Saturday, April 24, 2010

Welcome to Angouleme**

Richard Thompson in 1000 Years of Popular Music tells a joke that goes like this.

Imagine heaven as a restaurant. The the welcome is by the Italians; the catering is done by the French; the organisation is by the Germans - and the English provide the entertainment.
In hell, however, it goes like this. The welcome is from the French; the Italians do the organising; the English the cooking. And the Germans provide the entertainment.

I was reminded of this little gag today when I first tried to book accommodation in Angouleme, south-west France. We are heading there in January for the international comics festival. Not wanting to appear over-eager, I thought I would wait until we were within nine months of the event before attempting to secure accommodation. You know, you don't want to fire off too early. You book, you pay, you think it's all good - and then you turn up and they have never heard of you or your booking.

But it seems that every, yes every bed, in every hotel and every bed-and-breakfast of Angouleme, is taken by someone else. Nine months ahead of the ruddy festival.

The tourism office advises to wait until November when the office will release the "chambres chez l'habitant". People who live in Angouleme and nearby rent their rooms or their apartments for the Festival. Am I being just a bit suspicious thinking that "les chambres chez 'habitant" looks like a nice little earner for the locals? Or is it an opportunity for a more authentic experience? 


** Update: I rang the Tourist Information Office in Angouleme last night. I asked Nathalie if she could speak English. "A little," she replied. In a way that suggested she wasn't about to try it out on me. So I did what I am trained to do: spoke slowly and carefully and as simply as possible in French.
We agreed that no, the office would not supply me with a list of alternative accommodation. I could, like everyone else, wait until novembre. "Quand en novembre? Une? Quinze? Vignt?"
"En debut."
Okay. The beginning of novembre.
J'attends, j'attends...
Cette sera interresant.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A quiet week

It's been a quiet week in Brunswick and it's about to get quieter. My wife is going to New York at the end of the month.

She lived in Manhattan for about a year in 1980; her father is an academic and was doing post-graduate work there. The recent book Newberry Award winning book When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, is set in the same time and much the same neighbourhood.

So when my wife's mother mentioned that she was hoping to go to New York a plan was hatched: guide books consulted, Google maps gleaned, novels and histories digested.

My mother-in-law loves music and is probably the world's biggest Leonard Cohen fan. She was in the front row of this concert and we reckon was in Lenny's eyeline when he sang I'm Your Man. So a lot of research is going into scanning the gig guides.

 One of the things she will be doing is dropping in for the Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor's long-running radio show at the Town Hall in New York. It's a uniquely American experience, one that couldn't be replicated.

Back in the days before the internet I went to Edinburgh for the Fringe. Where I discovered, since it wasn't in the brochure that I sent away for and which arrived in the mail, that Garrison Keillor was appearing at the Book Festival. Oh frabjus day! Callum! Callay! / He chortled in his joy! I had read Lake Wobegone Days and listened to the radio show avidly...Norwegian bachelor farmers, tomato growing as a competitive sport, the Side Track Tap, Lutheran Church. What a wonderful place the world was, that one of my favourite writers should fall into my path like this.

And so I arrived on the day at the appointed hour.

Not. A. Chance.

...Ah, the internet.

So enjoy Garrison, dear. And think of me. I will listen to the show, eventually. At home. On the radio.

There won't be too many other distractions.