Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Monday revisited, or -- when things go wrong

It was, as I said, a delightful Parisian morning with my friends.

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Truly delightful.

I had read that there were to be winds and rains, all the way to the Atlantic coast of France, but it hardly mattered. It's a travel day for me. And trains, unlike planes, are indifferent to such forecasts.

And indeed, the train trip is absolutely perfect. I doze, but not too much (fear of missing my stop is very real when I am sleepy). I eat my packed lunch...

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I read my book and I gaze out the large window. The changing landscape on a day that vacillates between wet and sunny is beautiful to observe from the warm shelter of a speeding train. Four hours and 530 kilometers later, we approach Morlaix...

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This is nearly the farthest western point in France. And from this rather large town, the rail link continues to the coast, but you have to take a rail operated bus. It's all part of one rail ticket: segment one -- to Morlaix, segment two -- to St Pol de Leon, only now by bus, leaving ten minutes after the arrival of the train.

Unfortunately, the rain now is whipping at us from left and right. I say "us" because there is another guy who is looking for the bus to St Pol de Leon. A curious young fellow, chomping incessantly on M&M peanuts, dressed in those jeans that hang more than halfway down your butt. He wasn't traveling from Paris. He just wants that segment that would take him, like me, to St Pol de Leon.

I look for the bus. Not there. I ask inside. Madame looks at my ticket and shakes her head.
The 16:25 doesn't run today. It's school break. (hiccup no.1)

It turns out Brittany children have a week off now and when that happens, the schedule of every form of public transportation changes. But of course, this is no big surprise. Why was the ticket issued then for a segment that doesn't exist? (I had purchased it at a rail station, when I was in France in December.)
Madame at the ticket counter shakes her hand, as if to indicate that there are some mysteries of the rail system that just cannot be explained.

All is not lost! She tells me to report to the Chef d'Escale (station manager). She smiles wickedly: they will have to pay for your taxi to St Pol de Leon!

Well now, that is terrific! A taxi ride costs more than my entire ticket from Paris to St Pol de Leon! And the French Rail is comping it? How nice is that! (It is particularly nice since they could have just told me to wait for the evening bus, which, for me, would have been truly disastrous, as my Airbnb hosts are waiting to meet this earlier bus and I have no way of contacting them to tell them of a change.)

And so my chocolate covered peanut chomping guy, who profits from their mistake towards me, climbs into the taxi with me and we zip up the twenty or thirty kilometers north, as the scenery gets more and more Brittany-like: artichokes and cabbages and mixed skies of an unsettled day.

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With the sea, popping into view now and then.

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The cab driver lets us out at the once functional but now deserted train station of St Pol de Leon. The wind is brutal! The first feeling of cold creeps in. I want my hosts not to be late!

And they're not late. Or, rather she is not late. Aurelia, driving up in her mother's car to take me to what is actually her Parisian brother's newest project: the apartment rental in downtown St Pol de Leon.

She parks her car in one of the narrow alleys off the square and we make our way to the little apartment that is curiously spread out on three levels: entrance hall on the ground, kitchen and living room on the next floor and bathroom and bedroom on the top. Each room has an individually controlled radiator and they're all turned off for now. (Hiccup no.2) Understandably, I suppose. This form of heating is expensive.

She shows me the rooms, they are fine, if cold. I want so much to get to those radiators, but first, there are things to learn: the mechanics of the place. The washer. The stove. The shower. The lights. The keys. They usual. I thank her for the basket of Brittany goodies they have left for me: fish soup, a packet of crepes, salted caramels, lots of fruit, cider.

And then I smile and say: let's make sure the WiFi is working. The grin is there because I have been such a pest in corresponding with the brother: I have questioned and insisted on a functional WiFi so many times that it's almost a joke by now.

You'll think that it's because of Ocean that I am so insistent on WiFi. It's not that. I have blogged for many years where WiFi in my inexpensive quarters was but a dream. For Ocean, I can always find a cafe where I can load ready photos and publish a text written off line. I love the internet because it makes solo travel less lonely. I am connected round the clock with people whom I love. I keep up with what's happening at home. I love Skyping Ed, checking in just before I fall asleep and when I first wake up in the morning. I can be without it all day long, but as the dusk creeps in, I want my link to the friendly world of the familiar faces. Especially now, as I am so exhausted and still reeling from a set of days that sent me spinning.

And so Aurelia dictates the code and it's a long one and I wait for the familiar bars to take hold and they don't. (Hiccup no.3) We assume I mistyped. Then we assume she misremembered. Then she unplugs and resets. Then she calls the company and they troubleshoot. Then she calls her brother in Paris and finally her father (whom she refers to, in very French English, as un geek). He tells her he will bring a new box as soon as he is done with work.

It is cold. It is raining. (Hiccup no.4) I ask about the nearest place to eat. Oh, a creperie! Across the alley! A great one, she tells me. Only we look in and see that it's closed for the week of the school holiday. As is the one next to it. And the others don't respond when she tries to call them from her "mobile." (Hiccup no.5)

Aurelia is so apologetic! I feel sorry for her, I really do. And, too, for the brother who helplessly waits in Paris. But, I am cold and wet and the hours are passing and I hate to walk from floor to floor now, while she is here, to turn on heaters in all the room -- so I just turn on one, in the kitchen where we are standing, only it never quite fills the space with the warm air that I so very much would love to feel right now. Tiredness makes you that much colder.

Realizing that I may have trouble finding a place to eat on this stormy night (because the weather has been upgraded to the level of an official storm), I tell her that maybe I should go to the grocery store to stock up for supper. She drives me there and to the bakery and I get the bread, the cheese, the bottle of wine which I so want to crack open and start drinking, right now!

Her father comes and changes the box and tries to fix the line outside and in so doing he crashes the curtain rods and I just feel so badly for them all, because they are such good, Bretagne folks and this new project which was supposed to be a little boost for the brother is turning out to be such a headache.

I worry that Aurelia is away from her baby daughter and so when everything fails and they have no more answers for today, I send them home and I take my computer out in the pounding rain in search of a bar with WiFi and I find one, though it is nearly closing, but I sit there long enough to connect, to post, read a few emails from home and to send a message to my Parisian host, telling him that I am willing to give it a day or so, but then I'll have to move on.

But lo! He sees I am on line and he responds instantly! He has been at work looking for solutions from Paris and he found one! Another home (not theirs, just something on the Internet) for me, just outside of town! Aurelia will pick me up and take me there to stay as long as the issues at their apartment remain unfixed.

Dear, dear Aurelia -- a year younger than my youngest daughter, waiting back at the apartment, flushed but happy to be taking me to a warm and connected home just at the edge of the artichoke and cabbage fields of Brittany.

She apologizes incessantly as she drives me there and to take her mind off this apartment stuff, I ask her about her work. She wanted to be a teacher, but she ends up selling the fish caught here, in Brittany to restaurants in Paris.
What's in season now?
Sea bream, scallops are starting. Lobster is so expensive, because of all the storms we have been having!

And so we find the little home by the Brittany fields, with a view toward the sea, only I don't know that yet, because it is dark when Madame Herveline welcomes us to her daughter's rental project -- a brand new house, spiffy and big enough to accommodate a family of eight! And best of all, it has floor heat (it takes a while to catch on, but when it does -- bliss!) and a speedy Internet and here I will stay, for a while at least, even as the winds rage and the rains come and go -- it all does not matter, I am warm and dry and connected.