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a sign from the gods (or something)

Every now and then life gives you a sign that you’re in the right or wrong place, doing the right or wrong thing. I received such a sign this evening in St. Ouen.

It began inauspiciously after losing track of time in Paris.  I get to Gare du Nord as the sky is turning pink around the edges.   I saunter to the counter du billets. I buy my ticket and the lady tells me to transfer in St. Ouen. I take a leisurely stroll to the correct track, and notice that a train just left.   But the next one towards St. Ouen is in ten minutes. No problems.

I’m on the next train. Ahhh, it’s lovely the way the descending sun sets off the few clouds, and Sacre Coeur glows against the darkening sky. Then it occurs to me that I could soon be facing the thing I fear most (aside from French hair salons).   A rush of disturbing thoughts interupt  my peace.

Would it be better to be stranded in Pontoise or St. Ouen?  Would a cab driver accept an IOU?     It’s been awhile since I hitchhiked. Do people still stick out their thumbs? Is that the international symbol for please give me a ride, I missed my train?  Will I be murdered or raped?   Or hit by a speeding driver on the narrow, poorly lit cobbled roads?    Well, if so, at least they’ve got a decent healthcare system here.  Maybe my injured nearly lifeless body won’t be found for days (after intense suffering), I’ll be taken to a hospital, but it will be too late.   God, who will feed my kitties?    If only I had a cellphone.   I could call someone and ask them to feed the kitties when I’m gone.    Damn, I should have had that Falafel in the Marais.   I hate to die on an empty stomach.

I tell myself to shut up and enjoy the scenery.

Nose against train window, I watch the ugly Paris suburb turn into greenery and old stone houses. Before I know it, I’m in St. Ouen.   I’ve regained my sense of denial, despite the fact that there’s not one train going towards Persan (the direction I’m going) on the overhead schedule and it’s totally dark now.

I wait patiently, knowing it’s going to be okay, because I worried so effectively about it on the train from Paris to St. Ouen.    It doesn’t bother me that I’m the only one on the platform. Or that there’s only one train listed as still running on the monitor.   And it’s going the wrong way.

The distance as the crow flies is only 3.2 miles, but it’s getting dark, the roads are narrow, I’m not all that familiar with the route and I can’t afford a taxi.    I might as well be stranded on a desert island.  But I’m still telling myself that there’s just something wrong with the monitor.

After waiting 15 minutes. a train approaches, but it’s heading towards Pontoise.  I ask the conductor when the train to Auvers arrives. A conversation between the security guy and the conductor reveals, that I’ve missed the last train to Auvers. I’m not sure if I understand their words or their expressions, but I know I’m in trouble.

Calmly, I reply “merde” as my brain descends into a dark, lifeless zone that I’m fairly certain was the same place Bush’s brain was on 9/11 during those 7 minutes he stared blankly while clutching the little goat book.

Fortunately, I have better advisors than Bush. While I sit there like an idiot, they keep talking. In a matter of seconds, I’m on my own private express train to Auvers, riding shotgun next to the engineer.   I’m so relieved and grateful I forget to be afraid of being alone in a train with a stranger who only speaks French.   He tells me he has to take the train to the train garage anyways and is glad to help. He also shows me a picture of his Chevy and complains about the absurdly expensive price of Chevy parts here in France and how he’d like to go to the US and get cheap parts. At least someone is buying American cars.   I tell him maybe we can work out a healthcare/automotive exchange.

So as quick as it took I Dream of Jeannie to blink her way out of a bad situation, so did I. Except unlike Jeannie, I can take no responsibility for whatever magic just occurred. Unless these people decided to help me based on the charming way I said “merde.”

Is it because this train system isn’t run by machines and bureaucrats that it’s possible for an act of human kindness to occur? WTF is going on here? Aren’t the French supposed to be rude and hate Americans? I’m utterly baffled.   Can you in a million years imagine this happening in the US?    In five minutes, I’m in Auvers.

I “merci” the conductor profusely and head back to Rue du Pois and my kitties. I can hear the theme from the Mary Tyler Moore show rising in my head again. (which reminds me, I’ve got to get a beret.)

For the first time in a long, long time, I’ve beaten Murphy’s law. Sure, what could go wrong, did go wrong. And it still turned out all right. More than all right, in fact. Excellent.

As someone who tries to find a reason for everything, I take this turn of events as a sign. Maybe that I’m supposed to be here. Or that everything is going to be okay. Or to remind me there are still nice people in the world (at least in France).   I’m not sure what exactly, but it has to mean something deep and profound.   Maybe I should just trust the universe.   Give in to the will of nature or god or whatever.   Just relax and know that the thing I fear most isn’t so frightening.

Or it could be a sign of the Apocalypse.

9 Responses

  1. “WTF” about sums that up for real. insane – that eases my fears of getting kidnapped or deported on my upcoming 6 month backpacking trip. which reminds me, thanks for the tips on Auvers – i actually think you talked me into spending my 3 days all in paris instead. apr 9-12, if you head to town we could get un cafe!!

  2. As much as I hate to steer someone away from Auvers, if it’s your first time in Paris, I’m glad you’ll be staying en ville. Paris is too awesome to waste when you only have 3 days.
    Where will you be backpacking? And where in Paris are you staying?
    Looks like I’ll be in california in April, but keep me posted…you never know!

    • I’m staying in Montmartre at a hotel east of Sacre Coeur, and then off to Pleyben, France for a farm work exchange, then to Florence/Rome for fun, then to another work exchange in Turkey!

      I’ll have to send you photos of my trip to Paris – what are your thoughts on the Moreau Museum? It looks enchanting!

      • I’ve never been to the Moreau, but it sounds excellent. And not so far from where you’re staying. Rome is one of my favorite cities in the world! While you’re in Pleyben, Quimper and Lochranan are nice. Lochranan reminded me of a fairy village. Where in Turkey are you going? I LOVE Turkey. It’s the first “scary” place I ever went (many years ago). Not so scary and it made me braver to go to other “scary” places (like New Jersey — which wasn’t so scary either, but I prefer Turkey).

  3. How nice of the engineer to drop you off in Auvers! I guess it may not happen often but it does restore your faith in human beings eh? I’ve heard the flea market in St. Ouen is brilliant.

  4. Hi Jack,
    I always get inordinately thrilled by acts of human kindness. In California, when someone lets me merge in front of them, I get positively giddy. This train episode is more powerful than a thousand prozac.
    The flea market is in a different St. Ouen. My transfer point is St. Ouen-L’Aumone, near Pontoise. The flea market is in St. Ouen, which is technically still in Paris. But the flea market IS brilliant.

  5. Thanks for the heads up on Quimper and Lochranan. I have a train change in Quimper, I’ll try to explore for sure! In Turkey I’m going to Kas on the Mediterranean, and then I’ll explore on my own probably in Konya, Cappadoccia, Istanbul..any suggestions? That’s funny about Jersey, I’m moving my stuff to Philly before I leave the states, ha. I’ll have to stay away from NJ.

    • Kas is lovely…that whole coast is amazing (I sailed it on my first trip). But my favorite parts of Turkey were Cappadoccia, Istanbul and Ephesus.
      They men are VERY friendly in Turkey. It used to scare the crap out of me, but mostly they really are just curious about America and want to talk (or sell you a rug). I had to explain to these two brothers who wanted to come to America to sell their carpets that you can’t drive from NY to California in a day. They were shocked! In Cappadocia, I stayed in an awesome cave hotel, Esbelli evi in urgup.
      Don’t be frightened of New Jersey. It’s no worse than Gaza.

      • ha! yes i have heard about these friendly turks. glad to hear its nothing to worry about 🙂 random that you know kas! if you think to, send me an email and i can send you a few photos when i go lorigerlach@gmail.com . no chance of you being in paris this weekend? im getting excited! i cant wait to find that cave hotel as well!

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