Tuesday, July 19, 2005

From a Little Distance: The Last Train Ticket

As a bookmark in my copy of the collected Chronicles of Narnia, I found tonight a ticket sleeve for my last SNCF journey through France to arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport and leave the country.

It is two good stories for me. The first is the trip itself, which was fraught with near-misses. Though the Ferrands put me on the bus in Chateau Gontier at the right time, the rain started on the way and many of the roads were blocked off because of Sunday festivals. We in the bus were late, and I was getting increasingly worried that I would miss the connection with my train in Laval. I had a grand total of seven minutes to pull probably 80 or 90 pounds of stuff out of the bus, across the parking lot and up the steps into the station, collect my ticket from the machine, and then get under the tracks to the stairs to my train and board it.

The bus driver, having heard me talking to the old lady in the seat next to me about this, changed her schedule so that we arrived first at the train station instead of stopping in the middle of Laval. She did it without me asking her, and let's just stop and think of how wonderful she was to do that because I surely would have missed my train if not for her decision.

I dragged my big blue duffel bag and my bulky brown shoulder bag and my beat-to-hell black guitar case into the station with about six minutes before the train was scheduled to leave and found, to my absolute horror, that the big yellow ticket kiosk refused to spit out my ticket. Five minutes left and I was standing extremely nervously in the ticket window line. Four minutes left and the man at the desk swiped my credit card and printed the ticket as though there was nothing actually wrong. I could have kicked the machine except I was too busy dragging my duffel bag at top speed. Somebody said something in French to me as I went down the stairs to the underground corridor and I managed to reply - language skills really kick in under duress.

Grabbing and hauling and cajoling the bag up the stairs. Two minutes. Good thing I remembered to compost* the ticket, otherwise the conductor is going to hit me with a many-euro fee for Not Following Silly Rules. I manage to find the right car and I go from chaos and danger to a first-class compartment all to myself. Rain falls on the window right next to me and the train lurches, begins to move, and drives the water sideways. I have just made it. The fabrics are dark grey with red highlights; see the movie The Bourne Identity for a look.

My natural inclination (and right sensible, I think to this day) was to stow my stuff and crash the hell out. I had been up very very late panicing and trying to finish packing and cleaning the apartment. My day had consisted of panic and social situations and then more panic.

But, of course, I needed to change trains at Le Mans to get to Paris. So I set my little alarm clock and fought to stay awake during the 42 minute trip. Then I dragged my stuff off the train and waited for 62 minutes until the next one came to take me to the airport. During all that time, they never checked my ticket. I fancy it might still be good had I not obeyed Silly Rules and composted* it.

All of this, I think, is important to me because I didn't have time to get all sad about leaving France. In fact, as I was packed onto the bus ready to see Chateau Gontier for the last time (for a while), the thing I thought to myself was "there is only winning and more winning."

The other thing I think about is that despite all that panic I made it in the end. I made a credible attempt and kept my head and did what I could and it worked. Try running all over France with everything you own on your right shoulder. The point is that you can do it. Look at me; I did!

I'm putting my ticket back in my Narnia book now, marking page 414 as it did before, because there's a passage there that means a lot to me. We'll get to that soon. Thank you for sharing the journey with me.

* You have to stick your ticket in a machine before you get on the train. It stamps some date-time info on the ticket. If you don't do this they get terribly upset with you and then not only are you an idiot insensitive foreigner, but then you become an extremely poor idiot insensitive foreigner as they fine you until you physically die.