It becomes all too clear what I have gotten myself into the next morning when I venture out of my hotel in need of food. Grenoble has no lack of cafes and I walk by a number of possibilities. But the idea of sitting down at a table and attempting a conversation in order to get something to eat is way beyond my level of courage and competence.
Finally, hunger getting the better of fear and desperation setting in, I join the housewives queuing up inside an epicerie. A few cured meats in various shapes hang in the display window guarded, on either end by baskets filled with tall loaves of bread. Shelves to the ceiling hold all manner of mysterious jars and tins and boxes. Clerks use long poles to grasp items from the higher shelves as shoppers call out orders.
This is not the A & P.
It is obvious I will have to do something more than point. The urge to escape before my turn comes almost wins, but hunger drives me on. I am fairly confident of the words for bread and butter (pain et buerre) and I practice them to myself as I wait my turn.
“Madmoiselle?” From behind the counter, the thin woman in her white jacket peers at me. The backs of my thighs quiver. This is it.
“Du pain et du buerre.”
She says something in return, something I don’t understand. Is she asking how much I want? I take a chance and hold up one finger. The shop grows quiet. Heads turn in my direction. It must be obvious to the clerk that any further attempt at communication is futile. She pulls a baguette from the basket, wraps up a piece of butter cut from the slab in the display case and hands them across the counter. From the bills I hold out, she selects one. I turn to flee.
“Madmoiselle!” She is holding out my change.
Squeezing between shoppers, I push my way to the sidewalk, grateful for the morning air that cools my burning face. Baguette under my arm, I retreat to my hotel room and devour my first meal in Grenoble.
Many more meals of bread and butter are to follow.