Bon voyage

February 23, 2018

Woah.

I have traveled. A ferry, a bus, a plane, many cars, my feet. There I am. On the edge of the Atlantic. It is a bit unreal still. Not so long ago I was like a salmon in a spring run on the streets of Istanbul. Now I am stunned by the quietness of a small fishermen’s village. A village with much history though. Louis XIV was here, as well as the Germans during the world wars.

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I am on an Island called Oléron. L’Ile d’Oléron. It is close to La Rochelle and Rochefort. An interesting bit : Pierre Loti, the writer who spent so much time in Istanbul in the 19th Century, is from Rochefort. A strange thing to me. He went to Istanbul and came back here, I came here from Istanbul. I have seen where he lived near the Golden Horn. Now I am seeing where he came from and where he ultimately died.

France. Québec. Two more places linked together that are part of my very DNA. I am moved by words. Road signs. Masonry. I see invisible ties that originated here and link to the Nouveau Monde. There are words I have never seen, yet they touch something deeply rooted in my human experience. Is culture in the DNA? A sort of archeology of my genome.

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There is also a sort of reckoning. The French dumped us and abandoned us to the hands of the English 400 years ago and much pain came to my ancestors, our licence plate in Quebec says : Je me souviens. I remember… Yes I do remember. But today`s French people are not at all concerned with these long gone histories. A boat sunk yesterday and that occupied much of the talk in the cafe.

So, yeah. I left Istanbul on Sunday. Flew into Orly, met a French speaking Turk at the airport who helped me get on my way to the A10. I am hitchhiking. I am dirt poor. Those who say you must be rich to travel are lying. But you must put out more efforts and be willing to not know what is next. It is a zero expectation, 100% in the moment kind of thing. I like it.

The sun shines, spring is looming, there is a greening spreading, tiny blooms appearing, birds singing. I am alive.

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I made it to the freeway access ramp. I have a sign on which I wrote ‘Orléans’ that is the first big city on the way south. I took an A4 piece of paper and folded it, writing a different city on each segment. Orléans, Vierzon, Limoges. My destination is Limoges where I`ll meet a friend and stay a few nights. The first ride is with a young guy, we barely go 10 KM but at least I broke the bad spell I had 4 years ago when no one would pick us up in France… Then ride number two. Again, the driver says he`s not going far, but at least I am advancing I`m thinking. He stops in the middle of nowhere, then says to me :

« Ça te déranges si je me caresse pendant que je te regarde?

(do you mind if I caress myself while I look at you?)

– Oui. I answered as I took my bags

– T’es sûre?
(Are you sure?)

– Oui, absolument certaine.

I shut the door and shook my head. Really?? I had never been asked that question before. It seemed so stupid. His shy bespectacled face with the eyes slightly crossed. Young, maybe 25 at most. But the thing I then realized was that he dropped me off in the middle of nowhere. There was a ramp to the highway but the few cars were mostly heading north towards Paris not down this road south. I waited there with my ‘Orléans’ sign for maybe 20 minutes, I ate some of the hard-boiled eggs I had prepared, then understood that I would not get a ride like this. The sun was slightly edging down and it reminded me that I did not want to be on the highway in the dark. So I started to walk towards the highway, knowing full well that hitch-hiking on the speedways is not allowed in France.

I had been walking for about 10 minutes when I heard a horn behind me. I looked back. Cops. A big blue van with two cops in it. They first were a bit tough but I told them about the previous driver and they became immediately helpful.

“Vous avez une description de la voiture?  La marque? Le numéro d’imatriculation”

“Non.” 

So within moments I was in a French police van riding down the highway. They dropped me off at  a rest area for truckers next to a highway toll station. They lectured me for a while about the do`s and don`ts of hitchhiking in France, letting me know that by law,  I was not allowed to go on the road and between the toll booths but since it was really hard, they tolerated it if you thumbed next to the road. They then left.

I didn`t take very long for me to realize that this rest area was deserted. No one came here.  In 30 minutes 2 cars went by. I was torn, Can`t go on the road where all these hundreds of cars were passing by, but I could sit in this rest area for the rest of the month without a hint of a chance to get a ride. I walked up the area.  Then I walked down the area asking myself « what am I gonna do!! What am I gonna do!» Finally I approached the toll booths. There was no other option and I understood clearly why the cops brought it up, it was the only way out.   I looked. The cars would come so fast and just accelerate madly out. It seemed crazy, but at the same time, I had to make something happen, so from the outside of the lane, behind the cement wall, I stuck out my ‘Orléans’ sign.  Almost immediately, a car stopped. I could not believe it. I climbed the parapet then ran to the minivan. It was a family. A boy of about 6 or 7 was sleeping in his child seat, there was a big acoustic guitar case in the back and in the front, the parents. I got in and down the road we went.

“Are you musicians? I asked

“No, just amateurs. and we were on our way.

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I kept looking out. Not wanting to miss anything, but eventually I fell asleep. My 4 hour pre-flight night of sleep was catching up with me. We didn`t talk. I just relaxed. They told me they were going to do a small detour to leave me in a good spot for the next ride. A bit past Vierzon I got off. It was a gas station-restaurant road stop. I used the washroom and went out immediately. I walked close to the exit that was leading to the highway, ate a carrot and changed my sign which now read ‘Limoges’.

I barely finished my carrot that a car stopped, a young couple in a powerful car. We sped down the road, the guy telling me about music and culture in France. They too made a detour, taking me directly to the Gare Monjovis. I had made it and there was still daylight. I was beaming. I read somewhere, sometime back that ‘Happiness the overcoming of not unknowable obstacles toward a known goal.’ Today definitely was that.

When I had first tried to plan my journey it had been impossible to find a bus or a blabla car at reasonable price or time. I would have had to wait 4 hours at the bus station and arrive at 11 PM for 35 Euro. I only had to pay 2 euros for the bus to Gare Massy.

Wednesday was time to hit the road again. We had a last most excellent espresso at the ‘Fabrique du Café’ in Limoges then my friend and I said goodbyes and we headed both in opposite directions. Somehow I could never quite get my bearings in Limoges, the circular and diagonal system of roads left me baffled, especially without sun to give a a sort of compass. I went slowly, making sure I was on the right path. The idea was to reach the N 141 going West by way of Arman Dutreix road. My pack is not too heavy but the bag with my laptop is a real burden. Electronics are always heavy, but I figured out a way to wear it on my chest so I was wrapped with bags front and back which was actually an advantage because the wind was fierce and the temperature quite low compared to Istanbul. I walked about 3 KM, despite the cold, it was sunny and the silent walk was good. As I neared the autoroute, I pulled out my new sign : Angoulême.

It took maybe 15 minutes, a car with a young couple stopped, they were not going far but I figured this was good start. I got out of their car 10km further I had just put my pack back on my back when a car immediately stopped. A man in his 30`s wearing a suit and looking all business like took me in. Florian just came from a job interview, he had been up at 3 am to get from Bordeaux to Limoges. He said he aced the interview. There were two baguettes on the car`s dashboard, he told me all sorts of stories, we talked for the whole ride. Then off I went, somewhere just outside Angoulême. I put my ‘Saintes’ sign up, this guy stopped and said : this is not the way! As I looked up the road signs I realized that I had to get off this road via the next exit 800 meters further. So he said : Come in! I`ll take you there. So I hopped in the car with the bags still on my back, he dropped me off safely and I was down on a new road heading to Cognac. Wanting to be sure I was heading in the right direction I walked in a bakery close by. The woman was so kind as to call the local bus company to see if there were busses to Cognac. There was 1 but I would have to wait for an hour, so I figured I`d try to get a ride and if I was not successful in an hour I could always take the bus.

This time, Dominic picked me up. A middle aged, motorcycle rider who was now coming back from work and telling me that he was not going to do more today. He said he has been riding motorcycles for 30 years, owns a BMW 1200 and was now getting his new girlfriend used to ride. They are planning a ride to Portugal in the summer. He too made a detour to put me in a safe place, a big one at that, people are so kind to me! Then I immediately caught another ride with a musician this time. He ended up taking me 50 km out of his way (which meant 100 as he had to get back home later) And there I was. On the Ile d’Oléron. I was a bit tired but mostly elated. People are amazing.

In Oléron I will be doing an art project.  I found this project on Workaway.info a web site offering volunteering opportunities to travelers in exchange for room and board.  There are all sorts of projects, from baby sitting, language help, farm work, hostel work, meditation retreats… everything.  My project here is about creating a work inspired by the place.  Today was my first day to discover this place and my eyes are full.

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4 Responses to “Bon voyage”

  1. Madeleine Filion Says:

    Dans ma cuisine, j’ai fait le voyage avec toi xxxxx


  2. Hi Danielle,
    I am a friend of Sarah Granett’s, whom you met in Istanbul. I live in Le Château d’Oléron !
    Elle a réalisé que nous étions dans le même village en voyant les photos sur ton blog.
    Je serais contente de te rencontrer et d’en savoir plus sur ton projet. Tu veux bien ?
    J’ai un atelier sur le port, où je fabrique des trucs avec du plastique ramassé sur la plage. Je te dirais bien de passer à l’atelier (atelier 18, route d’Ors, une cabane bleue et verte) mais en ce moment je n’y suis pas souvent car mon chauffage est en panne.

    Véronique Belot


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