“You should have told us before you had breakfast,” the receptionist scolded me. I sheepishly apologized before remembering that she – in some sense – worked for me. “It sometimes is difficult to get a car.”
“As soon as you can,” I repeated. “I’ll wait until the car can arrive.” Then I smiled politely and took my seat in the lobby as it quickly filled with other guests who had not requested rides in a timely manner.
Ahmed, my driver, arrived first and stopped traffic with a casual wave, gesturing me across the street and into the back of his sedan. I fastened my seatbelt, indicated that, no, I don’t speak French and set about the cheerful pantomime that accompanies my English regardless of which country I visit.
“It’s beautiful here,” I told him as we inched along streets lush with vegetation on both sides.
“Good bread, good wine, good cheese. Good girls, good boys!” he replied happily in his lilting accent, making me laugh. We chatted as we progressed toward the office and I admired the cool breeze entering the window as I gazed at fields of soft amber grasses and ostentatious medians – blooms of multiple hues literally tumbling in charming designs.
I cleared the security building and promptly became lost on campus. “I found the building where you used to work,” I apologized to a new colleague when she came to fetch me. “I’m not sure if I was distracted by the flowers or didn’t understand the directions. But I was nowhere close,” I noted some 10 minutes later as we continued to hike through parking lots.
Upon arrival, I was offered a table in the middle of the room and decided everyone liked me so much that I had to be equidistant from each of the occupants so no one felt cheated. I did, I decided, take extra care with curling my hair this morning. So their admiration seemed sensible even though it placed me nowhere near an outlet.
We worked steadily until my first appointment arrived. “I didn’t have anything in particular to discuss,” I told the women who joined me around my table. But I answered questions and offered insights long after our scheduled 60 minutes had elapsed. I need a challenge, I thought of my professional life, but it is lovely to be good at your job without really trying.
We went to lunch (for-like-ever...) and I stood behind a colleague even as I wrinkled my nose over his choice of ham with some odd sauce. After confirming that it was pork-body and not calf-brain, I asked if he could order me the same (as, again, I do not speak the French).
"She wants the same," he said in English and I raised an eyebrow at him.
"I could have done that," I murmured, trying to figure out how to act out "equal to" to the chef behind the counter. My colleague quickly said a whole bunch of stuff I didn't understand (and which may or may not have been complimentary to yours truly) and I was handed a full plate that I didn't finish.
"Oh, wow," I interrupted a French history lesson when I abandoned my entree to enjoy my dessert. It was this delightful souffle sort of wonder with toasted almonds atop and was somehow at once rich and light. "This is amazing," I continued as I ate it, shaking my head that my colleagues had access to such treats and did not partake.
I sent an email, using the card Ahmed directed me to use, and asked my new-friend-with-a-car to come fetch me at 4:15. Then I asked him to confirm that 1615 suited his schedule.
"Hello. ok thx." Ahmed replied and I decided we were unlikely to be pen pals. Then he sent the same message again 14 minutes later and I decided he also thought my hair was very pretty today, being so obviously eager to see me again.
After completing some meetings but leaving a bit of work undone, I went to find Ahmed. I beamed at him as I entered the security office - one of the few French who'd not scolded me and arrived ahead of schedule. He deposited me in the back seat, closing the door gently behind me and asking about my day.
We retraced our route to my hotel and I rested a bit until dinnertime. I decided a creperie was less shameful than a pizzeria and selected the closest one that was open on Mondays. After asking permission, I seated myself at an outdoor table and ordered sweet cider while I frowned over the multitude of choices.
Upon her return, the proprietor scolded me for not deciding quickly enough and watched me from the doorway as I became increasingly stressed and indecisive. (I ended up with a camembert & salad brown-crepe and a chocolate-almond-whipped-cream pale-crepe for dessert - they were delicate and delightful.) (My ever-present dining-supervisor was less so.) (Though she did bring me a spoon when I had more chocolate and whipped cream than crepe at the end. So perhaps she was just bored. Or couldn't stop looking at my prettily-curled hair!)
I wandered a bit, admiring the wispy grey clouds making patterns in the sky, before returning to climb the spiral staircase to my room. I shall finish some work before bed.
And email Ahmed to see that he takes me to my new hotel tomorrow morning.