Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Bad Things Happen in Threes (A Week in Provence)
When the first rumblings began about planning a trip to Italy Keith put his two cents in. "I'd really like to see the south of France this time". My attitude was something along the lines of - as long as its on the way to Italy. And really, how can anyone complain about having to go to Provence. I do realize that Im a creature of habit and I prefer to do things that are in my comfort zone (i.e. things Ive done before). So I took an attitude of adventure and planned out seven days in France on our way to Italy.
French is a beautiful language when French people speak it. To me it is a big inside joke and Im obviously not in the loop. Why so many silent letters? If you aren't going to pronounce all those L's and S's why not just forget them. Think of all the ink that the French would save not having to print out all those "unspeakable" letters. I suspect French people of giggling together in secret groups..."and she said Milly Fuely" when of course I should have said "me foy" (mille feuille). So, I don't speak French. Mwa non parlay fransay.
The problem started with my superstitious thinking. I really don't think of myself as being particularly superstitious. Fridays the 13ths come and go without the slightest concern on my behalf. So why is it that when the First Thing happened I made note of it mentally as "The First Thing"?
The First Thing
I am 47 years old which means I've been driving a car for 31 years. 31 years of driving = no flat tires. 15 minutes in France in a town I've never been to and bang, a punctured tire. How did I do it? Run over broken glass? Vandal attacked the car with a knife? Drove over spikes? None of the above. I bumped into a curb. Thats right, the Ford Fiesta did not appreciated coming into contact with a 3" curb. Bump, hiss, wobblewobblewobble.
So what do you do with a punctured tire in a town you are lost in where everybody speaks a beautiful sounding gibberish? Cry. Well, almost. Actually I just put it in park and tried to act calm. I tried to think of possible solutions. "Call the hotel and have them come rescue us" Not likely. "Call a tow truck" No - remember the language barrier. "Walk to a garage" No - remember the "lost" problem. Evenutally we figured if we called Avis we might get some help. Which we did. An hour or so later and some funny sign language to the mechanic and we had four functional tires. We were still lost but at least we could drive around.
The Second Thing
I'll make this short and sweet. When traveling be sure to keep your bag "on your person". If not it will soon be "on another person" who will be the new owner of your euros and your iPhone. Nough said.
The Third Thing
Aches and Pains. They're normal and you brush them off until you can no longer do so, then it becomes a trip to the Emergency Room. Keith told me before going to bed that his left foot was really sore, but I chalked it up to the walk that turned into a mountain climb of a couple days before.
We had set off for a leisurely stroll from our apartment in Bonnieux to Lacoste, another hilltop village only a few kilometres away. We were armed with a page of directions for this "easy circular walk". It seemed that we were on the right track for the first few instructions. We were walking along pleasant country roads passing vineyards and fields of wildflowers. But when we got to the base of the mountain and started climbing a trail we both had our doubts and turned back. A few meters downward we came upon another couple who were heading up. They were Germans. They had a map. They said it was the way to Lacoste. So we left our common sense behind and followed Ingrid and Horst (or whatever their names were) back up the mountain.
There comes a point when you think that surely you must already be near the top and that turning back would be more onerous that continuing on. When you have that thought you should think again. The goat track kept going up and up and every once in a while you could get a glimpse of Lacoste in the distance which kept getting further away. After about an hour and a half of climbing this trail (were those wild boar droppings we just saw) we heard a very strange sound. It was a road, with cars driving by. It turned out that there was a picnic area / campground at the top of the mountain with a paved road back down the mountain. It was obvious that all roads don't lead to Lacoste so we abandoned our original plan and decided to take the easy walk down the paved road which surely lead to Bonnieux. In fact we were pretty excited about getting back quickly so we could have a long leisurely lunch at noon.
Not all roads lead to Bonnieux. We walked down and down and down some more and eventually at about 1:00 found a sign that said "Bonnieux 2.9 km" but it was another goat trail and anyone who's climbed the Grouse Grind can tell you that its hard to go up but downright dangerous to go down. So we kept to the main road which would "surely" lead to Bonnieux eventually. I have learned that I am an extreme optimist and it turns out that Keith is too. Around each bend we'd tell each other the town would appear. When it didn't we'd think it would certainly be the next. Finally we saw another sign for Bonnieux and left the main road and headed down this path - no water, no sunscreen, no hat. And this was a dead end - fields, farms, trees, no town. We sucked it up and turned back toward the main road.
A few meters along the path we spotted a parked car. There were two people out in the field picking wild thyme. We must have surprised them inadvertently when we came up to them and asked them if they spoke English (they did not - not a single word of it). Several minutes of trying to explain our predicament and I finally guessed correctly that they were offering us a ride back to Bonnieux.
Everything I'd ever been told about getting into cars with strangers went out the window. And thanks to the kindness of these French strangers we finally did get lunch (although it was a closer to dinner).
So Keith's proclamation of a sore foot didn't really concern me much until he woke up the next day and couldn't take a single step without being in excruciating pain.
Bonnieux is a gorgeous ancient hilltown. Our temporary home is a refurbished apartment within the ramparts of the town. At one point in it's history this apartment was home to a Cardinal during the Avignon Papal era (1309 - 1376). It has been recently renovated by the current owners and at first glance is quite spectacular. It is completely made of stone and brick. Every room has barrel arched ceilings. The exterior walls are 2 meters thick and our bedroom was once a chapel. The kitchen and bedroom have windows that open onto cheerful views of the countryside and the Luberon mountains. Charming is the best description. But I have learned that "charming" has a flip side which tempers the novelty.
In this case it was a bat. If I were a 16 year old vampire novel fan this would be a bonus, but I am someone who screams and ducks under the covers at the sight of a moth. The sighting of the bat on the second day of our inhabitance had me somewhat shaken. I saw him (or her) on at least two occasions as we were leaving the apartment and I know Keith saw it at least once but was insistent that it had "left the building". Unless he actually saw it fly out of the building I wasn't taking his word for it. So after the bat sighting a new house rule was put into place by "yours truly". No open windows in the apartment to prevent bats from infiltrating the living quarters. Its one thing to have it in the vestibule - quite another to have it as a room-mate.
One thing you need in an 700+ year old Cardinal's pad is ventilation. Walking over stone floors seems to create an impossible amount of dust. Under these conditions the time you want to spend inside the charming, bat infested dust-bowl is quite limited. As Im sure is clear by now, the novelty of sleeping in Dracula's castle had worn thin and I was getting a little tired of having to bundle up in protective bat gear (hat and scarf) every time we left the building. So it was really no sacrifice to suggest we leave Bonnieux a day early to go back to Aix to get medical attention for Keith's foot. So bright and early on this Sunday morning I trudged through the bat cave (vestibule) several times - loading up and moving on.
Lots has been written about the French medical system and our experience does not run contrary to the rumors. The Emergency Room at Aix Hospital was not "state of the art" but it was quick and efficient. Keith was taken into triage immediately and after I'd completed the paper work I was permitted to join him. A young doctor treated him professionally and respectfully. With a little translating help we could all communicate well enough. An X-ray ruled out any broken bones in this foot that could no longer walk. Blood work was ordered and about an hour later we learned that Keith had what we call in English - Gout. This diagnosis really did not go down with Mr. Fitness. "Gout! Old people get that - are you sure?" "Monsieur DoNald - the blood tests are certain - see for yourself".
It took some painkillers to get Keith from the hospital to the hotel but we made it and got him settled in to rest. The doctor told him he needed to rest for three days and take his medicine. Coming from Canada where Sunday is just another shopping day for most you forget the sanctity of the Lord's Day and the fact that in countries such as France and Italy where Catholicism was very influential, this one vestige of the religion has held fast. And speaking of religion - do you remember the story of Noah's Ark? Well, I do.
Actually it wasn't Noah's Ark I was in search of but a pharmacy. However with the oceans of water falling from the sky I would have jumped on the Ark if it had showed up.
The French have a love affair with their pharmacies and you see bright neon green crosses on every corner. Normally. But on the day the heavens opened up and brought forth the rains I was face to face with the other French Paradox - the pharmacies are closed. All except one and I have to find it. Apparently it is located on Cours Mirabeau which is the beautiful tree-lined iconic Aix en Provence scene. Let me tell you that after walking a kilometer or so, not sure if your going gauche when you should be going droite or visa versa, in a monsoon, without an umbrella, Aix aint so bloody great!
The green cross did appear about 45 minutes into the escapade and I swam in sheepishly and handed over a soggy prescription. I left after parting with a mere $5.80 Euros and in return got the prescription and a complimentary plastic bag to wear on my head. I headed off in the reverse direction and zagged when I should have zigged a few times, but eventually made it back in order to present my dearest with one of the hardest earned gifts I've ever procured - his medicine.
We very nearly threw in the towel ;) Actually we did think seriously about cutting the holiday short and coming home at this point. But, luckily the meds kicked in quickly and by the next morning Keith could walk ever so slightly and at least we could get on our train to head to Italy where no more bad things happened.