If you think living in France is buttery croissants and fancy red wine, welcome to my week.
The calendar said I was to pick up Geoffrey to visit vineyards up north to take photos for my blog. The chosen location was more than an hour’s drive from Uzes. Geoffrey wanted me to pick him up no later than 9 am — an early start for me.
Getting up early was no problem that day. I even had time to wash dishes and gather the trash. When the time came to leave the apartment, I picked up the bag of trash, my purse, and my iphone; I walked down the spiral steps of the apartment; opened the glass front door; locked the door behind me; then headed out of the building into the parking lot of the Place des Duche. At the nearby trash dumpster, I lobbed the bag of garbage into the big turbine roller drawer; waited to hear the bag drop to the bottom of the giant can; then, I headed off to the underground parking garage where I would pick up Lucy.
Finding Lucy in her regular parking spot, I pushed the button on my keypad to unlock the drivers’ door. Nothing happened. Undaunted, I slipped the key into the lock and sat in Lucy’s driver’s seat. I put the key in the ignition, turned it on and … nothing. Not a beep, not a chug, not a light on the dashboard. Nothing. Dead battery.
Reaching for my phone in my handbag so that I could call Geoffrey to tell him the news, I came up empty-handed. “Where’s the phone?” says I to myself.
Dumping the handbag contents into the passenger seat, I started to panic. No phone.
“Hmmm” says I. “It’s either in the apartment, the dumpster, or somewhere on the street.”
Getting out of the car and retracing my route back to the apartment, I saw no phone on the street. Up 55 steps to the apartment, there was no phone in the apartment. The only thing left was the dumpster.
By this time I was well past the appointed time for picking up Geoffrey. On the way to his house I ran into his girlfriend, Annabelle, and told her my dilemma. She phoned Geoffrey to tell him the news and to ask him to come over to rescue me …. for the umpteenth time.
Geoffrey met me in front of the trash dumpster wearing his usual “what mess are you in now” expression. After a brief explanation of my dilemma, he noticed a number posted on the front of the dumpster and called the trash men for help. No luck. Lost car keys they’ll rescue. Telephones? No. Besides, was the phone really in the dumpster?
While Geoffrey was dealing with the trash, I set off to get a jump for the car battery. On the way to the garage, I met a neighbor standing in front of his house and, thinking he might have jumper cables to start my car, I asked my usual question when meeting a stranger: “Do you speak English?”
To my surprise, he was an American. He had jumper cables in his car, and the car was parked in the same garage as Lucy. Long story short, Lucy’s engine was started and, instead of going to see vineyards, Geoffrey and I took off to the police station to report the stolen/lost phone, and to drive to Nimes to deal with the SFR (the French equivalent of Verizon) about a replacement phone.
Nothing settled. The phone company gave me the number of the insurance company where I could place a claim for the lost phone.. The insurance company’s automated answering service has no command for “if you want to speak to someone in English, press #.”
Geoffrey was MIA, perhaps in hiding.
With no solution for the phone in mind, I changed gears to deal with another pressing issue. My bank debit card was “broken.” For some reason, the card would no longer work in a store or at an automated teller machine. After ordering new cards on two different occasions, they never arrived at the bank. I met with the bank manager — the only person in the branch who speaks English — and he assured me the problem would be solved by next week. I withdrew money from my account to make it through the weekend without a debit card. Again.
It was the day to meet an American friend visiting Avignon. We were to have lunch together, then tour the town.
Calculating how much time it would take me to get to Avignon from Uzes, I went to the garage to pick up Lucy for the drive. With little time to spare, I punched the automatic key, praying the car door would open.
“Whew”, says I. But when I got in the car and put the key in the ignition to start the motor … nothing. “AAACHHHH!!!” Not again!
With no phone to call my friend in Avignon, I walked back to the apartment, back up the 55 steps and called on my land line to cancel our lunch date.
Now, mind you, I have no phone and, after frantically checking on Google and iCloud for my contacts, I must have forgotten to do an update. Luckily, I had the number for JJ, my young friend who I call when I’m desperate for help.
In no time, JJ was on the spot. He jumped the car battery, accompanied me to Carrefour to buy cables and a battery charger, and set Lucy in front of his garage to charge up the battery for the rest of the afternoon.
The verdict on why the battery goes dead? There’s a little switch on the handle for the lights that I’m not putting on “off”.
Since JJ had solved the battery problem, I asked him to tackle another issue — call the insurance company about the lost phone. Trying the number several times with no luck, he told me how to make the call myself. Just press “1” each time the automated voice says “pumpa-oooh” or something like that, he said. Do it three times.
JJ left town on Saturday for a month to pick grapes in the north.
Saturday, Sunday, Monday
No businesses were open to do anything on these days… no insurance company, no bank .. no nothing. I spent the weekend close to home, hoping to stay out of trouble.
Meanwhile, another crisis was looming. The allotted time to register my new car was running out.
OK, this is the day to settle as much as I can. Starting out early I tackled the bank problem first. To my delight, a new card was there … and this time it worked.
Next, the car registration. With forms in hand that had to be filled out in French, I stalked and captured my English-speaking agent at the real estate office. With the promise of a free cup of cafe, I had him lassoed into sitting down with me to help.
I was ready to take on the Marie (town hall).
Fortunately I’d been in the Marie on another occasion to deal with my long-stay visa. It wasn’t as daunting as it could have been, although I knew for a fact that no one speaks English. As soon as I reached the registar’s desk I began explaining that I speak no French Graciously she went through the forms and she needed to ask only a few questions. Since she speaks no English, we communicated through sign language and my poor French. One important document was missing that I should have received from the car dealer. Knowing I wouldn’t know what to ask the car dealer, since he speaks no English, the registrar placed a call to him and asked him to email the needed information. The conclusion to this story is on hold until the beginning of office hours tomorrow.
The insurance for the phone? JJ’s suggestion to punch #1 three times during the automated answering system’s messages worked like a charm. A human being answered after the third round and I was routed to someone who could speak English — somewhat. That person ended up emailing the instructions for filing a claim which I luckily received. Now I just have to drive back to Nimes for more information from SFR — which could never be explained over the phone.
When all else fails, Southerners eat mayonnaise
So that’s how I spent my week in France. The best news is that I had a half loaf of crusty French bread in the freezer and three boiled eggs in the refrigerator. That made a mighty good deviled egg sandwich. With a glass of red wine, of course.