Head for Milan. Barely missed desired IR, but that’s okay, because we had to hit Padova anyway because I’d left my camera battery charger at the hostel there. Regional to Verona, IR to Milano. One-Star Venicia was nice, had a TV – CNN! $49 for the eve, no bath. Out to dinner at self-service Brek – fun, good, inexpensive, watch the guy cook.
We lingered in bed the next morning, our last morning together. I saw Janet off on her bus to Malpensa from the train station, where I was left with a desire to use the WC, which the station had, for a humble €,60. I scanned the entire facility, and concluded that I was definitely about to take my first dump in a pit toilet. I was intimidated, but found a nice big stall where I could crouch opposite my bag, slide my pants to my ankles, and hover over the hole, making sure everything was clear for the trip down. Aside from a slight leg cramp, the experience went well, and I left the toilet facility beaming the smile of a man who has just mastered some arcane secret. But, it wasn’t like I could brag to anyone in my foreign language as to how proud I was, as a grown man, to have mastered something as mundane as a toilet.
I decided to head for Trieste to get to Slovenia. Why not? I was accosted by two panhandlers the moment the machine issued my ticket and change. One spoke English, the other did not, both had googly eyes. 24€ via Venice.
On the train from Venezia Mestre to Trieste I considered my options. The Lonely Planet book Janet had left me omitted Trieste. A black hole. My Hostelling International guide listed a hostel 8km NNW of city center. That did not sound promising.
Upon arrival, it was pretty clear that I was at the End of Italy, a narrow strip of territory between Slovenia and the sea. The departure schedule at the station had about half or a third as many entries as any other Italian station I’d been at. Most trains were bound for Udine or Venezia, one or two Eurostars for Milan, Rome, trains for Bucharest, one or two overnight to Romania, Germany . . .
To Ljubljana, it was a bus. The bus left at 1730, and arrived after 2000. I considered my options, and decided that I’d rather not struggle around Ljubljana in the dark after the Tourist Information Center had closed. How to get to the Trieste hostel?
A tobaccanist told me which bus to take, and sold me a ticket. On the bus, I gave my seat up to an old lady, and considered whom would be best to ask for the right stop. A middle-aged man looking over my shoulder saw the address for the hostel, and explained that it was a nice place, right on the beach, near the castle. All of this was communicated with hand grestures. I answered his questions as to my origin, and the old lady and her old lady friend mavelled to each other all the more with each progressive answer, “America.” “California!” “Chicago!!”
They didn’t elaborate, though.
The guy then indicated that I should get off. The bus actually stopped right behind the hostel, but it was necessary to walk back down the road a piece to switchback to its front door, on a beautiful, rocky coast, with Trieste visible back where I’d come from, and a castle just a stone’s throw away in the other direction, which the guy on the bus had praised and explained that it was important to visit.
Upon checkin, the lady looked up at me and asked if I was related to the famous American movie director Ron Howard. No, but people have told me I remind them of Richard Cunningham plenty of times before.
The garden at Maximilian’s Castle.
After breakfast this morning, I strode with an Italian and a German pre-school teacher over to Maximilian’s Castle, built on the Adriatic coast, a few meters from the Ostello. The castle was nice and luxurious, and the gardens were very pleasant. I could see why the guy on the bus had talked the castle up: you could very easily kill a morning or an afternoon just relaxing in the tranquil gardens.
I thought that it was interesting that during the whole of her trip, horticulturist Janet managed to miss every botanical garden she wanted to visit along the way, and the day after, I find myself standing amongst a wide variety of trees, and an Italian garden. Unfortunately, she was no longer at my side to rattle off horticultural trivia.
I missed the bus that would have gotten me to the train station on time to catch the train for Budapest that would have gotten me to Ljubljana. I actually saw the bus pull up, and decided that if I ran with my bags, I was unlikely to make it. Best to leave things to chance. I caught the next bus twenty minutes later.
At the station, I saw on the board that the 1036 for Budapest that could get me to Ljubljana was running twenty-five minutes late! It was still there! If only I could possibly purchased a ticket in an Italian train station in time! A mere twelve minutes later I ran down the hall with my €20 ticket and was seated in a train compartment. A moment later, the train rolled from the station.
The train lingered for a while at the Italian-Slovenian border. Time enough to check passports and switch engines. This was the first time I crossed out of the EU.
I could swear that the first bus had lingered for me to catch it. I could swear that the Italian ticket line somehow managed to squeak me through just in a nick of time to catch the train that just happened to be sufficiently late to pick me up. So, I had to wonder, what awaited me in Ljubljana?
The ride to Ljubljana was beautiful, rolling gently back and forth through hilly terrain that put me in mind of Wisconsin. I got some SIT from an ATM, which told me that my balance was 971,604.27 SIT. So, even in Slovenia, I’m not a millionaire. I had become accustomed to calculating old lire prices by dividing by 2,000, so it was difficult to deal with the fact that prices were quoted to me with the decimal point slid once to the right, as SITs are valued about 230 to the dollar. It is also hard to deal with the locals talking about “tolars” which sound like “dollars” so that the price I can most readily grasp is “euros” which is essentially the same as the “dollars” that I am used to, though the Slovenians have to adjust from calling them “marks”.
I spent a lot of time walking around town comparing hotel prices. The best I could find was €42 at the “cheap” Park Hotel. The hostels are only open in the summer: right now they are student dorms. I could have gone 4km over to the “Bit Center” which is a hotel and sports complex. They evidently have dormitory beds as well. I settled for a room in a guest house for two nights at $20 per, courtesy of the Tourist Information Center.
The lady at the guest house had me trade my shoes for slippers, and set me up on the top floor, in a cozy attic room. It was a double that she was letting to me at the “single use” rate of 4,500 SIT. The cozy double made me long for Janet, which made me feel all the more lonely for travelling alone.
That evening I hiked back into the center of town for an unremarkable dinner, after which I retrieved my bag from the train station. The weather was bad, so I stayed in and drowned my loneliness by playing “Civilization 3” on the laptop for a couple of hours. It worked well, and seemed a decent solution given that I had finished _Catch 22_ and was otherwise out of reading material, alone in a single room in a house, without the socializing opportunities of a good youth hostel.
That night I slept beneath a solid roof that was battered by a wonderfully fierce thunderstorm.
This morning I was up at 6:30, greeted by the old lady en route to the bathroom. It was dark, cold, and rainy outside, and I didn’t have anything I really felt like doing, so I slept in. I left the room at around 11:00, at which hour it was sunny outside, though cold. I wandered toward center, casually shopping around for outer wear, which I could not find for less than twice the price of my nightly lodging.
I started feeling pretty euphoric about the weather, because it felt just like Chicago ought to feel like at this time of year – cold and rainy, with mushy, wet, golden leaves smooshing underfoot. The country feels less like a former communist republic on its surface, but more like one of the northern countries, filled with hot, blond and dark-haired women, and bike paths. Everyone waits for the walk signal before crossing the street.
I wandered around looking for lunch. I settled for a doner kebap, which is like gyros, only without so much meat. I wandered in to the edge of Tivoli Park via viaducts under the roadway and railway. The viaducts were decorated with some excellent graffiti. I had a brief conversation with a lonely reception clerk who was standing outside his museum of contemporary Slovenian history. I found a little stand selling good, greasy-smelling horse burgers, which I might have preferred for lunch. I pet a black cat who was looking forward to what seems to be a regular meal from the horse burger stand staff. I checked out the modern art museum, which sucked, though it was inexpensive.
I felt lonely and homesick, and found the adjacent American Embassy, guarded by some local cop. I asked did I need a reason to visit, or could I just drop in for the hell of it? “You’re an American citizen? Sure, just follow the walkway there – Route 66!” I walked up to the front, peered in the window, which had a small lobby and a teller window. It seemed uninviting. I went back to the steps and admired the Eagle, with its shield, and the head pointed towards the talon holding the olive branch. I considered taking a picture of the American Embassy sign, with its eagle, but then figured maybe they would just as soon not have people walking up to the embassy and taking pictures and leaving. On the way out, I remarked to the guide that however nice it was to step on American soil, for a moment, it was fantastically boring.
I dropped by the Cybercafe I had spotted the day before. The guy explained that the Internet had been broken there since yesterday, and I explained that maybe I’d brought bad luck to town, I’d leave tomorrow. I had a beer, instead, accompanied by the loud techno music the guy likes to play. I wrote in my journal, and then I drew a few pictures, concentrating on stuff like perspective and curved lines. The beer left me feeling really good – half a liter for about $1.50.
I decided that two things I needed to do were consult my Lonely Planet book to figure out my next move, and drop by the train station to figure out where I could go and when. The train station and my room were both North of the center area where I was. I picked a new route to wander that way, and ended up in narrow streets bordered by tall buildings and a construction project. I saw some guys sitting around on the corner, drinking beers, with a bull-dog. Another beer struck me as a good idea, so when I found a corner store a block away, I got one, and some breakfast / travel provisions. I’d met what amounted to a dead end on my route, so I headed back around. The dog saw my grocery bag and figured I’d make a good friend. I asked the guys was he hungry, but no, he was The People’s Dog, he gets fed all the time, and he eats any time he can.
I spent some time petting the dog, enjoying my beer, and talking to Tom, and his other friends, who were mostly named Tom, except for Matthew. They were all about my age. The story seemed to be that they were a crowd of unemployed, recovering drug addicts. One guy complained about his methadone addiction, another guy told me about the MBA he was wasting and the lovely girlfriend in France he had lost to his own dirty habits. Tom seemed surprised that I hadn’t had a joint since Amsterdam, and rolled a weak one that was passed around. Tom later bought two more beers, one for himself, and one for The People. I gave him some gum. It was a good way to spend the afternoon.
Around 1900 I walked over to the movie theater, where they were showing “Red Dragon” in English with Slovenian subtitles. Not bad. At one point Lecter mouths the words “thank you” and I totally understood the lip movements and the “Hvala” of the subtitles, as “hvala” and “dober dan” are the two Slovenian expressions I use whenever I get the chance.
It was dark and cold when the movie let out. I hustled home at a brisk pace to keep warm. Along the way I passed some giggly teenage boys who were casually vandalizing the antenna and windshield wipers of a Volkswagen Jetta.
Walking to the train station this morning, I spotted a street sign pointing towards the “Railway Museum” which the Tourist Information Center at the train station knew nothing about, when I dropped off my luggage. The railway information guy gave me a route to Lyon that departed Ljubljana at 1610, so I had several hours to kill. I studied my map and figured a promising position along the railway lines for a train museum to live, and headed over that way.
And I found it.
It was a roundhouse.
Filled with steam engines.
And guys in a work shop restoring steam engines.
Upstairs, I was greeted by the friendly curator, who explained that the TIC knew nothing about the train museum because it hadn’t opened yet – they were still putting the museum part of it together. I was, however, welcome to wander around, so long as I did so cautiously.
There were more than half a dozen steam engines that they had already restored, resting indoors, and at least a half dozen more rusting away outside, waiting for some TLC. And spare parts everywhere, and dozens of men working on projects. This “train museum” was no casual volunteer undertaking. Judging by the Curator’s business card, it seemed to be a funded project of the state railway.
Wandering back from my Nirvana, I spied a cafeteria, where I scored a plate of brown glop and steamed potatoes, a salad, and an iced tea with a picture of a lonely penguin on it for about $3.50. The brown glop contained cabbage and meat, the salad was lettuce, tomatoes, a couple human hairs, and a couple of tiny insects, for added protein. I picked out the hairs, added salt and pepper to the glop and potatoes, and oil and vinegar to the salad, which I figured was originally invented to kill tiny insects, and the meal was good. The sides of the ice tead box described the drink in several languages. One of them was English:
Refreshing non-carbonated soft drink made of vegetable extract based on hips.
Added natural flavour of passion fruit and peach.
Total dry solid: min. 8%.
Free from preservatives!
Energy value: 34kcal (145kJ)/100 ml
Ingredients: water, sugar, extract of hips, citric acid, flavour.
Seen from this perspective, the brown glop and buggy salad weren’t nearly as exotic as the iced tea, which tasted kind of like peach jello.
Back at the train station I asked the price to Venicia, my first leg of the journey to Nice. It was more SIT than I had, and more than I wanted to spend, so I asked the price to Trieste instead, which was more SIT than I had, but I managed to fix this by giving a money changer €5. I figured that I could probably get away with using my train pass from Trieste, as it would be in Italy, after 7PM, counted against tomorrow, though it would be open to debate as to whether my patchwork itinerary counted as a “direct overnight train.” I could always ask ahead of time and see if there was enough time to purchase a proper ticket in euros from the ticket machine at Trieste. Changing money makes me crazy.
I then wandered over to the library to sit for a little while and do some data entry. The only part of the library that I could enter without being a member was the card catalog / Internet room. I sat at a broken terminal with my laptop for awhile, and worked on the log, then I stood in line to check e-mail, a free service, on a terminal that was pretty well locked down, but I was able to find a site with a working java SSH client that let me connect to pianosa to read my e-mail. It turns out that Dave, who runs pianosa, and is storing my stuff, is moving to Evanston, the suburb just north of Chicago, right near mom’s house. Rene had offered to store my belongings in Oakland, while Dave was willing to adopt the futon, though he needed to talk to Angel about baby-sitting the car. Exciting stuff …
I grabbed some super-tasty strawberry gelato on the way back, picked up my big red bag from the luggage storage, and blew another 170 SIT on a coffee topped with whipped cream, leaving me with just over 40 SIT, or about twenty American cents worth of souvenirs, before boarding the train for Venicia. My compartment was shared with a trio of Slovenian girls, one of whom cursed the train for resting an extra ten minutes in the station – though I recall sitting at border stations forever on my way in, on a train twenty-five minutes late. They later practiced English dialog on each other, while I worked some more on updating the log, sharing their giggles.
Between Trieste and Venicia, nobody ever asked me for a ticket. We arrived at Venicia somewhere around 10PM, and I was hungry – I grabbed some McDonalds. As I stumbled through ordering a Big Mac with only lettuce and cheese in Spanitalienglish, I had this weird “parallel universe” experience as I forked over €5,10, a little blue bill and a bronze coin, whereas I’d do the exact same thing in America for the exact same reason, only the $5.10 would be a regular green bill with a big portrait of Lincoln on it, and the coin would be this tiny little silver thing with ridged edges.
Otherwise, everything was the same, except for the placemat that described, in Italian, how it was all Italian beef, adorned with fresh, quality ingredients, accompanied by a picture of a Big Mac with an Italian flag sticking out of it.
I used to work at Burger King!
I used to have it my way!
Now I’ve got an M-16!
I kill Iraqis my way!
Airborne Ranger is what I want to be,
You get to shoot!
It was too late to arrange for a couchette or anything at Venicia. I grabbed a first-class compartment and reclined the seats together. In an Italian compartment, there are two rows of three seats each that face each other. When two opposing seats are fully reclined, they meet each other and form a fairly flat sleeping surface. In this way, it is possible for three people to sleep comfortably in such a compartment. I wondered what happens when the compartments become more than half full? Feets and faces? Not an issue for me, I had the place to myself.
I had a different issue. The compartment door had no lock. I could not fathom how I could jury-rig one. I stowed my heavier big red bag in the rack above my head, and clipped the arm strap around the rack; Safe from the casual snatcher. The lighter small backpack I stowed under my window seat with my shoes. I then reclined my bed, and reclined the middle set of seats, leaving my backpack pretty well concealed, with more room for me to stretch out.
It must have been at Verona that I stirred and saw a man sitting upright in the seat by the door. He had de-reclined the middle seat by my head, and was sitting with his right leg splayed into the space it had freed. I sat up to appraise my new roommate, and something just didn’t feel right. I sat and watched him a little while, dazed with sleep. I started adding things up. He wouldn’t greet me or even look at me in any way, he seemed pretty uptight. Fair enough. He had no luggage. Okay, maybe he’s just taking a late ride between two stations. Why did he choose to sit in my dark compartment, which had had the door shut and curtains drawn, when the train was barely populated? Surely there must be a more favorable seat. He had moved my newspaper across the compartment, and when I retrieved it he made no note of having moved my stuff around. If you rearrange someone’s possessions and wake them up, and you desire to spend some portion of the night in their company, the least you can muster is a sheepish grin.
My creep detector started to go off. This guy had his foot inches away from my backpack, whose company I valued greatly. He was hoping I’d be tired enough to relax and go back to sleep while the train was still waiting in the station. After that, he could make off with my bag. Well, this was my suspicion. After a few minutes of tense waiting, he skulked off down the hallway. After the train left the station, I checked around for him, and I found no sign, just a lot of dark, empty compartments with open doors.
Along the idea that perhaps the authorities would want a description of a suspicious person to keep an eye out for, I tried to talk to the conductor about it. He said he’d send someone around who spoke more English. I was later visited by a pair of chubby women, who explained that there would be police on the train at Milan, but they seemed to lose interest once I clarified that I wasn’t actually robbed.
I chalked it up to a victory for me, for taking some basic precautions to secure my belongings, and to trusting my instincts and wits enough to keep an eye on the guy. Even though I’d technically won the encounter, I’d passed the test, and, above all, I hadn’t lost the laptop computer, images, travel journal, postcards, and other important belongings that rest in the small backpack, the experience put me off balance and it was some hours before I could relax again.
While the night train was bound for Nice, with a comfortable 0900 arrival, the itinerary I had been given by the Slovenian information guy, who seemed to me only slightly bent, had me change trains at Genova, and again at Torino to arrive at Lyon at noon. I could swear there must be a decent train running between Nice and Lyon at a not-too-inconvenient hour, but who am I to argue with an itinerary printed out from no less august an establishment than the Deutsche Bahn web site, the information resource of choice for Slovenian information types, which should surely be more accurate than the outdated CD-ROM the French use.
So, I was up at 4AM, on a truly uncomfortable Italian train with the exact same itinerary as the one I’d been scheduled for, but with the convenience of running an hour earlier. It was quite chilly at Torino, in the early morning, but the subsequent ride through the beautiful French Alps was mind-blowingly worth it.
I arrived in Lyon around noon. I splurged for a Metro trip, that had the added benefit of getting me on the funicular up the steep hill the hostel rests upon. After making my bed, for €12 per night, I visited the Museum of Gallo-Roman History, which was chock full of ancient artifacts, and Lyonnaise history: Lyon was the provincial capital of Roman Gaul. Pretty mosaics. I wandered downhill through the city, keeping an eye out for somewhere I could grab a padlock, or, later on, a decent meal. I found no padlock and I ended up eating kebap, but I did find a book store with a small English section, and thus a replacement for _Catch 22_, and a free map of Lyon from the tourist center. After that I heard some commotion, and ended up wandering the streets with crowds of young French, accompanied by trucks rigged with trailers blasting dance music. From what I could gather, they were protesting new laws that gave the police more power and robbed the people of civil liberties.
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French cops in riot gear are saluted by French youth with mohawk,
using but one finger.
I wandered along with them, for the hell of it. At one point there was a throng of police down a side street, clad in riot gear. This seemed weird to me, as I’ve never seen such a thing at an American protest – are the French more skull-crackin’ old-school? Nobody I talked to understood why they were guarding such a side street. Then they advanced, and entered one side of the street we were on, which caused some consternation among the demonstrators. It was a tense scene at which my camera ran out of batteries soon after I figured out that the police had advanced in riot gear to form a protective barricade around their station, to fend off whatever harm might be caused by a somewhat anarchistic crowd that was protesting police power.
Fair enough. The crowd passed without incident, and proceeded to the park in front of the Perrache train station, at which point the procession turned in to a small rave, an event, with jugglers, a fire-breathing maniac, three different sound systems, and dogs rolling around in the fountains. It was all very funky, and one of the truck managers was kind enough to stow my backpack with its computer for me while I got my dance on. I hadn’t done such a thing since California. I bummed two tokes off an extremely stoned youngster. The party broke up at 19h30.
It turns out that I and many others woke up an hour early, because the French came off Daylight Savings Time while we slept. After breakfast, I went with a Japanese roommate, Michiaki, to visit the printing museum, which was extremely fascinating, then another kebab for lunch, and a visit to the conteporary art museum, which balanced out the printing museum by sucking in the extreme. We spoke French the whole way, as we felt more comfortable doing so in France than we did in testing out his English. It all went pretty well. I had a hard time remembering what I’d shared walking and talking Michiaki that I had not already shared in a long French conversation with a pair of young Japanese cuteys back at the hostel the evening before. It was all good, though. Well, except for the contemporary art museum, which I repeat, thoroughly sucked and was without the slightest shred of redeeming value except for the big dark room that was interesting for its sensory deprivation.
Next to the contemporary art museum was a movie theater which was playing Michael Moore’s new movie, “Bowling for Columbine” in English. I went and saw that, while my companion went his own way, since he didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of following a movie by reading French subtitles.
The movie was a grand dialog about contemporary American society, concerned with the roots of our epidemic problem of gun violence. He managed to keep from getting preachy and self-righteous, sticking to his strength of trying to offer and sympathize with all points of view. The result, in my opinion, was nothing short of fantastic, and if you have the opportunity to see this film, I strongly encourage you to do so, preferably with a group of friends or loved ones that you can share an interesting conversation with afterwards. The image of NRA President Charlton Heston, Moses himself, retreating uncomfortably from the image of a six year old girl who was shot and killed by her six year old classmate … well, it is a classic moment. Priceless, and filled with complex, genuine emotion. I loved it!
Inquisitive deer inspects camera to determine edibility.
After the movie, I walked through the park where the cinema and the museum were located, snapping some fun pictures of deer they had in the park along the way, after visiting a greenhouse. I walked clear to the other side of Lyon to visit the Urban Museum, which was closed by the time I got there at 1800, but seemed to consist primarily of giant, outdoor murals, half of which were missing their interpretive signposts.
I purchased une demi-baguette, some confiture des fraises, and a pastry to snack on back at the hostel, with the juice and cheese I’d bought the night before, whilst updating the journal. On the way back, I discovered another, cheaper theater, that was closer to the hostel, and was playing “Signs” in English. After that, I found a place just down the hill from the hostel, that would sell me an Internet hook-up for €3 per hour. By dinner, I had the next days itinerary set up: Fine Arts Museum, movie, Internet access, and laundry. Yay!
I visited the Fine Arts museum with Michiaki. That took about two hours. Not bad. Lunch, then we found the national bank where Michiaki was able to exchange some old Francs for Euros, then we walked down to Perrache, en route to the theater, where he was able to cash in some of his Franc traveler’s checks at the Thomas Cook exchange office. We bummed around the movie theater for an hour before show time, my companion still somewhat fatigued from jet-lag, having arrived just four days earlier. He joined me for “Signs” which was a very silly, but otherwise pretty good flick. Michiake explained that he understood about two thirds of the French subtitles, while I thought about how the movie represented the American sense of fear based in alienation, a strong theme from “Bowling for Columbine” the day before, and wondering quietly whether this particular fear from alienation was representative of Fear of the Unknown Terror(ists), or simple old-fashioned Fear of the Black Man.
I think too much.
It could just as well be Fear of Technology, but that would be too obvious, after the younger brother goes on this tirade about how this is all just an elaborate hoax perpetrated by thirty year old men who never got to have girlfriends, the Nerds, who are able to orchestrate hoaxes on a more massive scale now thanks to the Internet, simply because they never have anything better to do.
Fear of Microsoft.
And the little girls asks, concerned, “Why couldn’t they have girlfriends?”
Okay, perhaps Signs is a great movie.
Afterwards, I dropped anchor at the Internet cafe I’d found the day before, Caps Lock, just downhill from the hostel, and checked in on my own elaborate hoax, after which I enjoyed a chicken basmati at the Gandhi restaurant a few meters away, across from the Funicular station. Great service. Not horrible prices.
Back at the hostel, laundry took only two hours. I saw that the wash was available in an “eco” version, which, after Hamburg, I carefully avoided. Wash took an hour and a half, and a half hour more to dry. I napped for half-hour intervals, and during one of my “check-if-the-laundry-is-finished-yet” runs I found myself in conversation with a Taiwanese girl, drying her hair in the stairwell. She was considering the Contemporary Art Museum, the Lumiere Museum, and the Musée Urbain Tony Garnier. I discouraged her from the first of those, and was tempted by the latter two, not to mention the companionship, and the savings from another day at the €12 hostel. I decided to sleep on it.
When I ran into Yiling at breakfast, I still felt ambivalent about whether I wanted to press on, or stay another day. I returned to the room and packed everything up, but as I’ve been carrying my small bag around with little more than the laptop, you know, for security, and I couldn’t easily fit everything else into the larger bag to store it while exploring town, it was either stay or go. The towel was still damp from my shower late the chilly night before. I went downstairs to meet Yiling and pay for another day.
Yiling had met up with another Taiwanese girl, Emily, who is a student, staying at the hostel while waiting for student housing. We walked downhill with Michiaki, who travels fantastically light, and who was headed to the train station for his next adventure. Emily and Michiaki spoke with each other in French, while Yiling and I conversed in English. Yiling had just finished a one-year Master’s program in London. Michiaki had just given me his contact information in Tokyo. Once we saw him off, I noted with a smile that we had a language triangle, as the girls knew Mandarin, and Yiling spoke English with me, while Emily and I shared French.
We took Yiling’s bag to a locksmith, who cut the defective combination lock off of it, and I finally got to purchase the padlock I had been seeking. After that, we visited the Lumiere Museum, which was fairly interesting, especially the old school color prints, that had a bit of a pointillist feel about them. I was reminded again about how all the museums have tended to play up Lyon’s important role in history, and felt a bit of kinship at the whole sense of civic pride that Chicago has been known to derive from its own “second city” insecurities.
After Lumiere, we saw Emily off, who had to get to class. Yiling and I had a cool lunch in a little working-class place which served copious quantities of frites with the food. We ate at a liesurely pace, as I answered Yiling’s questions about how Americans felt about George Bush and the environment and Yiling answered my questions about how Taiwan feels about itself and China.
I explained that most Americans, even if they didn’t vote for him, were inclined to suffer through his presidency without too much complaint, because there was only so much damage he could achieve in four years, compared to the trouble it takes to change a government that one is less than happy with. The environment? Many Americans aren’t inclined to worry about it, and those of us who are, generally don’t see it as worth beating our heads against the wall while our little oil prince is in power. The environment takes time to affect, and the few years that George has left at the realm aren’t going to make a really big difference.
Yiling explained that the Taiwanese people, especially the youngest generation, see themselves as a people distinct from China. She explained that, for example, when traveling abroad, the whole “Taiwan is neither China nor is it actually a nation thing” is at best, an irritating nuisance. In Taiwan, she said, Identity is very important, how Taiwanese see themselves, to such a degree that Nationalist fervor has become something of an annoying litmus test at all levels of politics. The ultimate question was whether it was worth risking War … blood … would you die for the idea of Taiwan?
Yes. And I hope that if it comes to that, you will help us.
I offered my opinion that, given our own history, the United States would be morally obligated to support the will of the Taiwanese people, if that were there will. I talked about what great personal risks our own founding statesmen took in staking their lives on Independence, relaying the old “my only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country” and explaining how “John Hancock” had become synonymous with signing your name to a document.
It turns out Yiling is merely a month older than me. Taiwan’s fate will probably be resolved in our lifetime, and it is something we are all likely to remember. In a larger sense, how China manages or fails to care for its billion people in a sustainable manner, along with how we all manage the environment … well, these are some of the really big questions that our generation is going to have to answer.
Sooner or later? For my part, I won’t be back in Cali ’til January …
After lunch, we trekked over to the Tony Garnier, which is actually a set of twenty-four outdoor wall murals, depicting Garnier’s vision of the “Industrial City” around 1900, which featured then-novel things like zoning different areas for different use. His plans were detailed, and utopian: the houses should look like this, the train station here, the hospital, designed in sections, up on the top of the hill, hydro power. Lyon implemented a small part of this in a modified form, along the Boulevard Etats Unis, or “United States Boulevard”. The utopian intentions were a fascinating dessert to our worldly lunch discussion. Along the way we ran into an old Vietnamese lady, and an older Hungarian man, both polyglot ex-patriots who haven’t returned home since the wars that separated them from their childhood homes. I was glad I’d stayed another day.
Yiling wanted to go to Barcelona. I figured I might as well join her: I haven’t been to Spain yet, and one of my original reasons for this trip was that I could practice some Spanish. We waited in line at Part Dieux to discover that all the trains to Barcelona were full, unless we wanted to do something like 9PM-3AM. We decided to take a slow train to Avignon instead. This had been my default “next hop” anyway, and Yiling had wanted to check it out as well, but had been inclined to skip it, given her time constraints.
A bridge that crosses half-way . . .
Upon arrival in Avignon, we were told that there was a train to Barcelona leaving at 3PM, and it had room. I shared with Yiling that I felt very upset about having spent the €25 to get to Avignon to discover this when I should have been told at Lyon so I that I could have used a travel day. Since we were in Avignon, we decided to give the place a day, and we reserved spots on the Thursday train.
We took a bus over to the hostel, which was closed until 1700, but the folks who were scraping paint off the walls were happy to let us stow our packs in their laundry room.
Avignon is cool because they’ve kept their old wall pretty much intact, so that it looks like something from a fairy tale. Avignon is crappy because because the drivers will yield to pedestrians only with great reluctance, and the path between the hostel and the old city requires us to cross this bridge that is at best ugly and noisy, and at worst a dangerous exercise in hurdling ditches and climbing over barriers, and then dodging traffic.
The big palace of the popes, from what we could tell, featured a tour through some really big, empty rooms, that was more expensive than it was interesting, so we gave it a pass. More interesting was the cute little bridge that made it halfway across the river, that had been completely rebuilt once and then repaired several times after flood damage before they just gave up on it and let it become the cute tourist attraction that it is today. Yiling seemed quietly intent on not spending the €3 to visit it, and I quietly wondered that if it cost €3 for us to walk on a bridge that doesn’t cross the river, they ought to charge at least twice that to all the cars that were successfully crossing the river on the other bridge.
We had a meal, which took some exploring because the town was mostly closed for Halloween. We took a quiet, dusky stroll back along the river bank and across the bridge to the hostel, which cost us each a humble €10,50 for the night, and which offers no security whatsoever, to the point that neither our rooms nor the hostel itself lock anyone out at night. This made a little sense when I considered that the hostel is part of a campground. I padlocked the laptop bag to my bunk, and kept it under my pillow for the night.
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