Late Afternoon Saturday through Monday, June 4-6, 2011. Saint Fargeau and Auxerre, France.
When I got back to the hotel after my visit to Guédelon Saturday afternoon, I reflected on some of the sights I had seen in the countryside walking and biking around. I was fascinated by the irrigation system that followed the dirt roads that cut through the farmland on which my hotel was situated. Bridges were built over the ditches so that no matter how high the water, residents could still move about, on foot anyway. The level in the ditches was low, but I could see that quite a volume of water could move through.
It was a peaceful and mostly picturesque. My walks took me by meadows set among rolling hills of green where horses placidly munched grass.
But not all the landscape was idyllic. The old farm house I came across was badly in need of repair and seemed unused, abandoned. But since telephone and electrical wires hung from a pole to the eaves of the building, someone most likely lived there. The roof of the tower and main house looked fairly new. A large stable and barn with a well repaired roof stood down the way, looking like it had seen a lot of industry in days passed. I imagined hay-making activities. I took another look at the farmhouse and saw a steep external staircase going to the second floor. A bit industrial-looking for a residence. Perhaps it all part of the business of farming. That would explain run down yet good roof.
Journal excerpt: Sunday, June 5, 2011, Saint Fargeau
Sitting in Hôtel Les Grande Chenes eating breakfast. I took a table by the window at the innkeeper's invitation to sit anywhere. I then promptly got hit in the elbow with the door when the woman staying in the room on the other side of the wall entered. Damn! Forgot about that door! I am an extra. An outsider. Sometimes I do not wish to go anywhere because I am tired of trying to make myself understood. But mostly I am tired of not understanding others. I am in a cocoon half the time and the other half, I am desperately exposed.
But while alone here at breakfast, I realized I had been neglecting my writing. Free writing, creative writing. Even if I don't finish another blog, I must free write to keep myself centered. Thus I scrawl on the page.
I have had a couple of novel ideas during my travels. This morning, I came up with this idea loosely based on the couple who run this hotel: A husband and wife have a hotel in the French countryside—she is flirtatious and outgoing, high energy always dressed in filmy, flowing outfits of blazing color; he is quiet and handsome in a blonde boy-next-door kind of way. She draws people in by sheer magnetism of personality, while he is charming in a modest way, slightly hesitating before asking and answering a question. They run a lovely hotel with splash and color and elegance, but something is ragged around the edges. Some of the rooms need painting. Reception sits empty as she dashes off with friends for the afternoon and her husband must scurry up to unlock the bolt to let a guest through the house or check someone in.
On a more serious note, I'm concerned about travel to Saumur. I found a train but I don't know how exactly to book it. I need help. The train station in Auxerre won't be able to help because the ladies who are working the counter do not speak English. The next opportunity to purchase a ticket would be at the train station at Caen. Third option: if the people at Kensington (British travel agency) can help me book it – that's actually the first option – then I get Travel Guard Insurance support. I don't wish to drive but perhaps reserving a car there now would be good. Just in case.
That day and many other times throughout the trip, I realized that, even while I enjoyed myself during my travels, I was always aware of how alone I was. That day in particular, I felt I truly didn't belong there. I wasn't actually a tourist. I wasn't there for pure pleasure. I was there to learn. To see. To understand more. To inspire. And I met most of those objectives. But success was punctuated by moments of dread and fear. Will I be able to fill up the gas tank to get back to Auxerre? Will I find a way to get to Saumur and in time to make my hotel reservation?
I did actually find a gas station Saturday night. It was nice to have the tank full before leaving for Auxerre on Sunday morning. I had to pay cash because my credit card wouldn't work. Small thing, yet I hadn't see it coming, and it made me wonder what else I would not see coming. I returned the rental car. No one was about, so I had to park the car in the lot myself. O f course, this being Europe, the lot was teeny-tiny. After a few forwards and reverses, I finally got the car into the tiny space between the building and the next car over with just enough room to slip out the door. I was relieved to get rid of it. With any luck, I would not have to drive again this trip.
Journal excerpt: Later, back at Hotel Le Maxime in Auxerre
Sitting under the air conditioner because it is so muggy tonight. The windows are closed tight against a thunderstorm which should cool things off—eventually. When I returned from Saint Fargeau, I took a quick walk around the steep stone streets right as the dark clouds moved in overhead and the thunderstorm started. The rumbles echoed off the brightly colored facades. I passed under a brightly painted window with geraniums in the window box. A TV blared a man's voice in French talking excitedly. Music poured out another window around the corner.
In my neighborhood back in the states, it is so quiet. Everyone is at work or school or running errands during the day. The houses are spaced far enough apart that sometimes you don't see another human being between morning and evening rush hours--even on the weekend. Only if you happen to be out at the right time to catch a dog walker. Another country--so strange. At least the pigeons are the same here. One coos outside my window. I take every turn that seems to lead down because the rain has started. Down to the Quay where my hotel sits alongside the Yonne River. Every corner has a stone step, a mysterious curve. What's beyond it? I must find out even though there is a straighter street right in front of me and I'm getting soaked...
Journal excerpt: Monday, June 6, 2011, On Train from Auxerre Back to Paris
The coffee is a bit old but it still tastes chocolaty—better than old coffee anywhere in the states. The train follows the ribbon of highway through the French countryside—it's like a guide. I've restarted a trend of riding trains into the countryside while the French zoom by in their cars and leave the countryside.
I'm also restarting a trend in clothing, fashion—back to the Gigi look (if that is the right name for it): short skirt, socks in sandals and short-sleeved navy blue striped sailor top. All I need is the red beret to match the red strappy purse slung across my shoulder. Okay. Maybe that's a new look.
The baked goods on this train are dry—old—not fresh like in Paris. I did not notice that when I rode the train to Auxerre last week. Perhaps they ran out of fresh? What's the word for stale? No... Not in my French book. “Tough” is closest: c'est dur.
As I rode the train back to Paris, I was ready for the next leg of the journey, come hell or high water. I had not rented a car for Saumur, but I had found a bus that could take me there from Le Mans. I was about to enter the part of my journey that was the core of my research. I was excited to see some of the castles Eleanor had frequented during her life time, especially the one that was the favorite of her father's, the Palace at Poitiers. But first, I had Mont St. Michel, the castle at Falaise, the Castle at Caen, the medieval city of Le Mans, the Market at Saumur, and the Abbey at Fontevraud.