expectations of a home, hopes for a theatre in L’Isle sur la Sorgue & access barred to Carpentras’s magic portal, but Super U

An exasperating morning, meeting the elusive M.-C., with whom all communication and arrangements re our accommodation prior to our arrival had occurred. She arrived with C., bearing bags of pastries and breads – breakfast -, shook hands with J. and I, grabbed Q. firmly by the shoulders and kissed him on both cheeks, 1, 2, 3. He explained to us later that he had been mentally prepared, having witnessed men doing the same thing when meeting in our local bar in Paris. He knew not to stop, he said. Presumably, after the 1 and 2.

The toilet does not work, I said. Both M.-C. and C. rushed in immediately to see to the problem, C. pulling the lid from the cistern, while M.-C. remonstrated with him for not informing her earlier that it didn’t work. He’s a handy-man, I said. Sometimes, M.-C. came back. And the shower is missing its screen. So water tends to pour out and flood the toilet. Did you know about this? M.-C. to C. Yes, he answered. Perhaps we can go to Mr. Bricolage and get a new shower handpiece.

They made a rush for the door. I caught C. and told him about the lack of a plug for the sink. M.-C. had already left the ‘Loft,’ too far away to tell him off again. (A ‘loft’ is apparently a studio here, since ours is on the ground floor.)

Within 30 minutes they were back, both handily fixing things, she with a new shower fitting, he with plugs and chains for the sink. When everything was fixed – there were no guarantees about halting the deluge from the shower – they were ready to leave. What time on Thursday do you go? M.-C. asked. When I said we intended to spend a night in the Camargue, I was told it was so close we should really do it from here. In fact, the place had no one letting it for the next few days after our week. We should stay. Make day-trips to the Camargue. Even Carcassonne is only three hours away. Why would you need to stop along the way and spend a night?

We agreed to meet Thursday, before midday. Would call if we were going to stay longer. So. Till Thursday! Yes. Because we also need to give you the money. No mention had been made of the rent. And the discussion about the security deposit we’d had via internet had simply been forgotten. The initial sum mentioned then had been 1000 Euros. A relief. But we’ve now gone around to paying nothing at all until we leave.

Of course, M.-C. left her glasses behind. Not that she and C. were in a rush to leave. Not that there was any embarrassment about basic amenities in the ‘loft’ not working. A manner, merely, of going about things. Perfectly friendly and pleasant, amiable, but entirely and exasperatingly impractical. Not even that: not meeting on the same level as regards the practicalities and formalities of renting out their property. Nothing signed. Nothing questioned. They’d not thought twice about letting out a place that didn’t work, in the most basic way of having working plumbing.

L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue was settled by the Celts, in the fourth century or so BC. The Romans followed. In the era of the barbarians, retreat was made into the swamp where the town is now. Over the next millennium and a half, the town became islanded, and the river was harvested first for fish and second for energy, turning dozens of wheels. In the middle-ages the wheels connected to millwheels. In the renaissance, they powered weaving machines. In the eighteenth century, silk was made here.

The town became a refuge for Jews and ‘transparents’ – gypsies, and others – like other cities existing between sea and land, Venice, particularly. It was tolerant of alterity.

We did a circuit of the town. Bumbled into the church, retreated. It turned out to be a funeral service. Picked up sandwiches and ate them near waterwheels turning, but turning into air. The impression gained was that L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue trades off its picturesque qualities, the canals running through it, the water clear and clean, with cafes and restaurants proliferating on their banks. The water level is kept constant by various gates and locks enabling steps to be built right down to the level of the water. It also has a reputation for trade in antiques. A major internationally renowned antiques fair takes place here annually around Easter. At present, the ‘antiques’ trade seems to consist rather in decorative furniture and objets d’art than in historic artifacts. Otherwise the trade is in soaps and frou-frou. Aprons, bed-clothes, cushion-covers, quilts. And beds, sofas and garden structures like giant bird-cages made out of wrought-iron. Pergolas.

Circling back around the outside of the town we walked through the students striking. Hard to know whether opportunistic or politically motivated. By this time, midday. The town had shut. Even the church locked up.

We drive out to Carpentras nearby. A town of over 30, 000, with the oldest synagogue in France, sitting on fourth century foundations. The Porte Juive turned out to be cordoned off for public works. It was the gate through which Jews would enter and come out Christians. On its outside, a picture, allegedly, of rats circling the earth. The market that had attracted us in the first place was long over, finishing at 13:00. St. Seraphien like a warehouse of God, vast, open – post reform – and decaying.

We ran into M.-C. outside her shop and told her she’d left her glasses at the Loft.

On the way home, we stopped at Super-U, a giant supermarket. J.’s promised land. And stocked up on delicacies for the week. For tonight, rolled stuffed turkey. We passed on the black radish and deciphering the thousand milk-based products. But bought more cheeses. A pate en croute. Balls of spinach and meat. Mussels in their shells. Bulk pork chops. Fennel bulbs. Boiled beetroots in vacuum packs. Wine, this Demoiselles Coiffee from Ventoux, 2009, I’m drinking now. And the Verveine, a digestif we missed out on in Le Puy.

Q. found the Matrix Reloaded. After last night’s Tour de Montparnasse Inferno, a French Flying High, very funny send-up movie, a holiday in English. But why is Neo wearing a Jesuit frock?