France in South America
By JP Richard
We were skeptical, but we were also hungry. The concierge at our hotel suggested we eat at a French restaurant in the charming Bolivian capital city of Sucre. That was unexpected, but our whole trip so far had been one adventure after another, so why not try this one too.
It was our first night in Sucre, the other capital of Bolivia, where the Supreme Court of the country still meets. The old colonial Spanish architecture charmed us as we drove in from the airport down the narrow, ancient streets. It had been a good flight from La Paz, the principal capital, but now we were ready for a relaxing dinner and a good night’s sleep. We strolled just a few blocks from our hotel in the cool evening air and arrived at the restaurant, hidden on a side street, but proudly flying the French flag at the front door. We approached La Taverne with a sense of disbelief.
As we entered, we noticed four ladies talking animatedly in German at a corner table. Another couple took the table to our right and started talking in Dutch. The aromas emanating from the kitchen made us quickly decide to stay and sample the fare though. The maitre’d promptly arrived with our menus, written in French with Spanish translations.
“Wow, everything from snails to bouillabaisse, quite a menu,” I said. We could be on the Champs Elysee reading this menu. “
“We’d better order though the choice is so broad, I’m having trouble deciding,” added my wife.
“Looks like we could have French wine too, but let’s go local and order a Bolivian red,” I added. The choices we made proved to be as good as anything we had eaten in France.
Just then the waitress turned on the large TV screen on the far wall. We were immediately treated to the novelty of French reviews of American movies, complete with French sub-titles for the English scenes. That was followed by a French video history of the Rolling Stones, in English with French subtitles. Were we really in Bolivia?
The good food coupled with the French immersion only made us more curious to learn more about this French oasis in the South American landscape, as well as the people we were dining with.
We soon learned that La Taverne is a project of the Alliance Francaise, whose objective is to spread the French culture around the world. It was located in Sucre because this is the home of the oldest universities in the Americas (University of Saint Francis Xavier -founded in 1624). The food was authentic, the entertainment very French but the clientele definitely international.
“I wonder if any of the locals patronize this little gem?” my wife asked.
“Well, it was recommended by the concierge at our hotel, so it must have impressed some of the locals, I answered.
When we engaged the guests in conversation, none of them local, we were intrigued by how they got there. The Dutch couple to our right were touring South America until they ran out of funds, then they would go home and resume their careers. The Germans were wives of traveling businessmen using the opportunity to visit other parts of the country while their husbands tended to business in La Paz. Everyone had decided that French cuisine was a welcome change after sampling the local cuisine for several days.
We were pleasantly surprised to find this unexpected French(delete) oasis in our South American travels. Once again we found that a sense of adventure always trumps caution. By taking advantage of the unexpected, no matter how unusual it might appear at first, you are generally rewarded with a broadening experience, and something to write home about.
J.P. currently lives in Virginia Beach is a member of Hampton Road Writers Group and enjoys writing about his experiences. He has published articles on disability topics in Exceptional Parent and other journals, has written a column on Federal Procurement for a DC professional journal for several years currently teaches technical writing and does selective market research.