Monday, 5 December 2016

The Last Summer Days in France

This year has seen so many travels and events, I've got way behind in posting them all. This is the last part of the French trip, from June this year. Earlier posts visited Alet-les-Bains
Rennes-le-Chateau, Saint Polycarpe & the Monastery of Cantauque, Monsegur, and Puilaurens and Mirepoix. Which took us back up to Picardie where I left my friends at Amiens train station where, because of the strikes, I had to wait several hours. But that's travel. Often a lot of waiting around. In October, I waited for hours in Newark airport, trying to get on a flight to Chicago. I got the last seat on the last flight out in the evening. You feel so very thankful when you do finally get on. 
It was one of those double decker trains to Rouen and I sat on the top deck, as always. I was so glad to see P* who picked me up at the train station. For some reason it is impossible to pull up in a car in front of the station, but P* did anyway, blocking the traffic behind, and then he drove through the town in inimitable fashion, flinging arms and imprecations to the gods, with one or two insults to other drivers, for good measure.

The picturesque old town of Rouen is on the right bank of the Seine, full of gorgeous timber fronted houses. 

But many shops are announcing that they're closing down. A clothes shop, one selling bandes dessinées. Soldes, réductions, plastered across the shop fronts. Tout doit disparaître. Déstockage massif.

Crossing the river, the wide Seine, there's a luxury cruise ship, the Botticelli from Strasbourg, tethered at the side.

And a working boat, with its stained metal cover and peeling red paint at one end, moves slowly under the pont Jeanne d'Arc. The Seine has half covered one of the quais, but the headline in the local paper says plus de peur que du mal. More fear of flooding here, than any actual problems.

Market at Saint Sever

 On la rive gauche you come to the colourful quarter of Saint Sever. In front of the church there's an open area, then two streets of small shops selling fruit and vegetables, shoes and clothes – bright, colourful flowing dresses and scarves, printed cotton trousers, in swirling paisley patterns. There are benches under shady trees, where old men sit and watch the passing people, and a couple of corner cafés where people sit outside drinking beers or coffees in the thick sunlight of late afternoon. To one side of the church is the shopping centre, also called Saint Sever, its modern glass front set back at a distance from the church, so that sunlight splashes the forecourt.

Outside the grocer's shop, fruit and vegetables are piled on small carts. Oranges in one, melons in another, nectarines in a third. The carts have big wheels, and are painted red. 


This is Rouen's quarter of colour. A dark-skinned young man stops me and says something about a sports centre, gesturing to a building behind him, which looks empty. But I say no thanks. Vous ne vous intéressez pas au sport? Non, I say.

This area has a feeling of life spilling out into the streets, and parading itself there. Boundaries between commerce, coffee and conversation, between pavement and shop, between sunlight, laughter and the dreamy silence of people sitting or strolling past, between work and leisure, between day and evening, are all blurred.

Before getting on the bus at the quai du havre in Rouen (this bus will take me to Paris where I will change to get another one to London) there's a couple of women waiting, with several bags. But you're only allowed one per person, says the driver. One of the women says – that person doesn't have a bag, that one too – no bag. My extra bags can be theirs. Les choses ne s'arrangent pas comme ça says the driver in the tone of voice that corresponds to a shrug-level, a little weary, with an 'end of conversation' movement, as he turns back to the bus.

The woman turns to the other, luggage-less passengers, to enlist their help. They agree to adopt a piece of her luggage. The driver says vous pensez qu'on peut faire ça à l’aéroport? (clearly the answer is no.) He said they'd have to pay a supplement. He's then on the phone. But when the door is opened and people put their cases into the luggage compartment, the women put in all their cases, newly reassigned to different passengers.
The driver's on the phone again, comes and goes, glances at people's tickets or phones, nods, allez-y he says to me and I'm relieved for I have 2 bags! He walks off again, talks into the phone, then comes back when it suits him. He is after all a French worker, employee maybe but still sovereign in his own territory, his own sphere of influence, management and expertise.

Every arrival of every bus or train, every time I succeed in getting on a vehicle is like an event of the greatest good fortune. I really have found the right place, right bus, and despite having two bags they will still let me board. So many reasons for thankfulness, they accumulate, follow each other, like waves on a beach, a succession of delicacies, over and over one after another, a folding of days, piled like linen in skies of pale blue. Linen days in petal-flecked skies.
There are these moments in travel when time's fabric eases just a little and we're no longer a beached island of self looking out on a world – whether distant or intimate, remote or thick and warm, we're always looking it seems, for drawbridges over the gaps between fireside and horses' hoof-prints in the dust, between candle light and the sound of metal horse shoes hitting stone.

Moments when there is only this, and it's not so much missing the rest, but the rest has been loved into silence, 'the rest' has dropped to its knees, surrendered its solitude, and become one with the only. Don't stand outside of it. 'The rest' has walked in and been welcomed. In the hazy warm sunshine, in the bus park at Porte Maillot, Paris, eating quiche aux épinards et saumon, there it is, when time loosens its laces forgets its earth-shaking agendas, and you – grateful for this – forget who you are. What bliss to lose the sensation of self, the Separator, and return to the source and the oneness – like the sun, like the ocean.


The Solitary Walker said...

Lovely piece, Morelle.

I noticed how many shops and bars had closed when I walked the Via Francigena through north-east France.

dritanje said...

Thank you Robert. Yes, it's the same in France as here, small shops closing, can't compete with the big chains and supermarkets. Thinking of these things, my thoughts turn to walking and pilgrims in general, and the kind of courage it takes to go out there and just walk. I hope you manage to do this sometime soon. And I hope I will too, next year.

Anonymous said...

Those peaches keep going girl, I'm sure you will be back on the road again. Hope the wedding went well, you were clearly being protected by the Universe re the plane seat.!

Forest Dream Weaver said...

Beautiful piece of writing and great photos.I love the architecture and subtle,worn colours - and the humour!

dritanje said...

thanks Ruby - yes these old wood-fronted buildings are spectacular - and when French people travel one can often overhear humorous conversations.
M xx