ONE OF THE APPLIANCES we bought at Leclerc was an HP Photosmart All-in-One printer. This is a marvelous device. It can print photos, make copies, scan documents, and even send faxes should you ever feel the need. The ink is expensive, but only if you use it to print more than a few recipes, maps, and the travel schedules.
On my first trip to Le Rêve, I had set up a triple-play account with Orange. They offer television, telephone, and Internet for only 39 euros a month, about a third of what we pay in the States. I still remember my conversation at the store.
“Parlez-vous anglais?” I said. This phrase is highly recommended for all travelers to rural France. It lets you off the hook from the get-go. It turns the tables so that you’re no longer the one who feels like an uneducated nincompoop. Of course, this wouldn’t work in rural America. The person behind the counter would simply say, “No, I don’t speak your Frenchy-French language. Talk English.” But in France there’s an obligation to appear cultured.
“I can speak a leetle,” said the sales person.
I told him I needed to wire up my house for everything under the sun, including Internet.
“Wiss wiffy?” he asked.
“Wiffy? I don’t understand.”
“Do you want to connect wissout, um . . .” He made a pulling-apart gesture with his two hands, fingers pinched together.
“A wire? Oh, wi-fi! Oui.”
I produced a recent electricity bill as a proof of my existence, and off I went, contract in hand.
The printer was now unboxed and sitting on the parsons table in the bedroom. Sara and I followed the setup instructions as closely as we could. We got stuck when we tried to enter the 35-digit security code from the wi-fi box. This is the code that enables the computer to talk to the wi-fi, which in turn talks to the printer. Nobody was talking to anybody. I reached for the phone and dialed our hamlet’s IT department.
“Peter, can you help?”
“Don’t touch anything,” he said. “I’ll be right over.”
Peter Johnson is an engineer by profession, largely self-taught. This means he can actually figure out how things work. He sat down at the computer and plowed through all the screens. No luck. He went through the whole process again. Silence. No blinking lights. Nothing. We stared at the wi-fi router. The router stared back. We entered the code more deliberately, calling out the 35 characters one by one, like flight control at Houston’s Space Center.
“Uppercase C, as in Charlie.”
“Lowercase b, as in bravo.”
“Lowercase b, check.”
This time the computer gave us thumbs up. All that was left to do was turn on the printer. I placed a sheet of paper in the document feeder, chose a random recipe from the computer, and pressed START. The printer lurched into action, then immediately stopped.
“Jammed,” I said. “I can’t believe it. A brand new printer. It’s just like that DVD player. What’s with the stuff they sell here in France?”
Peter peered into the output slot. “Do you have a torch?”
I brought a flashlight in from the kitchen and slapped it into his hand.
He aimed it into the abyss. “There’s something stuck in the rollers. It looks like a frog.”
Sara ran into the salon. “Mom, quick! There’s a dead frog in the printer!”
It’s understood in our household that Eileen is the expert in All Things Nature. Cats, dogs, birds, horses, insects, plants, stars—even frogs, dead or alive—are considered part of her purview. She pointed the flashlight into the slot.
“I see it. It’s a tree frog, completely flattened. Oh, poor little thing. I hate it when this happens.”
She rummaged through her bathroom bag and came up with a pair of tweezers. Ever so gently, she pulled at one of its froggy legs. A tiny, paper-thin body began to emerge. We watched this delicate operation with intense interest, bringing our faces up close to the printer.
The frog, suddenly released from the rollers, leapt out of the machine as if shot from a gun. For a split second its tiny face looked as large as a monster’s. All four humans flew back in unison, shrieking in horror.
“There it goes!” cried Sara.
The frog, now reinflated, was out the door and hopping across the terrace. Before we could catch it, the creature had jumped over the retaining wall and down into the field to safety.
We went back in and restarted the printer. Out came a perfect copy of a recipe for cuisse de grenouille de Provence—sautéed frogs’ legs. Really, you can’t make this stuff up.
That year was the year of the tree frog. But other years have brought other plagues. We’ve counted seven so far. As a public service to our future neighbors, we’ve catalogued them here, along with our personally tested remedies.
- Tree frogs. Keep them out of the house. They’ll go right for your electronics, appliances, and fine antiques. You’ll find them squirming around in your shirt pocket or jumping out from the seat cushions when you least expect it. In time, they’ll simply hop away, leaving you to wonder what all the fuss was about. They are not suitable for cooking.
- Snails. These may be suitable for cooking, we don’t know. Sara and a friend suffered an orchestrated attack by an endless army of these creatures while staying at Le Rêve by themselves. To hear Sara tell it, they couldn’t leave the house without crunching hundreds of these gastropods underfoot. All we can say is, wear shoes. At night, bring a flashlight. And whatever you do, don’t leave the windows open. One day they will simply evaporate from the garden like the morning dew.
- Pine martens. The European pine marten (Martes martes) can scrunch himself so flat that he and his family members can slip between your roof tiles and set up house in your attic. This wouldn’t be bad except they’re nocturnal. They stay up all night rearranging their furniture, then sleep quietly all day. Don’t let them. Before you head off to Leclerc, turn up the reggae music to full volume. (Christophe Maé is suitable.) By the time you get back they’ll have left in disgust.
- Flies. These are just ordinary flies, same as you’ll find anywhere in the world. But in rural France they act entitled. They labor under the illusion that you and they will soon be best friends. They buzz around in lazy arcs, occasionally caressing your cheek or touching your hand. There are three ways to deal with their unwanted affections. You can wait until dark and open the windows. You can suck them up in midflight with the hose of your Electrolux (skill required). Or you can install traditional wooden door beads from Provence, which is what we finally did. Apparently, the flies believe the beads form an impenetrable wall, although it’s hard to know what flies really believe.
- Field mice. Well, when you live in the middle of fields, what do you expect? Members of genus Apodemus can make themselves scarce for years, then suddenly see you as the Pied Piper. They’ll follow you into the house, get into your kitchen drawers, and sometimes even your cotton drawers. One night Sara woke to discover half a dozen furry mice playing hide and seek under the covers. While she thought the mice charming, her friend did not. The remedy for mice is an ultrasonic mouse repeller from Bricomarché. You plug it in and the mice run out—presumably covering their ears.
- European house spiders. All over Europe? Really? It’s a wonder Europeans haven’t run screaming all the way to China. These things aren’t just spiders. They’re giant mutant tarantulas. They measure a full meter across—at least in your imagination. Maybe this is caused by their stark appearance, all black and hairy and legs out to there, against the clean white surface of your toilet bowl. Fortunately, any real danger is purely aesthetic. It’s been my experience that your wife will happily relocate these beneficial arthropods to the garden where they can scare the bejeesus out of other bugs.
- Toads. Luckily for you men, your wife gets up at the crack of dawn to scoop the toads out of the pool. During toad season, she’ll discover that one or more members of the species Bufo bufo have jumped over the lavender and into the water, with no idea of how to get out. They can swim for a few hours, but hey—Esther Williams they ain’t. Throw them a life buoy and get them onto dry land where they can be reunited with their loved ones.
Eileen has a new plan that calls for floating a small square of plywood in the pool with a rope attached. She fully expects to find two dozen toads huddled together like the shivering sailors in Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa, whereupon she can haul them back to shore. This concept has yet to be tested.
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