If your clothes dryer breaks down and you want to get the people from BHV — the strange Sears, Roebuck of Paris — to come fix it, you will be told, first, that only one man knows how it works and he cannot be found …. next, that it cannot be fixed for a week because of a store policy … and, finally that you are perfectly right to find all this exasperating, but nothing can be done, because it is the nature of things.
— “Paris to the Moon,” by Adam Gopnik
LES HOUCHES, France — It’s delightful to read Gopnik (or more accurately to be read Gopnik by my wife Kathy) as we drive through the French countryside. Because though he lived in Paris more than a decade ago (1995-2000) and though Paris is a big city and we are traveling in the countryside, not much else seems to have changed.
Take the new-fangled concept of WiFi, wireless Internet, known in France as WeFee. Most hotels, we have found, advertise it. Few actually seem to have it. Or, if they do, it is anyone’s guess when it will choose to work. The explanations for this can be extraordinarily creative.
This morning we left our delightful hotel, Les Skieurs, in Le-Sappey-en-Chartreuse, after breakfast. The place was deserted because the three-star restaurant closes after lunch on Sunday and doesn’t reopen until Tuesday morning. But I smiled at one of the two people on duty and told her that, if only the WiFi would work, I could see pictures of my new grandson, Dylan, born July 2 weighing in at 9 pounds 4 ounces.
She made a series of sympathetic sounds and said something that translated roughly to: “It is up to Nature. Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate.”
This sounded really good except for the fact that it was calm and sunny outside. Furthermore, during our first two nights at the hotel the Internet had shut down precisely at 7, the same time the desk closed and, from what I could tell, the telephone was turned off. So Nature didn’t seem all that central.
On Sunday, however, I was caught by surprise. The desk, phone and kitchen all closed at about half past three, just as I was trolling for pictures of Dylan (who, of course, is incredibly cute).
But madame would have nothing of my theories. It was Nature’s way.
This is not a new phenomenon for us in France, as I have mentioned before. In Aix, the hotel had a complicated system of logging my laptop into the hotel’s own web address. It involved a contraption the desk clerk told us he didn’t really understand. Just off the plane and eager to enjoy the city, I didn’t press him further. In Vaison-La-Romaine, in the wine country of northwest Provence, the desk clerk kept giving us different codes, dozens of digits and letters long. None worked.
“I called (my boss),” she said by way of explanation that it surely wasn’t her fault that never during our three-day stay did the promised WiFi materialize.
Tonight I am paying $6.50 for WiFi, and it has working beautifully. But I will get off quickly before the whole system crashes.
Besides, tomorrow a cable car will whisk us up to a platform more than 12,500 feet high, overlooking a glacier.
I hope to return. But for now, au revoir.