Friday, October 25, 2013

Friendly French

When I checked into my room at the Hotel Colbert in Avignon earlier this month and opened my suitcase to unpack, I found a few things had gotten wet from the rain that morning.  One was my nightgown which I simply hung in the shower to dry.  Another was more of a problem – it was my copy of The Garden of the Gods by Gerald Durrell, an out-of-print book, one of two books that I had brought along for my week’s reading material (Inspector Maigret escaped dry).  The worst was my soggy bookmark. 

It may sound unimportant to you, but I’ve been using the same book mark for many years.  In fact, it didn’t start life as a bookmark but as a postcard and came to me either by chance or by divine intervention in a used copy of an Inspector Maigret paperback that I bought years ago in Berkeley at Black Oak Books.  I’ve been using it for at least 13 years.  The image is a vintage black and white photo, somewhat blurred, of a person with an umbrella, walking in the rain, passing by a Citroen 2CV.  It’s by Sabine Weiss and is titled 2 CV A Paris, 1957.  I don’t care that it’s become ragged at its edges and that I’ve had to make minor repairs with scotch tape.  It’s what I’ve been marking pages with for as long as I can remember, and it’s important to me, and it was wet.

The hotel provided a hairdryer in the bathroom, so I gave my beloved 2CV postcard some gentle heat treatment and leaned it up against the wall to dry thoroughly.  But just in case, I set off for a little shop I know that sells an interesting array of prints and cards.  Maybe I could find its duplicate? 

My shop had no Citroens modern or vintage.  But they did have some interesting cards including one smashing black and white image of Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

When I went to pay for the cards I had chosen, I pointed out the Hepburn card and said to the woman that I thought Audrey was very beautiful and was one of my favorites.   The woman agreed, and asked me something that I didn’t understand, so I said “Oui.”  She then looked around under the cash register, and whipped out a day-at-a-glance desk calendar with 352 images, all of Audrey.   I politely pored through them then went to put the calendar back in the box.  It was then that I noticed it was a calendar from 2008.

Surprised that she had held onto it for so long while hoping that she didn’t expect me to buy a seven-year-old calendar, I thanked her and handed back the box, preparing to pay for the cards I had selected.  But she pushed the box back at me and said she meant for me to have the calendar.  It was a gift. 

The photos in this post are of Arles.
The Arlesiens are grateful to the American Air Force pilots who
died while helping to liberate Arles
in August 1944

Despite the fact that Vincent Van Gogh painted
hundreds in the few weeks he lived in Arles
there are no paintings of his in the town.
This reproduction shows the little yellow house
where he lived.  It is no longer there, replaced
by the grey brasserie that you can see.  The larger
building behind it is still there.

A better view to compare with the reproduction above

Arles sits on the Rhone river

Riverside walkway

Vincent was a patient at this hospital after his ear
incident and breakdown.  He was probably correctly
diagnosed at that time as having temporal lobe epilepsy. 
This is now a cultural center.

View of a cafe Vincent painted
that is still there

Harking back to its Roman roots

The Roman amphitheatre

Les Alyschamps was once a prestigious cemetery.

Friday, October 18, 2013

At The Train Station

In A Writer’sParis, Eric Maisel explains that he likes to write in public places and that for him, bus stations, especially those with international connections work well.  There, he says, “every few minutes a drama unfolds.”

As it was, the first drama of my recent trip to France unfolded at the train station in Figueres, before I had even left town, as I was waiting to catch an early morning train north to Cerbere for the first leg of my journey.

A few drops had just started to fall as I left home, although not enough to open an umbrella.  But before long real rain was coming down and my umbrella went up.  I kept myself relatively dry and figured the suitcase would take care of itself.  Later, when I unpacked in Avignon, I found that suitcases do not necessarily take care of themselves and some of my clothing had become wet.  But that wasn’t the drama.

At the station there was, as is usually the case, a very long line to buy tickets from the single open window.  And as always, there was an employee walking the room to tell us that if we were paying in cash, we could buy our tickets on the train (theoretically if you don’t board with a ticket in hand, you face a fine).  I chose to forgo the line and board.  My ticket to Cerbere, France would cost 1.90 euros and I had enough cash for that.

Waiting at the platform for my train, the promised drama began to unfold.  The train for Barcelona begins its run at this station and was sitting, available to be boarded.  To reach it from the station, one had to descend the stairway, pass under the tracks, and climb back up on the other side.  At the top of the stairs at the station end stood a man with a large suitcase.  His wife was some feet behind him, evidently hesitating to take the plunge.  He was shouting at her and she was shouting back at him, but to add emphasis to her point of view, she was also stamping her foot. 

The drama would have been more complete if I could actually hear what they were saying.  Unfortunately, I was too far away to hear what they said or even what language they were shouting it in.  I presumed that their dispute had to do with whether or not to board the train without having bought their tickets at the station.  Then again, they could have been arguing about anything, as couples do.  However, unlike my own train that still had some minutes before its scheduled departure, theirs was just about to leave.

When the loudspeaker announced that the train was departing imminently, she gave way.  He, having a head start, arrived at the train first, but the doors had already closed.  Now we were getting to the real drama.  Would the train leave without them?  And if it did, how would the two react?

But the station master quickly put an end to my drama.  He called out to the engineer to open the door, and the two were let on.

With my drama thus deflated, I was left with my own thoughts and expectations for the week ahead.  There would be no drama with a companion.  I was travelling alone.  There would be no arguments, no compromises.  For me, travelling alone is easy in some ways and difficult in others.  I have done it many times now, and I love the freedom to plan my own itinerary, set my own schedule, and do things at my own pace.  But evenings alone can be difficult and of course, there is no one to share impressions with.

First sojourn would be in the monumental, riverside town of Avignon.  I’ve been there so many times now that it’s become my home away from home. 

The Hotel Colbert
My room off the patio was through
the small brown door at the back

Colorful city-run bike sharing

Oh my!

One of several favorite restuarants

Coming up from behind the
Palais du Papes

The Popes haven't always lived in Rome
Sometimes they lived here in Avignon

Le Chapelier Toque, another
favorite restaurant and probably the best

Baba au Rhum to die for
I was so anxious to taste it I didn't wait to take the photo
N.B.  The train station in the photo above is not Figueres -- it's the much prettier Portbou.