Saturday, November 12, 2005

Ahhh, Vacation

I am in Auvergne, again at the house of mes amis Parisiens. It is All Saints Day weekend (no Halloween celebration for me), and I have no school on Tuesday; so naturally, I skipped my classes on Friday and today (Monday).
I took a train from Caen to Paris, and then hitched a ride with the family to Auvergne (the house is near the city of Issoire). The cast of regulars is all here: grandmother, several aunts and uncles, cousins, friends from town, and it’s nice to be among them all again.
I arrived late Friday night (dinner at 11:30), and Saturday was spent at the market, then taking photos of the fall foliage. We were joined for dinner by Giles and Muriel (more cousins), who have a vacation home a few villages away. They invited me to stay the night at their house, and participate in the Ballade d’Auvergne the next day (Sunday).
The Ballade d’Auvergne isn’t any kind of oral lament or celebration of the region—it’s a walk—or what I thought would be a walk. Ballade in French is a kind of a promenade: a sightseeing promenade. I was under the impression this ballade was a guided walking tour of the surrounding villages, with wine tasting and a traditional lunch following. Here is why I was confused: I was told that there would be “beaucoup du vent (pronounced vehn)” or a lot of wind—but I heard “beaucoup du vin (pronounced vihn)”—or a lot of wine. I had planned on leisurely strolling the countryside, making casual conversation with others, and taking some fun pictures. But this ballad wasn’t even a walking tour of the surrounding villages. It was a full on 10-mile + nature hike in the mountains, mud, and even across pastures. With cows. My little promenade was, in fact, an adventure trail. I did not discover this until, after one kilometer, the trail veered off the road and onto a small path, over a bridge-less creek, and up the face of a rock wall.
To prepare me for this tribulation, I was told I would need a good pair of shoes (my now worn and beaten Pumas: check), a windbreaker (light-weight gortex jacket: check), and layers, as it can get cold in the higher elevations (t-shirt, fleece: check). I was not warned, however, that I would need hiking boots, wool socks as my feet would invariably become soaked, or a water bottle (again, I was looking forward to a day of wine tasting) and small provisions for energy (I had skipped breakfast).
My ass got kicked. I should have taken heed when I saw everyone at registration with backpacks, boots, and walking sticks. People where actually doing stretches and warming up as I sat drinking cider and taking pictures.
I started off at 9:15 a.m. at a brisk pace; I was walking alone and didn’t want to be the last one to finish—it wasn’t a race, but that would’ve been just too humiliating. I made it to the first checkpoint in an hour. Not bad, but there were 5 checkpoints—best hurry if I want to make it in before 3 p.m. The next few were relatively close together, but the terrain was tough and each took at least one 40 minutes to get to. The volunteers at each stop marked down that I made it, offered me a dried prune or fig, and asked me, with a regard filled half with pity, half with confusion, “Vous êtes toute seul?” (you’re all alone?).
The final stretch was the roughest. It began with a steep descent down a paved road (tears were actually forming on my kneecaps), and then up an equally steep hill (funny how that works), through a small village where people where lined on the side of the road as if the Tour de France was making its way through main street, then off the beaten, across yet another pasture, and into the woods. Once clear of the forest, I saw the village of St. Etienne (the starting and finish line) and almost began to cry.
This had not been my idea of a leisure stroll. I was sprained and scratched and bleeding, had tasted no wine, and actually been deceived into paying money to play. I arrived. There was no prize, no title of prestige; no one had even really recognized that the American had made it back. Giles and Muriel (two organizers of the event) weren’t even there to say “Job well done.” And when I did search them out, all they said was how glad they were it wasn’t raining, and how lucky I was to be in Auvergne for such an event (apparently, it only happens once each year. Apparently, they have never done it).
Lunch was beef Bourgogne, local cheese, apple tart, and apple cider. No wine.
I called my friends to let them know I was finished and that they could come to retrieve me as planned. They said they had just sat down to eat, but would be by when finished. No problem. Giles and Muriel are super, and volunteered to show me the village of St. Etienne. 20 people live in St. Etienne. There is one street and a handful of driveways, a small café, a church that has no priest—and therefore, no congregants, and a school which doubles as town hall. We were finished in 20 minutes. My friends, I would later find out, received visitors and had forgotten me. I spent most of the afternoon and early evening helping Giles and Muriel prepare for a dinner party to which I had not been invited. They were not put-out by my presence—on the contrary, I think they enjoyed having me, but I felt a little like my parents had forgotten to pick me up after basketball practice (which happened a lot during the divorce and took me to kind of a bad place. I don’t want to talk about it…).
Ahhh, vacation.

10 pts. for character:
"Look kids, there's Big Ben, Parliment"


Blogger European said...

Yikes. Doctor Sonja says: Have some wine now!

Is it Charles Griswald?

5:07 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold in European Vacation.

I needed a glass of wine after just reading about that experience!

6:25 PM  
Blogger European said...

Ahh, Clark. That's what I meant. Or who. Ha!

1:49 AM  

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