My Café Littéraire

There’s a great hotel in Les Baux called Benvengudo that I’ve written about before. The nice people there recently invited me to talk about my book at a “Café Littéraire” as part of their springtime series of events. Other events include a wine tasting by Château Romanin and a harp concert so I’m in good company.

It was an intimate event, held in the salon in front of a crackling fire (spring has been wet and cold so far), with delicious wines and pastries on offer. The turnout was modest due to the weather plus the mudslide that blocked one road to the hotel but was a lot of fun nonetheless.

My dilemma in preparing was that I didn’t know what language I would use. The expected guests were a mix of French and English speakers so I prepared for both (but secretly hoped for English, let’s be honest.)

As the time came to begin, with everyone in their comfy chairs, I polled the audience and learned that French would be the best language. Zut! So I took a deep breath and launched in and, luckily, everyone laughed at all the right moments. And my book readings were in English so overall it was a nice mix of two languages.

Once, after I did a reading, I forgot what language I was supposed to use and continued in English, until the puzzled looks reminded me to switch back to French.

Unlike back home in Silicon Valley, where the busy audience usually leaves right after such an event, here everyone ordered another drink and talked together. It was quite an international group, with people who had lived in Switzerland, Russia, the United States, the UK and France, making the discussion wide-ranging indeed, especially on the subject of cultural differences.

Two people actually spoke some Russian and took the opportunity to practice with each other. I don’t know what they were saying but I hope it included some nice words about my presentation!

The Craziest Hotel Sign I Ever Saw

It’s different in Europe.


My wife and I once stayed at the Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, one of Italy’s grandest hotels. We don’t usually stay in a place like that but it was our anniversary so we splurged.

We got into our room, put our suitcase down and admired the view over Lake Como. Nice!

Then my wife noticed a card lying on the nightstand. It was like a “Do Not Disturb” sign, but different. Really different.

“Take a look at this,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it!”

The card was in four languages and it took me a minute to find one I understood. Then I saw it. It was an instruction to the guest: “If you leave your baby alone in the room in the evening, please hang up this sign on the door (outside).”

I flipped the card over. This was the side that would be visible when you hung it on your doorknob.

At the top was, “Silence, baby is sleeping.” And below, “I’m alone. If I cry, please tell the concierge.”

“Do you think this is for real?” I asked. “You just leave your baby in the room by itself?”

“I guess,” said my wife. “But I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.”

I can’t say if anyone actually used the card. We kept our ears open but didn’t hear any abandoned babies crying in their room. Nor did we see the concierge scurrying around with a wailing infant in his arms. But still.

Definitely a WTF moment.