I was on a quest. To find the perfect French country house pour moi. On the 6th day of my journey, I chose a town because it had cheap real estate and a hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant and a swimming pool.
After getting off the train, already having marked out in my mind’s eye the way to the center of town, I went to the railway station window to confirm my Google directions. At a quarter to five, the middle-aged balding clerk said in French, “I have no idea what you are talking about and I am not going to help you.”
I sat calmly in the railway lobby as 5 p.m. struck and the clerk locked his office and disappeared. “This is war,” I thought. I went into the bathroom, stripped off my jeans and long-sleeved shirt, and put on my slinky tanktop and short shorts.
I walked for about ten minutes towards where I thought I was supposed to go and immediately became disoriented on some nameless village street going who knows where. At this point, I was thinking, “I hate France and I hate this town and I hate all French people everywhere.”
One block later, I saw a door on the street open and an old French lady stepped out to shake her rug into the late afternoon. Desperate, I asked her in French if she knew where my hotel was. After some thought and with a lovely kind smile, she said in French, “Go down this street, turn to the left towards the church and at the church, you will see a sign pointing towards your hotel.” I happily, “Merci beaucouped” her, and as I wandered back down the street, I thought, “Maybe I really love the French. Yes, I really, really do.”
Ten minutes later, at the church, having dragged my bags a half hour in the July humidity, I saw a sign pointing to my hotel–“300 meters.” So I’m thinking, “3 meters to a yard = 100 yards, and a yard is like 3 feet, so that should be right around the corner!” I really love the French, I do!
One block later, I found myself in front of a large three-story building with glass windows and flags outside. If there are flags, this must be the right place, right? I tried all the doors but nothing opened. I tried to re-calculate meters to yards to feet in my mind as the July sun in 80% humidity kept falling on top of me. Maybe I better go further. Halfway across a small stone bridge, I thought, “This can’t be right!” I decided to go back past the flags to the sign at the church.
I had been walking for an hour and pulling my bags in the wet heat and I decided to give it a rest in front of the church which had somehow lasted a half a millenium. And even though I am not religious, I decided to pray.
All of a sudden, a tiny French car zoomed up to the church and stopped in front of me in the middle of the street. A really really cute young French guy jumped out of his tiny blue car and asked in French if he could help me.
I said I was looking for the X Hotel, about 300 meters away, and he gave me that European look that said, “I know exactly where you need to go a few yards from here, but I am going to take this silly American for a ride!”
He grabbed my bags, which wouldn’t fit in the back seat, and put them in the back trunk. I noticed the stickers on the back of his car which were from this X Town, so I decided he must be a real bonafide Frenchman, plus he didn’t appear to speak anything but French.
Once the car started moving, he grabbed my bare leg. Apparently my transformation in the railway bathroom was working.
It was then that I noticed that although he was half my age and very cute, his hair was sculpted into a point on the top of his head, kind of like a Hershey’s kiss, ala Pee Wee Herman. And then he gave a little burp; just like that Venetian guy in Nice had done. And I wondered, “Are all pickup artists this vulgar, or are they all Romanians?” (not to be prejudiced or anything since I had just read in the National Geographic that the Romanians are the “nouveau riche” of the world due to mining).
Meanwhile, in the car, back on the stone bridge, he asked if I wanted to come home with him. I said, “I absolutely can’t because I’ve made a reservation at this posh French place and I really need to go there and change my clothes after this long hot walk and take a swim in the pool and then . . . maybe you can pick me up for dinner at 7?” (I said all this in French, thank you very much.)
And then he suggested that maybe instead he should spend the night with me at the hotel and the pool and the Michelin-starred restaurant. He was really really cute and young and enthusiastic.
I quavered (is that a real English word?) a little bit, and I do admit that I closed my eyes and gave him the quickest kiss ever on his big soft French lips. But then my mother’s voice (God bless her dearly departed soul) spoke in my ear and I said, in French, that I had already paid for a reservation for one, and that these people in this haute hotel would not approve of me bringing in a stranger, and I really needed a bath, and so, “Au revoir.”
Once I was safely inside the hotel, I changed into my swimsuit and jumped into the pool while all the rich guests started filling the patio for dinner. I arrived late and alone and American, my particular signature, and I stared past all the white-haired wealthy Europeans into the gloaming as I ate course after course of what I think was escargot and trout in herbes de provence, and local goat cheeses. The Belgian couple next to me said, “Bon appetit!” and then we began talking as the lights by the auberge grew brighter in the summer night. The husband said he had complained to the maitre d’ that he could get the same wine in Spain for 5 euros not 20!
I wonder if I should have opted for the “budget” hotel on a bare mattress in a bare room in a countryside just as swellingly beautiful, but with Pee Wee Herman by my side. I really do love the French.
Copyright Rebecca Morrison