Image by Deerbourne via FlickrOr, the case of the missing tourist.
No, not the one who disregarded the warning on the door of the wine cellar which read
'Descend qui veut
Remonte qui peut..'
Which translates roughly as
'Come down if you like
Get out if you can...'
I've been down there and survived to tell the tale, but to be fair, I wasn't there on the occasion when the postman turned up half way through the session and it all had to begin again....
Nor is it the case of the man with a GPS system trying to reach us in France's Bermuda Triangle...
No, regretfully, it is the general case of the missing tourist.
France has sunk to third in the world rankings, but the worrying feature for tourism professionals is that an increasing number of these tourists are just one night stands, roosting in France on their way to spend their money somewhere else.
I cannot say I am surprised.
The French national tourist effort seems to be aimed solely at drawing visitors to Paris, and Paris for the casual visitor can be a right royal rip off, complete with bad manners.
One encounter with the average Paris waiter in a tourist area is enough to change any open minded person from Francophile to Francophobe in seconds....the refusal to understand the tourist's attempts at French, the insistence on using non existent English, and the contempt with which an order is received, make me feel like taking sandwiches and a flask.
Tthe mostly non French people fronting up in cafes and hotels off the tourist beats are nice, kind and helpful (here), but the tourist isn't very likely to meet them.
I just sincerely hope that the tourist does not meet with the employee of SNCF - the national railway company - who was quite content to see me stranded overnight in the capital without money or transport rather than sort out a problem with SNCF's own system.
I still wonder what would have happened if I hadn't had enough French - and volume - to insist on calling for his supervisor. From experience, a night on Montparnasse station is not to be recommended.
What astounds me, though, is however the one night stand tourist manages to escape from Paris in order to get to wherever it is he is going.
If the Paris metro or the buses aren't on strike, then it's SNCF...and if by chance all these are back at work, then the air traffic controllers decide that they need to be at home to look after their kids because it is the school holiday period.
Considering that on average an air traffic controller only works for 96 days a years - speaking from memory - you might think they could manage to crawl into the tower for peak travel periods, but, if so, then you'd think wrong.
Strong on family values, air traffic controllers.
I am sure that if the national tourist bodies shifted the emphasis to the pleasures of the provinces, the number of tourists staying longer would increase.
Everyone knows about the Eiffel Tower, Versailles and Monet's garden....what about the Rhone Valley, what about Bordeaux, what about Alsace?
If sitting on cafe terraces watching the world go by is an important part of a visit to France, it can be done anywhere in the country and, from what I recall, it was a lot more interesting in Aix-en-Provence than in Paris.
Regional and local tourist boards could do with raising their game, as well.
A little less attention to the importance of the tourist board director's wife's company getting the contract for printing the brochures and a little more to advertising attractions which don't necessarily have the means to pay for publicity in the said brochures would work wonders for attracting tourists who would then automatically fulfill the mission of tourist boards, which is to fill hotels, guest houses and restaurants.
Every year, in the local brochure, the same vigneron is presented. By coincidence, he is the son of the woman who runs the local tourist office. Given that there are over fifty other vignerons in the near vicinity, that wine must be pretty good!
The riding stables run by the wife of a local politician feature largely, despite the existence of at least two others.
A wonderfully restored chateau offering B and B gets hardly a mention, while the place run by a British woman said to be 'close to' the regional tourist board boss has full frontal coverage. Year after year.
I did toy with the idea of putting up a website with the real attractions of the area, but given my general IT incompetence and having no idea whatsoever how, having put something together, one gets people to know that it exists, the toy went back to the toybox.
When we were running holiday cottages I liked to hear what people had found to do in the intervals between eating croissants for breakfast and downing wine in the evening and for people with kids the overwhelming attraction of the area was the local theme park....not Futuroscope, nor even the Puy du Fou, but the local Parc.....d'Attractions.
It opened officially at Easter and lurched on into the autumn, the notion being that if there were more than two people at the gate, it would be opened.
You could bring your own food and drink, though if desperate Madame could make you a sandwich and find you a can from her fridge, so it was economical.
There was a swimming pool, but nowhere to change except round the back of the house by the outside loo which doubled as the toilet block so there would occasionally be startled cries from those unwary enough not to post a lookout man, at which point Madame would appear flapping her apron as if shooing off ducks.
There were, I think, three 'attractions', one of which was a caterpillar ride and the other two varied depending on what had been cobbled together during the close season.
The caterpillar ride was very popular with teenagers, though how they thought they would be unobserved given the holes in the carapace is beyond me..but then, those are the years of the triumph of optimism over reality. If you don't have it then, you're never going to acquire it later unless you take up politics and investing in Ponzi schemes as a career choice.
As Madame's son ran the rides and as Madame only had one son , only one 'attraction' could be operated at a time, so the whole clientele would follow him like the chldren of Hamelin. His word was final when it came to which attraction to run and preference on the caterpillar was given to those who had taken the other rides, so let no one say that he was backward in marketing skills.
Every year there was an event on Sundays. At 5.00 p.m. sharp...ish.
This varied every year, depending on who could be rounded up to provide it and what material was available, so one year it would be the Foreign Legion beating up Arabs - and I still wonder where all those Gendarmerie kepis came from - another year when the local motorbike club was going strong it was Hell's Angels terrorising people and being driven off by the gallant Gendarmerie...the kepis again..
One year, Madame having realised that foreign tourists were leavening the lump of the faithful local attendees, she decided on Joan of Arc defeating the English, as there were a number of horses available.
Which is to say that the pony rides - run by Madame's daughter - stopped while the animals were prepared for their star roles.
It says a great deal for the total insensitivity of the French that she could think this was appropriate, and a great deal for the inhibitions inculcated by British culture that no one suggested lighting a bonfire.
The most popular was the cowboy and indian event, which appeared every three years or so - as there were a number of horses available - with chaps in feathered headresses galloping among the attendees trying to drag off attractive young ladies until other chaps in hats appeared firing into the air to drive them off and rescue the said attractive young ladies.
Health and safety would have had a fit, especially as one year it was discovered that some idiot had been using live ammunition. That time the kepis were for real...gendarmes swarming all over the place..... until it was discovered that the idiot had gone to the wrong drawer in the back shed.
The incident passed off peacefully. Madame's son agreed to keep his live ammo in the house in future and the gendarmes had a ride on the caterpillar. I've seen the photograph, and it is surreal...
The guests' kids were uniformly enthusiastic....
'It's so tacky it's out of this world...' about summed up the majority view and I am sure that some of our repeat bookings were due to the Parc d'Attractions.
Others were down to the massive spider which inhabited one of the bedrooms, but that's a different story.
Now, no tourist supremo would have put the Parc into his brochure....so I was surprised to see publicity for it when I went back to the area last year but my friend told me that Madame had sold up and a new company is runnning the place.
Everything is smartened up, there are at least four rides, and they are spending a fortune on advertising.
I would love to have the kids' verdict on it these days...but I expect that now it has lost its' rustic charm, they would prefer Futuroscope.