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A Working Holiday
Chapter 1: We Leave for France
Chapter 10: Looking for Mr. Goodstone
Chapter 11: A mission to la Clape
Chapter 12: Dinner at Château de Lignan
Chapter 13: Antiques and plunder
Chapter 14: The vintner next door
Chapter 15: The rooftops of Nézignan-l'Évêque
Chapter 2: Comes the crusade
Chapter 3: The 13 colonies
Chapter 4: Our curtains are dreadful
Chapter 5: Naked beaches
Chapter 6: A visit to Château des Estanilles
Chapter 7: A pilgrimage to Toulouse
Chapter 8: Remembering Collioure
Chapter 9: The priest and the mayor
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A Working Holiday
Chapter 1: We Leave for France
Junkhound Alain's claim to decorating fame, "I'm better than Martha Stewart!" Exhibit A: an old lock used as a bookend at the house in France. A museum director specializing in decorative arts, Alain has started an online auction site, AntiquesAndPlunder.com
A Working Holiday

Chapter 1: We Leave for France
The cast: Moi (and with that one word I pretty much make a full disclosure of my French); Moi wife and interpreter, Simone; Alain, coming soon and Aimee, his wife, coming a bit later. Joining us this morning: two beaten corrugated cartons, cut to half size. Dented like someone used them for chairs. Tied with trash string, mummified with packing tape applied in a frenzy. The two were originally one very big box. Late last night we discovered it wouldn't fit into the car. Out came the knives.   We're shipping videotapes, CDs, and household miasma. Now that we own a house in France, every trip includes disreputable cardboard boxes, stuffed with deaccessioned pots, dishes, quilts, books. Lots of videos: Simone can't resist the club deals. And lots of books. English-language books can be hard to find in France. The local airport sells a few to wandering Brits. And occasionally we'll find titles tucked away. But you have to be careful: I bought a murder mystery from a small general store in the picturesque little Templar port of Collioure. The book lacked 50 crucial pages, I later discovered. I never did learn who dunnit.

Simone's red traveling blazer has seen many miles and many countries. She's standing in front of Valros' medieval church, a few steps from our front door.
We check our boxes through -- from Providence, RI, to Montpellier, on the Mediterranean coast. With stops in Philly and Paris en route. I don't expect to see them again soon. In the past, the boxes have traveled at their own, more leisurely pace. Their fastest record to date: two days late.    Overheard in Rhode Island, an overweight, male airport cop lamenting to a woman working the security gate, "They won't let us do strip searches here. That would be so great!" Overheard in Philly, a woman on a cell phone reminding her caller, "Don't forget to tape West Wing."   Tonight is the show's two-hour season opener. We'll be on a plane. Simone believes in redundancy: she has asked two people to tape the episodes we'll miss while we're in France. Everyone we know is in love with West Wing: the smart banter, the likable cast, the appearance of authenticity, the absence of cynicism. Even the civics lessons. It's the Washington we wish we had. (Alack, not the Washington we actually have, steeped in cynicism, concocting national policy in secret and without reference to voter desires, where polls exist merely to find the best words to sell a foregone conclusion. So a recent Columbia University study found, with both parties equally offending.)    Of note: roomy, white, wooden rocking chairs in Philadelphia's international airport. (Slogan: "Think of it as a mall with a landing strip.") The chairs are a brilliant improvement over rigid airport seating. People drag them into family groupings and take a load off.
Medieval Carcassonne, object of much desire during the Albigensian crusades, and now one of France's most popular tourist destinations, is just an hour from our house. Restored to storybook perfection in the 1800s, Carcassonne erupts every Bastille Day in an awesome display of fireworks.
The plane is the usual creepy pestilence ward. The seat pockets as full of mystery as a baby's diaper. Thomas Harris, author of Hannibal, writes of an economy-class Boeing 747, "Shoulder room is twenty inches. Hip room between armrests is twenty inches. This is two inches more space than a slave had on the Middle Passage." Slavery and air travel: the standards by which human transportation misery can be measured.   But we're not chained, there are toilets, and the whole ordeal lasts a little over six hours. I get my legs arranged. In my own defense, I've been eating yogurt. A professional tour guide taught me the trick: yogurt tunes up the body's immune system. He claimed his tours never got dysentery, because he advised them to eat yogurt for two weeks before departure.    Best, there's a small viewing screen built into every seat back. I can pick from a half dozen movies, TV sitcoms, documentaries. I catch up on Drew Carey and settle into a tiny rerun of Gladiator, with Russell Crowe. The opening battle is one of my favorite scenes in film. It brings to life, as my halting 10th-grade translation of Caesar's Gallic Wars never could, the freezing mud, the dark, unfarmed forests. The stiff-armed might of the Roman military. The slaughter of Germanic tribes who would not obey. The cast: Moi (and with that one word I pretty much make a full disclosure of my French); Moi wife and interpreter, Simone; Alain, coming soon and Aimee, his wife, coming a bit later.
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