Photo taken in Barcelonnette
higgledy-piggledy, any old how
Jean-Marc pulled into the snow-n-slush parking lot behind l'Equipe Hotel, got out and searched for the entrance. Ignoring the two-foot-tall board marked ENTREE, he side-trekked around the back of the building. I think he purposely misses these "how-to" signs and, in so doing, he turns life into one man's perpetual back-to-nature quest (and French boot camp for his prissy American bride).
Max, Jackie and Miss Priss followed, dragging our bags up the steel-grated stairs reserved for employees; we hiked around the brasserie to find ourselves back on track with the normal guests who approached the hotel in a conventional fashion.
Three hours earlier, just before heading out for the French Alps, I'd talked my style-unconscious husband out of his Glad Bag valise so that this time we were not stealing past other hotel guests—me with a duct-taped suitcase, the kids with a plastic laundry basket "drawer-for-the-weekend" and my husband with two hefty garbage bags (the deluxe kind with built-in handles, and not the cheap ones with the detachable plastic yellow string), contents thrown in pêle-mêle.
In the Ubaye valley, where the village of Enchastrayes is nestled, the nearest town being Barcelonnette, we were greeted by three French mutts—which explained the surprise-on-ice we'd sidestepped out on the Path Less Traveled. The dogs' owner stubbed out her cigarette before checking the reservations book.
"Chambres 15 and 16," she said, pulling two keys from a wallboard of 23 hooks.
Max pointed to the keychain and quizzed his sister: Did she know what the small, abstract wooden carving represented?
"Un castor!" she correctly guessed.
We climbed four levels of moquette-covered stairs, pausing to catch our breath in front of a needlepoint wall hanging, its thick yarn ...in mustard, orange and black... looped loosely across a cotton canvas. Plastic flowers, now faded, punctuated each landing.
Two floors up, Jean-Marc pushed the long metal key into the keyhole at room 15. He had to tug the door forward as he turned the key to the right and to the left (this tugging and key jiggling was in response to an indice he was discovering in real time—as he watched a demonstration given by the young woman standing next to a vacuum cleaner and cart two doors down.
No framed needlepoint art in the rooms, just more plastic flowers and more synthetic-carpet tile. Each side of the bed in room 15 had candle lighting—except a plastic flame stood in for a fiery one. Behind a vinyl accordion door, the bathroom, which included a plastic flamingo pink shower head draped over decades old robinetterie, smelled like a porta-potty.
"No, it doesn't smell like that," Jean-Marc retorted. "It smells like a hospital."
"Oh," I said, encouraged. The kids' room was a repeat of our own, except that it had twin beds.
The stringy sound of a violoncello filtered in from chambre 14, the cellist's glorious musical notes almost canceling out the infant's cries from the room above; such wailing from deep in the icy French woods, along with the bow and string (sans arrow) next door, seemed in keeping with one Frenchman's return to the Land Before Time, and the hotel decor, though not prehistoric, had that barbaric feel with just the right dose of vulgar to temper Miss Priss's great expectations.
I watched my husband unpack his bags with gusto, and it occurred to me to face our circumstances with a similar verve or joie de vivre.
With a little effort, I could begin to see our surroundings in a new light: no longer did the room feel oppressive. With renewed thinking, I began to feel a flutter inside my spirit, as a new sense of adventure was born. One that would sustain me, again and again, each time my husband reserved a hotel room....
l'entrée (f) = entrance
pêle-mêle = in confused haste
la chambre = room
le castor = beaver
la moquette = carpet
un indice = clue
la robinetterie = plumbing
la joie de vivre = joy of living
====Note: any text from here, on, will not be included in the book.=====
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Listen: Hear our daughter, Jackie, pronounce today's word: Download moquette2.wav
chambre moquettée = bedroom with wall-to-wall carpet
faire poser de la moquette = to have a fitted carpet laid
la moquette murale = fabric wall covering
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