Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Attack of the Killer Toddler

Butterflies and lavender. This was in the hotel parking lot. That's attention to detail.

I’ve always found it strange that so much mental effort is put into finding a hotel whenever planning a vacation. Surely, if you’re going to be sightseeing all day, it hardly matters if your room is decorated with local handicrafts: by the time you get home, you’ll be too tired to appreciate them anyway.

So when Yann starting sending Amynah and I web-site addresses for our hotel options, I must confess I wasn’t terribly motivated to make a choice: the hotels all looked equally attractive, and we weren’t planning on spending much time in them anyway.

As it is, we ended up booking two rooms at the Mas di Lioun, a family-run bed and breakfast in Chateaurenard, not far from Avignon.

We pulled into the old farmhouse at 2 o’clock in the morning. Julie, the proprietor had stayed awake until then to show us to our rooms. Amynah and I ended up on the upper floor, which had its own large veranda.

So far, so good. Morning was even better, as Julie presented us with a feast of croissants, pain au chocolat, fresh baguettes, along with delicious homemade yoghurt, preserves and buckets of strong coffee. She asked us about our plans for the day, recommended places to go, and told flattering stories about how wonderfully nice Canadians were. All this in a while songbirds serenaded us from the cherry orchard behind the inn. If this sounds unbelievably idyllic, it was – though, on the negative side, I did find it difficult to swallow my fresh-squeezed orange juice though my repeated sighs of contentment.

After stuffing ourselves, we headed off to explore Provence, starting with the Arles market at Julie’s recommendation. After a long day in the countryside, we returned to the inn for a short break before heading back out for a late dinner.

We had a pcnic near here. It features in a famous book in French literture called...ummm... hey look over there! butterflies!

This time, Julie’s children, a boy and a girl, were up and about. As Amynah and Félicie retired to our respective rooms to “freshen up” (i.e. “nap”) the boy, a five-year-old I’ll call Ben – approached the car where Yann and I were chatting with Julie.

Not at all shy, Ben threw the ball to me. I caught it, and threw it back. He threw it harder, and I tossed it, gently, back in his direction. Then he whipped it as hard as he could at my chest, off of which it bounced into the garden.

“Ha ha! You missed it!” he said in French.

Grumbling, I agreed. I then tossed it his way again – gently, to make sure he caught it. It landed short.

“You’re really maladroit,” he observed. This was getting embarrassing.

Soon, Yann joined us, and a game of – something – broke out. Ben explained that he was guarding an anthill. Yann and I were supposed to chase him, or guard the other end of the orchard, I’m not sure which. I didn’t quite understand the rules, and asked for clarification: “I don’t speak French very well,” I explained. Ben just gave me a look, as if to say “That’s not my problem” and ran off with the ball.

Soon Ben’s little sister – I’ll call her Laura – joined in the fun. She was 3 and a half, but about the same size as her brother, and equally adorable. Given that it was about 30 degrees, she decided to take off her shirt, which she hung onto as if it were a matador’s cape, even while gripping the ball in her other hand.

At some point, she had possession, and I made a feint in her direction, at which point she hissed at me and whipped her t-shirt in the general direction of my eyes. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such a fierce expression on a human so small. Discretion being the better part of valour, I kept my distance from her after that.

At this point, Julie and her husband David called Yann and I over for some refreshments under the shade of the trees. We sat and chatted for about an hour, before realizing that neither of us had seen our lady-friends for quite some time. We roused them, and made our way to Avignon for dinner.

On the road into town, Félicie asked Amynah if there was anything out of order in our room. Not really, replied Amynah, but the bed hadn’t been made. It turned out that it hadn’t in Félicie’s room either. Additionally, the teacups they had used the night before were unwashed, and on the nightstand exactly where they’d been left.

Provençal home in Arles

Amynah and Félicie were both of a mind to complain when we got back. Yann and I, on the other hand, were inclined to let it go: “We played with their kids!” “They gave me a free beer!” we said, as our better halves rolled their eyes, indicating that they felt we’d been bought off for a Heineken and a “Finding Nemo” beachball.

That wasn’t entirely true; I feel sympathy for Bed and Breakfast owners. I can imagine how it must feel to be a professional host: people in your house all the time, expecting breakfast, needing fresh sheets and towels, making small talk over breakfast when you just want to read le Monde in peace, always requiring the same directions to the same local sights, always showing up in hordes at the same time that you want to take your own vacation and thus making you a prisoner in your home summer after summer. Julie’s policy – and we later discovered a sign in our room indicating that it was indeed policy - of having guests take the same attitude that they were staying with friends seemed like a decent compromise, and they held up their half of the sociability-bargain that this implied.

Besides, quite frankly, I was terrified that if we complained they’d turn Laura and her Red T-Shirt of Doom loose on us. And I wasn’t risking that for anything.

In all seriousness, the inn was incredible, and Julie, David and their children were amazingly good hosts, and delightful people. I can’t recommend the place enough.


janekramers said...

I am relieved to discover the killer toddler you discuss in this entry is not, in fact, mine.

JC Martin and the Union of Hotel Concierges said...

Thanks for another weapon in my arsenal of misanthropy against B&Bs. "See, Susan! See! Children! Demanding to be entertained. Is that what you really want?"

And, sure, it's nice to think that you are staying "with friends," but how much do your friends usually charge you per visit? (PS. Best not to answer that.)

Mark Reynolds said...

Jane: Did Todd tell you what Maarten did to my nose? I've never heard it make a noise like that before. It was an accident, and he was very upset about it, though no harm done. Overall, I've concluded children are dangerous.

Craig: You mean it's not standard practice to charge for sofa usage? Maybe I should install or mini-bar in the spare room then, try to improve my margins here.

Brian Busby said...

I share your sympathy for B&B owners. It's all my wife can do to prevent me from lending a hand. 'Here, let me help with those dishes.' For this reason, we now stay in hotels. I will say this: no matter how highly rated, no hotel has yet offered free beer. Must get her to reconsider.

David Beeson said...

Having heard the story of the goings on in the inn from another source - two other sources, actually - to be fair, two other female sources to leave absolutely not ambiguity over their identities - I have to say that your version leaves out some significant details, concerning Julie's chest measurement and her dress sense, at least in so far as it related to that measurement.

Come on, Reynolds, come clean: complete the story.