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?"
Okay. The beginning of novembre.
Cette sera interresant.