Moving to France isn’t easy. So if”Dancing Queen” from the movie “Mama Mia” came into your mind last Friday, it was me, blasting the music from iTunes through my rooftop in France. I was celebrating that my internet connection and phone in the apartment were finally working!
Before then, I was close to a meltdown. My lack of French language skills was about to get the best of me, to tell the truth. Imagine trying to place a service call to the cable or telephone company if you can’t communicate. There’s no way to get through an automated phone answering system if you can’t speak French!
I showed up at my friend Geoffrey’s house daily with a “Deborah-do” list. He’s the only bi-lingual person I’ve felt comfortable asking favors. However, depending on him to deal with my never-ending household issues was getting to be much. Even for me, the “Queen of do-me-a-favor ple..eee…ase.”
So, last Thursday morning, I stopped by the town’s tourist office to ask about a newcomer group I had heard about last summer. The receptionist gave me verbal directions to the newcomers’ office. Wasting no more time, I set out to find it. After a few wrong turns, I entered the athletic field mentioned in the directions. A sign led me to a tiny building inside the fence at the far end of the playing field. The squat, stone structure looked like a baseball dugout shelter, except it had a door at the end closest to me and barred windows on the sides.
The fence gate was open, and just inside the gate, a dirt path led to the entrance door. When there, I turned the worn knob and pushed my weight against the heavy, wooden door. Expecting to see a reception desk inside, or at least to hear a “bonjour,” I saw only a hallway of closed doors and heard muffled voices.
Walking towards the noise, I reached the room that, I hoped, would be full of English-speaking people. Opening the door and sticking my head inside the tiny, dimly lit room, I saw the glares from at least a dozen men and women sitting around a table. They were probably conducting a crucial meeting, which I rudely interrupted. But surely they would understand. I was on a mission.
I needed anyone to come to my rescue… to speak English.
Before entering the room, a kind young woman stood behind the table to greet me at the door. But by then, I had blurted out, “Does anyone speak English?”
No one said a word. They just looked at each other, waiting for someone to speak up.
“What??” I said to myself. ” No one speaks English? What kind of a “welcome” group is this?!”
Fortunately, none of that ‘head-talk’ came out of my mouth. Nevertheless, I’m sure every person in the room, from the look on their faces, got the message and said in their own heads: “Ugly American!”
Meanwhile, the lovely lady standing with me quickly grabbed my hand, pulled me into the hall, and closed the door behind us. With sign language and a few French words that I could understand, she communicated that I should come back the following week for French lessons.
In total despair, I walked home, right past Geoffrey’s house.
As fate would have it
Friday morning, I was surprised to hear my new cellphone ringing. I’d purchased it for calls in France, and I couldn’t imagine who would call me. It was Geoffrey. He announced he had found the perfect person to help me with my phone and internet problems. His English friend, Andy, could help me for a few hours — for a small fee.
Eureka! Andy worked miracles within two hours of showing up at my apartment. The internet, the landline, the wifi connections … all were up and running. On top of that, the plumber was on his way to the apartment. Hopefully, he would find out why I had no hot water and turn on the radiators. I had been taking cold showers for five days, and the apartment was cold at night. No wonder I was getting hysterical.
While my new best friend had fulfilled his intended mission, he inadvertently informed me he had a van.
A van! A robust young man with a van! My prayers were answered. Now, my ten boxes stuck in a warehouse in Marseilles could be rescued! The boxes filled with clothes and household items were shipped from the States in August and had been “held hostage” since early October. I spat with the handling company and customs agent about taxes. (Another story, another time.)
A quick trip to Marseilles
This tale is best told by pictures.
Driving the two hours to Marseilles was no problem. Finding the warehouse where the boxes were stored was another story. Our GPS map didn’t consider the massive construction work underway around the port in Marseilles.
At the warehouse, everything looked orderly and well-managed. Then, my boxes were trucked on a forklift to the door.
Please no! These can’t be mine!
There are no pictures of Andy hauling the boxes up the 55 steps to the tower apartment. I didn’t have the nerve!
Moving to France Drama: Stress, Yes. But fun along the way.
Reflecting on my first month living in France, I can easily say the “good times” have outnumbered the “bad.”
Hanging out with Geoffrey almost daily has been an adventure with enough stories to fill a book. It’s given me a great chance to meet some interesting “characters.” These are not the kind of folks you’d meet at fancy social gatherings. They are the people you’d pass on the street. Luckily, I’ve had a chance to get to know them and experience their ways and antics. Here are just a few …
Reggie is from the French Basque country. “I’m Basque,” he proudly proclaims to anyone within listening distance in his raspy, deep voice. Because they live on the same street, Reggie spends much time on Geoffrey’s doorstep. When he’s not teaching the boys in town how to play rugby. Reggie (shown on the right) and his good friend Matthew permitted me to use their names and pictures in the blog. I told them they could say “Hi” to the many women who like to read about life in France.
The day this picture was taken, Reggie and Matthew moved a mural and wrought iron patio set I bought from Geoffrey from his house to my apartment. Little did they know that, aside from carrying the mural and patio set through the streets of Uzes with no vehicle, they’d also have to climb the 55 steps to my “tower” apartment.
No one knew the mural was too giant for the winding tower steps. Did that stop Reggie the Basque? Of course not! With a stroke of sheer genius, Reggie figured out how to hoist the mural up the side of the tower wall and maneuver it sideways into the upper window of the apartment. Voila!
Michel and Nicholas come for dinner.
Perhaps the two most delightful characters I’ve met in Uzès are Michel and Nicholas. Both were invited, along with Geoffrey’s girlfriend Nandine and me, to have dinner with Geoffrey on a Sunday afternoon.
Geoffrey prepared a memorable French meal with Mont d’Or cheese I bought at the Saturday market. “Mont d'” means “mountain of gold” in English. It tastes like honey from heaven. The cheese comes in a round bamboo container with a paper lid. To prepare Mont d’, remove the box lid and stuff two or three garlic cloves deep into the cheese’s middle. Wrap the container in aluminum foil and bake the cheese for approximately 30 minutes until it is nicely melted.
Geoffrey served Mont d’ Or with boiled potatoes, a salad with vinaigrette dressing, and fresh baguettes. We had Fromage blanc with rum raisin sauce sprinkled with roasted almonds for dessert.
It’s hard to decide if the meal that Sunday, or the company, was more entertaining. Geoffrey’s friend Michel is quiet and introspective. Nicholas is rowdy and comical. Most of the conversation around the table was in French. Nevertheless, I could understand a lot that was said from the occasional French words I knew and from the animated facial expressions and laughter.
Who wouldn’t have fun with guys like these?
(RIP Nicolas – 2018 – We miss you)
Stay tuned. More friends to meet.