Year Abroad Diaries: 9 December 2012

Yesterday: a really good day. By 1015, our apartment trio were wrapped like chunky presents and waddled down to the train station to meet M, a Canadian from up north, and our English girlfriend R. The train sheeted the land, Mont St Michel buzzing past, the green fields melting into suburbs and then grey brick inner city Rennes. Theresa, one of the teachers from my collège, had offered to accompany us female assistants in the Breton capital, our English in exchange for her tour guide attributes.

Parts of the city resonated in my suppressed memories of my September arrival. ‘The last time I was here was with Dad…’ It was very strange to know that was over two months ago. My mind a skipping VHR, flashbacks abounded as we reached Place de la Rebublique, Rennes’ centre-ville, where I tugged my suitcase like a heavy tail with Dad at my side. All that was so long ago. I’d come so far.

The first stop of the day was the Christmas market, the biggest one at least, that we saw that day. It was really festive – set in a square with gravel paths, lines of huts, lights and freshly cut Christmas trees. We wandered around the stalls, past sweets and ‘tartiflette’, gifts and decorations. The gold at the end was roasted chestnuts; the first I’d ever tasted, black with barbecue flavour and warming to my numb fingers.

As the afternoon fell away from us, atmosphere heightened. Theresa was delighted to advise us on purchases. M, who was spending Christmas in Sweden with extended family, filled bags and rucksack with bargains, all in the name of festive organisation. Finding a few more touristy stores on our return trip to the station, I smelt a heady mixture of yeast and fruit, and we stumbled upon the most spectacular artisan boulangerie.

Shelves were filled with different varieties of bread, the baking mosaic of flour and flavour: apricot, fig, raisin, cheese… it was my heaven. I couldn’t resist, snapping some fig bread, which had disappeared in three hours. Another culinary delight.

Theresa giggled as us as we struggled towards the platform with bags and bread. M turned towards her and burst, “Thank you so much for today, it was superb!” We smiled at each other in a kind of girly amicability that can only be borne after shopping, kissed ‘bises’ and waved fondly goodbye. I was glad it had gone so well, and wasn’t awkward. I only hope Teresa enjoyed being our tour guide as much as we loved exploring.

The train home felt longer than the train there. We chatted and munched on our bread, then it was again time for the challenging vertical power-walk to the apartment. Fast food escaped from the cupboards, we discovered paper that we shredded into snowflake shapes, the Aristocats blared from Y’s laptop. Before bed, M had a tour of her own: our bedrooms, during which she crooned and quizzed. “Is that your boyfriend? Your family? That’s adorable. I love that photo!”

The walls were a visual narrative of my adult life; faces and moments imperceptible in their standard sentimentality. Everyone has images, everyone has memories. My existence was plastered all over the box, Laura now reduced to a few pictures and objects, the emotion inside the body unnoticeable for the distant figures that flitted in and out the door.

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