Nathan and I had been overseas for two weeks at this point. We came from Paris by way of London to arrive in the little French town of Limoges. Our money burned quickly in those two big cities, so we scoured our European travel book for somewhere to stay that would be less flashy, and less expensive. Limoges came highly recommended, so we decided to settle there for a few days and give our budget some breathing room. We bought groceries instead of going to restaurants, walked to our destinations rather than commute, and stayed in a hostel that was surprisingly spacious for its low cost.
The town itself was beautiful. There was no glitz or overcompensation that Paris reeked of–a city that felt pressured to be magical and was too exhausted to keep up the act. Tourists just didn’t excite Paris the way they used to. Now the City of Love is just going through the motions, devoid of passion. Limoges, though, was refreshingly unashamed, quietly confident. It had nothing to prove, and so there was still life there. Nathan and I walked along freshwater streams, through sculpted hedge trees, over bridges and between wedge-shaped houses. Everyone living there was beautiful–I didn’t fully realize it until we left. I looked out the window of the train that would take us away and desperately searched for one unattractive person. It’s possible Nathan and I narrowly escaped being turned into Stepford husbands.
But if there was something that Paris had that Limoges didn’t, it was that everyone in Paris seemed to speak English. Limoges, being a town less known to the world as a tourist must-see, didn’t need to be anything other than itself. So, naturally, we were lost in translation and unable to ask for directions. Not that we didn’t try.
You’d think that if anyone in this town could speak English, it would be the guy working in the hostel we stayed at. You’d be wrong. The old cliche that everyone in France speaks English but just pretends not to so you won’t talk to them still tickled the inside of my skull, but even if the clerk could understand us, he did a good job convincing us otherwise. Nathan and I not knowing a lick of French and he not knowing a lick of English, it was a wonder we managed to get our rooms at all.
As you might expect, we frequently emailed our family and friends whenever we happened upon an internet cafe, which, up until then, were commonly found less than a block away from any hostel. In Limoges, however, we had trouble finding any. So we decided, for some reason, that it would be a good idea to ask the solely-French-speaking hostel clerk where to find one.
Unfortunately, we didn’t know the French word for Internet–if there even was one, and it wasn’t just “le internet” or something. And cafe was a French word, wasn’t it? No luck–he had no idea what we were talking about. So Nathan drew a picture of a computer for him–and this idea was particularly stupid because Nathan can’t draw a straight line to save his life and I was applying to art school, yet it was he that decided to do the sketch. The drawing ended up looking more or less like a monitor–a square inside another square, really–but the clerk didn’t seem to understand. Our next brilliant idea was to play charades, tapping away at invisible keyboards like secretarial mimes. The clerk smiled and began to dance on the spot. At this point I was pretty sure he was just making fun of the absurdity of the moment, but he seemed to come to some revelation and took our map from us and marked down a location. We asked if this was where “le internet cafe” was. If he did speak English, I wouldn’t be surprised if he hated us. He nodded in affirmation, however. With no one else around to get a second opinion, we set off to find the hard-sought cafe.
We reached the marked location, peered in all directions, but couldn’t locate that iconic @. After a moment, we realized that he did lead us to exactly the right spot–it just wasn’t an internet cafe. It was a piano store. Clearly Nathan and I were not cut out to be mimes if we couldn’t manage to differentiate between a keyboard and a piano.
This is why I’m still half-convinced the clerk really spoke English–or, at least, he understood what we were asking. It’s an extraordinary series of coincidences not only for a small town to have a piano store, but for a clerk to know exactly where to find it on a map. I like to imagine a he kept a checklist behind his desk for all the tourists he sent hunting for a piano store.
Day 258’s three random writing prompt categories were, “Nonfiction,” “Lost in translation,” and, “Seedy underbelly.”
I guess the seedy underbelly of Limoges is that it converts tourists into Stepford robots? I don’t know. Anyway, true story.