatus, isn’t that frowned upon?"

"Oh, Alenby, you’re getting things backwards! On the contrary, farting is no more to be looked up to than any other bodily sound, such as cracking one’s knuckles. In fact it’s a social accomplishment of the lowest order, when performed with style. Thus…"

"Charming!" exclaimed Alenby. "Quirkily rhythmic in the mid-twentieth century English manner, with folk-song elements--Vaughan Williams, I believe?"

"Yes, a fragment from Vaughan Williams’ tuba concerto," said Ada, flushing with pride in her musicianship. "Of course, I do have a pitch problem."

"Charming nevertheless. And quite free of any offensive smell."

The color left Ada’s face as quickly as it had appeared. "Smell? But a whiff of skatole aside, intestinal gases have no especially offensive smell!" A moment later, her composure regained: "I beg your pardon, Alenby. I was forgetting that my remark applies only to the intestinal gases produced in the metabolization  of plant-based foods. The waste products of Substances, on the other hand, travel through the system relatively slowly and are consequently far more likely to putrefy in transit, giving off a variety of toxic end-products with unpleasing odors."

"Oh, quite all right, a natural-enough error!" said Alenby, gesturing magnanimously. "And may I say that your remarks not only lift my inhibitions to the consumption of the Small Mac, but also persuade me to modify my views on the propriety of, ah, farting. Let us make speed in the direction of the nearest McDougall’s."

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