Year Abroad Diaries: 28 January 2013

The weekend was lovely, and difficult. I’ll scribble everything, as usual, in chronological order, but the simple thing I can hold after these past days: the blessing of being alive.

I had two afternoon classes on Friday, feeling more relaxed about teaching than I had in a while, yet impatient to conclude my week. It helped that I knew C was on his way (his third and final visit to see me in France). I’d looked forward to taking the 3èmes, a group of fifteen-year-olds who I thought might be interested in comparing the Visit Scotland advert with their own landscapes… The video may have held the attention of a few but the majority of them continued chatting. What could I do? I couldn’t expel ten pupils from the class, so I just went with it. Bell, key in door, soles scraping on stone, fin.

I made the platform just in time for the doors opening opposite me, and C appeared from behind the first carriage. He smiled widely; his teeth somehow larger as if his face had shrunk in the past weeks.

January: the promise of milder weather and my return home in only a month’s time.

Practicalities had to be dealt with before I could fully relax: a mug of chocolat chaud for hungry travelling tummies; a reservation at the local bistro; check in at the hotel, little shutters leading toward the square; an overnight bag stuffed with miscellany. The café looked toward the St Gervais church, a candelabra framing the view: goats’ cheese and salmon casserole with toast; half poussin with potato slices; stuffed pork; macaroons halved with a scoop of ice cream. As we ate, the cold permeated the window glass, and without warning or expectation, it began to snow. The flakes were tiny at first, then got larger, to the extent that every table in the restaurant was staring worriedly at the blizzard outside. There was a fairly thick dusting, considering it had only lasted 40 minutes, and when we finally dared to leave it was baltic. C helped adjust my hood and we ran back to the hotel, closing the shutters on the fuzzy scene outside to stay warm.

Dawn illuminated the dusting that remained across the roads. Concerned the buses would be cancelled – as they always seemed to be in the slightest adverse weather – I tapped C’s shoulder to wake him. At the market, the sellers were beginning to rearrange their produce; we wandered through cheese, fruit, vegetables, books, bread – “This is so French” – and stumbled at a crêpe stall. I got a crêpe sucre, C took a jam one, and we walked towards the bus stop, buying another demi-baguette on the way.

Thank God the snow didn’t stop the transport this time! C and I sat near the vehicle’s front, pointing out landmarks, new objects or looming mansions, very soon arriving at Granville to catch the dregs of the marché. I got out my tourist map and showed C where I’d planned to go: Haute Ville.

When we discovered it, heading upslope and following the signs, I felt silly for not having found it before. It was beautiful, living remains of the original Granville town. All these old, lined buildings were kept together in a stone wall; the streets cobbled and historic, it felt so much more like the ‘real’ France. Where before we’d only seen the modern Granville, we’d finally stumbled upon some history.

It was before two when we wandered through the narrow, deserted streets: no crêperies were open, only a newsagents. We peered inside and the amused face of one of my students grinned back. We meandered through the alleys, finding a lookout onto the sea, a cold old church with stained glass windows, and the ‘salle des marriages’. We continued, much further than we’d been that first day in December, joining a cliff trail, the ‘sentier de littoral’.

It took us all the way to the ‘Pointe du Roc’, a majestic view over the harbour and what becomes, in the distance, the North Atlantic Ocean.

Past the tiny lighthouse, the naval semaphore and the crumbling town walls, we concluded with scones at Thé au For (bien sûr). We were welcomed, curiously, by a waiter who had a stunning mastery of English, a situation I had not encountered before in rural France. C took assam, I chose a green tea ‘with notes of macaron and almond’ and of course we shared scones, this time with pear and berry jam. Nothing like good food with your favourite person.

Easy like Sunday morning… there’s truth behind most sayings. After a glorious ten hours of sleep, C and I woke, well-rested and happy. I managed to drag C towards the Jardin and then up to the top of the cliffs to the impressive-looking ‘sous-préfecture’ building. In preparation for dinner, we bought a baguette and a caramel flan for dessert. Then, we skyped Home.

This is where things get rather sad. After the chit-chat, the catch-up, Dad’s tone suddenly changed and he said, “Laura, I’ve got some sad news. I met her brother at the marina the other day and he told me – it’s very sad, but J died on Tuesday.” Mum sat beside him and said nothing, only blinking. My eyes flooded. J, my former childminder, the woman who had a hand in raising us, one of the kindest souls on the planet.

The unexpected is always worse.

Even though she only lived twenty minutes from us, I only saw J once a year. But that lovely, kind woman had helped me grow and had always cared. Her laugh was infectious and forever the same; I’ll always remember how my father could send her into hysterics. These were the things we recalled: the bed-sheet tents we made, visiting her at Christmas (the upside-down tree), her selflessness. It is horrible when there are literally only memories.

Normality returns far too quickly. C cleaned the mould off my wall and we returned to the hotel for the last night, sleeping late and feeling groggy. A mad rush to pay and to get to the station, the surreal feeling that he had already gone as we walked together. Wanting him to stay, reminded again that every second with a loved one is precious, so why did he have to leave? I helped buy his ticket; we sat waiting and far too soon, three carriages approached.

I waved.

Everything is normal too quickly. Class at one, marking presentations, shopping, lesson plans. A text from C to say he is back in Glasgow. So far.

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