When Carolyn and I first dated in 1972, the good times lasted six weeks. I came to refer to that halcyon period as the Prague Spring, after the similar period enjoyed by Czechoslovakia back in 1968 before Soviet tanks rolled in on the streets of Prague. And it hasn’t occurred to me until this minute, that this train trip of mine has also lasted as long as both my and the Czech Republic’s previous Prague Springs. But that’s where the comparison ends.
It happened late in the flight. The denouement of a story is the part where the main action ends. That should have occurred the evening Danielle and I had dinner together. That was a perfect denouement to this trip. But it didn’t turn out that way. There was more.
I was on a flight I shouldn’t have had to be on. Had the equipment not been changed to a smaller plane the day before, I would have been home already. Instead, I’m flying home a day late. But when I noticed that flight attendant, whom I hadn’t seen before until that last two hours of the flight, I knew in an instant why I was on this one.
The 10:26 to…”
…Lyon. I think I may have seen the papal palace on the way out of Avignon today. I couldn’t help it, since stone walls and crenelated rooks and towers came into sight suddenly, and they filled the train window. At least now, though, I will be able to honestly answer “Yes,” when the inevitable question, “Well, did you even bother to try and see anything while you were there, for crying out loud?” is asked.
“The 11:42 to…”
… …. ? The further implications of an Avignon with two train stations made itself apparent the following day after arriving in town. I started looking at destinations out of Avignon, and I realized I could see a lot of places without having to pack up and leave the city. The idea of being able to leave Claude in the room for a few extra days was more than appealing, since I had access to a kitchen, patio and laundry, all within the little gated community of Residence Les Cordeliers. I extended my stay an extra three days, and sat down the plot out my next itinerary. The 10:26 to Aix en Provence looked juicy. From there I could travel on to Toulon, and then circle back home in the early evening. Since this was a non-pass day, I strolled up to the ticket window with plan in hand. That’s when I learned that my 10:26 was not leaving the Avignon Centre station where I was, but Avignon TGV, a six minute train ride away. It was already 10:20, so I had little chance of making the connection.
I once fell asleep on a Munich bus late at night (probably Oktoberfest had something to do with it). When I woke up, I was the only one on the bus and had no idea where I was. I started walking, and about two hours later, I was turning down my street and heading for home. I don’t know how I found my way, especially with the effects of Oktoberfest still snarling my navigational coordinates. So it is more than a little annoying that on this trip, armed with GPS, Google maps and my own documented capacity for finding my way in the middle of the night, I could not find my way from the train station to the hotel without a lot of gesturing and pointing on the part of the locals, and in one case, humiliatingly forced to take a taxi about eight blocks.
As far as traveling alone, it’s the way I’d started out. In June, 1971 I arrived in Paris with less than two hundred dollars in my wallet, and no idea where I would be spending my first night. I treated the city as if it were a Disney theme park. Oblivious of urban dangers I’d be terrified of back home, I meandered the streets of Paris on foot from seven in the morning until ten at night, cheerfully oblivious to all the historic and culturally significant sites and landmarks I passed. At night I’d sit in a café and put down all I had learned in a journal, most of which was a gumbo of proto-emo angst, insecurity, lonesomeness and a struggle to get laid masquerading as a quixotic search for cosmic love.
This I thought I could do. Fly to Paris, buy a train ticket to somewhere, anywhere, then get off, find a room, take a walk, have dinner, go to bed, and then get up the next day and do it again. Just for two weeks to start. I thought I could do that. I knew I needed to try. It was a way to get back to how it was.