Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pt.14 Passage to Avignon

Pt.14 - Passage to Avignon - this adventures starts here.

At this point in the narrative, a train is hurtling from Paris to Avignon with Our Heroes (Gary & Joyce) barely aboard.

Through the Metal Door, There Lies...
At the front of the car, was an aluminum door which slid to one side, to admit people between cars. Combined with the silence of the passengers, being separated from Joyce, the hot, stifling air, the foul odor of decaying bodies, and the general sullenness of the backpackers, the opening of that door seemed sinister. Usually it was other passengers, coming through the door, but now and then an official in a uniform would come through. Somehow, it made me feel guilty, as if I would be discovered and detained. It was movie-like. The passengers would come through the door, stink their way down to the end of the car, where I sat, walk into the baggage area, discover that this was the last car, then they would walk back down the narrow aisle and exit back to the car before ours. I think they were looking for the bathroom. It gave me some satisfaction to see the jaded know-it-alls not finding their damn bathroom, because they had been ‘way too “cool” to ask a conductor for directions.

I got up and walked back to the stairway area. Now that there was time to look around, I saw that each car has a luggage compartment, which consisted of large shelves, where the passengers could store their suitcases. I stored one of ours, there was no room for the other, so I left it in the hallway— there were others there, including the damn green backpack sprawled over half of the usable area. Returning to my seat, I retreated into my book, Kinky Friedman’s “Elvis, Jesus, & Coca-Cola.” The author’s way of making you feel paranoia, sadness, and humor at the same time was very appropriate for my present surroundings.

Lunch Time for the Gray Suit
About a half-hour into the trip, the businessman next to me got up, I let him into the aisle. He went into the baggage compartment, folded down a seat next to the door, opened his briefcase, pulled out a sandwich and an apple, and ate lunch. This was an experienced traveler. I decided to make my way up to Joyce’s seat, to see how she was doing. I hoped that the authorities wouldn’t question what I was doing. She was enjoying herself, almost communicating with her seat-mates. At her end of the car, the seats faced the opposite direction. She had been trying to signal to me, but I hadn’t been looking for any signals of hope. I returned to my seat. She walked up to my end of the car about half an hour later. I showed her to my “livingroom” in the doorway/luggage room. She was wondering about lunch, and wasn’t I hungry. No, even dehydrated I didn’t feel safe about eating when I didn’t know where my next bathroom would be.

France at 80 MPH - That's 128 Kilometers, Monseur
We opened my carry-on, and got out one of my beignets that I still hadn’t eaten from this morning, seemed like a year ago. She had a beignet, and some water, and a peach. We watched the countryside go by for awhile. The land was getting more hilly, and occasionally, the train took tunnels through hills. The cruising speed of the train was in excess of 80 miles per hour. The track at times ran parallel to freeways, and we were passing cars by exceeding their speed by at least 30 mph. This train, too was located next to a track which carried trains in the opposite direction. When the trains passed, now the combined speed was almost 200 mph, and it seemed like the vacuum between the trains would suck them together. The weather was getting more sunny.

We passed through small towns without stopping. The buildings were usually two-or three story brick structures, at least near the railroad. We saw occasional subdivisions with more modern subdivision-looking houses.

The French Countryside - Are We in Illinois Yet?
One distinctive feature of many of the buildings was that they had awnings drawn over well over 90% of the windows. We would find this to be quite common in France — they have windows, but they cover them. Perhaps it was just because of the hot weather, that an un-airconditioned building stayed cooler if the awnings were closed.

Rural areas had some very inferior-looking cows, usually white, and they looked kind of anemic. They would never be furnishing any satisfactory milk or meat, at least by American standards. The area we were traveling through now was definitely very mountainous, tunnels became more frequent. Then, suddenly the mountains stopped. The land assumed a flat farmland-type of contour typical of Wisconsin and Illinois. We returned to our assigned seats for the rest of the trip.

Don't Throw Me Off the Train, Monseur - It is Traveling So Fast!
The conductor came by to punch our tickets. I don’t know how Joyce got by without a ticket; I never asked her. I knew there would be trouble. He looked at my ticket, then he said something to me in French. I gave him everything else, showing him the ticket for the train we had missed, pointing from one to the other, hoping he would get the idea.

“You didn’t get these tickets z;xckvj” I made him repeat what he wanted, knowing full well I wouldn’t understand him the second time either. Then, miraculously, he went on to the next passenger. I don’t know the magnitude of the grace I had just been extended. Maybe he saw something in my tickets that he was looking for.

Shortly after that, about two and a half hours into the trip, the train began to slow down. It traveled at a reduced speed for at least twenty minutes. Joyce and I huddled in the baggage compartment, ready to disembark, and get our suitcases off the train, just in case they tried to pull a “metro” on us and drive off with a train full of our baggage. For almost ten minutes, we traveled through what looked like train platforms. It looked like we were there long before we actually were. The train slowed even further. Other passengers were getting ready to jump off as soon as the train landed. There were doors on either side of the train, and we didn’t know whether the station would be on the port or starboard side of the train. If the station was to the left, Joyce’s suitcase would be blocking the exit, in which case, we’d be ready to hop hers off, and then to get mine off the rack and off the train instantly, so as not to impede others from getting off. I wanted so much not to be an Ugly American, but they always seemed to do their best to make us feel that we were.

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1 comment:

Leslie Hanna said...

I am SO glad to live this experience through your telling of the adventures and not first-hand!