Monday, November 17, 2008

Vacation with Darrell, part 1

photos later - my computer is having problems with Blogspot
The inadequacy of writing implements
Darn. I’ve lost my fountain pen. Misplaced it. It can’t be lost. I just haven’t looked for it in the right place yet.
The usual places I’ve looked. Like the pocket of my shoulder bag and the fountainpenbox next to the dining table. (There are times I wished I spoke German for real. They have so much fun with their words, the way they just run all the adjectives together into gigantic nouns.) Even the pockets of my backpack, and the other backpack. Not there. I must have put it somewhere strange. Or left it out and the cats have put it under the couch with all their other toys.
So I bought this replacement pen, a rollerball that is supposed to have an extra-fine point. For the unctuous flow of liquid ink plus the superfine control of a ballpoint for lots of characters per inch.
Yeah right.
Trust me, the handwritten version is much less pretty than Times New Roman.
It’s a good thing there’s a bic in my purse always for working diabolic sudokus while waiting for the bus. Not so beautiful, but I can’t stand having to write in huge loopy gestures. Makes my handwriting degenerate, and we don’t want that.
On board the 17:25 to Paris I’m all set: journal, choice of pens, water, snackage, knitting. Extra yarn.
Heading up to Paris tonight may not be strictly necessary, but when it comes to meeting my brother at the airport relatively early in the day, I’d rather be safe than sorry. The train people have been having too many problems lately and with me not having a cell phone I’d rather just buy peace of mind with my hotel room.
After all, I haven’t forgotten the summer of ’95.
That’s the year I was in New Haven and decided to take a road trip summer vacation swinging through upstate New York to see Marie, through Boston dropping her off with friends, then up to Maine for a few days B&B on the coast. Darrell was in school in Indianapolis at the time and was to meet me in Boston for the Maine part of the trip.
I get to Marie’s and we mess around on most every small highway we cross, stopping at myriad yarn shops and antique malls. It’s a wonder we make it from Ithaca to Boston in less than a week, let alone in just 2 days.
After spending the night with friends, I go to Logan airport in time to meet the flight from Indianapolis. No Darrell. Next flight, no Darrell. Other airlines, no Darrell. He’s not on anybody’s list. He’s nowhere.
So I call him, and his colleagues say ‘oh yeah, he’s on vacation with his sister’.
I go round and round in circles at the airport. I have him paged. Many times. No response.
It starts to get late, and the reservation in Maine is not refundable. I call up there, but they have no messages for me. It’ll take hours to drive there. Eventually, I decide to leave messages everywhere - with Marie, the airline, the b&b, his lab, everybody, and start to head north, checking in with people every hour or so.
Finally, I catch someone in Indy who knows Darrell better.
“He left a couple of days ago.”
A couple of days ago??
Suddenly I turn pale and get all lightheaded. I had in fact said he could meet me today, just in time to head for Maine, or he could join us in Boston on Monday, if he could stand Marie and her crowd that long, and see the city with us. Only, I could have sworn he took the Wednesday option. Really.
When I get to Bar Harbor, Darrell himself is on the line.
Yeah, he thought we’d arranged to meet on Monday. He waited for me at the airport for hours. He called Marie’s but we had gone. He called me, but I don’t even remember the code to pick up my messages from afar. Not that I thought I had reason to. So he got a room in a hostel, saw a bit of Boston on his own, and caught a bus home.
Shit. I stood him up. Invited my brother on vacation and then didn’t show.
I bet he hasn’t forgotten either.

It is a awful lot of messing around. From pulling into Gare de Lyon on time just before 9, it takes me until 10 to get to the airport with barely a car on the highway. So I figure, if I had taken the 6am train, arriving at the station at just the same time D’s plane was touching down, by the time I actually got to the terminal in daytime traffic he’d be panicking. Or I would. His plane would be taken off the arrivals board and I’d never find him.
Such are the useless calculations that go round and round in my brain.
Other examples:
What if the hotel has lost my reservation, which has happened to me more than once, and they’re full? That would just be annoying. It’s not as if there’s an off-season shortage of hotel space at CDG airport.
But - what about Natalie? She got out this morning and now she’ll be out until tomorrow night. Another red herring. Natalie is a great hunter, and barring a mouse or bird she can live off her fat for one day.
But - what about the other cats? I forgot to sift the catlitter this morning. Sigh. They’ll live. Sienne and Bandersnatch are fairly tolerant and I promise to do it First Thing on getting home.
But - what if we’re delayed getting home and the cats have to go the whole week...?
Stop cogitating and go to sleep.

In the morning: Hooray! I have no email from Darrell. No news is good news.
Miscellaneous meanwhile: Marie has reached the critical mass of people inviting her to join Facebook. She’s in.

Darrell’s flight is early and the airport is right there. Very convenient. There’s not even any traffic getting back to Paris and the Gare de Lyon. Near the station we sit in a café for coffee while D catches me up on the news from the States.
Number one, Dad had bypass surgery about a month ago.
Nobody told me anything!
Well, telling you now. He’s been home for a couple of weeks. Doing fine, though it isn’t an easy recovery. At first he was admonished not to lift more than 10 pounds. And he really didn’t want to. Only, the cat weighs 13.
And there’s stuff happening with our brother. Events going on all over the place, and nobody says anything. Various topics certainly give us something to go around and around on over lunch and on the train.

Clermont and south of there
We spend Wednesday picking up the rental car and stocking up on catmaintenanceitems and in general just messing around, getting over the jetlag. Out in the garden we hack at the fruit trees since it’s that season, and then we visit with Jerome to pick up Maurice and Laars. Relations are established with the cats: Natalie comes right over for petting, Sienne meows and is wary but eventually submits to a few caresses, Bandersnatch hides in the bedroom.
Thursday morning it’s time to hit the road. We’re headed for the Perigord region, to see the cliff dwellings above the Dordogne river and to eat the regional specialties of duck and truffles.
Sticking to the smaller highways we get to Ussel at midday, so we stop for crepes (potato and bacon, followed by chocolate) and cider (one hard, one soft) and a walk around. Then through Tulle and Brive-le-Gaillard and on to Montignac for the tour of Lascaux II. It’s good to tour the cave at this time of year: instead of 40 people crammed into the reproduced cave, there are only 12 in our group, so we’re not tripping over people all the time, or trying to get so somebody’s head isn’t blocking your view only to have some other one fill the gap. And at 56°F it isn’t any colder down there than outside (something to plan ahead for for a summer visit!).
Unfortunately, our tour guide doesn’t know how to be quiet. She just repeats herself when she’s gone through her speech, never letting us admire to our own thoughts, filling every minute with remarks on the obvious. She tries to repeat herself in faux-English for the few non-French guests, but forgets herself and lapses into French. That’s ok. Seeing the cave paintings is the main point of being here, and we can do that regardless of the soundtrack.
An hour distant we stop at Sarlat-le-Canéda for the night. Sarlat has a beautifully restored mideval center, a grand tourist destination (grand? I’d never heard of it before) with a vast number of touristy restaurants and little shops selling foie gras and truffles and walnut oil and poultry-themed knicknacks, and art galleries, and antique shops.
It’s practically deserted as we wander about after a refreshing shower and change of clothes, looking for a likely dining spot on this chilly November evening. We come across several good photo-ops we vow to come back to in daylight. The old city, though artfully lit, is too dark for night photography without a tripod. Darrell has been ready for dinner since the event was mentioned, but for me it’s early still. So I make us wander around until 7:30.
We settle on a touristy restaurant that seems to have all the right choices on the menu without being too expensive. For really extraordinary dining here in foie gras & truffle territory you can quickly get beyond my budget, and we’d need to be better dressed anyway. It’s good food where we land. We’re not disappointed.
In the morning we take a walk around, seeing the sights and taking pictures. The covered market is advertised to open at 8:30, but an hour later they’re barely getting ready. Not that there’s much of anyone to get ready for; they’re not exactly selling to the locals. All they seem to have is the same stuff that’s in the gourmet shop windows - 1001 forms of duck and goose, truffle this and that, walnuts in various incarnations. No point in us going in.
Then it’s off to follow the Dordogne. We arrive at La Roque-Gageac. Time to walk around, and it soon becomes obvious that this is where a lot of the cliff-dwelling pictures advertising the region are taken. Just fell right on it. There’s a stairway attached to the cliff-face leading to some of the really old caves, which seems promising. Alas, to get there you have to go through somebody’s house, and it’s closed, possibly for the season. So we just take a good look from below and then wander up and down the elongated village.
There’s a pretty little castle where a stream comes to join the Dordogne, making a narrow valley heading north. This too is somebody’s house now, closed to visitors. In fact, everything is pretty much closed in La Roque. The antique shop, the hotel, the restaurant, the bar, the tourist office. Most of the boats that cruise this part of the river are out of the water, even.
Up the road, Castelnaud is a very impressive castle built up on the top of the cliff where a major tributary joins the Dordogne. Beautifully restored and accessible (in low gear), it’s open from 2 to 5 pm. Ah. Well. It looks like an excellent visit, with the castle yard full of siege engines and all. It’s 11 now. We’ll come back after lunch.
We head for a neighboring castle marked on our tourist map, Milandes. It’s closed too, but until April. Forget it.
Let’s go to Saint Cyprien; there seems to be stuff to see around there. Yes, only we get turned around and drive at random in territory south of the river when we should be north of it. In these hills you can’t see very far at all, or you can see a great distance but the road doesn’t take you there.At long last we get to St. Cyprien, another very nice little town, this one built around a large, strikingly plain church. After a good walk around to get our circulation going again, we score a wonderful lunch. Truffles, we want to have truffles of some kind before leaving the area, and of the three restaurants open one has truffles. Darrell has duck with truffle-madiera sauce, while I have a nice rare steak with truffle-butter. Garlic fried potatos on the side, and a few leaves of lettuce. Mmmmm.

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