There is no French Country Travel Life Chelsea Hotel of which I am aware. However, I’ve titled this rant thusly – because – each time I hear Leonard Cohen’s song of the same name – it takes me back in time.
Not to any Chelsea Hotels, but to the French Riviera town of Sant Maxime. Just up the road (north) from the timelessly trendy St. Tropez. It’s not the town that is the major component of this happy flashback. But a person. One who occupies a unique place in my French travels. Because he was the first “commercial” froggie to offer me hospitality.
His name was (and perhaps still is) “Mr. Roland.” And like that line in the Chelsea Hotel song : “I don’t think of you that often.” I don’t. But when I do, I’m again aglow with the memory of his casual kindness.
That kindness came forth during my first “on-the-bicycle” visit to France. In this epoch, I had not yet evolved into the film-making-book-writing-picture-taking Bicycle Gourmet. I was just a tall skinny blonde on a bike from San Francisco.( With no guitar on his back this time around.)
However, I did have a small talent for coaxing soothing sounds out of the piano. (One of many things I have my Mother to thank for) Mr. Roland was the owner of a small Hotel. Not glitzy. Not trendy. And not in the centre of the “action.” ( Which is, as I was to later discover, is foreign tourists up the yin yang.)
Mr. Roland didn’t really NEED a piano player. But he readily agreed when I proposed to tickle his ivories in exchange for room and board. Yes, I know it all sounds ab-fab and groovy (art-movie stuff) – but the reality was “low key budget Hotel.”
How “low key?” Well, Mr. Roland’s palace was a consistently empty one. Only once in two weeks did I spy “budget conscious” tourists. A dour German couple who only stayed one night. Curiously, in spite of his almost zero occupancy rate (in this is in high Summer) Mr. Roland was unfailingly laid back and smiley.( Yes, I DID wonder if the hotel was a tax deduction or a front for bogus loto tickets.)
The result being my “work” consisted of providing the background “ambience” in the (slightly larger than) postage stamp Dining room for Mr. Roland and his apero guests. (No, I never saw him actually EAT in that room. Either solo or with company. A French Vampire?)
Daytime was mine. (Unless my un-towering talent was needed at lunch) I wandered through the town. Checked out the beach. Marvelled at the (bikini clad) scenery. Hey – I was young and single! And since my French vocabularly then consisted of “no”, “thank you” and “where’s the toilet” I was clearly destined to continue – “marvelling.” (Had the Simpsons been invented then, I would surely have translated and memorized Homer’s “Hey babe, let’s get down to some rad lovin'” Oh well!)
Lack of feminine attention notwithstanding, my two weeks at the Roland Hotel were a laid back introduction to, and immersion in, French Life. One that was completely different in style to the country hospitality that was to follow. But happily identical in strength and spirit.
I don’t know if Mr. Roland and his Hotel are still “carrying on.” And in spite of the fact that I’ve had more than one ocassion to pass Saint Maxime, I’ve never taken the time to find out. Why? well – to risk quoting another song (I AM a musical guy, after all!) like Paul Simon’s line in “Kodachrome” -“Everything looks worse in black and white.”
The colors of my time with Mr.Roland are vivid on memories canvas. And greedy s.o.b. that I am – I want them to stay that way! I think that’s why we cherish our memories. Is it not?
THROW ME A BONE HERE, PEOPLE!
What are ya thinkin’?