Friday, June 27, 2008

From le train to le train-train quotidien

I couldn't bear to leave Rome abruptly. My entire being was infused with the scent and the rhythm of la dolce vita. I found a new pace in my week in Italy. A vibrant, soulful existence -- life at its peak under the brilliant sun and the cool lingering evenings. It comes from a special alchemy of joie de vivre, exuberant earth colors and the fluttery, passionate tenderness of the language.

Oh, Italian is such a lilting language, romance and flowers in every syllable. To me it sounds like an amorous bard fervently warbling French love poetry under water. The cadence of the vowels, the trilling softness of the consonants. There is only one Italian word I don't love: arrivederci.

Loath to depart, but recognizing the need to get back to supposed real life, I opted to return to Paris by train. It was a long trek, but a good choice. An excellent choice.

In the same way that I like to see Paris by bus, I savored sliding by the countryside, feeling Rome recede gracefully, on that first leg of the trip. So much better than the cold turkey of a quick flight. I pressed my face to the window and daydreamed as the fields and hills, the cities and towns whirred by. Firenze, Bologna, Fidenza, Piacenza, Codogno, Lodi. Some had names so long and quays so short that the the signs simply blurred as the train sped toward Milan.

On the second segment, the Trans-alpine from Milan to Geneva, suddenly, blessedly, I was able to communicate again. People around me were speaking French in addition to Italian. The scenery changed from undulating to dramatic. I realized as they appeared that I hadn't seen the Alps in a few decades. Though I needed sleep, I avoided the urge to snooze and glued my eyes to the window, aching over the majestic mountains and sparkling lakes. Lago Maggiore, Montreux, Lac Leman. The high Swiss pastures, so lush and green and remote, where you expect to see Heidi skipping down the path to Grandfather's hut.

I love Paris, but I clearly need to travel more!

The final leg, the TGV from Geneva to Paris, felt more like an old shoe. My cell phone began buzzing with text message advertisements from Orange. Everyone was French. Everyone's magazines and books were French. The countryside looked more familiar. Very... French.

After 13 hours of train travel, I was glad to arrive at the Gare de Lyon. I was really looking forward to ditching my heavy suitcase, which I had over-packed as usual. I headed to the taxi stand to be the 132nd weary traveler in line waiting for a cab. It was slow going, but the metro wasn't an option at that point of exhaustion. The line inched along. We muttered mild oaths, but conjured up the best patience we could.

I was heartened to see that the chef de station -- or whatever the official directing the taxi line is called -- always allowed parties with impairments to jump to the head of the line and get priority rather than shuffling through the cattle-line. First a tiny elderly lady, bending over her cane, hobbled over with her grandson. She clearly needed a taxi desperately, and looked as though she were about to keel over.

About 20 minutes later I was only about half way through the wait; and the line behind me stretched beyond the horizon. Two men approached the front of the line at a hesitating, measured pace. One man was wearing sunglasses and had his hand on the shoulder of his companion, who was guiding him. The chef de station, seeing that the man was apparently visually impaired, of course motioned the duo to the front of the line, and they eased cautiously and stiffly into the next taxi.

As the guy in sunglasses leaned over to get into the back seat of the taxi, I noticed a camera case swinging from his shoulder.

Ah, Paris. Home again.


Jacki said...

What a funny story! I tend to always believe people and definitely the best out of people.

Thank you again, your post allows me to dream of far way places while I should be working :)

Evelyn said...

How ironic life is! I live in Iowa and dream of enjoying Paris again. You live in Paris and dream dreams of Italy! Your trip sounds perfectly lovely.

Alison said...

I'm slightly jealous of your trip to Rome. Thirteen years in France and I never visited Spain, Italy, or Switzerland. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

That is a beautiful story with a HILARIOUS ending! I love it!

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Italy was such a delightful, magical change of pace. A perfect antidote. Paris is f-f-f-fabulous, but sometimes it's important to "get out of the golden prison" as a fellow expat says.

Good to hear from everyone! Please pardon intermittent responses to comments -- wifi connex is off and so I'm currently sharing ethernet-cord time with my daughter.

The Late Bloomer said...

Ah, what a lovely post, Polly! You really do have a way with words and compile these pieces seemingly with such ease -- I could totally imagine you in your train seat watching the scenery fly by through the window... Sounds like you had an absolutely marvelous time in Italy, and I can certainly relate -- Italy is one of my favorite places, a very close second behind France... I only wish I could go back more often myself! My last visit was a trip to Rome with my boyfriend in May 2005, when his father had just retired and was spending a much-deserved week there with his wife (meaning my boy's parents, if that wasn't clear!). We spent four wonderful, memorable days with them, and I loved that trip SO MUCH! And ah, we ate so well in Italy too...

Light, summer Italian al fresco cuisine is one of my favorites! Thanks for taking me back there again...

paris parfait said...

Such a funny story about the "blind" guy with a camera. So typical. Those lines for taxis are insane, thanks to Delanoe's restrictions. But I love traveling by train in Europe. So glad you had a lovely trip!

Anna said...

Thanks for your post: I was just a bit homesick, missing my family and my language little bit!
An Italian livin' in Versailles.

- Anna

blueVicar said...

Welcome home, Polly. Sounds like a good trip. Nothing like a change of scene to refresh...even if the ho-hum for you is Paris and makes the rest of us green. (Actually, I know that you rarely find Paris ho-hum...or else you couldn't do these wonderful posts!!) Happy you could go!

Meilleurs voeux!!

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