Setting forth back to front

Little desk, rue Carnot, Poitiers, France, listening to a CD of JP Cormier, first saw him in Nova Scotia, sorry I have to get a tear in my eye for a minute...





A week and a bit ago I tried unsuccessfully to get to Poitiers twice. Poitiers wasn’t co-operating. Time to change tactics. One week ago I passed straight through Poitiers on a train on my way to Chaudenay. That hopefully gave it a feeling complacency and lulled it into a false sense of security having clearly seen me disappear over the horizon. Then today I sneaked up on it backwards. Totally outwitted it and here I am.



Knowing how long queues can be for tickets, I turned up at Chagny railway station this morning with an hour to spare. We passengers were outnumbered by staff 4 to 1. There were 4 of them.

Several Very Fast Trains went by Very Fast, then eventually my Little Green Train pulled up.

After travelling for two months, today I finally learned how to carry my bags. The smaller grey pack on the front, the bigger black one with my computer on my back so I look like those young backpackers who look so silly with backpacks on front and back, then I have one hand free to pull my main bag on wheels and the other to negotiate the various and ingenious mechanisms used to open and close train doors and confuse passengers. I always graciously let the natives off first, mainly so they’ll get the door open.
Also with this new method, I look so awkward, people offer to help. Although now I don’t actually need it. Unlike the other day struggling crazily up the steps to the platform in a Paris station and a man offered me aid in French. Pulling two wheeled cases up a flight of steps isn’t easy. Oui, Oui, I said. Thanks, merci, merci, and handed him my black backpack. But he was gone. How rude! Then I realised he wasn’t asking if I needed help, he was asking if I was OK. Oui, oui. Thanks.


Today I ricocheted off Paris up from Chagny and back down to Poitiers. On the first train you couldn’t book window seats because you couldn’t book seats at all, but I got one. It was a short haul. Trains number 2 and 3 I’d booked window seats. They were both Very Fast Trains, but not That Fast. It would still take a couple of hours to get there. You know how between windows there has to be a bit of wall? That’s the bit I got on train number 2. I was able to watch the passing scenery one eye at a time. A bit of left brain...a bit of right brain...parts of France I think are romantic, others I think the maize is crooked.

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Train number 3 was looking better; as luck would have it I was again sitting beside the bit between windows but there was a bit more window. Then the train started moving. I was sitting backwards. #$@%* !

I’ve never been good at backwards. I was sitting on the right side of the train (as you face backwards) and wondered if people who read from right to left would have less difficulty than I was having as trees and villages and fields were already rushing towards being memories before I knew they were there. Then I looked out the other side where the scenery was passing from left to right, and I still felt seasick. Maybe it’s too reminiscent too much rosé.

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At least it was quiet. French trains are very quiet. Mobile phones are supposed to be turned off, or you use them in the vestibule. Funny how quickly you get used to a certain ambience. I was getting annoyed that a few young people (at what age do we start saying “Young People”?) were going through the doors so frequently (imagine a Star Trek soundtrack...schwoosch...schwoosh), that the couple in front of me were arguing in whispers, and then some idiot was turning the pages of his magazine without any consideration for others.


Tomorrow I’ll really explore. Poitiers is a big city so for some reason the beautiful old architecture surprises. The Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) is just wonderful.




And the apartment is great. It has a French washing machine. It’s my first. It is in the bathroom and looks a lot like a toilet . I thought it was one until I saw the hot and cold taps which of course, toilets don’t have. There was some washing powder on a shelf which was another clue, and a mop and bucket beside it which were definitely necessary as it transpired. There were no instructions so I had to figure out how to use it by trial and error...always put your clothing in first, then the detergent, then turn the taps on, otherwise you get a facefull. It’s great for socks...just hold them over the spray. Personally, I wouldn’t have the nozzle facing in quite the same direction.
Then mop up the floor. And the walls.

Oh, and for dinner I just had to have Chinese. There’s a Chinese restaurant a few doors away.To hear somebody switch from Mandarin into perfect French was absolutely delightful.

But I’m still hungry...