Monday, November 28, 2011

Honey, I'm HOME!

So. I landed at Charles de Gaulle at about 11:30 on Saturday morning. Once I had my luggage, I was accosted by a charming black man in a suit.

"Taxi?" he asked.

I followed him.

To a parking garage where there was a large silver van waiting. My radar went off, and I grabbed my bags from him, and told him I would find my own Taxi thank you very much. It was one of those scams - they take you to your destination, for about double the cost of a normal cab ride. I know - because I asked how much he was thinking of charging me.

I finally reached Gare d'Austerlitz, but then had to lug my bags - by this time extremely annoying - around the station until I found the luggage lockers. The attendant told me he had no change left in exchange for my bills, that I would have to go find some, and shooed me out.

By this time, my 50 kilos of luggage was pulling my arms out of their sockets.

Finally, after a hectic while, which probably would have been eased by more than a rudimentary knowledge of the French language, my luggage was safely stored away, and I was free to explore Paris for about 8 or so hours.

I wandered around until I felt hungry, at which point I stopped at a crepe place. I realized, when my crepe came, that I was actually too tired to really eat much, and I think I offended the very nice, very attentive waiter, when I left quite a bit on my plate.

Heading in the general direction of Notre Dame, I ended up in this lovely park-like place - I think it was the Jardin des Plantes - and I sat for a while to watch little kids racing after each other. So sweet.

At long last, I got to Notre Dame. I walked into the smell of incense and the sound of chant; it felt as if my soul had come home.

In line for confession, I was accosted by a four year old British girl who was waiting impatiently for her family to get through confessing all their sins. We played "the color game" which meant she would ask me what color her shirt/skirt/head band/coat/ boots were, and I would have to tell her. I told her all the wrong colors, and she told me I was obviously color blind.

But that didn't seem to turn her off, because she ended up on my lap, whispering secrets in my ear.

When I finally got in the confession room and started to talk to the very nice priest, I began to bawl - as I always do in confession - I am not sure why, but so it is. He was very nice, gave me a lovely wooden rosary, some very beautiful ideas to contemplate, and then set me loose after running my soul through the washing mean, bleaching it, and returning it snowy white. So to speak.

Vespers and Mass followed, after which I just felt.....uplifted. Refreshed. In love.

Sometimes I really like being Catholic.

By this time it was quite dark outside, and my night train was due to leave in a couple of hours. I meandered through Parisian streets, hoping I was going in generally the right direction, but too happy to really care if I wasn't. By a strange twist of magic, I ended up back at Austerlitz with plenty of time to grab a sandwich.

It was the best sandwich I had ever had in my life. I didn't realize how hungry I was until I bit into it. But when I did, all hell broke loose and my body went:


Awaking from my sandwich ecstasy, I realized I really had to figure out where my train was, and actually get on it. I successfully found my car, found my "couchette" and climbed on in. And then I realized I was in a compartment with three French men.

This would have slightly bothered me at any other time, but I was too tired and too entranced with sleeping ON A TRAIN, IN A CUTE LITTLE BUNK, that it pretty much washed over me.

After I put my ear plugs in, I just conked out. For the next seven hours, I floated between sleep and wake, rocked by the motion of the train.

My bags and I were thrown out onto the platform in Carcasonne at 5:30 AM on a very misty Sunday morning.

I had about half an hour to figure out where to get a ticket for my connection to Couiza.

But I had to get into the station.

Which meant I had to tackle two flights of stairs down, a walk through a tunnel, and then two flights of stairs up. With two suitcases, a purse, and a laptop bag.

In the station, everything was in French, everything was closed, and no one was around to help.

I tried to figure out schedules, and finally ended up buying a few tickets, in the hopes that one of them would be the right one.

I lugged my bags back down the stairs, back through the tunnel, and back up the stairs.

And then I realized there were two platforms, and I wasn't sure which one I was supposed to be on, and my ticket did NOT seem to tell me.

I looked at the clock. I had five minutes to figure it out.

I looked across to the station and saw a man sweeping. He was pretty much my only hope. I left my bags on the platform - there was no one around at 6am on a Sunday morning to steal them - raced down the stairs, through the tunnel and up the stairs, and tried to make him understand that I wanted desperately to reach Couiza.

Understanding brightened his face. He pointed to a bus waiting outside.

Oh. I was supposed to get on a bus, not a train. And I had three minutes to get my idiotic bags and board it.

Back down the stairs. Back through the tunnel. Back up the stairs.

I basically threw my bags down the stairs, raced after them and somehow managed to get them up the stairs at the same time, and then race to the bus and board it before it left the station.

I showed the driver my assortment of tickets. None of them happened to be right. But that is ok - because he only had to look at my face once to know that I would dissolve in utter hysteria if he made me go back into that station. He sighed and waved me on.

A 45 minute bus ride, and a short cab ride later, I was in front of Gite des Cathares.

I wanted nothing but to shower in very hot water, wrap myself in a blanket, and climb into bed.

But I couldn't remember where the land lady said she was going to leave the key. And I definitely had not written it down.

For about half an hour I overturned stones and prayed to various saints-of-lost-causes, and swore viciously in my head, and hoped a bolt of lighting would just kill me.

At the point where insanity almost overwhelmed me, I kicked over one last rock, and there it was. The key.

I yelped in glee, and hurled myself into my new home.

Two hours later, I was in possession of tea and goat cheese from the supermarket, a loaf of still WARM sourdough bread, and some of the most amazing butter ever to melt in my mouth.

Some things are so worth it. Even man - handling excessive amounts of luggage, at unholy hours of the morning, in country where you can barely make yourself understood.


There is a moral, I suppose.

Pack light.

Or, alternatively, make sure you have a strong chivalrous man around who doesn't mind hauling around bags packed with ridiculous shoes and one too many bottles of magical ointments for glistening skin.

One or the other.


  1. Ahh! I wish you could have explored Carcassone - I accidentally got stuck there once for several hours and it's so beautiful! If you are only 45 min away (...and now know which bus to take) you should go back for a visit :).

  2. ...sigh. I want to go to Europe so badly.
    "Sometimes I really like being Catholic." That made me giggle.

  3. Mary, I feel exhausted just reading your post. Gosh, I've come to really hate travelling.

  4. I feel almost personally responsible for putting you through all this, not being there to guide you as I did last....but it sure does make for some great stories! I'm immensely proud of you for making it all by yourself!

  5. I have always said I could walk into a Catholic church anywhere in the world and feel at home- "as if my soul had come home." Totally relate.

  6. Jeremiah you should feel responsible.