Farewell to the Dombes!

On to Paris and then of course home to America. France is wonderful but there really is no place like home. I miss my friends, my kittehs, my OWN BED with my own pillows. Oh, and a good IPA would be really nice too–it doesn’t seem to exist here. They have some so-so beers and some pretty good beers, but none to write home about. Oh, but the wine and the food more than make up for it. After all, I’m here to absorb French culture, and part of that seems to be about making do with what you have and NO WHINING. Really, they seem to be such agreeable people and a lot of that has to do with just going with the flow and rolling with punches and such.

Speaking of which, THANK GOD I was able to nab a seat in first class on this train because mon Dieu, the unwashed masses in second… I have a Rail Pass for 1st class but could only get a reservation for a seat in second–know this, my friends, that you MUST have a reservation if you want to travel during Les Grandes Vacances. I kept asking at each train station if I might change my reservation to first class, but  no luck. One clerk suggested that I ask the conductor aboard the train. While they were making the rounds in the cafe car, where I had retreated to escape the–honestly, I had never encountered such horrific odors even during my week on the trail ride, INCLUDING THE HORSES, THANK YOU. My second class seat was next to this fine looking young man who smelled like every American’s stereotype of the Euro in the summer.

Fortunately, the conductor  said they did have a place for me in first, so HERE I AM, living large in France. It’s quiet except for a slightly fussy baby, but it doesn’t make me want to spend the entire three hours in the cafe car drinking wine. NO, that doesn’t mean I’m going to drink it at my seat instead, but I could if I wanted to. And the little ones here are really not bothering me at all. It’s nice to hear them prattling in French. So young, and speaking it perfectly 🙂

As for my French, you know, it’s often really quite dreadful. But no one seems to mind because apparently I speak bad French very well. People keep saying my French is good. They went from asking if I wanted them to speak English to asking where I was from, to asking IF I even spoke English. One of our German horse riders said she couldn’t tell where I was from when I first entered the minibus at the beginning of the trip. All she knew was that I didn’t sound French but my accent was unidentifiable.

I have heard that  one of the most important factors in sounding like a native speaker (or heading there at least) is to get the intonation down, along with the funny little verbal mannerisms and tics. So that’s what I work on when I do my podcasts and apparently it has paid off. I mean, I think back to some of my exchanges with people and I rush to my dictionary and go, “NOOOO, I USED THE WRONG GENDER!” but no one seems to care. This is what I mean by speaking bad French well: My grammar is often a bit off but I guess I sound good speaking it. They seem to really appreciate the effort, and I’m so glad.

A refreshing Merlot Rose in the cafe car, enjoying the view and the escape from my smelly neighbor in second class

Oh, dear, I don’t even want to think about the horrors that lie ahead of me at Gare de Lyon, when I will have to navigate my way to my monstrous suitcase bag in steerage–it’s only a couple of cars down, but I MUST REMEMBER so I can find it. Fortunately, I found the one and only perfect little cheap wheeled suitcase at the Villars marche yesterday. A nice Senegalese couple were selling all sorts of bags and such, and when I saw that, it was like I had imagined it into being. 20 Euro, and I just couldn’t bring myself to haggle because it was so miraculous and the lady was so nice, with her beautiful Senegalese dress. I recognized the accent from my brief time there as a teen and asked if they were from there and it made me so happy to be able to make that connection. They were delighted too that I’d been to their country and thought to ask. There are quite a few Senegalese here. Even on the train, in the cafe car I heard this French guy saying “ca va? ca va quoi?” to this man who looked Senegalese. It reminded me of how they say that all the time, just a random greeting. Then I heard the Senegalese explaining that he was just saying “ca va,” which made me feel somehow very worldly, straddling the worlds in this manner.

Good grief this TGV is fast! I’ll be in Paris in just over half an hour, so I’d better prepare myself. Oh, like using the toilet on the train–already found out the hard way that you usually have to PAY in the stations.

My hobby of the day is freaking out over whether I’ll get to CDG on time. I checked in with my Android, so that’s done. But I have to take the bus from the train station to the airport. How long will that take? How long will I have to wait for the bus? Will I be able to find the place to check in? Will my bags be overweight? Will I remember to put my multitool in my suitcase so they don’t think I’m trying to kill anyone? And I would really like to have time to take advantage of the special lounge my Premium Economy ticket entitles me to–I believe it’s a 35 Euro fee to use it, but… this sort of thing is just so much fun. They have all sorts of nice things to eat and drink there, and I will be able to escape from the madness of CDG before my flight. Flying is stressful enough, travel too, so the little (and big) comforts count a lot.

I keep reminding myself that EVERYTHING IS FINE and to stop freaking out.


All aboard!

Although what to call it on an airplane… anyway, here I am, and feeling fairly well rested, thanks to Air France Business Lounge. I sprang for it, at 45 Euros, which is more worth it if you have a longer layover/WAIT. Or if you have a great thirst for GOOD BOOZE, which they have in store. After two weeks in Belle France, drinking the most delightful wines, it was nice to be able to enjoy some VODKA and brandies, also some good wines.

Apparently  this flight is mostly empty. How odd. Well, here I am, all alone in my little window seat. With a few beers and waters to go from the B-salon. Water, especially. You need that on these flights.

My trip to Paris… well, it was a relief to arrive at CDG, but then I had to navigate the checkin process. Silly me, trying to use the automated kiosks. PITA. Anyway, I did manage to print my luggage tags, and I had already put my boarding pass on my Android. BTW, thank GOD for the little cans of Perrier from the Business lounge, because it’s hot as  FUCK here on this plane and I need to hydrate after pounding that vodka, wine, and brandy. True, just a wee nip of each, but still.

So glad I did manage to nab the seat in first class. Jesus, second was disgusting, and not just from my neighbor (who seriously needed a fucking spanking on his hygiene, the pig). No, the entire car was gross, which was probably why the conductor was so amenable. There I was, obviously hiding from the stench in the cafe car, seeking refuge. People say the French stink, but did they check the passports? Because I spent a week with French horse people and NEVER notice a stink, not even from the animals.

I was quite pleased to have French people respond to me mostly in French, EVEN AT THE AIRPORT, until I felt over my head and had to say
“je ne comprends pas” with a 😦 in my voice and expression. But I tried, and even if we spoke a bit of English, I would always toss in a bit of French for good measure.

Gott in Himmel. This flight was delayed due to some connecting issue. WHATEVER, but I left my boozy comfort for THIS??? Anyway, get these peasants on board so I can get home.

It was awfully nice to have one of the AF people at the gate send his regards to Boston after I said to him (and all of France) “AU REVOIR A FRANCE.” I don’t tone it down, ever, and why should I.

Okay, they just brought some Evian water, which is a nice touch, but WHERE IS MY FUCKING CHAMPAGNE???


My new stock phrase, especially for today as I make my way to the final leg of my journey aboard the TGV.  Of course it’s mad crowded with vacationers–I tried to switch my reservation to the 10:30 train when we got to the station early, but no luck there. At least I knew to reserve my seats in advance. Your Rail Pass is useless without a reservation.

Anyway, about my stock phrase, “sorry to disturb  you!” … it comes from my frantic efforts to actually board this train. Talk about “hurry up and wait,” after sitting at the station for about two hours, on the platform for the last 10 minutes or so, the train arrives but my coach is nowhere near where I was standing. Off I go through this crowd, “desolee,” etc.  Finally I see my coach and board. I breathed only a half a sigh of relief though, because where the hell was I supposed to put my RIDICULOUS valise? Well, I found my seat and there was a little luggage platform  nearby. Fortunately the people with bags there were also going to Lyon, where I change trains to make my destination to Villars-les-Dombes. Where hopefully my hotel room awaits. So I rearranged the luggage to put mine on the bottom–rather embarrassing to have this enormous suitcase, but no one told me how small the luggage storage was on these trains!

Hopefully I can find some sort of duffle  bag to put my overflow in, since my souvenirs and gifts are creating problems for  me. I am getting better at organizing everything though.

Have I mentioned the fact that I kind of look like hell? Not too bad, but my choice of attire was perhaps a bit regrettable considering my farmer’s tan from riding all week–I only noticed when I used the WC at the station and realized that a short-sleeved shirt might have looked a bit less ridiculous than this tank top. Not just the tan lines, but my numerous scratches and bruises from being smacked silly along some heavily wooded trails. Plenty of stickers (ATTENTION LES EPINES!) too. Oh, and my dear horse decided to leave me with a souvenir yesterday as I was putting him away: I turned my back on him for a second and he casually reached over and nipped the back of my arm! Now the opinion on this behavior is a bit mixed, whether they are being affectionate or attempting to express dominance. Perhaps it’s a bit of both, but I figure if he wanted to hurt me he could have, but it  was just a harmless little nip that left a bruised bump.

OMG, people are boarding the train at the next stop from Aix–e-P and of course there is nowhere for them to put their things now that my suitcase is hogging all the room…

I knew it was only a matter of time before I learned why I don’t find the French to be as rude  as I was warned–I keep thinking it could be because I’m the rude one. Oh! this morning at breakfast I thought I might have encountered my first rudeness here, but it turned  out they were actually from another country in Europe. So… the jury’s still out. Besides, I am  awfully thick-skinned and pretty “live and let live” about things. And since I’m traveling, nothing is ever permanent. Good lessons in liminality and Buddhism both. How about humility too, since I feel like I’m incurring some sort of karmic debt with this luggage debacle on this train.

The countryside from the train is beautiful of course, past the countless farms of Provence. I’m torn between looking out the window and writing, but  since I have had almost no time to write all week, I’ll do my best to catch up a bit. At least I took plenty of photos so I have a journal of images that I can hopefully piece together eventually.

As for the trail ride… it was even more spectacular than I imagined it would be. The horse they had me ride was named Escudo, and he  was a strong, solid, very good-natured gelding. So capable, and thank God, because some of these trails were absolutely terrifying! Straight up or down, often with loose soil and/or stones, but he managed to carry me through all this without incident–I couldn’t care less about  the bruises and scrapes. Oh, but there was a time he sort of bolted through a section of trail and almost knocked me off when he went under a low hanging branch…  this was the first day I think, the “test” day, when he wanted to see who was boss (horses do this, test a new rider). I did hang on to the reins, fortunately, or I would have gone down. Instead I gave him quite a yank on the bit AND a talking to in English–this after I’d been speaking to him in French, using gentle words and tone. But when he suddenly heard me barking at him in an entirely different manner, it was like turning on a switch and he was much better after that. I forget what exactly I said, probably the usual, “listen, Mister, I’ve had about enough of your shit! KNOCK IT OFF!”

So yes, he was a very good boy for the rest of the week, unless you want to count the souvenir bite. Who knows, maybe he was saving that up for the last day, his last chance to be bossy. Anyway, with horses, you take the good with the bad. All the horses I have known have been wonderful creatures with good hearts and I’m convinced we don’t deserve them by half. If the average human were half as good as the average horse, we’d be living in a paradise here.
Well, I’ll be approaching Lyon shortly, with the dread moments of assembling my monstrous assortment of luggage in time to disembark. These windows don’t  open, so there will be no escape like that time in England when I got stuck on the train and climbed headfirst out the window–people in my group helped me down and it was quite the spectacle. BUT! ever since then I’ve always been scrupulous about schedules when I travel.

Meanwhile, many miles since I decided to enjoy the views from my seat on the train, I find myself settled in one of the most charming villages I have ever seen. Perhaps my enjoyment of this place is increased because I thought it would be bland and tired. But it’s lovely, and the people have been very kind so far: first at the Gare, where the lady was very helpful in giving me directions to my hotel, along with a little tourist map; then at my hotel where the desk clerk was very welcoming and kind. AND NO ONE EVEN BOTHERED SPEAKING ENGLISH! My assimilation is nearly complete. More to come, but now I must clean up and explore. A light rain just started but I am actually really happy about this because it means I did not pack full rain gear in vain–I have so much crap in my luggage, but much has turned out to be essential after all. IT’S RAINING AND I HAVE RAIN GEAR IN THIS ENORMOUS HEAP OF STUFF 😀

Au revoir, Marseille!

What a lovely place, so ancient and decayed and seedy, but with a vibrant energy that I found irresistible. “The people there were all so nice”… blah blah blah–really it seems to be the French temperament overall. But Marseille, of course, is one of those liminal spaces I find so fascination. People have been coming and going there for thousands of years, since the port is perfectly situated and well protected by the surroundings. This morning I took a walk out to King Rene’s fort at the entrance to the port. There are man  made jetties to protect the port further.

I saw a sign on a tour bus that referred to Marseille as the “capital of the world.” All the milling about from people from all over the world does lend to this between-places feel. Everyone speaks English, but only because it’s the lingua franca–most of the tourists I saw were not native speakers of the language. HOWEVER: this morning while eating breakfast some American ladies were checking out and it seemed rude to me the way they spoke to the desk clerk in English. Would it kill people to at least say “bonjour” and “merci?”

My French is improving daily, and with each interaction my confidence grows. With confidence comes proficiency. But first we must falter and fail and even feel a bit foolish at times. I do thrive on positive reinforcement though, so I am always so delighted to have people speak French back to me and compliment me on my usage. Besides, don’t forget, I have fun speaking foreign languages. To me, it’s like this elaborate game. You go to a foreign country armed with this magical tool, their language, and with it you can communicate in nearly infinite situations.

If it’s Saturday, it must be Marseille

I have been too busy exploring Paris and getting to Marseille to write anything. But here I am, in this ancient port that holds a special fascination for me because it’s in Provence but also because some folk traditions say that “ley lines,” running along energy grids all over the world, affect us in strange ways. And Marseille is supposedly on one of those lines. We shall see, but I will tell you that this place does have a very special, ancient energy.

My travels… I went for a “quick run” Friday morning and found myself back at the hotel about ten miles later. A bit farther than I meant! There were a lot of stops for pics and traffic lights though. After a bit of stretching and resting I headed out for more sightseeing, eventually ending up at the Tour Eiffel, despite the many reports of “les pickpockets!” I’m glad I made it there, because there’s a beautiful garden all around the structure. And I survived “les pickpockets.” In fact, I got to scold a couple of teenaged girls about leaving their purse on the grass whilst taking photos of each other: “Madame! Gardez le sac!” They thanked me and looked a bit sheepish and I felt like this was a sign of my further assimilation into Frenchiness.

I saw a report on the French news about this crime problem near le Tour, so they know it’s serious. THEN, on the TGV to Marseille today, as we were boarding, this little boy announced with some ardor: “ATTENTION! LES PICKPOCKETS!”

Unless those bastards have magical powers, I think I’m all set. I did WATCH out for them, but really, seeing those girls with their abandoned bag? Am I fussing?

Here I am in Marseille, and I shall try to write about this lovely little port city at some point tomorrow. It’s really lovely, a place of extremes, but I like that sort of thing.

My hotel has the loveliest rooftop terrace with a view of the entire harbor. It’s quite miraculous. At the moment I’m here all alone with my bottle of amazingly cheap rose, but I’m guessing that it gets a crowd later. The wine in France is all so cheap—obv they want us to drink it! Continue reading