We had got to the Gare de Lyon in good time. Followed the instructions for the 11.40 to Avignon. But the Travelling Toads were in for a surprise. Sitting in designated seat 31, Coach 6 was a young man. Well dressed, ear phones in, Le Monde in his hand,the world at his feet.. No sans culotte he.
I’ll handle this. Excuse moi Monsieur, je pense vous etes dans le chaise faut(O level, bien sur). He looked up and in impeccable English said. Let me see your ticket.
He smiled, the condescending, patronising well practised smile of the Ecole Superior, I’m sorry but you are on the wrong train. This train is going to Grenoble not Avignon. The Travelling Toads panic. Pushing against the oncoming passengers, we retrieve our case and get back on the platform.
A passing porter looked at his iphone and told us that we had just got off the correct train. Ok no more Monsieur Gentil Homme. We get back to young M Smarty Pantalon. You are in our seat. Once again the sickly sweet smile,the rueful shake of the head. Old English folks,what can you do? He seeks reassurance from a neighbouring passenger. Sacre bleu. She confirms the train is going to Avignon pas Grenoble. Ecole Superior crumbles into rare apologies. I sneer just as well we met you. I wish I had waited till the train had left the station.
New Years Eve with our dear cousins Eric and Irena in Carpentier. We have a few drinks and a nice meal and at 11.00 go next door to some neighbours to enjoy traditional deserts and the fateful hour. They live in a historic house(18thC) attatched to the cathedral. They have spent the last thirty five years restoring the house to its formal grandeur, as well as collecting a host of artefacts.
We arrive at 11.00. There is a guided tour. In French.This means we do not sit down until 11.30. Still no drink. The cakes are presented and mighty fine they look. The champagne is presented ,opened but not poured. The sands of time are trickling away. A few minutes before we say goodbye to the old ,a drink, a veritable drink, slowly does it I realise this might be the last. The photos of before the renovation are brought out. My heart can sink no lower. I cannot translate my usual line that my own house bores me. Another drink. More cakes. 2017 starts to take shape.
They say how you spend New Year tells ypu how the year will go. Bon Noel. Dry and talking property renovation in another language. Its going to be a tough year.
A few days later we take to TGV to Marseilles. We are rightfully proud of our mainline stations. But so is France. Eurostar’s attic might be a sewer but the facard of the Gare de Mord is manifique. The world map at Bordeaux is a sight to see. And the French colonies at Marseilles St Charles still stand to attention and the starircase leadng to the city. Thats one of the greats in world station architecture.
This is the city where la belle France meets North Africa. Its messy,the streets are littered, but the architecture is belle époque and the trams are sleek. Irena is taking us to Mucem the brilliantly designed new Museum down by the waterfront and the old fort.
Once again an architect has scored an impossible ten while the curators of the collections have barely arrived. In the UK , Gateshead’s Baltic,Margate’s Turner Contemporary and the Tate Modern extension all suffer from the same problem. The architects are way ahead of the curators. Building beautiful spaces seems to be easier than filling them well. But Marseilles is a lot more, we shall return.