There's so much to say and write about this trip to France, I'm afraid I'm running and writing out of time. So if I seem to be rushing through the next several posts, please understand I'm trying to share with you the flavor of the trip. I'd be happy to pick up the conversation in comments or offline anytime.
The south of France differs from the 'northern territory' in a number of ways. Some might describe the people more friendly, while others will claim that the real France is the one that touches the Mediterranean where color, lifestyle and attitude are warmer and brighter. They'll say that's why Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Degas were so inspired by this country. Modern artists from Picasso, Miro, Chagall and more still found the country inspiring 50-100 years later.
For me travelling to any “other world” than where I live inspires. Perhaps it's not so much the place, but the act of traveling that inspires me and fills my soul with imagination and yearning — yearning to learn, explore and feel. Many of these artists fled the social brouhaha of Paris and other European cities to travel where the pressure of 'performing' on time other than their own was lessened. Here the pressure was their own. But in the south of France it wasn't pressure, I believe. It was inspiration. Sure not all artists found inspiration in the South of France. Gauguin fled the country for Tahiti and only truly finding inspiration in the Marquesas. Great writers like
Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson also fled and traveled to Oceania for inspiration.
Wherever inspiration comes from for you, be sure to grab it, for me I find that travel ignites any embers that softly sleep until the right breeze ignites them again. And this is what ignites and flames my passion.
So Diana and her husband who run the internet Cafe in downtown St. Rafael were happy to let me plug in my Apple PowerBook into their switch. Finally, I could use a real keyboard — real to me, that is. Good ole English QWERTY. Bryan and I spent an hour catching up on email, blogging and simply socializing with the few folks who dropped in for a daily dose of internet — including Carl from Sweden who now lives in France. He likes Sweden for the advanced technology, but France for the food. No matter where Bryan and I told him we'd been or were from, Carl had been there. Not much Carl hadn't done, or told us he'd done.
Diana told us the other two internet cafés in town had closed down. She said they didn't know how to run their business. The other places were filled with noisy gamers and the crowds they drew. Business people stayed away from those places. Diana had their café for only a few months. Prime location in the building that sported the St. Rafael train station. She was slim, in her early 50's and wore silver rimmed glasses that slid down the bridge of her nose as she looked over the top at me. She was collating a community newsletter. Had to complete 5,000 copies by 8pm that evening. The entire time Bryan and I business ourselves on the internet while Carl from Sweden told us where he'd been, Diana and her husband collated the local newsletter.
“Why don't you let the printer do that,” I asked.
“Too many blank pages or they'll put the inserts in upside down,” she assured me confidently.
“Sounds like you need a new printer,” I said.
Nope. There was no convincing her. She was happy in her collating tedium. I'm not sure her husband did.
We were ready to make our journey to Monaco and the grand casino of Monte Carlo. After a quick stop at a café in St. Rafael for lunch and glass of wine we were on the road. We got on the road later than originally planned, but Monaco was only a few hours away. OUr goal was to meet a former co-worker friend Bryan knew. He'd lived in Monaco for the last 20 years. Good to be local.
When we found parking, which was far easier than in Toulon a few days earlier, we gathered our belongings out of the back seat. When Bryan opened the trunk of the Peugeot at my request my heart sank. Deep.[base “]Where's my backpack”, I wheezed out feeling a bit humbled.
“I don't know.”
“Shit. Fuck. Shit.” Every bit of profanity left inside me eeked out.
“I think I left it at the cafe.”
This was a disaster. I've been traveling with what people always insist is too big to travel with — my 17″ Apple PowerBook — and despite every fearful traveler's warning when hearing of my European or Asian travels, I'd never dropped it, found it stolen or accidentally left it anywhere. It looks like my luck had run out.
I paced in the third underground level of the Monaco parking garage. The backpack was my Brenthaven computer backpack containing not only my PowerBook, but my iPod, extra batter, Sennheiser noise cancelling headphones, iSight Camera, spare battery and compact flash card for my Canon digital camera which thankfully sat comfortably in the pocket of my leather jacket. I was completely freaked out.
We've all heard stories, true or not, about travelers getting ripped off. The stories can fill you with fear, paranoia and anger that your feelings could interfere with enjoying travels that are supposed to inspire and ignite you. I never travel with this fear. But as I sat in a smoke and diesel tinged garage in Monaco with my laptop and all my goodies and toys gone. Not because someone ripped me off. But because of my own stupidity.
I had no idea what the café was called. My brain racked my memory banks. I remembered seeing the St. Rafael Office de Tourisme across from the cafe, and I thought about calling them. Reaching into my pocked I pulled out a wrinkled wad of paper. It was a flyer from the internet cafe. I pulled out my cool new Sony Ericsson P900 phone which I had outfitted with a SIM card from a French telecom carrier and called Diana at the internet cafe. She spoke just enough English to understand my predicament. I prefaced my conversation with what might be the most bizarre request she'd entertain in years, but I explained where the café was and that my backpack and I had separated there. This was several hours before. Diana was still collating. And I was worried.
She agreed to go to the café and told me to call 30 minutes later to find out what she learned. I needed a beer. Instead Bryan and I checked into our hotel and I ate two aspirin and took a nap.
When I called Diana nearly an hour later I was prepared for the worst.
“You can enjoy your evening and have fun, Allan. Your backpack is safe with us here.”
My heart headed for the cosmos. I wanted to jump into my phone and grab here at the other end and hug and kiss her. A frigging' miracle.
You've got to understand that Bryan and I ate outside at this café and I left my backpack leaning against the table legs. Two hours later I learn its gone and I'm two hours away. This café is in the busiest square in St. Rafael. And I convince a sweet lady to take a chance for me. Only meeting me once.
A miracle? Maybe not. Luck? Maybe not. Chance. Well, we were in Monaco.
The next day I showed up at the café with a bottle of Laurent-Perrier champagne.
“I wish you'd leave your backpack here every day,” Diana said as she eyed the label of the champagne.
Damn. Diana doesn't drink. But as her husband grasped the bottle with a grin that would make any clown jealous he said, “But I do!”
We spent another hour on the computers and her network connection. She refused to take our payment for the time. We hugged, kissed and departed.
I know I'll be back in France again. And I know I'll make a point to stop in a visit this amazing couple. Wow.