Pointing finger, France (2014-07)

Walking Home, week 14: Where are you going?


Day 92 – to Besançon
I’m at breakfast at half past seven, because I’m afraid that one eats early in the monastery and that there will be no more food for me if I come too late. But my fear is unfounded. Although I am the last to appear. While they clean up around me I may stay as long as I need to have my breakfast in peace. When I do my dishes, Brother Bernard appears and asks what food I would like to take with me.
Not that he waits for my answer. Instead, he first takes a stack of chocolate bars out of the closet. I want to pick one, but he says: ¨Take all. This is the dark kind. I do not like it so much.¨
Then he pulls out the cheese.
I cut off a few pieces. In the heat it will not last much longer than noon anyways.
He finds a pot of honey. ¨Take it. I do not need it.¨
So I grab a liter of honey from the Lorraine.
He hands me the basket with apples. ¨Take them all.¨
I’m running out of space. I’ll take two.
Brother Bernard expects me at the entrance of the guest wing to say goodbye. He prays for me, touches my forehead and both eyes (he has to tell me that I have to close my eyes) and has one last request. ¨When you’re out there, then please enclose brother Bernhard in your prayers ¨
I’ll be thinking of him and send him my best wishes.
On the way to Besançon the weather almost remains stable. Only when I cross the river and am a few meters from Alejandra’s house, a monsoon-like rain breaks. Luckily, [sic] the elevator is broken. So I’m almost dry again when I arrive in the apartment on the tenth floor.

Day 93 – Besançon
I walk a little bit through the city, consciously avoiding to climb up to the citadel. Still looking for shoes, I find in the Nature & Découverte a backpack trolley, I will put on my shopping trolley instead of the now somewhat holey bag, a poncho tarp, that will put an end to the annoying stops to put on or take of my jacket, and a magic bracelet that will protect me – thanks to Citronella – from gadflies and mosquitoes.
I am in the mood for cooking. So I buy pasta, cheese, tomatoes and spring onions for a salad and the pasta dish that Eric in Metz has taught me.
Alejandra has to work late. With her roommate and her boyfriend I watch the match between Germany and Algeria. Germany wins 2-1 and advances to the World Cup quarter-final against France. This is exciting.

Day 94 – to Bonnal
I take a bus 20 kilometers out of the city and then walk through the heat to stay at the most expensive campsite I have ever encountered: I have to pay 18,10 € in the ¨Val de Bonnal¨ just for my tent, without electricity and on a field without place markers, far away from the entrance. The summer in France has begun, it seems.

Day 95 – To Lure, no, Les Ayans
I reach Lure rather early, around four. But I’m done and do not want to continue even one step further. According to the map at the entrance to the town the next campsite is a few kilometers away. So I go to the tourist office, to get a better answer there.
The ladies show me the brochure with the camp grounds in the area, consult Google Maps for the distances and have bad news for me. There would be a hotel only a few meters down the road. But this is too expensive. Then one of them remembers the foyer des jeunes travailleurs . I am already somewhat older and do not work here. But asking does no harm.
And really, I could get a room for about 20 €. The manager would even cook dinner if I wanted to.
Just when I want to confirm the deal an elderly gentleman enters, and inquires with the ladies behind the counter, who I am. He immediately offers to take me to a very nice campsite nearby. Although I am attracted to the cheap bed, camping is just so much cheaper and I’ve spent a lot of money in the past few days.
Without asking where we go exactly, I apologize to the ladies for the effort and I climb into the man’s car. I somehow must be hoping that he will drive in my direction.
Of course he does not.
Instead, he drives to a campsite, for which I had already seen advertisements 3 hours ago. It is without a doubt beautiful and quiet here, also at 5.70 € a real bargain. But one look at Google Maps confirms my fears: tomorrow I will have to walk another 11 km back to Lure.
On top of that I have no bread. That leaves me a few granola bars and a small can of lentils with sausage, which I cannot heat, for dinner.
I walk from the campground in the small village in search of a boulangerie or at least one of these baguette vending machines that I have seen once or twice before.
When the situation seems hopeless, I approach a woman who cuts flowers in front of her house. She confirms my suspicions, but promises to send the baker’s car to the campsite in the morning. Once she realizes that I am hungry right now, she hands me a baguette from her freezer. “I only put it in there today. It’s very fresh.”
It’s completely frozen.
I thank her very much anyway and wander back to the tent.
In front of it, the sun is shining warm on the grass. So I put baguette and lentils in my waterproof food bag and wait.
An hour later, the baguette has really thawed and is not even rubbery, as I had feared, but almost crisp. The can on the other hand is still cold.
I look around on the campsite. The only other guests are in two caravans.
I first try the one closer to me. Two men are standing outside and chat. One of them sends me to the other caravan at the other end of the compound. His wife was there with a fully equipped kitchen.
The wife is very understanding, even gives me a plate.

Day 96 – to Lantenot (again via Lure)
The first half of the day I spend going back to Lure. On entering the city I might even have seen a campsite. But what do I know.
At the Casino market I buy new tins of paté , bread and two eclairs on sale. The eclairs are for lunch.
Around two I reach Lantenot. It’s hot. So I ask an elderly couple at the entrance of the village to refill my bottle. On the other end of the village, an elderly gentleman calls out to me from his garden. Where I was heading to.
We chat a little. Finally, he offers me to feast on the raspberries in his garden. And feast I do.
He invites me to rest for a few minutes in his cool kitchen.
I enter and sit down for a few minutes.
Whether I wanted to take a shower, he asks next.
I hesitate. But it’s hot and I could still use some more refreshment.
When I return from the shower to the kitchen, Roland asks cautiously if I would not want to stay with him tonight.
It is still early in the day. But on the other hand, I’m also not in a hurry. And the old man seems to me very lonely in his big house. So I accept the invitation.
Roland shows me the room, which is reached through his, and says: ¨You may also sleep with me in my bed if you get scared. I had an operation. No more sex.¨
I guess Roland at least seventy years old and smile politely. Surely that was just a joke.
We drive to the next town to buy dinner. Roland has no food in the house. The property was his parents’ home and he has transformed it into a holiday home for the family.
We drink an aperitif in the bistro of the Carrefour. Martini blanco.
Before dinner Roland wants to go for a walk with me and show me the village where he grew up. Above all, he wants to tell me about where he has been caught as a teenager and young man during sex.
To steer the conversation into another direction, I ask about the wedding ring on my host’s left hand.
In fact, he is married. But he has separated from his wife two years ago. In over fifty years of marriage, he was never even once allowed to see her naked, to have sex she would just lift her nightgown a little. And finally, they did not even eat together anymore. So he asked for a separation and left on a four-month cruise around the world.
The relationship with his wife to me at least sheds a little light on why the old man is so fixated on sex. He probably didn’t have enough of it during his marriage. And now it’s too late.
If my breasts are real, Roland wants to know from me next.
Back at the house, I prepare chop with peas. It is not really good. But different from the usual fare. Roland opens a bottle of wine and then another. He drinks most of it.
He insists on accompanying me upstairs to my room. Would I really not want to stay with him in his bed. It would all be harmless, maybe a little cuddle. He would like to watch me sleep. When I say ¨Good night!¨, he pulls me towards him, tries to kiss me on the mouth, his hands suddenly all over me. I push him from me with little effort.
Why did I not want to cuddle. He had money and it was all quite harmless.
I still think that the old man is just lonely, and for a catalog woman – which he undoubtedly could afford – too romantic. So I try it with logic: ¨It just doesn’t work this way. It’s not as easy as you think. It’s not about money. For me it takes a little more.¨
He doesn’t understand, tries again to grab me. But he leaves the room, without me having to be loud or use violence. I prop my backpack against the door. Just to be safe.

Day 97 – to Plombières-les-Bains
When I get to the kitchen for breakfast, Roland utters a half apology: ¨I had quite a lot of wine last night.¨
I reply: ¨Yes, I’ve noticed.¨ And leave it at that.
I accept the offer to be driven to Luxeuil-les-Bains. That is where I would probably have also arrived yesterday had I continued.
In parting, Roland gives me his number. If I ever wanted to, I could call him. We could go on a cruise together. He would pay for everything. I am still more sorry for the old man than anything else.
The route which Google Maps has in store for me today quickly directs my mind to other thoughts.
It begins with a few short walks through meadows and orchards.
In Le Prèmourey I fill my water bottle at the house of a very old man. He has no more hair on his head, few teeth and a heavily bent back. He invites me to his meager lunch, clear soup with a few pieces of meat. But I thank him and continue.
Soon after, the path changes from fields into a forest. And soon afterwards from forest roads into the undergrowth. The wood is light and I can see that among the grasses and the leaves really a path is hidden. So I go on hoping for the best.
The path goes ever steeper uphill or downhill and eventually reaches a small stream. I lift my trolley up and climb over.
But the stream has split and now not only one trickle crosses the path, but another one and another, and … Who knows, I see only rocks and scrub after that.
I totally hate it. But there is no way forward here. I have to go back and find a new path.
Crossing the stream into the other direction is not as easy. I climb, dragging the trolley behind me, a few meters up the hill to my left. Getting down again with a backpack on my back, the heavy trolley in both hands and walking sticks somewhere inbetween is a different story. I stumble and bruise my left knee.
War injury.
But I am not beaten that easily.
Now it benefits me that I have replaced the trolley bag with a proper backpack. I buckle the heavier of the two bags on my back, take the other one in the front and slowly descend, feeling the path with the sticks.
I wonder if there is a department at Google Maps, which checks the validity of paths. I imagine the process roughly as follows: ¨Hmm, is this really a path? Do we have an idiot who hikes in the area? Let’s see what happens … ¨
Eventually I leave the forest behind me and reach Plombières-les-Bains.
I watch a group of men playing petanque. Well, actually, they spend a lot of time figuring out how to distribute the approximately 15 attendees to teams. Again and again, each man throws – there are only male players – a ball in the center and one of the older ones assigns groups. Then, a discussion breaks loose and the process begins anew.
I ask one of the players for camping in town. Yes, he replies, it’s just on the other side of the steep hill that stretches behind the petanque field into the sky.
As if I had not yet worked enough today, I start climbing the hill. Halfway a mini golf parlor is blocking the way. I turn to the right and discover the actual town of Plombières.
As the name suggests, is an old spa that was built in the time of Napoleon and judging by the architecture has seen its heyday in the early twentieth century. Now the Parc Hotel is just a ruin. The same is true for many of the villas. Only the spa and the Grand Hotel which is directly connected still shine in their original splendor.
From the city center a few road bend lead further up the mountain, and finally to the campsite.
Just when I have checked in, a mighty rain bursts from the sky. I retreat to the game room which together with the sanitary facilities and the home of the campground operators sits in an old farmhouse. There is also a television here on which I will be able to watch the World Cup quarter-final France against Germany.
Although the rain stops before kick-off I decide to wait until after the game before I set up my tent.
Come 6 pm a French and a Dutch couple join me in front of the TV. Halftime score is 1-0 for Germany. The French couple invites me to a beer and we agree that we are all Europeans and that at the end the best team should win.
Which would be Germany.
The game is hardly over, when the next huge rain comes down. The wife of the French couple advises me carefully, not wanting to be associated with the advice to ask the owner if I could not stay in the washroom. But I have a better idea and ask him if I could set up my cot between the TV and pool table.
¨We usually don’t allow that.¨
I take a deep breath.
¨But this is an exception. The rain is too strong. ¨

Day 98 – to Charmes (via Epinal)
The new day does not bring much news. Sometimes it does not rain. Most of the time, however, it does.
I reach Epinal and come up with a trick: The path from here leads up the Moselle River to Charmes. What if I just take the train there? Maybe it’s not raining there?
To test my hypothesis I hop on the next train to Charmes.
And really, I get there in the finest sunshine.
At the campground I get set up between several other tents. That’s a novelty.
The other tents belong to two couples and one group of three.
A Dutch couple in their fifties is cycling to the French Mediterranean coast. A Belgian couple in their early twenties is cycling to Barcelona. The triad is also from Belgium and wants the cycle to Venice. All of them have in common that they have only a few weeks to complete their journey and do not know whether in the end they will actually have time left to enjoy their destination. To them it seems to be even more about the journey than the destination than to me in my journey.

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