N’inquiétez-vous pas, the young man at Nice’s Côte d’Azur airport said. He didn’t need to see Yoko’s papers. Never mind that eight people, a veterinary clinic and a Canadian federal agency had united in preparing the dog’s papers for her entry into France. Our French poodle was most welcome.
The passports of Philippe, 12-year-old Lolo and me – the three humans in our party – received cursory glances. It was, after all, past midnight, smack in the middle of a French Riviera weekend. And we were arriving from cozy Canada.
Bellevue’s old wooden door uttered its distinctive groan as we stepped into our Cap d’Antibes home of nearly 12 years. Its cool marble floors shone; the air inside was light and fresh. It was gone 1:00 a.m., but I couldn’t help myself. The WIFI worked. It actually worked.
An hour later I slid under fresh sheets, lulled into the belief that, at last, we’d won the battle. We’d managed a seamless transition into our summer lives in the Côte d’Azur from our rest-of-the-year lives in Toronto.
How silly I am. Life here has never unfurled effortlessly. Coaxed as I am by the moist, sweet air of the Côte d’Azur and the splendid sunshine that shimmers on everyone else’s sweating glasses of rosé piscine, why should a homeowner ever – even just this once – expect to unpack her luggage and slip gracefully, Grace Kelly-style, into a summer holiday?
The route back to reality started with a simple clock radio. World War I began with a single shot, didn’t it? The first morning back at Bellevue, we discovered Lolo’s clock radio was fried. Surely it had fallen victim to the electrical surges common within the area’s old distribution networks.
“I’ll just have the same one again,” she said. I thanked my stars for her nonchalance. Rather than brave the Côte d’Azur’s congested roads and shops on the first day back, I pulled out my computer.
Darty.com is France’s answer to Best Buy. They even offered free home delivery.
Joy infused my fingertips. After years of bemoaning the country’s fledgling online shopping industry, life was getting easier. The tech revolution had arrived. Gone would be the treks through higgledy-piggledy streets, weighed down and physically distended by shopping bags filled with unwieldy celery sticks and delicate eggs, bulging toilet rolls and heavy water bottles and replacement electronics, as I’d try diligently to reunite with my bus or bicycle or impossibly tightly parked car. Online shopping – that all-too-foreign concept in this land – was looking up. Best of all, it was making our re-entry easier this year. Soon, surely, I’d be enjoying my own rosé piscine.
I’d already entered my email, home phone number and home address in Darty’s website and was about to share my credit card information, but first they needed a cell number. An international number would not do.
We’d just arrived in France. I hadn’t yet sorted out my French SIM card, so I popped Véronique an email. Would she mind terribly if I borrowed her number? In any case, she had just tried to reach us about dinner that first night. Lolo had picked up the phone while I was engrossed online.
“Allô?” My 12-year old’s accent was so perfectly and musically French compared to my semi-incomprehensible Anglo version. “Oui, c’est Lolo . . . .” Véro had identified herself, at which point our phone receiver emitted an urgent blast and died.
I abandoned darty.com and went to ring Véro on the hardwired line, Bellevue’s only phone that was free from the complication of low batteries. That unit was dead – as dead as Lolo’s poor clock radio. We had no phone.
What does this mean for the alarm? I wondered while my darty.com shopping basket remained at check-out and – refresh, refresh, refresh – I waited for Véro’s email reply. Were we cocooned inside a rather stately home in an area steeped with burglaries (and horridly worse tragedies these days) – without even the breath of an alarm?
A half-hour passed. Why didn’t Véro email me back? We clearly had no telephone. Maybe no alarm either. Didn’t she want us for dinner tonight?
I refreshed my computer screen once again. The darty.com order beseeched me from its cart. Then I noticed my Outbox. Véro’s email was still there. The WIFI was jammed, too.
Philippe rang my Canadian cell number from the golf course, already making the most of his local membership. How was everything? he wondered.
Philippe was on his way home. He promised.
Before heading to Véro’s for a welcome dinner that first night – and I must underscore that it is a true joy and absolute privilege to have local friends who invite you into their home – Philippe and I decided to test our home alarm. He rang the monitoring station.
Oui, Monsieur, the station attendant told my husband, we can see the signal, but your alarm kept going off in the middle of the night the past few months. We kept sending people around, but there was never a problem. So we took your home offline.
Oh. No one had bothered to mention that detail.
Truth be told, another anomaly also challenged our renewed love affair with the Côte d’Azur. I guess I was avoiding it. Lolo’s bedroom was an oven, and fiddling with the air-conditioning dials didn’t help one jot. The new Rolls Royce of a climatisation machine – the one that our ingenious specialist rebuilt last year, and the very air-conditioner that supposedly would cool a small office block – taunted us from beneath the kitchen windows. Mr Marc, a fixture in all our French homecomings, would again swing by.
We must simply accept it. Returning to our beloved Bellevue each summer will never be a mere flick of the suitcase buckle. After 12 years, you’d think we’d have learned. But nothing changes in France. People say that’s the beauty.
In the end, Véro happily lent me her cell number. After a half-dozen expectant emails about our clock radio’s journey from Darty’s warehouse to our doorstep, I received an email from the post office in neighbouring Juan-les-Pins:
Collect your package by tomorrow or else we’ll return it to the sender. And don’t forget that we’re closed for two hours at lunchtime.
Or at least that’s what I thought the email said as I scurried over the hill of the Cap d’Antibes into the bustling streets of Juan-les-Pins, adding myself to a slow-moving, single-file queue at the post office.
On returning to Bellevue I reread post office’s email, written in a characteristic hybrid of French politeness and oppression. I actually had two more weeks to collect my box.
But perhaps my urgency wasn’t such a bad thing. Put another way, maybe I’ve simply mastered the art of French survival.