Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Le portail secret

The movers left at noon. The temperature was approaching 90 degrees, and there was enough humidity in the air, and enough clouds on the mountain horizon, to augur for more heat and an afternoon storm.

This morning the movers came earlier than they had on the previous two days; they were here a few minutes after eight, and the father--our moving crew was a father and his two 30ish sons--was running down the path by the house to open the secret gate and let the moving truck into the garden.

La Bastiole has two gates. Houses in our commune are only permitted one. We have one that leads into our small parking area--that's the legal gate--and one that leads directly from the lane into the garden. That's the illegal one. (We call it the secret gate; secret sounds so much nicer than illegal, don't you think?) The one that the mairie has told Jules that he has to take out. The one that Jules' good friend le maire told him that he could only leave in if he camouflaged it with plantings on the street side and never, ever opened it. The one that Jules opens every six weeks on average to bring in the bob or the tractopel or the load of gravel that is supposed to solve our septic problem.

The one that Jules said the movers were not, under any circumstances, to use.

C'est illégal, ce portail, et je n'ai pas le droit de l'ouvrir, he explained to C. This gate, it's illegal, and I don't have the right to open it. The movers, they can just put the truck in the parking, it's not a big deal, you know, these ouvriers, they're always just trying to take the easy way out, but in Paris, people are moving into and out of apartments on the fifth floor all the time and the movers, they do it and they don't complain.

Our legal portail--the one that leads into the parking--perhaps this is the moment to say a few words about that one. La Bastiole's driveway--in the middle of which stands the legal portail--is vertical in both directions. To turn into it in a manual transmission car, it's necessary both to downshift and to get a running start, both of which are difficult to do given that the lane is, itself, more than a little steep. (Some of our visitors won't even make the turn. They prefer to continue along the lane, through two blind curves with a seven foot drop on one side, to turn around in the slightly wider spot and come at it the driveway from the opposite direction.)

Once you make the turn, you have to turn the wheel sharply to avoid a wall on the left and then sharply, again, to correct for the wall on the right. These are walls made of large, uneven stones. Having threaded that needle, you find yourself at our gate, and then you put on the brake because you are now about to lose all the altitude that you just gained. And watch out, because there's an olive tree in the middle of the parking. When you've got the emergency brake on, you can leave the car and walk down the gravel path to the house, descending a half dozen uneven, wide, low, gravel-covered steps that are set into the terraced hillside. You can then enter the house either by a steep set of uneven stone stairs or continue around to the front of the house by way of more (and still descending) gravel.

When we moved in to La Bastiole two years ago, the movers used the (then not-so-) secret gate. Jules was feeling flush with having rented an unfinished house to Americans, and the mairie had not yet broken the news to him about the second gate being illegal. So it was pas de problème for the movers to back their shuttle truck in and unload our worldly possessions.

This time Jules' attitude was different. The movers' was not. When I met with M. Morin, le responsable, for the first time, he took one look at our driveway and said: We cannot get a truck in here. I do not know how we are going to do this.

And I said, Oh, pas de problème, Monsieur, on peut utiliser le portail secret. And I explained all about it. From the secret gate, it is but a few level and grassy steps to the terrace and the wide kitchen doors.

He was reassured.

Then we told Jules.

And Jules said--what he said (see above).

And C and I thought about the movers bringing their truck in through the legal gate. I remembered the scene in How the Grinch Stole Christmas when the Grinch's sleigh is balanced at the pointy tippy top of a mountain, a chasm on one side and a luge run on the other.

Jules talked to M. Morin on the phone several times, rehearsing with him all the reasons that it was impossible to use the portail secret. M. Morin came to see me again on the first day that the movers were here. We stood in the kitchen in a sea of newsprint and boxes while the movers packed around us.

I spoke with your propriétaire, he said. His eyebrows said the rest.

Ah, oui? I said.

He said it will not be possible to use the portail as we discussed.

Ah, oui, I said. (It's all about inflection.)

I'm not sure what we will do. Again with the eyebrows.

Ah, non? V0tre propriétiare, Madame. Il habite où, normalement?

He lives in Paris, Monsieur.

And is he in Paris now, Madame?

Ah, oui, Monsieur, I said.

Alors-- he began.

Monsieur, I interrupted. Sometimes, I am not understanding the French very well, you know. People, they are saying things to me, and I am not really understanding what they have said when they say what they are doing.

Ah, oui? said M. Morin.

And so today the movers left at noon. The house is empty save for a few beds and chairs, and a table and some lamps. We've got enough kitchen goods--plates and cups--to manage with, and a pot for boiling water and a pan for making tomato sauce, and of course my tea kettle. It took the movers two trips in their shuttle truck between La Bastiole and the large truck, the container truck, that the driver parked in the lot down by the rond point. The papa and his sons moved all the boxes out onto the terrace, and thence into the open truck.

Jules arrives on Sunday for a few days. I hope we get some rain between now and then. The grass at the edge of the terrace, near the portail secret, is looking a little worn.

1 comment:

  1. ROTFLMAO!!! I LOVE your "I am not understanding the French very well" speech because I have used it myself SO may times!
    It can be used to "arrange" so many situations.

    Great job!