Je critique, tu critiques, elle critique …

October 21, 2009

I do not really believe in fate. 

Nevertheless, in future, I intend to steer clear of provocative questions such as, “what’s the worst that can happen?”

The weekend, you see, was an absolute nightmare. The big things fell into place – we caught the train with no problem, for example – but, as regards the medium and small things, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. 

Piaf was constantly demanding, sulky and prone to tantrums. Shopping was no fun. It was like my worst day ever of looking after her, multiplied by three, back to back, with no respite or support.

Oh yes. And we got locked out of our room on the first night and had to insist that the emergency locksmith be called out because all of Piaf’s stuff was in there. 

This is the shambles of an apartment-hotel we stayed in. I strongly recommend you never use them. True, the woman on duty was fantastic. But her initial response – and this was clearly policy – was to give us a different room and say that it would be sorted in the morning. For me on my own, that might have been acceptable if they threw in a discount. With a small, hungry, tired, nappy-rashed little girl, it was a non-starter. 

The best bit was to come the next morning, though. I had to drop the keys of the old (broken-locked) room at reception and let them know I was planning to stay in the (adequate-locked) replacement. “oh, yes,” the concierge said conversationally. “The locks are bad on that floor. They need replacing. Where are you now? On the ninth? Yes, that room’s a bit more spacious too, isn’t it?”

Now, if you are a hotelier or know a hotelier, I have a question for you. If you have two free rooms at the same tariff, and one of them has a dodgy lock and is smaller, why would you give that one to a paying customer instead of the bigger one with a working lock? 

Anyway, the whole trip was pretty much an ordeal, though there were some lovely moments – Lille has a fantastic zoo, for example, and a brilliant and busy children’s playground (which I found by asking strangers in the street if they knew of one – after all, why mention it in a guide book with a section called “Enfants”? Another shit purchase you would do well to avoid.

The trip was in some ways summed up by an event on the last day. Piaf was manageable largely because she is under the powerful spell exerted by ice cream. It is a miracle cure for all ailments and worries and we ate it each day, bonding over three scoops and two spoons. On the last day, I thought we might go to Meert, a “glacier” recommended by the same shit Petit Futé guidebook

Sure enough, the promise of ice cream lured her out of the playground, Pied Piper like. But now I had a promise to live up to, the ice cream parlour was quite a walk away, and time was actually looking quite tight if we weren’t to rush for the train. 

But when Papa promises, Papa delivers. We trekked to Meert. As soon as we went in, I saw it was far too posh for us – a bit like Oxford’s Randolph Hotel, if the Randolph let its staff have bad facial hair. 

Still, a promise is a promise. Beardy wisely seated us at a nice table at the back and gave us the menus. I read mine, Piaf threw hers on the floor. Time was really not on our side. 

Back came The Beard. I ordered a coffee. Where, I asked him, were the ice creams on the menu?

“Oh, we don’t sell ice cream. Not out of season.” 

“So, you are a glacier who does not sell glaces?” 

Apparently he was. 

We left, went just round the corner to somewhere very down to earth, got ice cream instantly and had more happy moments before going outside to watch a very organised gang of brass-playing buskers and then head for a packed Eurostar home. 

Did I enjoy our trip? No, not really. Would I do it again? Yes, although I don’t think I could actually organise it better than I did – I just think it was maybe a couple of months too early and that experience is the only thing that will make it easier next time.

Most pertinently, did it work? Did it have any effect on Piaf’s French?

In theory, it shouldn’t. Almost no one spoke to her except me; and, as her other main source of French was DVDs, it was not much different to being at home. 

And yet, all of a sudden, French words were appearing where previously there had been English words, and repetition was offered where previously there had been silence. I can only posit that, hearing me and everyone else speaking it non-stop, she started to believe that this was a real language rather than an elaborate game of her father’s, and to respect it accordingly. 

Monday morning saw us make a very fruitful first visit to Cadet Rousselle, but that can wait. I don’t want to over-excite you. 

In the mean time, here is the weekend treat I cruelly deprived you of.

It’s good to be back.


One Response to “Je critique, tu critiques, elle critique …”

  1. multilingualmania said

    What an ordeal!

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