So here we are – our last week of the journey and I’ve been thinking.
We spent three days in Bayeux just relaxing, taking photos, having coffee in the mornings and dinner in the evenings and generally enjoying the last of France.
The weather has been very kind to us this last week, overcast with rain and the odd blue sky. And that has inspired an idea for a tourist campaign for Ireland with its perfect weather… The grey clouds you used to think were depressing are actually a huge fluffy blanket of protection from harsh sun. The rain that you used to think was annoying is actually cooling and nourishing. And the cold breeze…. we’ll yes that’s still a problem but two out of three, etc. Would you be attracted by my campaign?
Maybe you need to be escaping the red hot sun zone to have any interest in cool breezes, rain or grey clouds. But will we all, soon enough, be in this position?
I have been infected by the, but what can one person do? bug in relation to global warming. And this trip has been a kind of education. I feel so grateful that we’ve had the opportunity to make this journey. For two years we decided we couldn’t or shouldn’t and this year we decided we would. The week before we left I wondered again if it was the right time. While we have been away we have seen the return to pre-pandemic normal in the countries we visited to the point that we see very few people wearing masks. It’s more unusual that usual to see a person in a supermarket wearing a mask.
Before 2020 I thought pandemic was just a movie. Just before we left we watched a different movie called Finch. It was about a world where the consequences of global warming were very real and any amount of sunlight was toxic.
On our journey I realised I cannot get overwhelmed by the scale of the problem because that frightens me into looking the other way. What can I do? I can stay awake and take intentional steps. What does this mean for future trips in a motorhome? I don’t know… yet.
We went to Disney! We met the daughter and her best friend, and it was lovely. And it was exhausting (37km over the three days!) And it was hot (nearly 30℃ each day!)
And it was a great place to meet your daughter after a long time. Because we queued together, we walked together, we frightened ourselves together, we ate together, we hugged. A lot. And then it was all over and that last hug was very hard.
It’s strange being a parent because it comes with two slightly opposing job functions. One is to cut a chunk of your heart out and shove it dripping with blood into your child’s rucksack. Then while they cope with whatever the world throws at them, you listen inside the rucksack unable to help. And your other function is to tell them everything you think they need to know to cope with said world. One is hard, the other is impossible.
The telling them part is impossible because you (the parent) hasn’t the first clue what they need to cope. You tell them things you were told that didn’t help you in the least but it’s all you’ve got. Then they grow enough to resist your teaching and you get upset because how will you teach them these important (aka useless) rules if they won’t pay attention?
And you say things, things that you hope will help but they turn out to be mean things. And then you say nice things but they also turn out to be no help. It’s about this time that you start drinking regularly. (Oh, you didn’t? No, me neither…)
And then you meet them years later and you can’t get over how beautiful they are. And joy of joys they have coped with the world and all it threw at them. And your chunk of heart in their rucksack wags it’s tail at you and says, it’s all good, you did your best. And you cry for days.
Yep we went to Disney and I’m crying since but in a good way.
I went on that picnic on Saturday! Sézanne is a really lovely town. They have a walk around the town walls (called ramparts) that’s a bit different – there’s no walls. Back in the day when it looked like all the fighting had stopped and everyone was getting on together they decided to disassemble the walls and use the stone to build nice houses. Aren’t the French very civilized? This was before World War 1 but walls wouldn’t have helped by then anyway.
So instead of a wall it’s a wide path with gorgeous houses set back behind their own walls on one side and a grass bank down to the new town on the other. And on both sides of this path there are trees providing shade from the heat. And there are benches, of course there are. This is where I had my picnic. I had accidentally picked up great picnic ingredients – a cheese pie, a fruit juice and a bag of cherries from the market. When I noticed the perfect bench in the shade it all came together. I lay down my scarf on the bench and my market bounty on top.
It was a marvelous thing! It is no exaggeration to say that every French person that passed said Bonjour and at least three stopped to say Bon appetite! They encourage picnic-lovers here because they are picnic-lovers themselves. There was one couple who tried really hard to avert their eyes from the woman eating alone on a park bench (me) but they weren’t French. They probably thought I would be embarrassed if they had a look to see what I was eating. But I didn’t feel a bit self conscious because so many French people demonstrated their acceptance of my behaviour.
It was a really lovely experience to be accepted while doing something that back home might be considered odd. I wonder do I have the courage to lay out my scarf and picnic alone on a park bench in Greystones? Probably not.
We are nearing the end of our journey but first we have a big meet up before we catch our ferry home. Right now we are in another lovely old town about two hours from Paris called Sézanne. We couldn’t park in the town square on Friday when we arrived because of the Saturday market. They start getting ready for the market at 5am and anyone parked in the square gets woken up and moved on! We didn’t fancy that so we went to stay in the campsite just outside town.
I was very happy to be going to a campsite for an opportunity to use their washing machine. We are running out of clean clothes and as we’ll soon be hugging people again…let just say it’s crucial that we get a washing machine. But their washing machine was broken. No clothes washing but thankfully lots of hot showers.
It’s Saturday now and I’m back in the square to visit the market. The van is parked out on the edge of town at the supermarket and later today I will be washing all our clothes in their washing machine. But first, the market… I’m here on my own taking photos, watching people and later I’m hoping to have a picnic. Denis is doing what he loves, finishing work on his latest app project back in the van. This app is lovely, by the way, it’s a creative way to be mindful. Denis and his friend Kyle, who is an artist, are working on it together. It’ll be in the App Store soon. It’s called Lines of Zen.
Anyways, I’m here sitting on a bench in the shade because I forgot about the rules for a hot day. The supermarket on the edge of town is a lot further away than I thought it was and the sun is hotter than it has been and I brought no water – I need a rest. Also, I forgot my sun hat and sun cream. Basically I’m out of my physical comfort zone. But at least I smell grand.
The next phase of our trip involves travelling about an hour west to Disneyland Paris. We are meeting our daughter, Ciara and her friend, Flipp. We haven’t seen either of them since 2019. We have been looking forward to this since we left Portugal a month ago and now there’s only two more sleeps!
One of the things I have been attempting to do on this trip is spend more time doing nothing, just noticing. Yes I know you already think I’m doing nothing. This type of doing nothing is sitting still, not reading, not writing, not thinking of things to do. Instead… noticing. There’s a lot to notice while we do nothing. This has been the procedure… first notice the things that move into the space in my mind while I do nothing and second let them be and definitely don’t engage with them. Do you follow me?
For example, here we go, a thought just popped in: No one wants to read this. Right, I notice what’s arrived in my space. Second part, let it be and don’t engage. Ohh, easier said than done but here goes… Oh here’s another one, I’m hungry. Let it be… don’t engage. And another, Did you reply to the text? Oh holy divine, this one is very hard not to engage with… Another, What if you forget it? Noooooo… DON’T ENGAGE! Another, Now you’re angry, that’s not helpful is it? Hello emotion that I’m now engaged to…
Dong this nothing isn’t easy, it’s work to notice the thoughts and let them be. It’s a lot of work to not engage. And then when the emotions turn up and they get mixed up with the thoughts and, and, and..
I was thinking about this during our week of thunder storms. About how the blue sky is up there all the time during the storm. About how it is unaffected by the thunder or lightening or rain or any kind of cloud. It’s just there, sort of watching and waiting until everything calms down again. It’s doing nothing. My emotions are thunder and lightening and my thoughts are the rain and they are all connected and they all feed off each other. And they are very loud and they crave my attention. I don’t have to give them my attention.
I am not the thunder. I am not the lightening. I am not the rain. I am the blue sky, they cannot hurt me…
And then the rains came. Storms all over central France. Bringing a weather show like we haven’t seen in Ireland.
The stage opens with the temperature rising, humid damp heat follows your every move. Don’t move! Except to open every window and door. The skies slowly fill in with white clouds turning to grey clouds. Then something shifts.
The sky grows darker, darker again, almost navy blue. And here comes the music – booming thunder. And the light show – streaks of lightening. And the finale – beating rhythm of torrential rain while we race to secure the roof windows. And all for free.
And then it’s all calm again with a cooling breeze, sunshine and fluffy white clouds.
The heatwave in Spain has made us very grateful for weather, any weather. (Well, any weather except weather with temperatures that start with a 3 and are two digits long.)
By the time we return home at the end of this month we will have forgotten the heatwave and be wishing for a few extra degrees, in the meantime we are enjoying the rain.
And then on Monday we arrived in the very beautiful town of Louhans and it was a market day. What could be better? Old cobblestoned streets full of market stalls… hats, dresses, aprons, cheese and rabbits, among other things. Well yes, that’s even better.
On Tuesday morning we went looking for coffee and with all the market stalls gone we found the arcades – there’s 157 of them! They are covered walkways along each side of the main shopping street and they allow you to walk shaded from the sun or sheltered from the rain. There’s a lot of road works, bridge works and rebuilding going on in the town but no matter its beauty is still visible.
The official motorhome parking spot is about five minutes from the shops and cafes, beside one of the two rivers running around the town. For €4 a night plus tax motorhomes have a river view surrounded by trees with walking access to cafes and restaurants – very lovely.
There and then we invented the habit of going for coffee each morning. It’s such a simple thing, we sit outside in the fresh air sipping coffee and watching the French people getting on with their day.
On the way back to the river we’d collect our baguette from the Boulangaire and notice how lucky we were to be here. By Friday the waitress was asking, deux café allongé? (Two Americano’s?)
After our trip to the Pont du Gard we drove to a small family run campsite near the town of Vion, beside the Rhône. On route we stopped off for lunch and were intrigued (again) with the love of picnics by the French. We want to try it too, we always do and it wouldn’t be so difficult, but it does require some prior organisation. We felt jealous walking past as we headed for the motorway services cafe.
We are guessing their picnics are more special than traditional Irish picnics. I see no tin foil. I smell no egg sandwiches. No Fanta bottle with gone off milk in it (for the lukewarm tea.) What are they feasting on? And they don’t need picnic tables, they eat standing at their car boots. They don’t even need children, we’ve seen grown adults meeting at the car boot for lunch. Some have cool boxes, others have baskets! Willow baskets! We have tried to linger longer beside them and have a good look but the baskets… they are so distracting we don’t see the food. Oh and the neatness of the boot? Very neat.
Today we think we might have cracked it…. the charcuterie (you might know it as a delicatessen?) We haven’t been inside one yet because it’s a little overwhelming not knowing what everything is but the whole picnic mystery is making us brave enough to give it a try.
Plus, this could be the solution to eating/not eating the pictures of food on the ferry… do you remember? If we can locate a charcuterie near Cherbourg, we will not be tempted by the pictures of pancakes, white sliced pan toast and lumpy porridge. It will be worth the effort. It’s a bank holiday in France today as I write and the local charcuterie is closed but maybe tomorrow…