I’m on a train heading down through France, on my way to the writer’s retreat in Labastide. There was a little excitement just now, though not the kind that you want: a bag was left in the middle of the aisle in one of the luggage areas on the train, in car 6 (which, incidentally, was just a few rows behind where I was sitting). The conductor and the staff made multiple announcements, searching for the owner, and someone came through our car to ask if the bag was ours. The next announcement threatened to stop the train if the owner couldn’t be found, and before too long everyone in car 6 was being asked to take our things and move up to the first car. We did, the train began to slow down, and just as we settled into our new seats (I think in a first class car- more room!), we were told that the owner of the bag showed up.
It wasn’t until the announcement that they were going to stop the train that I began to worry; I’m not typically a worrier, I don’t like to dwell on stuff that could go wrong. But for just a few minutes this had me a little rattled. It’s all the stuff we see on the news, the things that are happening around the world, the warnings of friends and family before I left for this trip: “Be careful!” they all said. “Europe’s not as safe as it used to be.” I don’t think that anywhere is quite as safe as it used to be, but that also doesn’t mean it’s so dangerous that we shouldn’t leave home. Still though, this was a reminder of how unsettling the world feels right now. In the past I might have just been curious about what was going on; this time, my mind jumped to the worst.
In any case, the train has picked back up to its regular pace, the conductor assured us that everything is fine, and the journey continues.
Or, maybe it’s just not a great morning. Last night I started coughing, and woke in the middle of the night to a sore throat. A few days before- in Bath, actually- the woman in the bunk below me was sick, and was coughing and sneezing quite a bit. “Oh no,” I thought. “The last thing I want is to catch whatever she’s got.” It probably hasn’t helped that I’ve been moving around constantly, that I’m not getting enough sleep, that my meals are a bit erratic and that I might not be eating quite enough fruits and veggies (but the scones! And the crepes!)
So I’m drinking tea and orange juice and I think this was the first time in my life that I was in Paris and didn’t drink any coffee. It doesn’t seem right, somehow. In fact, all of Paris felt a little… different. I was there for under 24 hours- arriving around 2:00pm on Sunday afternoon, and I left just after 7am this morning (Monday). It was such a short time in the city and really I was just kind of passing through. Different than my other trips, even if the others were on the short side as well- this one was just a quick stopover. But for being in such a big, grand city, it was all rather simple. I grabbed a few metro tickets, easily got to my hostel, checked in and stored my luggage then went back into the city, stopped by the place with the best baguettes to pick up a jambon/buerre sandwich (ham and butter, my favorite), then over to the Musee Marmottan, to see all the Monet’s. This was a new museum for me, I liked that even on a short trip I could see something new.
Back to the hostel to get my key, up to my room to have a shower, then back out in the city to wander around. This was when all I really wanted to do was crawl into bed and sleep: it was chilly and raining and I was exhausted. But it’s not a trip to Paris without seeing Notre Dame, so I walked over, checked out the new Shakespeare and Company cafe, bought a crepe, then headed back.
There’s so much of Paris that I’m not familiar with; every time I go I stay in the same hostel, so I know just one area really well. But there’s something to be said for this- for maybe the very first time, Paris felt sort of like another home to me. It was easy, and effortless. It was like I stopped by to see an old, good friend. And I thought, once again, of something I realized after my very first trip there, when I was 20: Paris isn’t going anywhere. It will always be there, waiting, welcoming me for however long I want to stay. I like that.
I never got a chance to write about my other days in England, but they were great. Rushed and fast and maybe a little too much for someone like me (who wants time to sightsee, AND time to hang out in cafes and write). But I saw a bunch of stuff that meant a lot to me to see- things that are sort of on my unofficial ‘list’ (you know, the things in the world you always assume you’ll get to do/see one day. Lately, I’m realizing that I’m never going to see this stuff if I don’t actually plan a trip and make it happen… obvious, I know, but I guess I just feel that I no longer quite have all the time in the world for all the things I want to do).
So I saw Stonehenge, and I really loved it. In London, I went to the Tate Britain and spent a long time in the Turner rooms- JMW Turner was the first artist I ever really studied, way back in high school, when I was 16. (Come to think of it, I wrote a paper on Notre Dame for that class, too!). Whenever I’m in an art museum I check to see if there’s a Turner, and I was overwhelmed by the number at the Tate. And then I saw another painting I recognized- in another connection to high school, my English class was reading Hamlet and there was a depiction of Ophelia on the cover of our books. When the books were handed out to us, a boy across the room exclaimed, “Nadine! This looks just like you!” Everyone started laughing (maybe because Ophelia was floating down a stream to her death), but the boy was serious. I blushed, and ducked my head. At the time, I wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or not.
But then I was walking through the halls of the Tate and came across this painting and I started smiling, almost laughing, at the memory.
The final connection to high school was also during my day in London; an old friend lives there, someone I haven’t seen since I was 18. She invited me over to her family’s apartment; that evening, in the square down below, the neighbors were having a communal bbq. It was an incredible evening: everyone spread out on blankets and chairs in a beautiful garden, a DJ playing tunes (a Beatles song was playing when we walked in), the smell of charcoal, kids running around, twinkle lights in the trees. Standing at the grill, my friend leaned over to me. “They don’t know how to grill stuff here.” And as predicted, the men around the grill watched as my friend flipped her burgers, then put down rounds of bright yellow pineapple. “American,” she explained, and the men all laughed, then asked if she could help them with their food.
Later in the evening, after lots of drinking, people started dancing. But it was the strangest sort of thing- it was like a wedding. There was line dancing and the Bee Gees and even the Macarena. That one brought everyone out to the floor. I was standing by another American and he kept shaking his head. “Don’t they know that no one dances to this anymore?” He gestured to the crowd. “Welcome to Brexit.” It was a combination of every age group: little children, a few teenagers, twenty and thirty-somethings, parents and grandparents. They were swinging their hips and waving their arms and smiling and laughing. England might be a bit of a mess right now, but on that night, in that square, it seemed like everyone was in it together.