Monday, August 01, 2011

poor, provincial town

We had to say goodbye to Avignon today - just one day there, I know, it's tragic - but we had enough time this morning to have some breakfast at the hotel (and then everyone suddenly had "errands" to run, which really just meant H&M.) The weather was really warm, and it was hard to think about sitting on a train all day. But we left knowing we had been to paradise (but had we ever been to ME?)

While waiting in the Avignon train station we played an entertaining game with those little rubber sticky hand toys that kids play with. I guess they came with some box lunches the students bought. We fought over a pastry box and it became very competitive. This led to a series of games like "I'm going to the moon," "BOMB" and the infamous "number game." These games continued onto the train, and kept us awake and engaged as we crossed straight through the heart of France.

Every once in a while we would look out the window and see little villages whiz by. Josh said it looked like Beauty and the Beast. I thought more of Chocolat. But it was such beautiful scenery, and so green. I'm sure we idealize it - there were probably lots of flies out there, and those villages are probably pretty boring - but it's hard to see the French countryside and not associate it with all of the stories you grew up with.

We were prepared for a mad dash at the Paris Gare de Lyon station - we only had an hour to get to Gare de Nord - but the group stayed focused and we got there pretty smoothly. I only had two awkward encounters. The girl at the ticket booth at Gare de Lyon told me emphatically that she did not speak English, though I know she has to in order to work there. She was just being a big jerk. Luckily I can manage in French just fine, but then she wouldn't speak English to the Japanese kids behind me so I had to stay and translate for them as well. Dear friends in France: WE KNOW YOU SPEAK ENGLISH. THE JIG IS UP.

But it wasn't just the French I struggled with! At the UK border I encountered Madam McGrouchyslacks who grilled me about "why" I needed to be travelling with the students (because I'm their professor?) and then refused to admit Casey because he didn't have a letter stating he was a student from UVU. We have these letters when the students arrive at Heathrow, but I have never, in four years, been asked to show these letters at the train station. She swore that they "always" asked for them, and in the meantime her colleague next to her was letting half of our students through with, sure enough, no mention of the letters. We had some tense moments, she and I, as she basically called me a liar and then tried to pin me down as a dumb American who thought "England and France were just different states." If there's one thing I hate, it's being treated as a dumb American. But I held my temper. You would have been proud. She was three times the jerk that French shrew at the train station ever was.

But once we were all on board we settled in for more games, more naps, and more philosophical talks. And the sun went down around the time we hit the Chunnel. And then we were back in London. Quiet, clean, London.