|Hair: Personal adornment or personal |
curtain? Eleanor is partial to what I
call the "Cousin It" look.
So, French is a struggle for her, not academically but socially, and she is a little bit intimidated by this whole talking thing. I empathize with her completely--I took four years of high school French, followed by two years of college French, stayed with a French family for a week my junior year of high school and spent six weeks studying in Paris in college...and I was still intimidated by the thought of actually applying that knowledge by talking to real people.
So I told her the story of the shining moment I learned to really speak French, fluently and with confidence.
It was 1992, and I was studying abroad in Paris in my final summer in college. Overachiever that I was, that would put me at the ripe old age of 20.
|Le sigh. Eleanor is closer to 20 than I am. So are Bruce and Betty.|
Actually, so is Bob Cat. Damn. I need wine.
Me: We would like 3 tickets to Mont St. Michel.
Train Ticket Guy: There's a train that leaves at midnight, stops at Caen, and then arrives at Mont St. Michel.
Me: Is that midnight Friday or midnight Saturday?
Train Ticket Guy: Midnight Friday.
So, we three young ladies in our backpacks show up at midnight Saturday, which is of course, the time after 11:59 PM on Friday night. You may be able to see where this is going, in which case you're ahead of us.
A train actually arrives at midnight, quelling my last lingering fears about how that conversation with the Train Ticket Guy went. We make it to Caen and look for our connection. It is not until 2 p.m.
As it turns out, every night at midnight there is a train from Paris to Caen. But the immediate connection to Mont St. Michel only happens on weekdays, i.e., right after the 11:59 PM that happens on Thursday. Thankfully, no one was too mad at me, realizing that it was pure madness for any civilized country to schedule a train departure for midnight. Had any parent or responsible adult known our predicament, they would have suggested a hostel or hotel; however, as mentioned, we were young, independent, and adventurous and felt that that would be a poor use of money that could otherwise go to wine.
|Speaking of peeing in the park, this is one|
of my favorite statues (at Fontainbleu).
I love the dogs' expressions. Diana the
Huntress is all power and energy and
doing the Queen of the Hunt thing, while
the dogs are like, Meh, I gotta go.
You don't exactly sleep in, when you're sleeping in a train station, so we got up at 6 and wandered around Caen. This happened to be the day of the local celebration honoring the Normandy invasion in World War II (it was June 6). The thing I remember most from Caen was at the festival, when a young mom suddenly stopped, pulled down her 2-year-old's pants, and swung him in the air so he could pee in the park.
Anyway, some hot cocoa and sightseeing later, we got back on the train and finally made it to Pomtorson, the town closest to Mont St. Michel, at which point, as the designated French speaker, it was my job to call the hostel and ask them to come pick us up. And it was the hostel's job to tell me that we were too far out of town and they weren't going to and we couldn't make them and we might as well just stay in town.
It was at this moment that six years of French finally paid off. I was tired. I had slept in a train station, gotten lost in a strange town I hadn't intended to visit. I had a very bad cold. I had had enough. So I let the desk clerk have it. I argued, vehemently, eloquently, rapidly, occasionally profanely, and above all fluently in French for an entire five-minute phone card. It was the culmination of my French education, which almost made up for the fact that I lost.
It probably goes without saying that we did not give up at this point. We did manage to find lodging in town, and had pizza at a restaurant that sold pizza with fried eggs on it, although none of us ordered that (the limits of our adventurousness didn't go quite that far).
In the morning, we walked to the depot to rent bicycles to ride to Mont St. Michel, a distance of some 7 km or so. Unfortunately, the bike rental place wasn't going to open for another 5 hours. So, naturally, we hitchhiked. After walking a couple of kilometers, we got picked up by an empty tour bus and the driver lectured us about the dangers of hitchhiking all the way to Mont St. Michel.
So, as much as I might hope that Eleanor gets over her shyness and becomes fluent in French...I have to say, I hope she becomes fluent in a more traditional manner, by speaking in the safe, well-lit, climate controlled classroom environment and that she never, ever takes a train leaving at midnight.
|Me, on the left at Chateau de Azay-le-Rideau.|