Friday, June 26, 2009

A Case of Mistaken Identity


A funny memory: Days before our wedding in Carcassonne, France, my husband and I were in Toulouse, playing host and hostess to guests arriving early from overseas. Some of my husband's family were joining in these festivities, but the main goal of the pre-nuptial evenings was to introduce my parents, some aunts and cousins, and some close (mostly American) friends to the pleasures of Southwest France. Toulouse, being the home of decadent, rich dishes such as cassoulet, foie gras, and the famous Toulouse sausage, is not necessarily known for seafood, but the rosy-bricked city does lie on a stunning river, the Garonne; a twilight meal on a "péniche," or houseboat, seemed just the right way to ease travel-weary guests into the local color and fine dining scene. We decided to take our party to the Bateau Restaurant La Daurade. My husband and I were running a little late that evening, coming as we were from a hellish (for me anyway) legal rendez-vous. The decision to visit La Daurade was a last-minute plan, so when we arrived at the hotel where my parents were staying, my husband asked someone at the front desk to ring the restaurant for us and verify that we could come over. I should say that this particular hotel, the Grand Hôtel de l'Opéra, on the Place du Capitole, was where my husband used to work—where he first cut his teeth as a sommelier in a restaurant of "haute gastronomie." The restaurant, Jardin de l'Opéra, was at that time the showcase for the culinary talents of Dominique Toulousy, one of the "Meilleurs Ouvriers de France" (a culinary distinction of the highest order). I believe it may have been his wife, Maryse, who called La Daurade on our behalf that evening. Or maybe not. Regardless, the message to the proprietor of La Daurade was essentially that the Grand Hôtel was calling on behalf of a former sommelier of Jardins de l'Opéra, and that we were a party of however many who wished to come at such-and-such a time, and could they reserve space for us under the name Parker? Or maybe they gave both my husband's name and my own family's both (that would make more sense). The reply was an enthusiastic "bien sûr," and after an aperitif at the hotel, we made our way down to the river. Assumptions are funny things, as is celebrity. Especially funny is to realize what passes as celebrity in different parts of the world. Here in the States, my last name is common, and generally no assumptions are made about who we are when we we make dinner reservations. Appropriate enough: we are a not a family of note, not in that sense. At best, I have been asked if my pedigree has anything to do with writing implements (the association suits my writerly self just fine, though it's untrue). At worst, during the peak in popularity of the television show Melrose Place, I was asked at a CVS pharmacy if I was joking when I said my name was Allison Parker—it took seasons for me to uncover the fact that I shared a first and last name with a character on the show (though maybe hers was spelled with one el?). But this is in America. In France, there's really no danger of anyone mistaking me or others in my family for either of those Parkers. But put together allusions to luxury hotels, sommeliers . . . I have to say the poor man who greeted us at La Daurade was completely crestfallen (though he did try not to show it, and we were ultimately treated very well during our dinner) when he realized that my father, though he cuts an impressive figure, was not Robert Parker, the international wine celebrity! It was an "only in France" moment, I have to say, and one we laughed about for a long time. As a side note, we drank a lovely white that evening: Château Tariquet. Not 100 points from Robert Parker (if you care; we didn't), but a damn nice wine.

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