Sunday, July 02, 2006


Uuuygh. Another difficult transportation day, but with a surprisingly pleasant twist. The bus to Vézelay was 25 minutes late, and as Vézelay is the last stop on the circuit and the driver would not have been able to make it back in time to Avallon to start the next circuit, he put me on a taxi for the trek, paid for by the bus company, at almost 10 times the cost! Can you believe it? This would have never ever happened in the US or Mexico. Not because the buses would've never been late to start with (in Mexico being late is a matter of course so they probably would've shipped me to Vèzelay late and everyone that came after me on the circuit would've, little by little, accumulated lateness until I'm sure the last bus in the evening would've been late by then a couple of hours, to the chagrin--or no, more like resigned sighs, of the last people on the last circuit), but because going so far as to put you in a nice, air-conditioned taxi, called especially and brought in from another neighboring town just for you, when as it turns out I hadn't even yet bought the bus ticket in the first place, shows an extraordinary sense of responsibility and pride in a job well done and keeping the customers happy. Why, in the U.S. I'm absolutely sure they would've simply, at best, refunded me the cost of the ticket (and without me having bought one yet, that of course would not have happened), and as for my missed transportation (it was the only bus to Vèzelay that day), well, "it is not our fault, there is another bus tomorrow". But the French....there you have it. Amazing.

Anyway, Vézelay is a very tiny town (only 492 inhabitants) and though it is a UNESCO WHS and the start of one of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela it is not really worth the full day lost in odd transportation schedule hassle. But I did have a chance to visit the Caves du Pelerin (it is a coop with wines from several small wineries), where they told us about how in the nearby (famous wine)town of Chablis, which tends to get rather cold, freezing winds blowing northwards from the Yonne river even in May, when the grapes are very young, used to have a huge alarm bell, which rang when the temperature got below a certain point and posed a danger to the grapes, so that the inhabitants of the city rushed down to the vineyards, to light up a kind of log pits (that are a bit like barbecue pits) in between the vines, to warm them up and keep the grapes safe. Later on, they started using modern coal-like ovens, but this produced much pollution, so that in the end they adopted a method used in the Alsace and invented by the Germans: when the temperature gets too cold, they sprinkle a spray of water on the vineyards, so that it drenches the young grapes and eventually freezes around them, forming a thin protective ice shell around the grape, and thus preventing it from freezing from the inside. They say this looks rather pretty, because it looks a bit like the grapes are encased in glass, and it glistens at nighttime, reflecting the light from the moon and stars.

With such nostalgic reflections (even if they were not from my nostalgia, it is still nostalgic in sympathy, I guess, when such pretty images are part of someone else's), my return to Avallon was rather lonely. It is Sunday and there are no people on the streets--the people from the hotel and bar where I'm staying (I'm the only guest right now) at seem to have left since this morning (they left me the key by the door in the morning, but upon my return everything is still like I left it and my room remains unmade)--it seems like they have left out of town, and the rest of the deserted village seems eerie and ghostlike in spite of the golden, hot afternoon sun.

I haven't had a real conversation with anyone in several days (owing, in no small part, to my limited language skills in this foreign country), so I call a few friends and family in America, but perhaps owing to the hour (it is 10 a.m. on Sunday there) or perhaps because it is going to be the 4th of July weekend, no one answers. So I wander about the empty streets of the old village of Avallon, across the walls and along the ramparts overlooking the forest below, finding no-one, and return to city center, by the closed post office and the quiet cinema, a child, perhaps, runs by; in the distance, a mother pushes another on a stroller, but this tiny town of Avallon right now seems so vast, and my footsteps echo aimlessly for hours while birds sing joyful sounds of summer, the contrast....unbelievably bittersweet.

I haven't felt this lonely long as I remember.

No comments: