Off to La Rochelle for a few days soon, once both the October issue of French Magazine and the Autumn/Winter issue of The Traveller are done and dusted. I have tarnished memories of this lovely West Coast port, a place that cropped up randomly in GSCE French texts.
I visited for the magazine many years ago and was given a guided tour of the harbour, old town and various museums and squares by a lovely, sweet chap called Monsieur Raymond Rohou.
White of hair and 'tache was he, and no spring chicken, yet his zest for sharing his considerable knowledge of his adopted town was infectious. He would stoop, arms behind his back, looking into the windows of antique shops, raving about which trinket he fancied. He took me for lunch at one of the town's many lively seafood restaurants and bombarded me with facts, stats and recipe tips. He was great company, very polite, wise and calm – a perfect gent, if there is such a thing.
I kept in touch with him intermittently by postcard over the years. I would send mine from whichever part of France I was visiting, as did he initially, but these arrived increasingly frequently with a La Rochelle stamp. He was clearly not getting about much. Then one day I received a heartbreaking letter from his wife, informing me of his sudden passing and thanking me for my efforts in keeping up correspendence, which apparently he enjoyed greatly. I certainly did.
The message? Don't just respect your elders, make friends with them, even if you do meet them randomly in France. I'll be raising a glass of Muscadet to the silver fox when I visit.