Monday, September 16, 2013

Hotel Hell ...

So I'm off to Paris for a couple of days this afternoon, and as I was whipping round the market at Lézignan a sudden fit of generosity overcame me, and I picked up half a dozen oysters for Margo to have for her dinner tonight. Seeing as I won't be around. I just hope she completely sterilizes the kitchen after she's finished with the little buggers - come to that, hope they don't taint the Chateau Carton in the fridge, that would be a waste. Maybe I should buy a small flamethrower.

Happiness plus, I had thought that the likes of Tech'Otel were left behind us at Chambéry and that to satisfy my grosser needs I would have to go through to Perpignan or even Montpellier: imagine my pleasure on discovering that at Lézignan there is what looks like a hole in the wall with a few dusty pots and pans and a couple of dispirited bluebottles in the window but which, if you push tentatively at the door (for the place looks as though it's permanently closed), turns out to be a true Ali Baba's cave.

Yes, Margo stumbled upon Matcol the other day: it stands for "Materiel des Collectivités" should that interest you, and they sell everything required for the self-respecting hotel, restaurant or B&B. Linen, glasses, plates and cutlery, professional ovens, dishwashers and freezers, and best of all, saucepans. Lovely non non-stick stainless-steel jobs in all sizes, frying-pans, strange things for boiling pasta vertically, fish-kettles and all sorts. And those weird devices for squashing tomatoes into eight soggy lumps, and machines for peeling apples, and something I could only guess was a belly-button lint extractor. I was sorely tempted, but I think I shall save my return visit for my birthday, and give myself a real treat. And finally get rid of the old grey enamel pots we bought all those years ago.

Whatever, like I said I headed off to Paris: it started off badly when we discovered that the trip to Narbonne, which is normally only 20 minutes, was going inexplicably slowly. Should have paid more attention to the road signs that sprouted overnight around the place, saying "Prudence! Vendanges!" for it is indeed the harvest season and the roads are full of vine tractors and the like. Which do not go very quickly.

Then once we'd arrived at Narbonne the centre seemed gripped by gridlock for some reason so it took another ten minutes to get to the gare: even if we had left a good hour before need be (for I like to be ahead of time) I was starting to sweat. But I made it on board, rather by the skin of my teeth but what the hell.

And just before Valence the TGV slowly rolled to a halt and we sat in the middle of nowhere for ten minutes waiting to see if the sunflowers would do anything amusing until a very apologetic controleur announced that there seemed to be a power failure and would we please not try to leave the train: shortly after that we limped off again at about 90kph instead of the more usual 300. Wasn't until Satolas that we got up to a reasonable speed, which meant that we pulled into Paris about 45 minutes late.

Sadly there is no direct line from Gare de Lyon to Vitry sur Seine, so you find your way from the maze out to Quai de Bercy, trot across the Seine and head off to Gare d'Austerlitz, which just happens to be undergoing renovations at the moment so you can't actually get into the place in the usual manner but have to do an extra 500m north and then double back ...

My mood was not improved on board the RER as I bent down to brush a crushed cigarette from the seat I'd chosen, which seemed oddly unwanted by the other passengers despite the fact that the carriage was bulging: the reason for that became clear when I realised that the seat was damp and that I'd just stepped in a pool of vomit. Could hardly get worse.

Until I got to Vitry and walked over to the Hotel de la Gare, looking forward to a reasonable meal and a shower, to discover that the guy who'd taken my reservation over the phone had forgotten to note it down anywhere and that the place was full. The chap at the counter was very apologetic and offered to pay me a drink on the house to make up for the disappointment he somehow scented I was feeling, but I rather churlishly declined and set out on the mean streets of Vitry in search of another hotel.

These are rare birds in the dump, and I finally wound up outside the Bar des Cigales, place Gambetta, in front of a bar whose sign announced "Bar - Bistro - Hotel" so on the principle that if I didn't ask I wouldn't find out I went in and asked if, by any chance, it was true what it said about its being a hotel? The skinny bald guy behind the bar looked up from the glass he was wiping, put the grubby rag down on the counter and allowed that in fact this might be the case. He didn't seem to feel inclined to hold up his end of the conversation so I went a bit further and enquired whether there was actually a room available: "Ca se peut, c'est trente euros."

For that amount I wasn't expecting a great deal but I paid up-front and he dug a key out of somewhere about his person and led me out the front door, round the corner, through a bit of plywood on hinges and up three vertiginous flights of stairs smelling of disinfectant, which I guess was probably better than cat piss. Then he opened one of the four bright pink doors in the hall and showed me into the room.

No shower, no toilet, and a copy of Volume 1 of the Larousse Illustré of 1962 in place of a Gideon Bible, but I reckoned that I could handle a shared bathroom in the hall and the encyclopedia would allow me to improve my mind by skimming over a few articles before bed so I thanked him and followed him back down, in search of food.

The choice, in Vitry, at 22:30 is rather limited: takeaway Chinese or a kebab so as I had no particular wish to spend more time than necessary in that rather sinister room, and in any case the takeaway joint was closing up, I sat down to a kebab with chips and salad. And a beer. And I admired the décor, which seemed to consist of pictures of oil paintings on velvet with cutesy woodland animals photoshopped in, can't see the point myself but someone certainly seemed to have gone in for it.

I don't know whether it was that that put me off or some sort of presentiment, for I suddenly didn't feel all that hungry and left half the huge mound of meat untouched on my plate as I wandered out and back to the fleapit. Where there was only one other client in the bar when I walked in and asked for a glass of white (truth to tell I'd thought they were closing when I first turned up, turns out they were only just opening) so godnose how they made any money. Although I was starting to have a few ideas on that subject. Filed it away as another reason to be wary, and went up to the room to look for the shower.

I've been in worse places - in darkest Africa. I could not find a shower for the simple and sufficient reason that there wasn't one anywhere, and as for the toilet ... what I'd taken to be a cupboard halfway up the third flight of stairs had, on careful inspection, a faded sign on the door proclaiming it to be a "Patented Water Closet". Inside, a squat loo - that's not referring to its shape, but to how you're supposed to use it. A plastic bucket hanging from a tap by the door was a useful hint: the cistern probably hadn't worked for the past 50 years so flushing was a manual operation (and no doubt optional as well). So it was a good thing, I guess, that I hadn't wolfed down that enormous meal.

For some reason the prospect of boring myself to sleep by reading 137 paragraphs from the encyclopaedia, starting at Aut (for most of the preceding pages were missing), didn't really appeal so I stood at the window smoking a cigar and waited for a bit of street theatre or some other form of entertainment to occur. Didn't have long to wait as a couple of mismatched guys hove into view, leaning heavily on a pushbike which seemed to be propping both of them up somehow, and apparently trying to keep a car battery balanced on the rear mud-guard.

They stopped just below me, both seemingly stricken by a dire and pressing need to pee so they took turns, one holding the battery and trying to stop the bike getting away whilst the other washed down the outside of a rubbish bin: then when they'd both finished the short squat one heaved himself approximately onto the saddle, weaved a couple of metres into the side of a parked car, bounced off and then sailed unsteadily off into the night, clutching that battery in one hand. As the tall skinny one ran after him, yelling out bonsoir! at the top of his voice.

And that seemed like as good a time as any to go to bed, for I rather doubt anything else would have topped that particular spectacle: it was surprisingly comfortable, and I even woke up the next morning, rather to my surprise. The Turkish loo was still there, lurking balefully in the stairwell, but I ignored its blandishments and abused myself of the lavabo in the room: then I handed in the key, left with a spring in my step, and quite frankly hope never to go back in my life.

Whatever, we are thoughtful people here at The Shamblings, and I would like to leave you with another bit of friendly advice from our occasional series of Health & Safety hints: should you, through no fault of your own, find yourself with an inquisitive bee on your scrotum, do NOT ask a friend to remove it. Under the circumstances, the uncharitable and the small-minded might well choose to put an unfavourable interpretation on the ensuing antics.

Don't ask.

1 comment:

  1. Volume 1 of the Larousse Illustré of 1962

    Does not work so well in Aqualung lyrics.