Is it Montelimar; Monte’ lee maar or Monta Leemah (phonetically)
So how do you pronounce Montélimar, the French city? When vacationing in Europe, these are the sorts of riveting conversations I have with my wife. I’m not certain she is a willing participant, although she is an expert at looking interested, when she’s really not at all. Mostly she’s looking for the nearest loo! My children were ‘him’ – 6 (now 25) and high energy and ‘her’ – 4 (now 23) who never ever slept on holiday, unless I’d paid good money to see something incredible, at which exact moment she usually fell asleep in her stroller or in my arms.
The kids were probably too big for a stroller, but it made sightseeing bearable and the stroller held pretty much the kitchen sink. He tended to climb inside and sit behind her, pushing her stomach against the strollers front metal safety bar to the point her stomach looked like one of those Baobab trees with constricting wire tied around it when it was a young tree. She doesn’t complain so I take a key medical decision to leave them be. If in fact the bar is severing her small intestine, we can repair it later. Peace is a valuable commodity on vacation!
We decided to rent an apartment (Cannes) in the South of France and to drive from our home, just outside London, to Cannes. That way I could buy food at local markets and create a few new dishes – I was in the hospitality industry – combining a holiday with work allowed me to spread the cost. Stopping overnight in hotels on the way to make the journey less arduous on our young kids. My wife’s only requirement, or so it seemed, was that the hotel had to have a decent swimming pool so the kids could swim and let off a little steam. Thus simultaneously increasing our holiday cost by 500 quid each way. It appears hotel swimming pools increase the value of a hotel room in France tenfold.
On the return journey my two children were arguing, as kids do, about who was going to hold the one purple ball out of the 37 coloured balls we had on the back seat. To stop my right eye from beginning to twitch at this level of ‘patheticness’, I started an innocuous discussion with my wife about our overnight destination, Montélimar, starting with how to pronounce it and how she came to choose it.
My son stopped irritating our daughter for a split second and chipped in from the back, as was his custom, with his rendition, cultivated over a 10 day vacation, in a French accent, with “Mont ‘ Lemaar”. It wasn’t an awful accent I have to say – but clearly the pronunciation of the word was phonetically wrong. I told him so, but he wasn’t having it and proceeded to sing his version of the word for nearly 60 kilometres … in a series of French accents! And for once him and his sister decided to join together in harmony and create a cacophony of childish ridicule that has the ability to get under a grownups skin.
On reflection I always wondered how such a young mind could achieve such an incredible result. Actually I’ve often thought children would create torture methods far more sophisticated than waterboarding! I couldn’t fault his single minded dedication in trying to piss me off, and to be fair he sort of achieved a result for at one point I was considering various methods of ramming handy car gadgets deep into his larynx! It was a long 60 kilometres until they tired of the game, or more specifically my ability to ignore them, made the game boring. But I’d been a parent for a few years now and had learned a bit on the job! Ignoring is the best method of changing the subject!!
So how did you choose Montélimar as a stop over destination, I casually asked my wife. Well, we had to stop somewhere, what does it matter? Which was a fair response really. It didn’t matter. Except that Montélimar is not that far into our journey, and the following day we would be driving for many more hours to catch our allotted ferry crossing back to the U.K.! We could have traveled a bit further, I thought, and spread the travel time more evenly, as we drove past a sign which read Montélimar- 47 km.
The kids continued to play ‘it’s mine, not yours’ in the back while we casually discussed the correct pronunciation of Montélimar. Yes well don’t forget it’s got the accent point (we called it an umlaut) over the ‘e’ and no, we are not of German decent.
Without resolving the deeply dividing issue of pronunciation, and with me realising that in fact we’d actually driven further away from Calais than towards it, we arrived in Montélimar. Now at this point I should probably add that my wife has a sweet tooth, a very sweet tooth yet carries no excess weight. Both these issues annoy me – the former very mildly, because she steals my chocolate when hers is finished, whilst the latter quite a bit. I put on weight just by looking at cake! Her favourite sweet is hands down … nougat.
Driving through Montélimar to our hotel, I noticed a sign that said ‘home of nougat’ … I looked at my wife, she knew I was looking at her, and at that precise moment she felt the need to search her handbag for a lost item. It must have been lost for awhile because she looked and scratched for quite some time. Eventually I spoke, realising she could ‘scratch’ for longer than I could stare … I was after all driving! So I turned my eyes back to the road, safely navigated a return to the tarmac, and asked her – are we in Montélimar purely to purchase a bit of nougat?
Her response was immediate and somewhat gleeful – “no babe! Not a bit.”
I thought this through and realised this was an answer and yet not an answer. I wasn’t certain which part of my question she was referring to when she said ‘not a bit’.
We arrived at the hotel and to her credit, it did have a superb swimming pool. The fact that we’d been at the beach in the South of France only 4 1/2 hours earlier didn’t seem at all an issue, to all but me. And neither was it an issue that we’d need to drive 11 hours minimum tomorrow to catch the ferry, which was booked to sail at 9 pm.
What time does the nougat shop open, I inquired? 9 am she quickly and fatally replied. This was totally planned wasn’t it. The reason we are stopping here is purely for you to buy nougat. No response!
Upon entering the hotel foyer I noticed 300 different pamphlets on nougat. Montélimar it seems was actually the place nougat was invented. You could buy nougat shoes; nougat rope; animal shapes; even nougat flavoured condoms!
Since the new road system was built to the South of France, most tourists bypass this town because there is a quicker route. But not for us. We apparently needed a swimming pool which just happens to be closer to Russia than England! Nougat was purely incidental.
Some things are best left unsaid on vacation. That evening we went for dinner … the waiter was arrogantly French and refused to speak English. I speak zero French and the menu was extensive and totally in French. As it was our last meal in France, we wished to eat something local and French. Garson, our waiter, couldn’t have cared less. To him, we were an intrusion on his baccarat game or something – horseflies who simply needed squishing!
Having traveled a bit I knew how to deal with hospitality staff like our dear friend Garson, … you bribe them. Half way into his diatribe, both my kids (and my wife) laughing uncontrollably as my son attempted to mimic both Garson’s accent and words, which wasn’t helping to get Garson onboard, I held up a bunch of French Francs with the words – “help me, by speaking English and I’ll give you this at the end of the meal”.
He was mid sentence (French) and without stopping to change language, broke into impeccable English, ‘how can I help you sir’. For once even the kids were impressed. After he’d retired to place our order, I haughtily explained to them the power of cash! Much later I realised I should have revised that family Ted Talk to include the part where you explain how to make the cash through employment somehow.
But for now, Garson had recited the menu perfectly, we chose brilliant meals and ate like Napoleon. As we paid and got up to leave, our waiter stood hovering for his extra payment. I had left the usual 10% tip already. I walked past him and in perfect Afrikaans said – “ek verstaan nie Engels of Frans nie” (I don’t understand English or French). And smugly walked off to our room.
Scott Family – 1 … French hospitality staff – pas de points!
On the way out I asked the receptionist how you pronounced where we were? Just to make it a clean sweep for “moi même”. Could you pronounce it slowly please … meanwhile I called my wife over to hear … “a res tu rant sir”, she replied. Oh well, you can’t win them all.
The next morning we woke quite early as we had an entire journey to cover. Ate a quick Buffet breakfast and then went to the nougat shop on the way out … ‘just to look’ mind you. 47 minutes later my wife returned to the car with 2 shopping bags full of nougat products … not too bad I thought. What I failed to notice was the smiling apron clad chap lagging behind her with the straw basher and brightly coloured ribbon around the brim. He had a bloody great big cardboard box in his arms.
What’s that – I asked (I really did know), but marriage requires causal moments for future ammunition! You simply never know when it might prove useful. “What’s what” came her reply. Oh she’s good I thought. “what’s he carrying” … ? “A bit of nougat” came her matter of fact reply and therein was the answer to yesterday’s question.
We didn’t make the ferry. My wife had to stop twice to vomit! But it wasn’t the nougat – she thinks it was the milk from her tea at breakfast. That must have been very milky tea I thought, but said nothing.
A month later I received my credit card statement. The nougat purchase was more than the one night hotel accommodation. I’m not even adding the cost of paying to change our sailing time from 9 to 10 pm.
We had agreed my pronunciation of Montélimar was spot on though, but to be fair the wife was doubled over on the side of the road vomiting. A kilo of nougat at one sitting can do that. But not in my wife’s case, I got to own the Montélimar pronunciation, and she got me to agree it was the milk in her tea causing her vomiting relapse. Marriage is about compromise.
It was a lovely vacation!