And so it was that, as I drove up and down the D610 highway vainly searching for «Les Cabanes» as night fell, that a lightning bolt of a thought flashed through my tired brain: Ask a policeman for help!
I’d heard this phrase probably thousands of times from my mom when I was a child growing up in Nebraska. (No cracks along the lines of «How could anyone get lost in Nebraska?», please. I assure you that a Football Saturday or an afternoon at the State Fair involves population density above 8.9 per km2).
If you get lost, you’re supposed to look for a uniformed officer of the law and ask to be returned safely to the bosom of your loving family - that’s the rule back in Nebraska and I didn’t see why it couldn’t work in the South of France.
I did a u-turn and headed back towards Castries -the village with the very distracting 17th century aqueduct. I’d already driven through the place several times by this point and on the last trip through had noticed a low, oddly-shaped building marked «Police Municipal».
I pulled up to the closed gate blocking the entrance and Valentine looked over at me with eyes that said «This sure doesn‘t seem like Vacation Paradise to me».
«We’re going to go into the station and talk to the nice police officers. They’ll help us find Papa and the other kids! » I said brightly. Or they’ll think I’m completely mad and send me on my way to wander the side roads of Provence for the rest of my life, I silently added.
While I felt that US police were probably aware of their part of the informal agreement outlined previously, I wasn’t so sure about their French counterparts. Maybe no one had ever told them that they were supposed to be the saviors of lost and confused travelers…
It didn’t seem very promising at first, that's for sure. The whole place was enclosed by a high fence and the gate firmly closed. Not very welcoming. Through the intercom box, I had to use my best and politest French to convince them to let me in. I was careful not to slip into the familiar «tu» form and even made the «liaisons» - something lots of French people don’t do, even though they’re supposed to. In short, I did my best to demonstrate, in just a few short sentences, that I was the «nice» kind of foreigner- the kind who has painstakingly studied the (rather pain-in-the-rear) French language and not done too badly at it.
In the end, I think they opened the gate because they were bored and thought «This is really odd. Could be a fun story to tell around the espresso machine at break-time.»
So, they let in the crazy, but well-spoken, American woman and her 9 year old daughter.
To their credit, they were a nice bunch -a bit mystified as to what they could really do for me, but willing to give it a shot. Of course, not one of the nice officers had ever heard of «Les Cabanes» and they had no clue how to help me find it...