Saturday, August 29, 2009

French Leave

I've had a fascinating few days since I last wrote, including visiting Carlisle for a Sunday afternoon and evening, and getting to rural France via Beauvais and the French railway and metro system.
The most interesting bit was Paris for the time it takes to have lunch and change trains. In the old days, the 3:15 train from Montparnasse heading south was hard to catch if flying from Glasgow, as one only had about 1hr and 50 minutes for lunch. Not enough to savour it properly. This time, I had a whole 3 hours, but sadly refrained from sampling the wines as I needed my wits about me to get the right train.
At Montparnasse, of course there is the famous black obelisk, which is the tallest building in France. It was built over 30 years ago, and the story goes that the developers just wanted to fill a big hole with a square block. At the time, the market was a bit soggy for offices, so the architects came up with the idea of a landmark building. The only problem was that it broke every rule as to height and density in Paris, and looked dead in the water - until ( I believe) a junior in the architect's office came up with a cunning plan.
" Why not" he said " Buy the two blocks next door which are going cheap." I'm sure he was looked at as if he had two heads ( happens a lot to me), but he continued.." Then average the height over the whole site..."
Brilliant! So that is why there is the massive tower, and alongside it a one and a half storey Galleries Lafayette stretching as far along the road as the tower goes up.
I noticed lots of police in vans, cars, motorbikes and even push-bikes, who finally picked up a chap who was clearly the object of their search. Everyone was very well behaved whilst the boys in white ( mostly) rushed about.
I like the enlightened entertainment policy that pertains on the Metro. Not only do you have to have a licence, you have to have a quality test before they let you on. On Metro line 4,on Tuesday they had clearly got all the saxophonists together, as there was one at every stop, and at one point a whole combo even got on the train, playing not only jazz, but swing, blues and at one point even classical.
On my way back on Sunday, I was delighted to see and talk to two proper pilgrims, complete with staffs and shells who were going to walk to Santiago de Compostella They had just come from the UK to the Gare du Nord, and were considering where to go to start walking. There are two main ways from France, the one via Tours and the other from Vezelay. I suggested the Vezelay one - its prettier in my view. From the Spanish border its pretty indivisible. They were planning to spend about 4 months on the walk, and be at the Christmas service in the Church. They had the light of the Lord in their eyes - and love for each other too.
And so to Beauvais once more. There is an excellent Bistro opposite the station where I now take my evening meal, as the bus for the airport leaves there at 8pm. On the way, there was a lady standing beside a set of traffic lights. The driver pulled in, the lady hopped aboard, kissed the driver and handed him his supper - and none of your sandwich rubbish either. He had a hot meal which I saw him openeing as he had a 30 minute wait for his return journey.
In France, C'est la Vie.


Brian Boru said...

Good stuff again, Lear.

Another important Pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela starts at Le Puy en Velay in the Massif Central and goes down to St Jean Pied le Port in the foothills of the Pyrenées before the ascent into Spain at Ronscevalles and then on to SdP on the Camino Francais - 1800kms in total.

I know as I cycled the route twice in 1998 and 2000.

kinglear said...

BB - well done! I trust you had the shell and also the passport? And did you bathe in the sea like Brian Sewell? Have you read Nicholas Luard's book about his attempt to expiate his sins by undertaking the pilgrimage?