Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dordogne Diary, The Return

After many, many horrifying experiences, including a trip across Germany in a super-fast ICE train with no air-conditioning in the middle of the summer standing up for five hours, I have a hard and fast rule about rail travel: never on weekends. So I felt all smug and happy making a reservation for Monday instead of Sunday. Well, of course, if I returned on a Sunday, the stores wouldn't be open, and I'd done a pretty good job of emptying the refrigerator before I left. But Monday! Nobody travels on Monday!

Except when it's the Feast of the Assumption. Which, I'd forgotten, is celebrated in France, but not in Germany. My radar's up for Pentecost now, a holiday I'd never even heard of before moving to Europe, but the one the Germans call Maria Himmelfahrt, that was a new one on me.

Brian called in a favor from a friend, a Dutch woman who looks after properties in the region when their owners aren't living there, and she came to pick me up. I bid Brian and the farmhouse good-bye and watched it disappear as we went up the driveway, through the farmer's yard, and on to the tiny road that led to the somewhat larger road that led to a real road that eventually dumped us off in Les Eyzies. And from there, the little tram-like train to Agen, and a long wait for the Marseille train, which would stop in Montpellier.

This time it wasn't the TGV, the fast train, but a regular train, packed to the gills, and with a guy sitting in the seat I'd reserved (I've found the little box that gets you "direction of travel" on the website!) who wouldn't make eye-contact and pretended not to understand me. The worse problem was that the air conditioning was broken, and it was well over 90° Fahrenheit in there, simply stifling. But things worked out: he got off at Carcassonne, and as I took my place, I noticed cold air coming up through the vents by the window. Before I knew it, I was seeing familiar landmarks.

It was a lot warmer than where I'd left. The crowds eating at the kebab joints along the rue de Verdun were larger than normal, so I knew a lot of restaurants were closed both for Monday and for Assumption. A quick check of the mailbox found a New Yorker and a form letter from the telephone company informing me I could use direct debit from my bank account instead of paying by cash at La Poste. That's it. For a whole week. The apartment was refreshingly cool for having been shut up for a week, but I opened all the windows anyway. The scents and sounds of the neighborhood came in. I was back.

And I was: I overslept on Tuesday, so that the market, when I got there, was almost stripped bare: no good tomatoes, no eggplant (!), no peaches. I was lucky to find a melon, and the guy was trying to close down so he gave me another. An e-mail from my agent told me eight publishers had passed on my book proposal, but there were still more he hadn't heard from, which could mean that they were trying to figure out an offer, but could also mean that the editor who'd turn it down was still on vacation. My apartment seemed tiny after the place I'd been staying for the past week -- and that was a converted pig barn.

It took me a couple of days, but I've readjusted. It's probably just that I haven't had a real vacation -- an escape -- in, well, I can't remember how long, especially one of this duration. There's a sense in which living in a place so unlike the one I grew up in is like being on vacation all the time -- just walking the narrow streets between the 16th century limestone buildings is still a wonderful experience, even when, as they are now, they're clogged with tourists. I wish I could do this more often, and who knows, maybe I'll be able to before too long.

But for now, it's back to the usual: trying to raise money to live, trying to find work, and maybe holding a little of the peace of the past week inside me as a reminder that things can be otherwise.


  1. No "real vacation"? What was that trip to the states, chopped liver?

  2. Lessee, fly to New York, meet with agent, go to Montreal two days with friends, back to New York, to Philadelphia for radio work, back to NY overnight, fly to Austin, do SXSW for a week, then off to Louisiana for book research, back to Austin (driving both ways), hang out for three days, fly to New York, spend three days solidly packed with book research, fly back to France.

    Vacation? Not hardly!

  3. There's no dialogue in your stories. Don't you ever meet people ?

  4. What an odd comment. You must not have been reading this blog very long.


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