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my new occupation in france

With less than a week until I’m back in France, I’ve been thinking.   When I was in Auvers, my principle goal was to experience life in France, soak up the culture, the food, the art and do some writing, which I did.     I halfheartedly pursued a few whims (ie:  tried to learn French, considered writing a book, getting a job, finding a rich husband with property in France), but I lacked focus. As a result, all I got out of it was knowledge and experience, which has little currency in today’s world.

This time around, it’s going to be different.  Now that I’m going to be in France long term, I need a long term goal.  I need to wholeheartedly pursue something substantial.   Something life-changing.   Something that’s evident not only from the inside, but also externally, for all the world to see.    None of this vague stuff. It’s got to be specific and it has to be etched in stone (or blog) or I’ll get distracted.

After a great deal of research and thought, taking my skills, interests and location into consideration, I’ve found a new raison d’etre that I can pursue wholeheartedly.   I’ll be stalking Johnny Depp.   He lives a mere 20 minutes from Vidauban, so it will be very convenient.    I can’t wait to get started.

So, in addition to continuing this blog, my new blog, Stalking Johnny Depp will chronicle my efforts.   Please check it out, subscribe, share, link and like.

dubrovnik. heaven on earth, 18 hours a day

When you’re driving into Dubrovnik, you don’t see it coming. Even when you cross the modern, soaring bridge that looks like wishbones, you’re still wondering “where’s Dubrovnik?  Then you drive around a few more curves, take the Dubrovnik exit, look down the windy road, and gasp.    It’s a huge walled city/fortress built on top of cliffs and rocks overlooking the Adriatic. Everything around it is a jewel toned–the lush green suburb dotted by colorful flowers, the sparkling azure Adriatic..

In fact,  the only thing ugly in Dubrovnik is my mood.

katherine rolling eyes at us under photo of man rolling eyes

It’s about 8:00 PM and we’re about three hours later than our scheduled arrival time.

My dad is checking in to the hotel but there seems to be a problem.  But when I ask what the problem is, my dad screams across the lobby (even though I’m only two feet away) for me to” shut up and fetch his goddamn glasses from the car!”. How rude. How disrespectful. How crass. I scream some shrill obscenity back at him, but try to do so tastefully.

After dropping my bag in our room in the scullery maid’s quarters, I storm the old city gates (the Hilton is conveniently located just outside the Pile gate) and head for the nearest ice cream stand. Like any good bartender, the ice cream guy tries to distract me from my problems. He flips my scoop of forest berry into the air and catches it on my cone. I regress about 40 years and giggle in appreciation of his skill.

My cone and I stroll the Stradum, a wide main promenade of shiny marble slabs that gleam like ice. We look in store windows. We get kicked out of europe’s oldest pharmacy (they don’t allow cones, which I consider racist in this day and age). We climb the tiny sidestreets leading up hills to a series of outlooks that are just slightly different from the last one, but all worth seeing.

We pass a wall and a gate, taking us to Dubrovnik’s small stone harbor. I didn’t notice at the time a hulking beheomoth cruise ship lying quietly in wait to devour Dubrovnik tomorrow morning before scuttling off to Venice for her next meal.

The next morning I make peace with the family over breakfast at 8:30, hit the old city by 9:00, by 9:30 I have a brand new tee shirt and a pistachio ice cream cone and all is right with the world..

Then the crowds start pouring in and I get a chance to see the ugly side of Dubrovnik. Between the hours of 10AM – 4PM, the jewel of the Adriatic becomes the jewelry store of     the Adriatic.

Hundreds of cranky men of various nationalities line the Stradum, waiting impatiently outside jewelry stores for their wives. The theme is so prevalent, I start filming them. While capturing one such cranky man in front of a jewelry store. He looks at his watch, “tsks” and glares inside the jewelry shop. Then he makes a threatening gesture in the window and starts to walk away. It isn’t until he stops and storms back that I realize I’m filming my Dad.

After he destroys the video tape, We manage to drag mom out of Richard’s jewelry boutique #3 in Dubrovnik for a refreshing beverage and snack. But we lose her again at Trinity Jewelers and just hope she knows where to return when it’s time to leave Dubrovnik.

It’s hard to believe that 15 years ago the Yugoslavian army left this place in ruins. It’s only from the wall I can see the only visible effects of the war. The predominantly, redder colored rooftops indicate where reconstruction was needed.

The hour and a half walk around the wall also provides eight million of Dubrovnik’s finest views and is best in the morning or late afternoon when the sun isn’t raging. You’ll get an inside look at 1200 years of history as well as a peek at modern peoples’ kitchens and backyards. Someone even has a little orchard growing on the rooftops of Dubrovnik.

cavtat

cocktails on the rocks

 

I also recommend walking through t

he old town early in the morning or late at night when you can hear your footsteps echo; A 40 minute boat ride to the town of Cavtat during the 10-4 Dubrovnik tourist hours, Have lunch on the harbor; Back in Dubrovnik, Have a drink on the cliff rocks on the outside of the Dubrovnik walls facing the sea in the afternoon.

Dubrovnik is a testament to forgetting the past and moving forward. They’ve survived foreign invasions that are hard to imagine. And yet here she is, a beacon on the Adriatic, glowing with the hope that no matter what destruction may befall us, pleasure and beauty can always endure. Sure, there are still grim reminders from past onslaughts. But the tour bus will pick them up by 4:30.

See more pictures of Dubrovnik

the halfway point

Trogir and Split are the halfway point of this trip. This is officially where the Dalmation coast begins. Where North turns into South. This is also where the trip is halfway over. We’ve been tromping through foreign countries together for about a week and half now.

For me, the halfway point is a time of taking stock. This is when I start counting how many days are left and wondering whether I can stretch 3 days worth of underwear into 7 days without washing anything. This is when I wonder if that tickle in my throat is allergies or a cold. Or bird flu (or whatever the next great plague will be). This is where I decide I don’t need to shave my legs again because nobody is looking at them anyways except in this case,  my mother (and yes, she is judging me).

The halfway point is where we start having heated arguments about which direction the airport was in Zagreb. Who had the lamb in that place between Ljubljana and Rovinj. Whether using the the word “Mongoloid” is racist when uttered with a pure heart. A vicious “discussion” about the relative merits of watching college football vs Oprah threatens to end my parents’ 51 year marriage.

This is always a dangerous juncture in any vacation because it’s usually the time where horrible secrets are revealed (my niece likes German boy bands), dreams, expectations are shattered (George Clooney does not have a villa here) and the wounds inflicted earlier in the trip (or in life) become scabs to be picked at.

if you’re traveling with relatives, It’s also the point where you discover great truths about them that explain why your family is doomed to an endless cycle of dysfunction.

One raging disorder reveals itself (again) when we check into the Villa Sikeaa in Trogir. In every hotel so far, my mother has wanted OUR room. Even if the rooms are exactly alike, there’s something about our room that looks better to her. If it’s bigger she wants it, if it’s smaller, she wants it. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, It seems totally reflexive.  Not a day has gone by where my mother hasn’t sighed several times a day and exclaimed “your room is better”. Katherine and I decide to conduct an experiment.

The minute Mom makes the inevitable comment that she likes our room better (often entering the lobby upon arrival), we offer her our room. She takes it gratefully. After we’ve moved rooms and it becomes hers, she’s happy for about an hour. The next time she comes to our room, she looks around and sighs “your room is better.” I’m sure there are deep psychological implications in this story, but I’ll ignore it for now because it makes me laugh (In a hysterical, rocking back and forth, emotionally scarred kind of way.)

Trogir is a great in between place. It’s a medieval village (what a surprise!) and UNESCO World heritage site. The entire old town is smaller than the Lobby of the Empire State building and surrounded by a small canal. It’s packed with tiny shops, a church, ice cream vendors and restaurants. .

On one side of the old town is the market. It’s not as “pretty” as the market in Rovinj, but it has its charm. Here, they recycle old bottles to bottle their homemade grappa and other herbal concoctions. A smart shopper can get a Croatian farmers’ homemade berry and lavender grappa in a classic coke, Herbal Essensence, or Crisco bottle for the equivalent of 3 Euro. In my opinion, that kind of souvenier gives you more bang for your buck than a “Simpsons in Trogir” tee shirt.

On the other side of the old town is the small harbor (a two minute walk), guarded by an ancient stone fort. Our hotel is across the harbor (a 5 minute walk) and affords a great view of the old town. Gorgeous boats park in the tiny harbor. Our room has a birds eye view and I shop for potential husbands in the comfort of my hotel room during the hot midday hours. We’re in the south now, so everything and everyone has a golden glow.

There’s something about Trogir that isn’t conducive to cultivating negativity or wallowing in psychological wounds. The only time I come close to crossing over to the dark side in Trogir is at night when those loud motorbikes blast by our hotel. I spend an hour parked at the window with a big glass of water, waiting to douse the next offender. Thankfully, my attention deficit disorder prevents me from spending the entire night poised at the window in ready-to-splash position.

Split on the other hand, has meltdown written all over it. There’s always a palpable tension in our car when nearing a city, When we round the bend and see Split’s sprawling metropolis, the tension rises into what can only be described as a shrill escalating siren sound in my brain.

I try to drown it out by engaging in a little genial rhetorical chit-chat with myself. “So, this is where Diocletian decided to retire back in 300 AD. Probably a shrewd real estate investment. Highly desirable location. It was probably a lot nicer back then. Without all the communist era buildings, rigs and industrial crap.”

The further into Split we go, the more panicky I become. Maybe we should turn back now. We’ll NEVER get out of here.. I don’t even know who Diocletian was, why the hell do I need to see his goddamn palace? And just when I think Split can’t get any more horrifying, we find ourselves at the gates of the old town, where cars dare not go. Our hotel is in here somewhere.

The pros of staying in the old city (which in Split is everything within the walls of Diocletian’s place) is you get the place all to yourselves in the evenings when the tour groups have departed. The con is finding your hotel once you find the old city. And as we recently learned, medieval villages and roman palaces were not built for driving.

I decide this is a good place to abandon the car along with everything in it. I clamor out and immediately become entranced by some shiny object at a nearby market stall flanking the old city wall. Mom and Dad are calling me, but I am hypnotized by the bright shiny object. Must watch bright shiny object. Cannot get back in car. Will see you later at hotel. Must. watch. shiny. object.

While they’re watching the shiny object, I vanish behind the gates and into another world. Inside the walls, it’s like a fairy kingdom. Modern life coexists with 1800 year old ruins. Ice cream every two steps, . Blue water and sky peaking in through roman gates. Amazing ruins intermingled with fabulous boutiques!

There’s something about the old town waterfront that reminds me of Nice. The palm lined promenade. An air of grandeur tainted with a whiff of seediness. The ferry docks are right next to the harbor and the walls of the Palace, so the view is a more romantic if you blur your eyes a little bit.

At night the lighting in the old town is dramatic and some group is playing classical music near the entrance of the Palace. It’s not the least bit crowded. I can’t remember the last time I cursed a German. Since we’re staying inside the walls of the old city, we can ignore the rest of Split. We’re taking a ferry to the Island of Hvar tomorrow morning.

Try as I might, I’m not finding the angst here. I’m starting to wonder if I should do something to induce it, just to get it over with. But that wouldn’t be in keeping with my new “let life happen” philosophy and decide against it. I’m sure the meltdown will happen in it’s own good time.

Right now I’m perfectly happy sitting on the waterfront with my ice cream cone looking at a calm sea under a cloudless sky.

plitvice in prada

Today we hike Plitvice Lakes.   We rise with the roosters (and the ants), and join some French tourists in the make-due shed for breakfast. Thanks to my new knowledge of the French language, I’m able to pantomime fluently with them about news and politics.

We get to the entrance of the lake pretty early. It’s not crowded yet and we float through to a place where we can see narrow walkways leading down to a milky teal blue lakes (think Peruvian opal) connected by a series of waterfalls. It’s here on this stunning outlook we experience our first moments of doubt. Well, three of us do.   I wonder how long of a hike it is? Do we have to do the whole thing? Are there places we can escape? What if we fall down the narrow footpath? I feel dizzy. What if I can’t get back up? Why don’t I own a pair of shoes designed for this sort of activity?  My mother wonders if there are bathrooms along the way and how clean are they.   I’m not sure what Katherine is thinking.   Her game face is on, but I see a flicker of concern in her eyes.   My dad is thinking “let’s get the show on the road, maybe we can break some record hiking around the lakes!!!!”I’m wearing pair of “Prada Sport” shoes. I got them 8 years ago at a Barney’s sale and never took them out of their box, because I never had an appropriate event to wear them. This is the trip my Prada Sport’s were made for. Rugged yet elegant with a small amount of athletic activity. Shoes you can wear “hiking” or to a restaurant. Up until now I always figured the word “sport” written clearly on the label indicated that the shoes would take care of anything that involved moving my feet. Which may be true As long as my feet aren’t touching the ground. Maybe “sport” in Italian means crappily made. All I know is the damn shoes didn’t even make it to Plitvice without busting a seam. And so far, the only job they’ve had to do is to look elegant. But maybe these “sport” shoes were designed to hold up better on steep rocky paths than in some café. I can only hope.

Plitvice lakes is more magnificent from the side of the lakes than above them. At the first waterfall I notice that my shoes are beginning to resemble the Flinstones’ car. My mother notices that there are a lot of flies. Katherine notices a tiny welt on her arm. My dad is consulting the map and has the entire 10 mile hike charted out. If we walk that way, we see lake number 4 and the falls, but miss three from the northern angle. So we should really take the 14 mile route so we can get every vantage point. He might as well be speaking Croatian.

We’ve been walking for over an hour. All this pristine beauty is starting to get to me. My Pradas are shredded. I don’t know how much more I can take. And really, how can the next lake be more beautiful than this lake? When can we stop walking, knowing we’ve experienced the optimal beauty of Plitvice Lakes without an unnecessary expenditure of energy? And honestly, if the next lake really is more beautiful than this lake, it would probably kill us all because I’m sure God never intended anyone to see anything that beautiful without being dead first. Okay, I’m getting a little convoluted in my thinking, but I’m desperate.

The problem is, I don’t want to be the first one to back down and neither does Katherine or mom. I can see the weary resolve in their lumbering gait. I grasp at straws hoping to force someone else’s hand. Mom, how’s that bladder holding out? Dad, how’s that pacemaker? Boy this would be a terrible place for it to conk out. Nothing. We trudge towards beautiful lake number five.   Well, three of us trudge.   Dad hikes briskly, occassionally stopping and looking back at us expectantly.

There must be something I can do to stop this madness. I frantically rummage through my brain for something new to try.

A large unfamiliar flying insect solves the problem for me by landing on Katherine’s face.  A moan echoes through the forest, bouncing from lake to lake. Katherine flails frantically at her face and starts running in the direction from whence we came.   And she’s moving fast.   We have no choice but to follow her.

God, I love nature.

 

it’s 53 o’clock and the bell tolls for me

Lake Bled is timeless. Both figuratively and literally.

It’s a small crystal blue lake flanked by mountains, forest and tiny villages. A little island floats in the middle of Lake Bled. A stone stairway leads to the Spire of the Church of the Assumption which all emerges from the trees like some fairy tale.

Apparently, artifacts found on the island indicate that it’s been a holy sight for millennia and the destination of many pilgrimages. The church there today was built in 15th-17th century on 10th century remains.

There seems to be no rhyme or reason to when the church bells ring. I know, because I started paying attention when I noticed that they sound out at really strange times and intervals that don’t make sense in this time-space continuum.

They say that God has his own time for everything, so maybe that’s the answer. Or maybe He just doesn’t want us to sleep in too late or take afternoon naps. As I recall He seems to be a proponent of the work ethic.

Usually you can tell it’s lunchtime about an hour and a half after the bells indicate

it’s 26 o’clock. Maybe the bell ringer has an alcohol problem. Maybe he (or she, I don’t want to be sexist here) is a cross between Quasimodo(Quasimoda?) and Otis on the Andy Griffith show and the residents put up with him because (s)he’s a deformed drunk.

It’s not like Lake Bled is swarming with tourists. If Americans are any indication, nobody’s heard of the place. I think we’re the only ones. I’ve heard British accents, German and Japanese in the hotel, but that’s about it. Every now and then, a tour bus drives by (which Katherine and I immediately flip the bird, because we think packaged tourism is evil). But packaged tourists rarely spend the night at places like Bled (not enough shopping). So nobody seems to complain about the strange bells of the church.

There’s not a lot to do at Lake Bled, the scenery is the main lure. You can take the three hour walk around the lake, check out the monastery perched on the cliffs, wander through the tiny villages and feed the ducks on the lake. Or just perch on your balcony, read a book or take a nap (until about 30 o’clock when the bells start ringing again).

After an hour wander through the picturesque, tiny village, we begin to feel a little peckish. We spend about three hours hemming and hawing over which restaurant would be the appropriate dining experience. We come up with a range of excuse, including: “no, they have a tourist menu”, “no, I don’t understand the menu”, “they serve Pepsi, how unauthentic” and my personal favorite, “we can’t eat here, I see a fly hovering around the porchlight”.

We finally stagger into a Taverna type place with an outside deck. By this time, we’re too weak to act upon any of our rampant second thoughts (ie: “That waiter just gave me a weird look,” “this diet coke tastes funny,” “there’s a fly hovering around the deck light”)

Following a fervent prayer that none of the meat is horse, we enjoy a delicious mixed grill lunch. We might have enjoyed it more if we knew exactly what was in the “mix”.

After lunch, our stamina is up and we decide to row to the church and investigate the mysterious church bells for ourselves.

It’s about 200 meters to the island, but to non-sports people like us, it seems like the Atlantic. My father bravely rows, while Katherine and I dip our fingers in the blue waters, marvel at the fact that even at the deepest point we can see the bottom and enjoy views of the Karavanke Mountain Range and Mala Osojinica Forest that flank the lake. My mother gasps, groans and clucks with every splash and rock of the boat, which makes the noise pretty much persistant.

We scramble out of the boat and climb the stairs to the plaza where the church perches. We walk around the island to enjoy a 360 view of the lake before we enter the church to meet our maker (or at least the person ringing the bells). It’s empty.

I see a rope, but for some reason think it’s one of those emergency cords in hotel bathrooms only to be pulled if one has a bathing emergency so I steer clear. My dad, ever the explorer, boldly yanks it and low and behold, the bells ring out over the lake. He seems to enjoy the sense of power and keeps yanking.

So now we know the answer to the age-old question, “for whom the bell tolls?” Obviously, for anyone who wants to give it a good pull.

I practically have to wrestle my dad down to get him to relinquish the rope. I’ve got to say, bell ringing is not as easy as it looks. Maybe I’m exhausted by the vicarious rowing, but I have to put my whole weight into the effort before I get the bell going. But when I do, it’s hard to stop. We all have a turn.

At about 54 O’clock, we’ve had enough and tumble back into the rowboat, empowered by the experience. And who wouldn’t feel empowered accomplishing something that an hour earlier you thought a deformed drunk could do?

Dad rows energetically, mom clucks with renewed vigor and I stand up at the rowboat helm and shout “I’m the king of the world!” for all of Lake Bled to hear while Katherine heartily recoils in shame and horror.

Once we stop the boat from rocking, we hurry back to the hotel for our 55:30 nap.

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fete de la cocagne — the mystery continues


Today is the first day of the Auvers”Fete de la Cocagne,” a two day event full of something in recognition of something.

I ask Carole et Jerome what this whole cocagnes thing is all about.   They bicker good-naturedly in French for a moment before admitting they’re not sure..   It’s just  a big nuisance as far as they’re concerned.   Kind of like a parade to a New Yorker, I guess.

According to my good friend, Google, Cocagne either has something to do with an ideal life of indulgence  or being cockney.     A commenter on my previous post (thanks, Sirius),  did some research and found that it has something to do with a life of pleasure.    Or climbing  a greased pole.  I’m going to go with ideal life of indulgent pleasure.

The festivities start with some sort of presentation on the stage in front of the Hotel de Ville.      Women with parasols, long dresses and Miss America type sashes that read “Cocagne”. The men on stage are wearing bow ties and hats, I assume from the same time period. They seem to be giving each other awards.  Perhaps for winning the greased pole climbing contest?

A series of rock bands perform–really bad ones that are only slightly better than Courtney Love.    Sausages, pommes frites and beer are sold in the parking lot and the construction site has become a lovely street bistro serving grilled meat, veggies, beer wine and ice cream. The carousel is moving and the children on it screech with excitement.

Knowing that the real fete doesn’t start until tomorrow, I go inside. But soon, I’m drawn back out by a band that’s actually quite good for a French band (no offense to the French, but they suck at Rock and Roll, and Jerome will back me up on this).  Oncle Oedipe, is the name, and I can only assume the reason I’ve never heard of them before is either because they’re French or because none of the members are particularly “hot” looking.

Young girls are dancing and screaming like groupies with clothes on,    I’m mesmerized by a little blond boy about four or five who is totally rocking out as his mother feeds him cotton candy like a Roman slave feeding a fidgety Roman Emperor grapes.    Seriously, this kid has moves.   Even the way he grabs at the cotton candy as his mother lowers it towards his mouth is completely in time with the music done done with a rhythmic flourish.   No doubt about it, the kid is  a rock star.

After Oncle Oedipe finishes their set, I take a stroll and discover that Van Gogh Park has been transformed into a petting zoo with rabbits, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, donkeys and two huge unpenned bulls standing by the far wall. Children make animal sounds (I assume they’re animal sounds, they bear no resemblance to the sound American livestock makes), trying to draw the smaller creatures out from their tiny pens.

The goats are petrified, the donkey is accommodating and the pig obliviously snuffles in the dirt for imaginary truffles.   The bulls recline like Odalisque in a shady corner.

Judging by the pamphlets, fliers and posters, the real action doesn’t start until tomorrow. Perhaps then I’ll figure out what this cocagnes thing is all about. I fall asleep with visions of glaces et boissons dancing in my head.

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the big city (pontoise)

up the hillThe first time I visited Pontoise was last December. It was a brief trip–really only a stopover between Paris and Auvers. At the time, it seemd like a tiny little town, not much bigger than Auvers. maybe because it was New Years eve and everything was closed.

The second time I visited Pontoise was yesterday, and what a difference six months and a little direct sunlight can make.

rampartsApproaching from the train, my first view is the ancient rampart walls topped by old homes. But as the train draws nearer to the station, I see the walls are covered with graffiti. Since it’s in French, words I don’t understand, I think maybe it’s nice graffiti, welcoming visitors. The large modern ugly apartment complexes and throngs of teenagers in their uniforms of baggy dungarees with the crotches down the their knees (isn’t that passé?) indicate otherwise.

I don’t know why I didn’t notice it before, but the train station is huge, with many different tracks and trains all headed for different destinations.

Lordy, this is a thriving metropolis. Well, at least compared to Auvers.

Unlike Auvers, Pontoise has changed dramatically from the time the Impressionists painted it. The path up the hill that Pissarro painted is now a road lined with restaurants, salon d’ongles (nail salons), drug stores, travel agencies bakeries, boucheries, wine stores, everything except a Starbucks. Where do these people go for coffee? Do they (horrified gasp) make it themselves?

oisepissarro12

There are still narrow stone streets and old shuttered houses, but also a lot of newer, apartment buildings that take away the sweet old town effect. As I hike up the hill, my first beggars since I left Manhattan approach me, asking for money in French. I shrug and answer “je ne comprends pas”. There are advantages to being a dumb American after all. The other advantage is not understanding what they’re muttering under their breath as I pass them.

musee-pissarro-pontoiseAfter spending an hour or so in the Pissarro museum, I emerge famished. The streets are lined with bistros, restaurants, tea shops, sandwich stands, Chinese restaurants and sidewalk cafes and I’m frozen with indecision. Too…many…options. I wander the streets, utterly confused and finally decide on a quaint little tea shop when I almost faint with hunger in front of it.

As I stagger in, I notice the name of the place has the word “artisinal” in it so I figure it has to be good. It’s a combination café, tea and coffee store that also sells ceramic tea ware, fine chocolates and other gourmet goodies. It could easily be in Greenwich Village, except instead of college kids with pierced extremities, there’s a cute little old lady behind the cash register and another cute little older lady serving. I’m feeling younger and more energetic already. The menu is a choice of tarts and quiches with a salad compose. I‘m thrilled to understand what every quiche is made of. I order the chevre and tomato quiche and a citron presse (maintenant s’il vous plait, j’ai soif!) from the younger little old lady who scoots into the backroom.tomatotart

A relatively young woman enters the shop, looking much more stylish than anyone I’ve seen in Pontoise. She’s looking at all the items on sale and buying some coffee while she chats to the little old lady behind the counter. I hate her.

The little old lady notices I don’t have a drink and asks if I want one. I respond with “j’ai already ordered”. The old lady looks confused and the young woman translates “j’ai commander”. She then tells me her boyfriend is American. Her English is better than mine. I ask her where her boyfriend is from and it turns out he’s from New York City. He’s a theater director and is working in Paris. I ask if he misses New York and she tells me that he not only finds it an increasingly hard place for him to think, but that the rest of the population doesn’t do seem to do much thinking either. I love her and her boyfriend.

All in all, it was a lovely lunch. I bid them all farewell and head back into the street. After I’ve climbed every hill, explored the ramparts and the river below, I head back to the train station. I’m not sure which track to take or which train and a nice woman points out the Auvers train waiting on the tracks below. I run down and hurl myself into one of the back cars, next to two teenage boys who despite being sprawled out over the seats, look very nervous and not at all happy I’m there. They seem to be doing something they don’t want me to see.

Naturally, I’m curious and peer over to see what they’re up to. One of the boy’s hands are shaking as he empties the tobacco from a cigarette and starts mixing the tobacco with something and re-rolls it, putting the filter back on. They light up and I smell the marijuana smoke in the air. I wonder why they’re smoking it in the train if they’re so nervous…wouldn’t a bathroom have been better? Or maybe behind some bushes?

Almost immediately after they finish the joint two really cute police officers enter the car. The boys sit up straight and look innocent. My heart is racing. I think to myself, well, now they’ve done it. Somebody’s in big, big trouble. I sure hope they don’t think that pot smell is my fault. Can you get arrested for breathing in second hand pot smoke? The officers proceed to enforce the law—they tell me to take my feet off the seat. I act very guilty and answer with “merci, non, bonjour” and take my feet off the seat. They continue their patrol and the boys return to their slouched positions.

Obviously I’m going to have to read up on French law.

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