Travel tip #389
When visiting a small medieval town, such as Mirepoix in Southwest France, keep in mind that if there’s a market happening Monday morning, you should not park your car in the parking lot they’re using for it on Sunday evening. Not if you want to use your car that Monday morning, say, to go to the larger medieval town of Carcassonne. Because no one, not even the concierge of the fabulous Relais et Chateaux hotel you’re staying in, will be able to help you once a merchant has set up her woven straw bags behind your vehicle, gone off for awhile, and left her spiteful, leathery friend to watch over her stand-- a charming woman who will threaten to call the police on you every time you come within range of the car, alerting everyone in the surrounding area that you are the jackasses who parked your car in the middle of the market.
When this happened to us, this past weekend, rather than fighting with her, we slouched off to see the rest of the stands, feeling terrifically stupid for not thinking ahead, annoyed that our time was being wasted. We tried to make up for the delay by throwing ourselves into the carnivalesque atmosphere of the market. Some matching headgear was purchased, I do verily admit it, as well as half of a watermelon and one of those wood-handled pocket knives that every Frenchman I’ve ever met uses to slice saucisson lors d’un apréro.
“Don’t run your car over the bags, don’t even think about it!” she began to taunt us. I turned slowly to look at her. “Do you honestly think we would back over them?” I asked in a derisory voice. “What are you, nuts?”
That’s the thing about French merchants and bureaucrats when they’ve got their fight on: they will always have a comeback for you, and it will be more tauntingly immature than whatever it is you have just said to them. She sniped at us, Nicolas sniped back, we opened our car doors to air it out a bit, she walked around closing them one at a time. I just watched her, mouth agape, shaking my head.
Suffice it to say, the scene ended with our anger mounting, her gap-toothed smile widening, us physically moving the bags out of the way, and their owner magically appearing at that exact moment telling us we weren’t allowed to touch her stuff. Somehow Nicolas managed to back the car out, through the obstacle course of straw bags and French hags, and we sped off to Carcassonne for the day. As we left them behind, I must add that in addition to our hats, we wore matching smirks.
More pictures here