The 9:38 to Toulouse
Today ends the le flaneur or wandering part of the trip. My destinations today and tomorrow are all proscribed by the objective of getting back home. Toulouse was one of two cities that would get me to Gare Montparnasse and my bus to Charles De Gaulle airport. I could have chosen Bordeaux, but I knew my way around Toulouse better. Plus, Danielle had said she’d be returning from Paris early that evening, and perhaps we could get together one last time.
For the whole two hours aboard the high speed TGV to Toulouse, I edited pieces I’d already written about the trip, and wrote a new one. Never have two hours passed so quickly and productively. Later, sitting at Le Bistro across from the station having lunch, I contemplated this penultimate day of my twelve day adventure. I had just one thought: I DON’T WANT TO GO HOME!
I hadn’t heard from Danielle, so I figured I’d get checked in to the hotel where I’d stayed before, and maybe pick up some bread, wine and cheese and have dinner for one in Chez Alcatraz. As I was leaving Le Bistro, and about to lose wifi, I suddenly saw an email popup from Danielle. She was on the 6:11 from Paris, and if I was still up for it, maybe we could meet for a drink or dinner. I had just enough time to check in, drop off Claude and hoof it back to the station.
There was something vaguely Casablanca-esque about waiting for Danielle’s train to arrive. Except in this scenario, Ilse is on the train and will meet up with Bogey after all. (I’m stretching credulity here. In the real movie I’d more likely be Signor Ferrari rather than Rick Blaine.) Anyway, it wasn’t raining when the train pulled in, plus the Nazis weren't occupying the city, so we headed back to Le Bistro to eat.
Dinner was a data dump. Many questions of the “what do you think,” and “why is it this way” variety. It was so 1970s vagabonding. Back then, you met someone on the road you knew immediately would be leaving in a couple of days, and that you’d likely never see again. So the questions came rapidly, and deep subjects were discussed with great intensity. “Rap" sessions were what we called them back then, and Danielle and I were certainly rapping in that same sense.
“So, what are your favorite books,” she asked at one point, just the question I had already thought of asking her. When it came time for her list, I almost couldn't believe it when she mentioned Hemingway as one of her favorite authors. She said the one Woody Allen movie she’d seen was Midnight in Paris. I told her the Hemingway that Allen portrayed in the film was accurate as far as his myth was concerned. Then I got real envious when she told me the friend she'd stayed with in Paris has an apartment in the same building where Gertrude Stein had once lived and held court.
When we’d moved onto movies, I suggested three that I felt captured a part of the experience of her and I meeting. “Carve away any of the romantic scenes, and focus on the characters getting to know one another on a more platonic plane," I said. I suggested Lost In Translation, Before Sunrise and A Little Romance with Diane Lane as the young kid, and Lawrence Olivier as the old man who befriends her.
We hugged and air kissed our goodbyes and paternalistically, I asked Danielle to promise to email me when she got home safely. It was a wonderful way to wrap up this magical mystery tour of mine, and I uttered a silent thank you to Carolyn for all the amazing experiences I had. (Turns out Carolyn wasn’t done, not by a long shot. She was saving the best for last, and it occurred on the flight home to Seattle.)
I had one more little kid interaction before leaving France. There was a young toddler, maybe four or five months old in the breakfast room the next morning. When I caught her eye, she smiled, and I said, “bon jour.” She smiled bigger this time, and proudly displayed the spoon she’d been throwing at her parents and onto the floor. I showed her mine and we played spoons together until it was time for me to leave. I noted the children I was meeting were getting progressively younger, and I thought I’d probably wind up finding an abandoned gypsy infant in the Gare Montparnasse before I left Paris.
I took the 5:30 am bus the next day to the airport, but to no avail. There’d been an equipment change overnight to a smaller plane, and what had been a thirteen seat availability the night before had dissolved into a twenty-seat overbooking issue this morning. I would not get out until the following day, but it was a delay that turned into Carolyn’s final blessing over this journey of mine - her journey too, as I was beginning to understand.