We were desperately out of gas and we were not speaking. The Cap’n and I had been angry and tense ever since our last attempt to stop for gas a while back.
The Cap’n, who is fluent in French, had pulled into a gas station, waited in line to get to the pump, gotten out of the car in pouring rain, read every sign plastered all over the gas pumps, but couldn’t make gas come out of the pump.
He got back in the car, soaked, and we heatedly discussed what he could be doing wrong. He circled the pump again. Finally, he got back in, slammed the door and started up, saying we’d find another one.
To exit the gas station, all cars funneled through a single-lane driveway past a cashier’s kiosk. Of course, we hadn’t pumped gas, but we still had to sit, sixth or seventh in line, waiting for the other cars to pay and leave. When we got to the cashier’s window, the Cap’n tried to unroll his window to explain to the cashier that we hadn’t successfully purchased gas–an awkward thing to do in any language–but our car, a two-door Fiat, had no window controls.
There were no handles to roll the windows down manually–just caps where the handles should be. There were no automatic buttons. We searched frantically, stopping occasionally to pantomime our confusion in big exaggerated gestures as the cashier pantomimed her impatience.
Finally, the Cap’n gave up, opened the door, lurched his tall body out of the tiny front seat into the rain, toward the cashier’s window. Her eyes opened in nervous surprise as he reared toward her, waving his arms, and sputtering angrily in something that was neither French nor English, but a combination of words you wouldn’t say to your grandmother or grand-mère and some words that were gibberish and some gutteral howls.
The cashier waved us through.
The Cap’n lurched himself back into the car, started it, and hit the gas, trying to speed away from the crazy gas station and the cashier who had witnessed his humiliation. Instead, the stick-shift car sputtered and stalled. He erupted in profanity. I did what is natural in times of stress when faced with running out of gas in a foreign country and a livid spouse.
I began to giggle. Nervously.
Please know I wasn’t laughing at my poor husband. You must know this, dear readers, even if the poor Cap’n will never believe it. It was a nervous reaction and the least helpful thing I could do.
We drove on. The Cap’n was steely; I scrunched next to the window, as far away from him as possible, my scarf muffling my giggles, which seemed uncontrollable.
Finally, when we were on fumes, a gas station appeared and Cordes Sur Ciel behind it, our destination for the night, rising up like Camelot. We looked at each other and smiled.
Cordes Sur Ciel is a bastide–a fortified town, one of our favorite things in the world–in the Tarn department of southern France. Day trippers aren’t allowed to bring cars within the city walls at all. Overnight visitors may drive to their lodging, unload, then must park their cars at the foot of the hill and trek up.
During the day, it is packed with tourists, most of whom arrive on busses. After 5PM, however, it’s like a cloud city, calm and perfect. Although I wouldn’t have known this without Wikipedia, after Albert Camus visited it, he said “In Cordes, everything is beautiful, even regret”.