Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hotel blues

Park & Suites Ëlegance la Ciotat, La Ciotat, France, March 18, 2012—

WE HAVE DRIVEN, in the last week or so, about 1500 kilometers, crossing France from northeast to southeast, back up a little toward Lyons, then back down to the Mediterranean. There was a time when I was astonished to hear from a friend, stated almost as a fault of mine, that I was a francophile. I don't think I am. I love Italy and Netherlands first, I think, and my own dear California, I think. My fondness for la douce France is more intellectual than corporeal. When I looked into the bookstore on the Place de Comédie in Montpellier, for example, I was reminded of the considerable intellectual life, at least the vie intellectuale potentielle, of the French, and I was of course envious; I even bought a book. But I am truly not a francophile, to the extent that I would be a citizen of France if I had to change my citizenship tonight.

As I may. We are currently (five p.m.) without a place to sleep tonight. I booked a room, using, at an inexpensive hotel in La Ciotat, choosing the town because we've never stayed there, and I recalled the name from the history of Picasso; and the hotel because it was recommended by previous users of, and was inexpensive. But when we arrived, about four o'clock, delayed by street closings due to a Sunday market — unknown to Our Lady of the Dashboard, about whom another blog, another day — there was no one at the reception.

We weren't the only ones flummoxed. There were two Italian businessmen there, looking all around for some way to get into their room. We all looked around, walked up the street, back down the street. Finally I noticed a, well, notice, posted at the door, with two or three phone numbers. The first didn't answer. The second did, at length, but the woman spoke only French. She asked my name and how and when I'd booked, and then whether I noticed a coffret anywhere nearby. At length I found it, and she gave me its code.

Inside there were a great many envelopes, each with a key inside and a person's name on the cover. One belonged to the Italians, who were pleased with me for having let them into their room. None belonged to us. I mentioned this to the lady on the phone, who said she had taken note of my telephone number, and would look into all this, and would then call me back with further instructions.

Oh well. We walked the few yards down the street to the Quai Mitterand and the Best Western Hotel, verified there was a room there if we needed it (double the cost of the one we'd booked), and gave its bar a try. Three parts gin, I told the boy who seemed the only staff in the huge empty café, one part Lillet, shaken with lots of ice. Oui mussieu, he said with what seemed to me a little hesitation. In a little while we heard frantic cocktail-shaking and soon he was back with Lindsey's glass of white wine and a huge shaker glass full of what turned out to be quite an acceptable Martini, garnished with lemon peel.

Finally I called the lady who spoke only French back. Ah I tried to reach you, she said unpersuasively, look again in the coffret. Wait, I said, I'm in a bar, waiting for you to phone me. Trudged back to the hotel, imploring her not to hang up, looked around, found the coffret, opened it with the numbercode she again provided, no envelope with my name.

Not important, she said (c'est pas grave sounds so much, well, graver), do you see one envelope on the top shelf. Yes, but the name is Carpet, my name is not Carpet. I started to add, Though I've often been called on the carpet, but realized in time this would only complicate matters.

Pas grave, she said, use that envelope. So we did, and finally got into the room, very nice, hot water, bathtub, no wi-fi — that would have to wait for the morning. There were other adventures, of course, involving bewildered machinists from Detroit, two vivacious young maids who spoke no English but were very helpful in French (ou Arabe, mussieu?), and the gouvernante who clarified a few things — again, French only. Well, after all, we're in France. Other adventures, but they'll have to wait.

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