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It’s summer and tourists from the EU and the US are here in droves. I’ve never seen so many fit and trim Americans, clearly in top physical form, wearing their skin-tight biking outfits and following the Tour de France…whether or not it is this year’s or last’s itinerary. They sweep (sweat?) into Vaison-la-Romaine, stop for a salad and drink lots of water, and off they go to their next destination.
The Tuesday market is overflowing with Anglophones—even some of the vendors have resorted to speaking English. Even though people moan justifiably about the weak dollar vis-à-vis the euro, it doesn’t appear to be stopping Americans from traveling to France. I can’t remember a recent Paris bound flight from the US which hasn’t been filled to capacity. An increasing number of business people are opting to head south on the high speed TGV(it’s less than a three-hour-long trip) to enjoy a few extra days seeing and/or relaxing.
Or, they may choose to remain in Paris, where the World Cup is being broadcast in every bar that has a television. When it comes to “foot” the French are addicts and will cheer for or against every team whether or not it’s a French one. Some Americans are equally committed, and want non-stop coverage of this year’s event taking place in Germany.
But, ah Provence. Bet you think it’s all hill-top villages, lavender and glorious sunsets, filled with days of wine and roses. That’s true for visitors. But if you have a home here, there’s also something called practicality, not to mention being nice enough to share your plumber or maid. Because we’re not cloistered in apartments, we’re more dependent upon one another. Neighbors have keys to each other’s homes and will ask for help. C’est normale. This is especially true among the expats who are more numerous each year.
When my husband and I bought a house 14 years ago, located minutes away from Vaison-la-Romaine, we were able to count our American neighbors on the fingers of one hand. Since then, an increasing number have moved into the area, including a very special friend, none other than “Born to Shop” Suzy Gershman.
Suzy and I had known each other in another incarnation, when the thought of relocating to France hadn’t crossed either of our minds. It was an amazing twist of fate when we found ourselves standing next to each other at the opening weekend of EuroDisney. There were tens of thousands of people attending the event. But, who could miss a tall redhead wearing pink satin Minnie-mouse ears edged with rhinestones? We fell into one another’s arms and started laughing hysterically.
When Suzy moved to Paris, we immediately renewed our friendship. My husband and I couldn’t wait to invite her to our home in Provence and quickly persuaded her she had to live near us and a few of her other friends in the area. Suzy had been thinking Deauville; but the house of her dreams had fallen through. So, she was forced to settle for Vaison-la-Romaine – as if it were a hardship. But that’s only the beginning of the “Suzy” story.
We’ve lived through so many adventures together. We’ve shopped and driven throughout half of southern France looking for the newest and best soap, chocolate, fabric, pottery, pillows, etc., etc. We’ve circled the same town so many times that all I want for Christmas is a GPS navigation system.
Suzy is a dedicated lover of les puces (flea markets) so frequently we’ve taken roads un-traveled, when Suzy spots signs announcing sales that “simply can’t be missed.” She immediately zeros in on the buy of the day (she must have x-ray vision) and whatever car we’re driving is instantly converted into a truck. Off we go, often making a stop at a McDonalds for a bit of fast sustenance and a clean bathroom. We alternate standing guard at the car. Heaven forbid someone should make off with the booty.
When we’re in Provence, Suzy and I sometimes drive one another to the train station when we plan to be gone for more than a couple of days. We don’t have flashy cars, but it’s unwise to leave one sitting in an open parking lot that lacks security and/or surveillance. We take turns playing chauffeur and this week, it was my turn.
Suzy confessed she’d packed heavy. And she wasn’t kidding. Her suitcase weighed at least a ton. When questioned, she calmly explained she had three outfits from which to choose to wear to a glitzy party being held on a private yacht that would cruise up and down the Seine. Plus, she’d packed a couple of outfits for a trip she was taking.
It literally took two of us to navigate the suitcase and her carry-on. Her puppy Toffee was ever so excited about boarding the train that he started barking non-stop in fear of being left behind. While Suzy was changing her ticket, Toffee hit an all-time high pitch and started dancing uncontrollably. He managed to pull off the button on Suzy’s dress at an extremely critical place. Oh, happy days.
When boarding a TGV, be sure to look at the panel denoting where on the platform each car door will be when pulling into the gare (station). Since the train stops for only a couple of minutes, it’s important to be standing in the correct place on the platform. But, as sometimes happens, the train is reversed, guaranteeing out-and-out chaos as people switch positions. Seats are assigned and French people invariably sit in their designated ones, even if the rest of the car is empty and your seat is smack dab in the midst of a batch of school children going on vacation.
Before boarding, it’s essential to “compost” your ticket in the little orange machine that stamps the date and time. If you don’t, you may be fined since the conductor has the right to accuse you of trying to use the same ticket twice. As soon as I had driven out of town, relieved that my charges were onboard, I realized that neither of us had remembered this essential step and called Suzy on her portable (cell phone). If she tracked the conductor down before he found her (and Toffee), who were both required to have tickets, he’d validate them.
As we were running from one end of the train to the other – with Toffee’s leash getting intertwined with other passengers’ legs and luggage – I put it to Suzy. “What’s in here? Lead?” Suzy finally confessed she was transporting tiles from Provence for her bathroom in Paris and “voila, they added weight.”
Even though the same tiles are available in the chain hardware store right next to her Paris pied à terre, this was perfectly rational and ever so Suzy. But, as I was soaking in the bathtub questioning whether or not two (humm) middle-aged women were born to schlep, I began thinking. Why did Suzy have to bring the pounds of grout?
I called her as soon as I was dry. Even Suzy laughed as she admitted she was so glad we’d had the foresight to reserve a porter in Paris to meet her and escort her (and Toffee) to the front of the taxi line at the Gare du Lyon.
As Suzy would say, “C’est la vie.”
PS: Suzy called and announced she was heading to Leroy Merlin, the Home Depot of France. There weren’t enough tiles. Why wasn’t I surprised?
© Karen Fawcett