Every time I turned a corner in the parking garage and on the road out to the Ikea exit, around that car-clogged traffic circle, I heard a grinding, rattling sound from under the hood. My first thought was that I wanted to get out of Tours and back to Saint-Aignan ASAP. My second was that it might be the water pump going kaput, so I'd better watch my engine temperature. The car has nearly 90,000 miles on it (141,000 km).
I got out on the road and started driving east, away from the center of Tours. Everything was going along just fine. I breathed a sigh of relief as I left the suburbs behind and got closer to Bléré, which seems like home compared to the hustling and bustling big city.
At Bléré, the road turns south to cross the Cher and make a big loop around the town. As I turned south, heading directly into a strong wind, the car engine suddenly emitted a bluh-bluh-luh-luh sound like a half-inflated balloon on the spokes of some kid's bicycle wheel. "Here we go," I thought, slowing down. "Where is there a turnout?" I didn't want to stop on the Bléré bypass with my left wheels on the edge of the pavement. A car from Paris flashed his headlights behind me and then roared past, probably muttering profanities about the country bumpkins on the road down here. I could almost read his lips:
« Magne-toi le cul, pépé ! Et que ça grouille ! »
But the booming, flapping noise stopped and I just kept driving, slowly. Twenty miles to go. Ten. Five. I turned off the highway at Pouillé and followed the little road over to Mareuil. I urgently needed to make a pit stop, and I also needed to buy some wine. It had occurred to me that the next day was a holiday, le 11 novembre, Armistice Day. No wonder Ikea had been under siege. A lot of people take the Monday before a Tuesday holiday off work, "bridging" the holiday into a long weekend. (The Beaver, I'm sure you got that exactly right. What had I been thinking?)
Fortunately, I had some entertainment on the way home. On France Inter radio, they were running a segment about what they called (my French spelling) les guiques. The interviewer said she imagined them as pimply-faced teenagers or young men with thick-lensed eyeglasses and few social skills who spend all their time in front of their computer monitor. The guest named, for example, George Lucas and even Steven Spielberg as now-famous guiques, and said guiques were no longer the object of scorn and derision. They are "cool" now. Sometimes the people on the radio pronounced the final -s of the word guiques, making it sound foreign, but mostly they treated it as a French word, where the final -s is silent.
It had occurred to me as well that my mechanic's garage and a lot of other stores would be closed that day, Monday, and the next, the real holiday. When I got there, I stopped on the main square in Mareuil, where there's a new public toilet. And then I walked over to the village grocery store, a.k.a. la supérette, to get some wine. It was closed. Merde. My plan had been to buy the wine, get the car home if I could, and then hang tight until Wednesday, when businesses would be open again.
The car started up normally, and I drove the last two miles toward home. I turned in at the Domaine de la Renaudie, our neighbors' winery, figuring maybe Patricia would be there and open for business. Bruno was just leaving in the LWV (little white van) that sports the winery's logo, and he gave a friendly wave.
Patricia came out of her kitchen into the wine-tasting room and I blurted out my story about Ikea and not finding parking and hearing weird noises under the hood of my car. She just walked up to me with a big smile, turned her cheek, and, on tiptoes because I'm a lot taller than she is, initiated la bise, the French cheek-kisses greeting. I was taken by surprise.
We've known Patricia and Bruno for more than five years, but until now Patricia's greeting had always been a business-like handshake. A few months ago — last spring — Bruno and I started saying tu to each other rather than vous, marking a change toward a more relaxed friendliness in our relationship. It was his decision. But Patricia had continued saying vous to me and shaking my hand in greeting. So her bises were especially significant.
Hearing my tale of woe about Ikea, she just shook her head with a look of resignation. Then she broke into that big smile again. « Mais c'est Obama qui a gagné ! » she said. It was like, "What else could matter? Obama won the election!" I think that's why I got the warmer greeting. Maybe Americans can now expect a friendlier reception. We are interesting and sympathiques again. Thank you, Barack Obama, and all the people who voted for you.
I continued my route home with a 10-liter bag-in-box of wine in the car and a smile on my face.
* * *
The problem with the car turns out to be some kind of splash or mud guard that has come loose under the motor. It's supposed to cover the bottom of the engine compartment. I probably scraped it loose the last time I drove on the rutted gravel road through the vineyard.
The noises I was hearing from under the hood were, first, that plastic shield scraping against the tires when I turned the steering wheel, and then the wind catching it and making it flap as I drove home in the storm. It's not a big deal, I think. I have to go get it fixed today or tomorrow — whenever I decide to go out again.