Monday, January 14, 2013

In Search of Lost Time: Leaving Nantes

I woke up early the next morning. That was a good thing, too, because my 5:00am wake-up call never came. But then I had the sad realization that it was time to leave Nantes.

The hotel’s breakfast doesn’t even begin until 6:00am and I was ready to head to the train station, so I took off. It took only 10 minutes to walk there.

I found a place to sit in the train station, and I was alone. There were very few people around. I always arrive early when I’m traveling (in this case 90 minutes early), but French people generally don’t, especially for trains. They show up five minutes prior and go.
The station is unlocked at night, of course, but everything in it is closed. So there was nothing open for breakfast. Luckily, I still had some LU cookies—of course, I had to have le petit ├ęcolier during my visit even though I can get them in the States!—and a diet Coke (Coca Light in French) to get me through. I got settled onto a bench before the show began.

I know that “train station” and “party” are not synonymous for many of you, but apparently, when you’re out partying all night in Nantes and you want to stay warm, you cut through the train station. And let’s be clear: It’s not THAT warm at all. It’s not outside, but it’s not warm enough for you to be truly comfortable.

Anyway, these two drunk guys stumbled in out of the cold. They had a loud conversation and then one decided he’s going to do something. I don’t know exactly what was being planned, but the other guy tries to stop him. They wrestled over it, threw a few punches, and then staggered down the platform toward the trains. Not long afterward, three women found their way in. They appeared to be pretty well trashed, and they collapsed down onto a bench next to each other and fell asleep.

Eventually, I walked around a little to ensure no open shops had escaped my notice, but my clothes were attracting attention. 21 years ago, a lot fewer people in France wore jeans and athletic footwear. So I was afraid my clothes would scream MILKSHAKE-SWILLING YANKEE. Luckily that didn’t happen. But I had forgotten that I was wearing my FCN scarf and cap. And remember the colors? Bright yellow and bright green.

Nantes soccer supporters usually chant ALLEZ NANTES! at their games, and it’s been their motto for time out of mind. Simple and powerful—GO NANTES! I mean, who can argue with that?  So I’m walking back up to my chair and this group of people sees me and shouts ALLEZ NANTES! Of course, I have to shout it back, even though it's not even 7:00am. Years ago, this might never have happened; people in France usually ignore strangers. 

A little further on down the hall, someone shouts ALLEZ LES CANARIS! (GO CANARIES!). FCN apparently also calls their team “the canaries” because of the bright yellow uniforms. And I shouted it back. I was totally thrilled. No, I’ve never seen a game live, and I don’t follow the team, but I’m going to start. With the Internet it shouldn’t be that hard. And I’ve technically been a fan for 21 years.

(Incidentally, there was a toaster in the FCN shop that would toast ALLEZ NANTES onto your piece of bread. No, I’m not kidding. And no, I didn’t buy it. Maybe on my next trip…but they also do online ordering. Hmmm…)

After the most interesting time I’ve ever had waiting for a train, the track for the TGV to Paris is posted. I took one last look around, and then wheeled my suitcase down the hall heading for the train platform. This time, I had spent the extra $10 for a 1st class seat; when I first arrived, I was planning to do that, but if you buy the tickets the day you leave, the 1st class price is double the 2nd class price, so I ended up in 2nd class. Saturn could not allow Jupiter to be talked into THAT excess. At least he was nice about it. 

I found my seat and settled in, and then I honor my first journey to Nantes with a tradition I started the last time I left. 

I played a song by Jacques Brel, a Francophone singer who is beloved in France even though he is actually Belgian, as the train is leaving the Gare de Nantes (the “train station” and NOT the “war”, for those of you playing at home!). He was an Aries man who took passion to the extreme; he put so much into his performances that after his concerts, he would routinely pass out for 30-45 minutes.

The song is called Ne me quitte pas (Don’t Leave Me), and it’s a terribly maudlin song about a man begging a woman...well, not to leave him. The words are totally amazing; I’ve provided a translation of some of the lyrics:

I will make a kingdom/Where love will be king/Where love will be the law/And you will be queen/But don’t leave me/Don’t leave me/Don’t leave me/Don’t leave me

Let me become/The shadow of your shadow/The shadow of your hand/The shadow of your dog/But don’t leave me/Don’t leave me/Don’t leave me/Don’t leave me

In an unsurprising “French movies never have happy endings” twist, the song was written by Brel after he refused to acknowledge that he was the father of his mistress’ baby. She threw him out of her life and then had an abortion. OUCH! 

According to an unverified Wikipedia source, Brel wrote the song to highlight the cowardice of men. Ummm…how about the cowardice of ONE MAN, Monsieur Brel? Surprising for an Aries man, to be sure; they usually have courage in spades. It just goes to prove that astrology never tells the whole story.

I started this tradition with a yellow Sony Walkman—Google it if you want a picture, because I’m sure there are plenty of them—listening to this song on cassette. This time, I had an iPod classic and 500X as much music as was on a cassette, give or take.

As soon as the train started rolling, I put it on. And it made me feel exactly how it did the last time: Melancholy. I mean, let’s face it; you saw some of the lyrics, so you’re not surprised. But this time there was a difference. The last time, I had no idea when I would be coming back. I knew I would come back, but it took 21 fucking years. This time, I know I’ll be back, and it won’t take more than five years until my next visit, I hope.

I realized just how much this city and my time here were so very valuable to me, for so many reasons. And that was the lost time that I sought.

Two hours later, I arrived in one of the world’s greatest cities: Paris.

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