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IT TAKES extra helpings of courage and ingenuity to convert an old Citroën garage into a restaurant. For many years M. Planès had run his repair shop in a solidly built and capacious shed, the sort of thing the French call un hanga

IT TAKES extra helpings of courage and ingenuity to convert an old Citroën garage into a restaurant. For many years M. Planès had run his repair shop in a solidly built and capacious shed, the sort of thing the French call un hangar, with a garage yard alongside complete with inspection pit. It's unlikely that he or any of his mechanics took much time off from fitting new exhausts or cannibalising the wrecks in the yard for spare parts to admire the view, but then when you live all day and every day in a situation of great beauty you tend not to give it a second glance. Not that you could see much anyway through the dust and spiders' webs of the repair shop windows.

The site encompasses the classic view of Olargues: it looks down to the river Jaur and across and up to the hallmark view of the village, honey-toned tumbles of village houses spreading down from the elegant medieval bell tower on the top of its bluff, as though they'd been carved out of a prehistoric lava flow. As if this wasn't feast enough, the Pont du Diable, the Devil's Bridge, frames the picture to the left, linking the old village with the main road and debouching beside a run-down riverside tenement, long on the market. In due course M. Planès built himself a much more extensive garage, bright with stainless steel and flags, on the outskirts of the village and put his former premises up for sale.

As anyone who has ever put property on the French market knows, it only needs the right person at the right time and PAF! the roller coaster of compromis de vente, prêts immobiliers, mandats de procuration and actes authentiques, crewed by agents immobiliers and notaires, is set to trundle down the rails, lurching uneasily from side to side and leaving you clutching nervously at your vitals. The right persons at the right time in the form of Joan and Anders Bøgeskov stopped on their way through Olargues one Sunday morning, came, saw and were conquered, as much by the fare on offer as by the spine-tingling realisation that here, after a quarter of a century of searching, they'd found what they were looking for. From her late teenage years Joan dreamed of owning a place where the summer sun shone for longer than it did in her native Denmark, a retreat, a haven, an ivory tower, even, where writers, composers and artists could stay and ply their thoughts, pens or brushes without interruption and with all found. Anders, the dreamer's assistant, stood by stolidly while the vision of the ivory tower shimmered through the run-down tenement. In a lather of excitement they rang the estate agent then and there, Sunday morning or not, and the following conversation took place in halting French:
 Bøgeskov: That place beside the river, by the old bridge, has anybody bought it?
 Estate Agent: I open on Tuesday morning at 9 o'clock.
 B.: Could you just tell us if it's still for sale?
 E.A.: Tuesday morning at 9 o'clock
 B.: Can you possibly give us some idea of how much they're asking for it?
 E.A.: Tuesday morning at 9 o'clock.

There was nothing to be got out of this beyond 48 hours' worth of heel-kicking and frustration (48 and a quarter hours, to be exact, as the estate agent, a devotee of le petit quart d'heure méditerranéen, didn't turn up until 9.15), but by 9.30 the following Tuesday the place was theirs, or would be when the roller coaster came to a halt a couple of months later. The wily estate agent hinted that M. Planès' garage would shortly be on the market, just the place for an annexe to the ivory tower, a restaurant, maybe? 

 As they say in Denmark, in for an øre, in for a krone, if that's what it took to become the new owner, and so the Danes went for broke. Broke is probably le mot juste, the correct term. Several months later we were invited, along with the rest of the village, to the inauguration of Les Fleurs d'Olargues.

* * *

As we arrive night is falling, and Anders is moving between the tables on the terrasse, hanging oil-lamps from the vine- and honeysuckle-covered pergolas, a garden of sensual delight that is his own winter handiwork, which now spread over the old garage yard. (The old inspection pit is still there, now an off-season store for the terrasse furniture.) We're shown to a table overlooking the river, sparkling with the lights of the village rising from the far bank. It's like a pantomime set, an Advent calendar, a grandeur nature pop-up book. House martins soar and wheel, snapping up the last flies before roosting. The Pont du Diable and the tower shine, golden under floodlights. This place is something else: great romances begin here; new ideas, trembling with their daring, are born here; old horizons are transcended, the poet's eye rolls in fine frenzy. It looks as if the the poet's pen has been at work on the menu:

Paupiette de veau truffée aux olives noires, canneberges séchées et herbes sauvages de montagne, mijotée au vin blanc du pays, avec son mirepoix de légumes méditerranéens, sa galette de pommes rosevalt et son déglaçage au vin.

This is so beautiful that I'm reluctant to attempt a translation, and I find myself thinking, no doubt very irreverently, that there are scriptural passages, and passages in Shakespeare, of equal beauty, and I've no idea what they mean and don't much care: it's enough to hear the rolling words caressing my ears. There's more beauty as Louise and Lola, blonde and brunette pride of Denmark, bring forth this offering in a lordly dish, and slowly, deliberately, at our own rhythm, we pay the dish, the chef, luscious Lou and lovely Lo and indeed the whole of Joan's and Anders' conception the tribute they all deserve: we leave empty plates.

The question of a dessert arises. Suddenly, out of nowhere, warmed into life by these delights, there comes into my mind a stray quote from the journal kept by the Goncourt brothers, as worthy a couple of 19th century writers as ever looked in the mirror: Entre la mousse au chocolat et la chartreuse Martha se déserra le corsage, between the chocolate mousse and the Chartreuse [liqueur] Martha loosened her bodice. Full stop. We wonder who Martha was, and what happened next. We look at each other: shall we order a dessert? Or shan't we? Eventually we settle for Joan's incomparable lemon mousse, and take ourselves home. At our age we can only take so much sensuality.