Jeanette is tired, “It is a lonely life waiting for guests,” she says, dragging on a long cigarette. “They come, and then they are off to the centre, to the old town. It is empty here for long hours.” She’s had the hotel she runs with her son, Jean-Paul, for fourteen years. It used to be so much better: ferries came to Boulogne, day-trippers and others: her rooms were full and the bar busy. Nowadays the ferries have stopped, and there are too many chain hotels in the centre of town: they’ve cut her out. “Formula” places, she says, what can she do? At the weekends it is ok, with the people doing the drives around the region, but in the weekdays, like now…it is “plus calme, and yet every hotel in the centre is full.” Hers is located far from the front, close to the railway station, but perhaps not close enough.
Her parents came from Polynesia, in their early twenties. She grew up with them in Cambrai, where she had a big shop when she grew up. There are three children she had with a guy from Le Tourquet, but he left, “pushed me away,” and now two of the other children have “gone away” as well, only Jean-Paul remains, working in the centre, or here. There were other gentlemen, one took her to Italy, to Turin, but he died of cancer. “It is better in Italy, they have more family hotels, not all the chains. There is work there.”
She’d booked up next week with a load of motor-bikers – there’s a bike store nearby – and she’s happy when they are around. There was a convention in February and the entire street is filled with biker-boys, she has photographs, one signed by an “American champion”. Other parties come too, cyclists, X-treme bikers, gymnasts. But a lot of the people she talks about are from before, fading photographs in the Guest Book now: a Hen Night for “Lulu” in 1996, photos of a Croatian Heavy Goods Vehicle; cards from travelling salesmen, a Tunisian family. She’s been to England, on the ferry, to Dover and Folkestone. But Italy is better. Cambrai too.
“That’s the trouble here,” she says. “Too much formula.”