Monday, August 2, 2004

The Cathedral Keeper

We arrived in Bayeux in the middle of the day. After a long trek into the center of town and then another long trek up a very long hill (carrying and pulling our luggage up the busy, narrow street), we rested for a while in our hotel room.

The garden outside our windows was blooming. There were birds singing in the canopy of the trees. The sky was blue. The sun was out. And we were tired. So rested in the room and then went to eat sandwiches by the river and then went to see The Tapestry.

We were the last ones to leave the cathedral that day.

The large wooden door was wouldn't budge when we pulled on it to leave. The keeper of the place saw me struggling to figure out how to unlock the latch -- it was a complex looking contraption with several keyholes and several knobs, something altogether fitting for the door of a gothic cathedral.

He came up and said something to me that must have translated to Can you figure it out? There was a playful tone in his voice. I tried again briefly with the latch but couldn't master it.

Qu'est-ce qu'on doit faire? I asked, thinking maybe he'd give me a hint.

He chuckled and showed me a key he was holding. And he reached around me to insert it into one of the keyholes in the latch. We laughed. He pulled the door open and the light of afternoon flooded thru the crack.

Merci, we said.

He smiled and shut the door.

Trip to France - Day 5

10:16:57 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

How Do You Say...

Trudy leaned forward from her seat after we left the station at Caen and were rolling toward Bayeux.

Tell me again, she asked. How do you say, We have a reservation?

The woman across the aisle was paying close attention. She had been speaking very quietly to her young grandson, evidently explaining about travellers and tourists. As she was whispering, he was watching us closely. And when Trudy asked her question, I could feel the woman waiting for my answer, curious I suppose as to what she was going to hear.

So in the best French accent I could muster, I replied, Nous avons un reservation.

Trudy made me repeat it several times, which I did. And I suspect that the woman got a kick out of the fact that I got the gender wrong -- every single time. (It's "une reservation". I know better than that.)

Oh well.

Trip to France - Day 5
going to Bayeux

9:19:25 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []  

Exact Change

The French have created something amazing with their public pay toilets. The modular, futuristic looking booths are distributed strategically throughout the country. They take your coins, let you in, lower a hydraulic seat (that's really nothing more than a U-shaped stainless steel pipe on hinges), automatically start a trickle of water running into a stainless steel sink recessed in the tile-lined wall, trigger a hot-air hand dryer when you reach for it, and saturate themselves floor-to-ceiling in a spray of sanitizing solution after you've left. Just watch out for that hole in the corner.

I have some words of caution, though. First, the machines don't accept one, two or five centime coins. They just throw them back at you. (I mean, they come flying back out of the machine.) Second, they don't make change.

This second point deserves a little elaboration...

We were standing on the platform in Caen, waiting on the next train to Bayeux. We had just arrived from Rouen. There was about an hour to go. We had been travelling since morning, and I found that Mother Nature was calling.

Like an answered wish, I spied one of the pay toilets setting out on the platform at the far end of the station. I walked up and read the instructions. They were easy enough to figure out. The cost was 30 centimes.

Fishing around in my pockets, I found 20 centimes and inserted the coin and then 5 and 2 and 2 and 1, making a total of 30 centimes. But the small coins came flying back at me, leaving the booth 20 centimes ahead.

I fished around in my pocket some more. The best I could do was a full Euro piece. I looked at it for a moment and then put the coin into the slot. I pulled on the door again, knowing I wouldn't get any change but expecting the door to open. It didn't.

Things were beginning to get serious, now. In disbelief and desperation, I put in another one Euro coin, leaving me down 2.20€ for a 0.30€ toilet. But the door still did not open. I stood there a moment trying to decide what to do. Ben had been watching me, and I knew he was wondering what I would do next.

I wandered back to the station and asked the man in the ticket booth if he could make change. I spoke tentatively, for we had found that getting change is no easy task.I made sure to explain what I needed it for.

Est-ce que vous avez de la monnaie pour les toilettes?

He was sympathetic. He asked how much it needed so that he could give me the correct coins, and he pushed them to me under the plexiglass window that hung between us.

I walked back down the platform with plenty of change in hand. And when I got back to the machine which had taken my money, I wondered if perhaps the booth was broken. Then I thought (optimistically) that it must just be finicky -- waiting for some combination of coins that would add up (in some permutation or combination) to exactly 30 centimes. And I wondered if it might let me in if I just put in a 10 centimes piece. So that is what I did.

I pulled on the door, and it opened. Next time I will have exact change.

Trip to France - Day 5

7:49:45 PM   permalink: []   feedback: Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.   comments: []