Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Tom and Mindy in France

Had a long drive with heart to heart chatting on the way to the ferry. It was good to be able to confide in a dear friend like that...you forget how important that is when you don't get to do it every day. We were hungry by the time we got there, but I figured there would be a food court for passengers so I just got us in the queue. Unfortunately, I forgot to factor in the part about how England doesn't seem to like to let stores be open when people actually want to buy things. There IS a food court, but it closes at 10pm, so people on the midnight ferry are screwed until they get on board. We did find a restaurant open when we got settled on the voyage, though, and we had a so-so meal of meat and potatoes. I slept, Tom read the map. Two hours later we were in France.

With the time change, it was now 3 AM. Tom had reserved us a hotel near Dunkerque (where the ferry lands), but had no clear map and no phone number to get us there. We drove around the deserted streets of a sort of depressing little french town for over an hour looking for it. Eventually we backtracked to a sign that had an indicator to "hotels", and we were able to find our way there. It was a serviceable three star motel, and we had a double bed with a bunk single above. (I claimed the double bed and, though I magnanimously offered the other half to Tom, he took the rooftop bed instead.) The bathroom/shower was one of those all-in-one french things with a drain in the middle of the floor so it felt kind of like we were in a train instead of a hotel.

Had a wardrobe panic, what since Tom had forbidden me to wear jeans around his French friends, but did so without warning in a kind of panicky voice that made me think they might be the sort to care a little too much about what I was wearing. I made sure he approved of my clothes before leaving for the day. He did, so we got in the car and headed to Chantilly.

I took a semester of French my freshman year in college but currently don't speak it at all. I understand some if the speakers are going slowly and not slurring, but by no means do I understand a whole conversation and I can't answer a question if my life depends upon it. Wouldn't you know it. All of our French hosts had limited English...the two men could have basic conversation, and their wives were like me - able to understand some but unable to respond... so I did a lot of animated gesturing and face making to ensure I was making my point. It was torture, I tell you, not to be able to effectively communicate.

The couple we stayed with had a gigantic three-storey house with a huge walled garden and a spectacular veranda. It was impeccably decorated with the shabby chic of high-priced french antiques and artfully placed clutter of books and pictures and magazines and artifacts that had collected an elegant amount of dust. There were oil paintings of relatives on the walls and lovely little landscapes and drawings by vaguely known French artists. It was almost surreal, so frenchly posh was this house.

We had dinner at local restaurant. Tom and I both ordered the snails, which garnered comment from the owner, as the English don't generally like the snails. I successfully avoided organ meat without appearing a rube, though I believe they altered my request for a rare steak au poivre, assuming that I'd be happier with medium.

Tom told our hosts about my job and, as all good Rotarians with a good level of civic pride would do, they took this as a prime opportunity to promote their city. Sunday AM we were given a breakneck tour of the area, including a four-star hotel, the world-class polo grounds and race track, and the local Chateau (including a running tour of the inside) all in about an hour and a half. Tom and I went to another family's home for lunch, and were served a delicious lunch with aperitifs, an avocado/tomato/basil salad, a navarin printanier, fantastic cheeses and ice cream with raspberry coulis. After lunch we drove to Senlis, a walled medieval city nearby, walked through the cobble stoned streets and toured their fantastic Gothic cathedral. Returned home and had a leisurely dinner of lamb chops and snow peas with our hosts, followed by coffee and the most amazing peanut brittle egg with little chocolate bells. (He nice, the Jesus.)

Monday we went back to the Chateau for a more leisurely tour. It was a perfect, sunny beautiful day. The house is lovely and ornately French. There are galleries with many of those 18th century paintings with hidden meaning. For example, there is "Portrait of a Man", which would be more precisely named "Portrait of a Drag Queen", and "The Oyster Lunch" which is basically a giant metaphor for a homosexual orgy, with all these men gorging on oysters and watching a champagne cork fly into the air while draped upon each other in vaguely lascivious poses. Love this stuff. Walked into the gardens, where we had a delightful lunch in the sun.

I got to see numerous stereotypes incarnate...there was the greasy, smelly little french man with the suit in need of laundering that lead the tour of the private apartments. And the growly bear-man with the rumbly voice that was so low-pitched he made the guy that starts We Want the Funk with "Tear the roof of the mutha.." sound like a tenor. And there was the poncey French guy wearing loafers and a button-down shirt with a white scarf tied around his neck and a sweater around his shoulders. It was great.

Before leaving Chantilly, we stopped at a baker for treats...a baguette, some chocolate croissants, and some meringue treat with an appalling name. Made the drive to the ferry, got there early and were allowed to take an earlier sailing, and made it home by 1130. Tom beat me at two games of Skipbo during our sail, a humiliating defeat that more than pays me back for the humiliating defeats I dish out to my fellow scrabble players.

Tom made me breakfast this morning, and then I took him to National Express around 11. He should be home in a few hours. I will miss him.

2 comments:

Coaster Punchman said...

All in all a nicely accurate retelling of our weekend. Except for a few items I must clarify: 1) My announcement that jeans would not be appropriate for the weekend was certainly not made in a panicky voice; rather, simply an informative one. Knowing that at this stage of her life Mindy is in possession of an adequate repository of adult-appropriate clothing, I am surprised the announcement caused as much consternation as it did.
2) Mindy neglected to inform you that her mother told her on the phone "you are letting Tom do most of the talking? Well, that is a first!" I must admit it was more than odd to spend 48 hours in a situation where Mindy was unable to contradict me.

I tried to do a lot of cross translating, but sometimes would forget and then would later be surprised that Mindy did not know, for example, that the Queen was visiting the north of France on Monday and that we should watch out for traffic jams on the way home. (This conversation had occurred in French and I forgot that Min wasn't getting the full effect.)

I must say it was a nearly perfect weekend. The only thing that would have made it more perfect is if Mindy spoke more French. Which she will by the next time we visit.

Bubs said...

Your weekend sounds unbelievably wonderful. I'm a sucker for food and travel writing, so you really got me.