The thermometer at the front of the bus says its five degrees but I could care less really. I have just realized we are driving down the Voie Sacree or Sacred Way on the way to Bar le Duc, places I have referenced in the novel. The Sacred Way became such when Marshall Petain established it for the sole purpose of resupplying the garrison at Verdun and even posted military personnel along its route to ensure farmers didn’t use it to shift their turnips. Good for him.
I have been up since 3.30am – one of those nights where you wake every half hour knowing you have an early start so I gave up in the end and walked down to the station at a little after five am. It was cool to be sure and no one was about save for a rough looking lad who wandered over and boxed me in where I was seated. I took the precaution of getting my Parker ready (thanks SK) but he wandered off in the end though I didn’t completely relax until the bus arrived. Relax on two counts actually, as the bus pulled out right on time. The connections between bus and train are down to two minutes. I am impressed but want to see if it works out. And it has for I am now in one of these steel TGV rockets hammering down to Paris at 294 kmh (there is a screen broadcasting speed at the end of the carriage). Mind you there is no sensation of speed really, unless you are on the platform and one bolts through in a white and yellow flash (stand behind the yellow line indeed) or another goes the other way and the compressed ears even in this carriage tell you paths have been crossed. We left on the dot at 7.04. Its now 7.19 and I should be in Paris by 8am. That is pretty much the equivalent of doing Sydney to Canberra. Did I say I was impressed?
The walk down through a quiet Verdun this morning was actually quite pleasant. Oddly enough two blackbirds sat on the path in front of me and watched me pass. They were poised on the gutter, looking as if they were waiting to cross the pedestrian crossing. The swirling fog and shuttered houses under the glow of yellow lights gave the place a softer feel than I had credited the place over the last few days. Mind you there was little difference between 5am and 5pm in terms of pedestrian traffic. People just do not get out and about.
I took lunch yesterday along the ‘Quay’ and that experience helped redeem the town a little. It was a warm and cosy place full of darkly dressed folk getting out of the office. Though I was stumped which offices those might have been as just about all the shops were shut. I am sure it was not a public holiday as the local high school was ‘in’. But this place was full of laughter and the smell of good food. I turned down the offer of snail pizza and settled for seafood and a glass of rose. Drinking at lunch time eh Bruce? Been a while since you have done that. Not working for government now. When in Rome I told myself, when in Rome. The sound of French on the lips of a woman is definitely sexy though of course the subject might be as base and crass as a navvy’s stand-up routine. Or they might be commenting on my poor choice of rose. I would have to agree with them there.
I stumbled over a statue by Rodin yesterday, on the banks of the Meuse, in a tiny park. Where else? A random note while I took my seat. While waiting for the pizza I pored over the couple of tourist maps I had been given and see that Fort Souville is marked on one of them but is not highlighted for the tourists. What a wonderful discovery that proved to be. I am glad I stumbled over it. Remarkable in every way. Lunch was complemented by a waitress the spitting image of Collette Dinigin. From under her blond, very square cut fringe she asked me in that sexy language if I would like the dessert menu. I bit my tongue and declined but accepted the offer of ‘café’. I’m in no rush and it seems the lunch crowd isn’t either though I do want to get back and rework Souville a little. I wrote it when I woke at 4am the previous morning with words spilling out of my head. I fumbled for the laptop and caught them before they vanished into the dark and I have been rewriting some of it as I have walked around town. Funny how the stories rattle around in my head when I am travelling. The pizza was excellent and I scoffed the lot and warmed to the rose as I went. But it was really the buzzing atmosphere that was recharging me.
The screen now says 315km/h. I am still impressed. As we approach Paris there is a sensation of slowing right down but we are still doing 250km/h. A train going the other way reinforces the impression of high speed. Amazing really. I reckon I have the train station network sorted out in my head so will take time to grab a cafe and a croissant to top up my sardine, yoghurt and banana breakfast and take my time to get out to the airport. The flight departs around 4pm so I have a day up my sleeve after such a tight start to the day.
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