Wednesday, August 28, 2013

leaving France

At home, Ed has plunged into making peach jam. The peach trees are sagging from an overload of fruit. We'll be eating peanut butter and peaches for lunch all winter long.

Me, I'm winding down: it's a prolonged return -- a train ride to Figueres then Barcelona, then the next day -- the flights home.

At least that's the plan. It's about to be severely challenged, but I don't know that yet. I'm enjoying my last morning in Paris, even as Ed is packing up to go camping up north with his buddy. Our travel preferences are sometimes strikingly different.

And what of this pretty morning in a refreshed from vacation city? Well, there's breakfast. Let me break out of a routine here. Surely I'm capable of walking spontaneously into a random cafe for a croissant and coffee. I pick this one -- Conti. There are people inside having a conversation about how their vacances went this year (tranquil -- says the proprietor with a shrug). I sit down at a table facing what has to be the most congested little intersection on this side of the river. Trucks routinely stop in the narrow streets to unload and cars behind are patient -- to a point. In the photo below, everyone appears to be headed at each other. That they all get through unscathed is rather miraculous.

DSC05698 - Version 2

I eat my croissant -- not the best, not the worst and drink my coffee -- not the best, not the worst. I note that the price is comparable to that in Les Editeurs. And a few paces further, I see about five other cafes that have a more pleasant vibe and I think -- this searching out a good place for coffee has to be a life long challenge here. There are too many choices. Do you stay satisfied with a good one, or do you keep the search going?

Alright, next I must deal with the fact that I have buyer's remorse. In packing last night, I notice two things: the delightful little work skirt I purchased? I want to exchange it. To the more colorful one. Will they do it? I haven't a single receipt left. Then, too, I picked up this simple little tray with a nice flower motif. We need a tray to carry foods from the kitchen to the porch. We'd been using an ancient cookie sheet and though Ed thinks that's just perfect, I'm thinking an upgrade is in order.

The problem with the tray is that it is one inch longer than my suitcase. No, I am not sending my little case through just so that I can carry the tray on board with me. Too awkward and stupid. I shouldn't have purchased it.

So I go back to shops that have already seen too much of me -- and it turns out that this is a good thing, because they do exchanges only if a clerk recognizes your face and can confirm the purchase. The good news is that I appear to be memorable enough to be recognized. The bad news is that I appear to be memorable enough to be recognized.

That behind me, I think about lunch: My train is at 2 p.m. Should I eat before? Too early. It's much more attractive to pick up a Paul baguette with cheese and eat it on board. So I do that.

DSC05720 - Version 2

As I stroll my neighborhood, I think surely I must stop for a good bye visit to the Jardin Luxembourg. Since lately, my trips to Paris tend to be in winter months, I miss this profusion of color there. So let me take it in one last time.

DSC05725 - Version 2

DSC05728 - Version 2

DSC05734 - Version 2

DSC05736 - Version 2

And then I say good bye to my pretend home in Paris, hoping that there'll always be discount rates available for future visits. (It's a modest little place but nonetheless, I can't afford their full prices: travel planning requires a chicken and egg game of booking a flight on discount days that touch also discount days at hotels. Or the other way around. The Internet is a frequent traveler's most essential tool these days.)

The train station is about an hour's walk from the hotel and even though I have my case and pack and my feet have still not recovered from yesterday's crisscross of Paris, I choose to walk.

DSC05686 - Version 2

DSC05722 - Version 2

I can't say that the heart of the walk is exciting. Wanting to avoid the crowds at the river's edge, I weave my way through a rather dismal set of blocks (insofar as Paris can be thought of as having dismal blocks at the city center; it's relative, after all). But things improve dramatically when I reach the Jardin des Plantes. I cut right through it and though it isn't terrific fun to drag a suitcase, no matter how small, on a dirt surface, the walk in the park is enchanting!  A small section of it is planted "in the wild."

DSC05741 - Version 2

And, there is the grand avenue of trees -- always beautiful.

DSC05749 - Version 2

Little ponds grab the attention of little tykes.

DSC05746 - Version 2

And finally, two sections of the garden face off the yellow and blue colors -- part of this you'll see here, in the more general view of the gardens. I would say then that this should be my parting image of Paris.

DSC05753 - Version 2

Though technically I still have to cross the river to get to the Gare de Lyon.

DSC05762 - Version 2

And now I am almost there and I pause to check my ticket. I have about twenty minutes before departure. Perfect. I look at my reservation -- I'd picked it up back in Barcelona and I am so grateful for it because the crowds at the station are enormous.

What's this? It's a first class seat! Damn! He made a mistake. They'll never let me on with my second class ticket. Nor can I expect to get a seat on the train at this late date. I contemplate standing in line and pleading with the agent there. No, can't do it -- the line is too long.

I decide to board the train and claim my seat and argue later. I practice the speech I'll have to be making -- it's not my fault! I checked everything else -- the date, the time, but I never thought to check the class! The agent made a mistake! I have to take this train -- I have a flight to catch tomorrow! It really is not my fault!

I settle in the luxuriously comfortable armchair, plug in my computer, take out my sandwich and wait anxiously for the train to leave. The first stop will be in Valence -- pretty far south. If they throw me off the train, at least I'll be partway to Spain. Maybe there'll be some night connections I can make?

Stormy clouds outside.... I settle in to eat my sandwich.


DSC05767 - Version 2

About an hour into the ride, the conductor enters the car. I sweat as he comes to me. He looks at the ticket, the reservation, the ticket again.
Madame, I have to tell you... (here it comes, I'm nodding my head ready to launch into my speech)
...that you will be changing trains in Figueres. You'll cross the platform for the train to Barcelona. Have a good journey.
I'm stunned. Did he not notice? Was he exceptionally kind? Such incredible luck!

I settle in to work.

And now we are passing through my beloved Languedoc and would you believe it -- I can see Franqui beach! The etang (inlet) opens up into it. The cliff jutting out of the water is there, just by the hamlet. I smile broadly. It's a moment that I will love for the sudden surprise of seeing a place that comes with memories of gentle days and childish play in a sea of turquoise and blue waters. Normally I wont post a photo below some level of technical acceptability, but this one is an exception. 

DSC05783 - Version 2

And soon after, it gets even better: I see the receding chain of the Pyrenee mountains and hills, spilling into the sea, the hills of Sorede, the hills that I've climbed with Ed -- all of them, many times, as he likes to remind me, with a yawn.

DSC05787 - Version 2

Just one more glance!

DSC05785 - Version 2

And now we're over the border. The transfer in Figueres is smooth, the train pulls in on time to Barcelona.

There, I have a little less luck in trying to get a refund for a seat reservation issued to me by an agent here for a train that did not exist. A wasted twelve Euros. But I get nowhere and after a while I count my blessings and head out. To my Emilia home.

And by 11 p.m. I am at El Cargolet -- the neighborhood bar-restaurant, the place where Ed and I have gone back for the paella, for the informality of the bar-restaurant, for the comfort of being in a neighborhood place where locals come over to satisfy their near midnight eating cravings.

DSC05802 - Version 2

In the past, the waiter has recognized us and laughed at my curious habit of photographing stuff around me, but that's because he recognized Ed, who is (however you might take this) quite the memorable one of the two of us. Now, I eat my mushrooms, followed by the delicious paella in the anonymity that not speaking the language affords.

DSC05800 - Version 2

DSC05803 - Version 2

No moon tonight. There's a threat of sprinkles in fact. Barcelona may still be wide awake, but by midnight, I'm ready to call it a day. I leave you with a humble nod to the flowers that so defined the last few days for me. (These, from the Jardin de Luxembourg.)

DSC05735 - Version 2