If “Dancing Queen” from the movie “Mama Mia” came into your mind last Friday, it was me blasting the music from iTunes through my rooftop in France. I was celebrating that my internet connection and phone in the apartment were finally working!
To tell the truth, before then, I was close to a meltdown.
My lack of French language skills was about to get the best of me. Imagine trying to place a service call to the cable or telephone company if you can’t communicate. There’s no way to get through an automated phone answering systems if you can’t speak French!
Every day I was showing up at my friend Geoffrey’s house with a “Deborah-do” list. He is the only bi-lingual person I know that I’ve felt comfortable asking favors. However, depending on him to deal with all my never-ending household issues was getting to be a bit much. Even for me, the “Queen of do-me-a-favor ple..eee…ase.”
So last Thursday morning I stopped by the town’s tourist office to ask about a newcomers group I heard about last summer. The receptionist gave me verbal directions to the newcomers’ office. Wasting no more time, I set out to find it. After a few wrong turn I came to the athletic field mentioned in the directions. A sign led me to a tiny building inside the fence at the far end of the playing field. The squat, stone structure looked like a baseball dugout shelter; except it had a door at the end closest to me and barred windows on the sides.
The fence gate was open and just inside the gate a dirt path led to the entrance door. When there I turned the worn knob and pushed my weight against the heavy, wooden door. Expecting to see a reception desk inside, or at least to hear a “bonjour”, I saw only a hallway of closed doors and heard muffled voices coming from behind one of the doors.
Walking towards the voices I reached the room that, I hoped, would be full of English-speaking people. Opening the door and sticking my head inside the tiny, dimly lit room, my eyes met the glares from at least a dozen men and women, all sitting around a table. They were probably conducting a very important meeting of some kind, which I rudely interrupted. But surely they would understand. I was on a mission.
I needed someone, anyone, to come to my rescue… to speak English.
Before I was totally into the room, a kind young woman stood up from behind the table to greet me at the door . But by then, I had blurted out “does anyone speak English?”
No one said a word. They just looked at each other, waiting for someone to speak up.
“What??” I said to myself. ” No one speaks English? What kind of a “welcome” group is this?!”
Fortunately, none of that ‘head-talk’ came out of my mouth. Nevertheless, I’m sure every person in the room, from the look on their faces, got the message and said in their own heads: “Ugly American!”
Meanwhile, the nice lady who was standing with me quickly grabbed my hand, pulled me into the hall, and closed the door behind us. With sign language and a few French words that I could understand, she managed to communicate that I should come back the next week for French lessons.
In total despair, I walked home. Right past Geoffrey’s house.
As fate would have it
Friday morning I was surprised to hear my new cellphone ringing. I’d purchased it for calls in France and I couldn’t imagine who would be calling me. It was Geoffrey. He announced he had found the perfect person to help me with my phone and internet problems. His English friend, Andy, could help me out for a few hours — for a small fee.
Eureka! Within a couple of hours of showing up at my apartment, Andy worked miracles. The internet, the landline, the wifi connections … all were up and running. On top of that, the plumber was on his way to find out why I had no hot water, and to turn on the radiators. I had been taking cold showers for five days and the apartment was cold at night. No wonder I was getting hysterical.
While my new best friend had fulfilled his intended mission, he inadvertently informed me he had a van.
A van! A strong, young man with a van! My prayers were answered. Now my ten boxes that were stuck in a warehouse in Marseilles could be rescued !The boxes filled with clothes and household items were shipped from the States in August and had been “held hostage” since early October. I was having a spat with the handling company and customs agent about taxes. (Another story, another time.)
Quick trip to Marseilles
This tale is best told by pictures.
Driving the two hours to Marseilles was no problem. Finding the warehouse where the boxes were stored was another story. Our GPS map didn’t take into consideration there is massive construction work underway around the port in Marseilles.
At the warehouse everything looked orderly and well-managed.
Then my boxes were trucked on a fork lift to the door.
Please no! These can’t be mine!
Notice there are no pictures of Andy hauling the boxes up the 55 steps to the tower apartment. I didn’t have the nerve!
Stress, yes. But fun along the way
When I look back on my first month living in France, I can easily say the “good times” have outnumbered the “bad”.
Hanging out with Geoffrey almost every day has been an adventure in itself –with enough stories to fill a book. It’s given me a great chance to meet some interesting “characters”. These are not the kind of folks you’d meet at fancy social gatherings. They are the people you’d pass on the street. Luckily I’ve had a chance to get to know them and experience their ways and antics.
Here are just a few …
Reggie is from the French Basque country. “I’m Basque” he proudly proclaims in his raspy, deep voice to anyone within listening distance. He lives on the same street as Geoffrey and spends a lot of time on his doorstep. When he’s not teaching the young boys in town how to play rugby.
Reggie (shown on the right) and his good friend Matthew gave me permission to use their names and pictures in the blog. I told them they could say “Hi” to the many women who like to read about life in France.
The day this picture was taken Reggie and Matthew moved a mural and wrought iron patio set I bought from Geoffrey from his house to my apartment.
Little did they know that, aside from carrying the mural and patio set through the streets of Uzes, with no vehicle, they’d also have to climb the 55 steps to my “tower” apartment
The part that no one knew was that the mural was too big to come up the winding tower steps.Did that stop Reggie the Basque? Of course not!
Michel and Nicholas come for dinner
Perhaps the two most delightful characters I’ve met are Michel and Nicholas. Both were invited, along with me and Nandine, to have dinner with Geoffrey on a Sunday afternoon.
The cheese comes in a round bamboo container with a paper lid. To prepare Mont d’ Or you remove the box lid and stuff two or three cloves of garlic deep down into the middle of the cheese. Wrap the container in aluminum foil and bake the cheese for approximately 30 minutes, or until it is nicely melted.
Geoffrey served the Mont d’ Or with boiled potatoes, a salad with vinagrette dressing and fresh baguettes. For dessert we had formage blanc with rum raisin sauce, sprinkled with roasted almonds.
It’s hard to decide if the meal that Sunday, or the company, was more entertaining. Geoffrey’s friend Michel is quiet and introspective. Nicholas is rowdy and comical. Most of the conversation around the table was in French. Nevertheless, I could understand a lot that was said from the occasional French words I know and from the animated facial expressions and laughter.
Stay tuned. More friends to meet.