Thursday, March 01, 2007

Provence...and the return of the key

On the morning of our second day in Arles we took the car into Provence, which is to say inland. We drove to Aix en Provence...about an hour's drive. It was market day in Aix. No matter what else you might consider doing when travelling, visiting local markets is always a good way to pass the time. Aix itself is a little city with a cosmopolitan feel and lots of university students. We picnicked in the Parc Jordan...I couldn't resist getting a picture of this sign because it seems so French in it's careful and systematic elaboration of the play equipment available and the age ranges permitted for each one. The flip side of this is the equally French trait that probably no parent ever reads and/or heeds this sign. The kids played and Beth and I struck up a conversation with a couple there. He was from Provence, his wife was Dutch, and they had two adorable girls who appeared to be African. We chatted for awhile, exchanging travel stories and recommendations...the more these kinds of encounters happen, the happier I am. The pleasure I derive from making contact with people emboldens me to try it more and more.

We spent the afternoon driving leisurely home on back roads, following more or less a route called the route d'oliviers. Provence features contrasting landscapes, here carefully cultivated and trimmed vineyards or olive orchards, and then suddenly a bleached rock outcroppings. Spring seems already begun here, trees blossoming, flowers in bloom, green pastures. We're too early to see the lavander but once again and again we keep reminding ourselves how lucky we are to have these roads more or less to must be a mad house in the high season.

Driving a car enables us to make impulsive decisions, a quick detour into a village ...or in front of an onrushing semitruck (a story better told in person). The scale here is so different from home. You're never more than five or ten miles from the next village. In that respect, Provence feels perhaps a little cramped. Further inland there is a national park where one can presumably get a better sense of the natural environment...but they don't call Europe the Old World for nothing...people have been settling in here for a long, long time.

Nothing like a curvy road to put the little ones to sleep. We meandered back to Arles.

If only that were the end of the reportable news for that day...we arrive at our doorstep and Beth discovers that our key won't turn the deadbolt. It's stuck. I try it several times, trying to stifle those ear splitting Hitchcockian violins that are starting to sound in my head...what the hell is it with us and keys this vacation?
I call the manager. She'll be over in about fifteen minutes. Beth suggests that we see if someone else in the building can help us. We go down one floor and ring. A woman in a scary housecoat and scarf opens up. I do my best to put her at ease gathering my children about me as I explain our predicament. My only question for her is can she help us work the key but it doesn't take me long to realize that this woman is perhaps nervous in the extreme. She rattles on about how there is an agency a few blocks down that oversees apartments and there is a locksmith on yet another street, all the while clutching her housecoat and staying close to her door. I nod dumbly...I just want her to show me the door trick, but I don't really know how to convey that strange request to her. In the end she is talking a mile a minute while retreating steadily back into her apartment closing her door steadily in front of us. Thankyou, I say to the door as it closes.
The manager arrives a short time later. I give her the key and she opens the door. Beth and the kids tumble inside. I thank the manager but then immediately demand to see her repeat the door trick so that I can figure it out. She does so...admittedly she has to jimmy and jive the door a little but she opens it. She hands me the key and consoles me by saying that it wasn't easy for her either and that she'll have a locksmith come over in the morning to look at it.
When I go inside finally, I don't lock the door.
The next morning I run to market for some milk and bananas. Beth is fixing coffee. I'm back in five minutes with the groceries. As I deposit them on the kitchen table, Beth suggests that I try the door, just in case we decide to go out together before the locksmith comes at noon. Warily I look at's eight in the morning, this can wait, can't it?...on the other hand the manager opened the door twice right in front of me the night before...why not? So I grab the key go out close the door and turn the key. I hear the deadbolts, all three of them, slide home. Here in the stairwell the sound is faintly reminiscent of a jail. Except of course I have the key. I turn it back the other way guessed it, the violins begin playing in my head again. I try again more forcefully, then I put my shoulder into it. I notice the doorframe is moving ever so slightly but not the deadbolt. Sooo...I knock politely and ask Beth to please call the manager on my cell phone and tell her that her husband is locked out of the apartment and that she and the kids are locked in the apartment and would she please come to do that quaint little door trick of hers so that we can be together and free once again?
She shows up in a half hour and to no one's surprise opens the door though again not without a show of some effort. If it weren't for the fact that the locksmith was coming at noon, we would have to insist that she remain with us for the entire week. Indeed, the locksmith does come and in about fifteen minutes fixes the problem. He is momentarily stumped when he discovers he lacks a wood screw of the proper length. But he quickly discovers one in one of the hinges, he removes it and uses it to reinstall the plate that recieves the deadbolt. He smiles cannily and tries the door. It works like butter. "Maintenant, c'est trop facile!" he laughs. He's a likeable sort, like every single person I've met so far except for that creature on the floor below.


Anonymous cjones said...

ahhh, assuredly you have found the key to fine reporting...

3:59 PM  
Anonymous beth said...

you forgot to mention the moment when it sinks in; you are stuck out in the cold, dark corridor - I am inside having my coffee and eating breakfast with the kids, and you shout "this was a GREAT idea!!!"

1:16 AM  
Blogger kc said...

I had forgotten or maybe I'd tried to forget, anyway thanks Beth...
fair and balanced...
I don't know about you readers out there but I want to hear more on this blog from beth...any seconds to that motion?

1:23 AM  
Anonymous erin said...

I definately second that motion... haha!

11:55 PM  
Anonymous Missy said...

Hear, here!

4:21 PM  

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