That means more or less "what's happening." CHM and I got back to Saint-Aignan last Friday afternoon, after spending a week driving around northern and eastern France, going pretty much from church to church to church. CHM loves churches for their architecture and history, and there were many that he wanted to see again after many years of living in the U.S.
When we got to Saint-Aignan, we had to turn the rental car in. We had rented a sort of mini-SUV for the trip so that we could transport the paintings and other things CHM was donating to the museum in his family's home town of Péronne in the Somme. When we took the car back to the SuperU store where we rented it —10 miles north of Saint-Aignan — I thought it was in pretty good shape. We hadn't scratched or dented it, and it was fairly clean.
It was not clean enough for SuperU, though. "You are expected to return the car as clean as it was when you took it out," the woman said when she inspected it. "No, it's not clean enough at all!" She said they charged a 70 euro cleaning fee — that's 100 American dollars. Since we were, luckily, early turning the car in, I had a couple of hours during which I could wash the thing and vacuum it out. It actually took only about 15 minutes.
SuperU has a gas station and a car wash. It cost 2 euros to pressure-wash the outside of the car, and 2 euros to vacuum it out. That was a lot better than paying the 70 euro cleaning fee. I'd never had to worry about washing and vacuuming out a rental car before, since the big companies like Hertz or Europcar don't charge a cleaning fee. There aren't any car rental agencies in the Saint-Aignan area, so SuperU is the most convenient option.
One of the things CHM wanted to do here in Saint-Aignan was to go to the local SNCF (the French national railway system) station and buy tickets for the rest of his travels around France this summer. It's a lot easier to buy train tickets in Saint-Aignan's station than it is at, for example, the Gare Montparnasse in Paris. In Saint-Aignan, you don't have to deal with crowds and stand in long lines. We went to the gare Saturday afternoon.
CHM was buying about $500 worth of SNCF tickets for trips down to the Mediterranean coast, to Bordeaux, and to Normandy. Everything was going along fairly smoothly until he handed over his Visa card. The man behind the counter swiped it through the machine 6 or 8 times to no avail — the message on his computer screen said « Paiement refusé ». CHM had used the card three times the day before, and it had worked fine.
We drove back home — it's only about three miles — and CHM got his debit card, which he had left here. We drove back to the train station. That card wouldn't work either — paiement refusé. We figured the problem must not be the cards, but the train station's card reader. So we drove over to my bank in Saint-Aignan and CHM used his debit card to withdraw some cash from an ATM machine. It worked just fine.
The next day, we went back to the bank — a different one, actually — and CHM withdrew the rest of the cash he needed to pay for the train tickets. Again, there was no problem with the debit card. At the train station, the man behind the counter tried CHM's Visa card one more time. No dice. « La SNCF n'accepte pas toutes les cartes, Monsieur », he told CHM. Great.
Another hassle we haven't been able to solve involves connecting to the Internet. In Paris, an employee of the Orange telephone boutique — Orange is the brand name used by France Télécom for its mobile phone and Internet services — had sold CHM a USB gizmo that she said would give him high-speed Internet access "anywhere" in France. It's in fact a modem that connects to the Internet over the cell phone network.
Problem was, it wouldn't work with CHM's Mac in his apartment in Paris. He brought it to Saint-Aignan. I tried using with my Samsung laptop on Sunday, but it wouldn't work here either. It wasn't clear what the problem was. After that attempt, I uninstalled the software because I didn't foresee trying to connect with the USB "key" again.
Yesterday (Monday), I tried again. I reinstalled the software, plugged in the gizmo, and after a minute or two it connected just fine.
Now, I have some American friends who own a house about 12 miles south of Saint-Aignan, way out in the country. They live in California for the time being, and they come spend the month of July in their house here. They can't get DSL or any other high-speed internet service out there. I thought the USB cell phone thingy might be perfect for them. They arrive in about two weeks.
So yesterday CHM and I drove out to their house. I have the keys. We went in, hooked up my laptop, and plugged in the USB device. No dice. I think they don't get cell phone service out there. So they are still out of luck. We drove into a nearby village, turned on the laptop, and the cell phone Internet connection worked just fine there.
The USB thing works at our house on my Windows laptop, but I don't need it. However, we still can't get it to work on CHM's Mac laptop. We don't know why. It's very frustrating. Maybe we should go to another church and pray about it a little bit. We need a miracle at this point.