Written on Nov 8th 2018. Mostly. The draft was saved on the 21st (also Nov ’18) Found and backposted on Nov 4th 2021.
I was on my way home from a holiday in France and Spain, staying in the AirBnB for the second time. The owner had let me leave my bike there for the Spanish part of the trip.
Reading through this post, I remember the day, the feelings, the sunlight. After a minute or so, I know it continues with buying posh pastries at a patisserie and having to rush back to the station afterwards; going a different way, and getting frustrated about my inability to go the same way twice, but loving the feeling of riding the hill down to the station. I don’t remember these moments after the post finishes quite as well as I remember the written moments. I’m not sure if the writing or the reading is more responsible for the memories. Whichever it is, I’m grateful to my past self for writing, even if she didn’t finish describing the day.
Sometimes days go by coated in the same emotion, painted on slowly, coat for coat, and stripped off just as slowly, layer for layer. Or painted over, with paint that’s just a bit too thin to cover up the colour before.
Sometimes, like today, I can’t keep up with what I’m feeling as it changes so fast – like it’s been left to a kid just learning what the fill button does on paint programs. Click! Red. Click! Green. Click! Yellow. Click! Pink. And on and on.
I woke up and winced. My shoulder was complaining about lugging my backpack and a shopping bag around for the last few days. A reminder that I really need to learn how to pack lighter – having a bike to carry the load leads to forgetting how much you can comfortably carry when you leave the bike behind.
The French train ticket app continued to refuse to spit out a reasonable itinerary. Ne pas possible it jeers. I know it’s possible. At least. I think I do. I want it to be true enough not to believe that it isn’t. After almost an hour of switching between train app, map app and overnight stay app I decide to wing it. I can’t deal with the complexity. Especially at early o’clock.
The shower is cold. There’s a dial to choose the temperature, I twist it, pleading with it to let me have warmth before my feet freeze. My hand says the water’s warming up well before the rest of my body agrees. The shower head is transparent and full of beads in many colours – I admire the way the water makes them spin, before closing my eyes to both the water and to the sunlight cascading into the bathroom, flooding everything. Not even the shower curtain can protect the floor from the sun.
I stand half-dressed in the almost familiar bedroom, holding my knee and trying not to howl. I’ve just walked into the bedstead. Again. For what feels like the hundredth time but is probably only the sixth or seventh. Familiar obviously isn’t familiar enough. As if two nights is ever going to be enough for real familiarity.
The trains I thought about getting last night leave the station as I retrieve my paniers and start the never-ending job of packing all my things into the bags which may or may not have shrunk in the last week.
The conversation flows easily, naturally, as I make tea in a kitchen that’s beginning to feel like I belong. We talk about big things, little things, things that matter, things that probably don’t to anyone else. I use a french keyboard to type my email address on a phone that doesn’t belong to me and which my hand doesn’t recognise, and laugh when it comes out wrong. I delete it and start again. I rejoice when I discover that the word I found in a printer manual and chose for my email address all those years ago is phonetically the same as the almost obsolete local language for “what is this?”. I am suddenly back in another friend’s kitchen after a water fight. I’m wearing borrowed clothes and warming up damply as my friend hangs my wet clothes on the line in front of the Aga. “What is this thing anyway?!”. It seems wrap-around skirts aren’t as easy to recognise when they’re unwrapped. It’s a good memory, from a time I don’t want to go back to, except for maybe for a few moments of that afternoon. As far as I can remember the really good moments were few and far between. It’s funny how the memories of some moments hardly fade at all and yet whole months can vanish into the past, not to be missed or remembered.
We stand in front of the garage, her on the steps, me next to my bike, attaching the bag I bought for the handle bar onto the crossbar – the only place it has a chance of fitting. I could squeeze it into my backpack but I like having my ticket on view behind the clear plastic. I can never remember times or platforms – checking is easier if you don’t have to unpack first.
We’ve already hugged goodbye, she’s just waiting for me to finish and leave. “Can I take a photo?” she asks in her soft French accent. “Klar” I reply, German my immediate response when faced with Foreign. I correct myself, “yes, of course.” I needn’t have bothered, she’s already on her way back up the stairs.
She reappears with a pale pink Polaroid camera – bought for taking pictures of and for her guests. The picture is taken before I register what’s going on. It seems she hasn’t had a guest in a while though, the film doesn’t develop instantly. “Hmph. It must be old” she mutters, shaking the tiny sheet of paper. She sticks it between her teeth and takes another picture, and this time I’m better prepared, my bike is at a different angle, I’m smiling. The second picture develops as slowly as the first. We stand together and laugh as we shake one each, willing the picture out of the white nothingness. Faint lines appear. I’m aparating. J’apparate*. My pronunciation is hideous but it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters on the pavement by the garage. The sun is shining and the world is shining back. There’s no rush to leave. The trains will wait. If they’re willing to take me with my bike at all. Failing that, there’ll be more trains. There won’t be more of this moment. I soak it in. Delight in my own apparition. Take photos of the photos. She holds them in one hand so I have a hand free to zoom in on my phone. When I think she’s not looking I notice that the camera is shaking in her other hand. “Take another one” she commands, “so you have a series.” I take another one. Then another.
Suddenly she hands me a photo. “This one’s for you.” It’s the first one. I would have preferred the other one but I reprimand myself – you weren’t going to have either until 20 seconds ago. “Can I pack it away or do I have to wait until it finishes developing?” I try to work out where I’m going to put it. “No. It needs the sun – you must carry it like this” she places the photo back between her teeth and pedals with her hands. We laugh again.
Then she’s gone. Poncho flying. The goodbye hanging in the air longer than she takes to reach the top of the steps and her conservatory.
I tuck the photo in front of the stack of used tickets although I have no idea if the sun can work its magic through the plastic. I swing my leg over the bar and set off.
Barely 20m later I stop. I haven’t set my bike computer yet. I really can forget anything. I take a picture of the house since I’m still there.
A crossroads. I have no idea where I am so I follow the signs to the station. A few km later I realise that I am somewhere I’ve never been before. I start berating myself for my lack of navigation skills but stop when I see the church on the hill.
I park my bike on the side of the road to take a picture. I wouldn’t have got nearly as good a view from the road I meant to be on. I am so lucky to have such good weather and not so many cars on the road…. And of course to have let the road lead me to the view.
The train station is