Subject: Peter's Trip Report from France
Note: Peter joined a "Let's swap houses for two weeks" club.
So this trip we had a two week swap in an apartment in Paris and then one in Tours (where Charles Martel
defeated the Muslims in the 10th century and drove them down into Spain from where they were finally run out
the same year Columbus 'discovered' the "New World") Tours is a lovely city on the Loire where every turn in
the river has a spectacular fort, castle, abbey or walled fortification. Besides pretty constant warfare it seems
man's prime activity in the middle ages was moving stone around. Unbelievable work and workmanship.
The builder/engineer/architects/masons were truly geniuses.
Europe has had a very wet winter but we missed the worst of it by our current swap in Cannes where it is
hot and sunny. Perfect beach weather. The crowds from the film festival have left and the summer build up is
not yet in full swing. The promenade along the beach is a people watcher's treat from the gorgeous, leggy in-line
skaters, to every variety of poseur, to Africans trying to sell outrageous hats. Smart looking women with the
requisite mini dog in a shoulder bag. Lots of retired couples seated and lobster-red thinking the trip might not
be panning out as they thought. Lots of exposed flesh but surprisingly few tattoos aside from the odd muscleman.
The promenade runs the gauntlet between the grand hotels built in the late 19th-early 20th century and some
newer models, but all are opulent and outrageously expensive. The terrace dining/cafe eating spaces are packed
with young-ish office workers, nouveau rich, and who knows what all. You wonder where the money comes from
with Europe hollering doom yet everybody living well.
On the sea side there are public spaces on both ends of the beach but the vast middle ground is occupied by
restaurants under canvas with full dining and drinking facilities all day and into the night. These also supply lounge
chairs and umbrellas at a substantial fee. The whole town reeks of money. However you never see a drunk or
the yahooism we get in NZ. Pretty jovial atmosphere and the police are there if something gets a little tense,
usually a financial misunderstanding. The municipal police have all the gear but are a study in non-aggressive
behavior and it seems that half are women.
There is a big convention of IT shakers in town with massive tents set up on the beach with lights, music and noise,
Yahoo, Micro, Apple i-everything--a real circus with shoals of fraternity types running around with their coveted
pass cards to the free-drink tents hung around their necks. (I was fortunate that in my five decades of employment
I was able to avoid ever being on a 'team').
Our current swap for this month is a comfortable apartment owned by 50 year old painter and chef (who ran a
B&B for 11 years in the family chateau, is an artist with international recognition and has 100+ hours towards her
commercial pilot's license--wonder woman). She stayed in our house in NZ last year and has now vacated her apt
for us while she moved back to stay with her ex-husband and still business partner giving French cooking lessons to
(mostly) americans. Aaah! You cook wid ze nose. Delicious food. The french take time in the preparation of their
meals and sit down with time to enjoy them. Everything but the cafes shut down between noon and 2 or 2:30.
You don't stand between a Frenchman and his lunch. It makes for a programming problem for visitors just when
your up and running, Ze musee is closing in ten minutes. Bugger. Ah, go and have a relaxing lunch with a cold
Chablis, you're on vacation, no? Why not? Come back at two. It is so institutionalized that if you put in a Euro,
for say two hours parking at 11:45 the ticket deducts two hours for lunch and reads time-up at 3:45.
How bloody civilized is that?
'Our' apartment is in an eight story former Casino built in 1888 and badly renovated in the sixties ruining the
opulent empire facade. It was turned into some 50-60 irregular apartments with new lifts and alternative fire exits
(not that common in older buildings). The grounds must cover ten acres half of which is asphalt for parking and
the rest in manicured lawns, mature trees and a fish pond. As we are only a 12 minute walk from the beach we
have no pool, unfortunately. The whole of the site is enclosed with the original eight foot wrought iron fence with
magnificent gates cosmicly triggered with the dongal on the door key. Pretty secure setup. All the apartments
have been fitted with two-hour steel fire doors with a locking system I have only seen in catalogs but never specified.
Four 5/8" pins extend at the knob height plus one at 6', one at 2' and one up into the steel header. The hinge edge
has fixed pins which mate into slots in the jamb. In an emergency I don't know how the fire department would
ever get through it.
In spite of the security our swapee had a second story robbery in broad daylight while she had guests here.
Some arab shinnied up the wall and got into her second-and-a-half story bedroom window which she subsequently
had grilled. Lost passports, money, etc. so, she is ultra careful and always closes the full height shutters and the
doubled glazed windows looking out of the bedroom and livingroom when she goes out and instructed us to do
the same. OK, a real nuisance but...her house, full of paintings, books, and an enviable sound system and collections.
However, we from NZ are used to living with everything open and the sea air whistling through, the place felt like
a bell jar. My wife went up to Zurich for a couple of days and I had the place wide open--lovely. I locked up
while I was down on the beach but I needed to run down to the supermarche for some cold wine and left the
windows open, I was only going to be out ten minutes. In the process of drawing a curtain in the hall swirling in
the draft I stepped out into the hall and as I pulled this Mossler safe-like door closed I realised that I didn't have
my key in my hand. Ah, surely you can just turn the handle.....Holy crap I've locked myself out. I am a pretty
meticulous guy and I have never, ever locked my self out of anything including 330 room hotel projects.
Let's assess the situation. I have 10 Euros on me, my passport and all my phone numbers are in the room.
There is no concierge. My wife is in Zurich and due sometime later that night and I don't even know if she
has her key with her. The owner is 260Km away. I have no one to turn to for help and I don't speak sufficient
French in any case. I wander around outside more than a little dumbstruck looking up at this wide open, yet
inaccessible, window. I look all over the back-of-house...nothing to stand on. I can't get the car close enough
what with the raised flower beds. It's noon and I can't believe I'm stuck outside till nightfall (10PM in these parts).
How stupid, I'm stumped and out of options.
Down the drive saunters a young workman in his boiler suit with his lunch pail.
Excuse em wah. Do you speak English (by any chance)? Why yes, what is ze problem? Perfect.
Eh, I've locked myself out...You wouldn't happen to have an extension ladder on you by any chance would you?
I need to get up into that window. Oui, we have one upstairs.(!) What are the odds? He disappears inside the building.
Moments later I can hear him clattering this 20' aluminum extension ladder down four flight of stairs. (What the devil
were they doing with a 20' ladder in rooms with 11' ceilings?) We set it up in the flowers but he didn't want to let
me climb up(!?) What? I've spent my whole professional life up and down scaffolding. I was like the proverbial rat
up a drainpipe. I unlocked the door and was back in two minutes as promised. He looked slightly amazed,
''mon deiu you are very spry". That's when you know you look old, spry indeed. I could not believe my luck.
I forced 5 euros on him against his real protest. Take it mate, you have no idea
how relieved I am and how much grief you saved me.
Peter, that was great - thanks.
We'll never make it to France so your report is likely the closest we'll get :)
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