Margaret and Dick   


October 2012: Hope springs eternal

I couldn’t believe my eyes, but my nose knew it without a doubt:  Limoux’s vegetarian restaurant was open.  We’ve been passing by almost daily for ten years, wanting to give it a try, but it’s almost never open.  “What is their business plan?” we’ve often asked ourselves, but I guess business planning doesn’t often cross the mind of someone dreaming to open a restaurant.  The aroma was wonderful, reminding me of the delights of well-spiced Indian vegetarian food.  There was one table of diners, the rest empty and available. 

But it was not to be.  As I rushed home to fetch Margaret, my eyes and nose led me through another doorway a bit further down the street.  The long-awaited paella take-out restaurant finally opened!  Friend Judy had told me of its planned opening for June … July … early September … and now in early October they have finally opened their doors.  They totally missed the summer season, which is really unfortunate in a tourist town like Limoux. 

They chose the snappy name Ongi-Etorri – “welcome” in the Basque language – for their restaurant.  I was indeed welcome, the only customer present on this late morning.  The owner, a Basque woman who lives in a nearby rural village with her Scottish husband, has long cherished this take-out paella dream.  Why not, it works for pizza, non?  Every neighborhood needs a take-out paella restaurant.  She had planned to open in June at the beginning of the tourist season, but various delays occurred.  As they always do.   

Must do paella!  I ordered a container to share with Margaret at lunch.  She spooned out a portion, fragrant with onions, saffron, and very fresh shellfish and shrimp.  She also offered a tapas course of stuffed squid in its ink, redolent of garlic and olive oil.  Yes! we must have that as well.   

I wished her luck for the winter and thought of Margaret’s recent photo stroll that she called, “This town is dead.”  Limoux is cold and damp, and people tend to stay inside a lot.  “Yes, but don’t forget the season of Carnaval,” said the paella maistra, sounding hopeful.  Limoux does have the world’s longest Carnaval season, from January until just before Easter.  I encouraged her by saying that her location, only a few steps from the central  Place de la Republique, would surely attract Carnaval crowds.  But Carnaval outings occur only on the weekends.   Hope springs eternal in the heart of a good cook who longs for her own restaurant.  I’ve been guilty of the same desire, but I’m old enough to know better.  And I’m married to a financial planner.

As I stepped out of her shop, I noticed a sign in the window of a long-vacant shop.  What’s this?  It’s a new small used-book store, newly opened, with only the owner inside.  Open a bookstore in the era when e-book readers, i-gadgets, and tablets have decimated the entire industry?  Now that takes … hope. 

Back at home we delighted in the stuffed-squid tapas and paella.  Okay, we prefer the rice al dente and with a bit more flavor, but such is not the French style.  The shellfish were perfect.  We sincerely hope to find her still here next summer when we return to Limoux. 

I think I’ll go down to the Place and buy a book at that new bookstore.  Oh, wait, I’ve got a Nook.  Never mind.

Sigh.  Hope springs eternal.

PS from July 2013:  Another sigh.  Ongi-Etorri closed in June, having never enjoyed the benefit of a tourist season.  The sign in the window assures us that they remain available as a caterer.  I put a note on their Facebook page suggesting they might launch a website with a menu. 

As for the bookstore, I saw no trace.

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