The key to suc­cess

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - HUGH O’KEEFE EL­IZ­A­BETH BAY, NSW

Ev­ery trav­eller knows this mo­ment. You are in a strange city. The night is dark and cold. Af­ter a long jour­ney, you are tired and hun­gry. You are sick of lug­ging lug­gage. You reach your des­ti­na­tion, in my case a friend’s apart­ment, and the key won’t open the door.

My mate David has of­fered me the use of his apart­ment in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France. I’m well-armed with in­struc­tions, a map and the keys. The taxi driver has wound his way through the al­ley­ways to Rue Matheron and de­posited me on the doorstep. The first key opens the out­side door and I’m con­fronted by stairs. The light for the en­try area doesn’t work, so when I close the door, it’s inky black. I feel my way up two flights, where the land­ing light does work. I’m there — well, al­most.

The sec­ond key goes in af­ter some jig­gling and I turn it once, twice, thrice. The door won’t budge. Try again. Check that this is the right apart­ment. Well of course it is, af­ter all, the key fits, doesn’t it? Looks like I might be spend­ing the night on the land­ing.

The phone num­ber I have for David is not con­nected, a recorded mes­sage tells me. I am with­out Wi-Fi. I need help. It’s nearly 11pm, but some­thing must still be open. Yes, the bar next door is just clos­ing. My plan is to per­suade mon­sieur le pa­tron to let me send an email to mon ami en Aus­tralie. David is hardly likely to be sit­ting by his com­puter at 7am, but des­per­ate times and all that.

The bar owner is most anx­ious to help. He is happy to give me ac­cess to his Wi-Fi. In­deed, he seems more con­cerned than me that I should not be home­less. I’m sure he has French Re­sis­tance her­itage. We are aided in this op­er­a­tion by a young drunk who is un­der the im­pres­sion he speaks English flu­ently and can help. He doesn’t and he can’t.

Email sent, mon­sieur le pa­tron de­cides to re­view the ev­i­dence. I do have a key? Yes. It fits the lock? Yes. But it won’t turn? Yes, it turns but the door won’t budge. You have pushed? Of course I’ve pushed. Have you tried pulling? Par­don, mon­sieur? I do know a tirez from a poussez. Well, all this is get­ting me nowhere, so I de­cide to re­trieve my bags and seek al­ter­na­tive ac­com­mo­da­tion. Back up the dark stairs I go. I give it one last try. I know it’s use­less, but I pull. And I’m in. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au. Colum­nists will re­ceive an el­e­gant Cross Clas­sic Cen­tury Medal­ist Ball Point Pen, in pro­duc­tion since 1946, with a pol­ished chrome cas­ing and 23-carat gold-plated trim; black or blue ink. $89.95. More: lux­u­rypens. net.au

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