Saturday, 1 January 2011

Where there's smoke...

What now? I’m back in Cafeolait after a week in Brittany. During my trip back to Paris in the TGV I reflected on my time away and what is currently important to me right now.

Over the past week I have seen an ancient ruined castle through the fog, spent a Christmas Eve Dinner Party at Pascal’s, been part of a French family Christmas Day. I tried to generate interest in NZ by showing the movie Whale Rider, playing the sounds of forest birdsongs and showing info on many of the amazing creatures that live in NZ. I have been driven past Merlin's forest of Broceliande, read Asterix books, played guessing games in French and tried to encourage spoken French via vocab games. I have discovered there is a cheese I like that I hadn’t tried before, and that how I used to make shepherd’s pie can easily be adapted to a version of spaghetti bolognaise. I even tried to ride a trottinette (see photo). You wiggle your bottom to make it go, hmm, yes.

I haven’t been physically alone this week and that’s been a lovely change and I’ve experienced a lot of friendliness and helpfulness but there has been no emotional connection from anyone. I don’t know if I’ll see Pascal again. Only if he wants to I suppose. He said he never comes to Paris - too busy, and he tells me he has teams of friends for any occasion. So different from me but I don’t need a lot of friends. Really, just a handful would be great. But I would want to feel I love each and every one of them and that my feelings are returned. It has grown painfully clear to me that my search of a lifetime – for genuine love and is no closer to realisation than it has ever been. Yet the feeling is becoming so strong. It’s a bit how I feel about needing to live in France-it’s part of my life necessities somehow. Living in France doesn’t seem enough to distract me from the other important need I have for a deep and meaningful emotional connection.

Many women my age find themselves alone, often for the rest of their lives. Some say they would never bother with a man again because they are too much trouble and you have to give up too much of yourself. Others tell themselves they don’t need one but wistfully want one and then others are desperate and make bad decisions. The general agreement is that here are not enough men available for older women. French people tell me there are more women than men in France. Is this true? 51% being women would be reasonable but what are the statistics? I need some personal tenderness in my life but in the meantime I need to look out for myself.

I’m not well at present. I had to excuse myself from a drinks and nibbles event that a female friend of Pascal’s was hosting on my last night in Brittany. My head, throat and chest were not happy, I had a cough and was frequently dizzy. It had gradually developed over the week. The energy just drained out of me. Now I understand why. I wasn’t getting enough oxygen.

By the time I got back to Cafeolait it was clear I was now suffering asthma brought on by forced exposure to smoking. I had explained to Pascal and his daughter that it’s bad for my health, gave me chronic health problems in my childhood and that I now have a heart condition. They were totally unconcerned. He hadn’t smoked in front of me last time. He explained he could do it anytime without being addicted and did it because he liked it and could stop anytime. I hadn’t realised I would be subjected to this when I accepted the invitation. What a shame he chose my visit to do his smoking. Of course it was even worse when friends arrived. They could have smoked outside or in another room but chose not to. So now breathing is painful and I spent New Year alone, coughing and feeling dreadful.

Even getting home here was difficult. I had arranged my schedule to get home around 7pm so I could then get some essential food. The cupboard was bare, no milk and bread etc. Unfortunately there was a problem at Gare Paris Montparnasse. After I queued for ages to buy a ticket a guy came through telling everyone they were closing all ticket booths, just before I could get one. Everyone was panicked and pissed off. I tried to use an automatic machine but it didn’t have Cafeolait on the list of options. I asked SNCF staff what to do. They told me to look for a green and blue machine. Those are like hen’s teeth. Eventually I got a ticket, waited, boarded my train bound for Chartres and waited, and waited. The departure time came and went. We sat there. Another train going to Cafeolaitwasn’t leaving either. Train staff stood around talking and then said something about someone on the line... firemen...... well, fill in the blanks, that’s all I had to go on.

An hour and a half later, after sitting there with no food or drink or toilet access (the toilets are locked automatically while not moving) we got going only to glide so slowly along the track I could have got out and walked. I tried to amuse myself by peering into apartment windows to see what people were doing. Did they have a Christmas TREE? Where they watching TV?

Twenty minutes later we came to a complete stop in the darkness of nowhere. I don’t know why. We just sat. Being unwell I was desperate to get home. By the time I eventually arrived in Cafeolait it was 2 hours later than expected and nothing was open so no dinner, no breakfast. Not even a cup of tea.

Yesterday was St Sylvestre, New Year’s Eve. What a pathetic figure I was in my dressing gown, wheezing and dragging myself around. No trip to see fireworks in Paris. Maybe it wouldn’t have been safe. They brought in extra police and posted notices on the telly about thieves. Charming, oh City of Lights, not a good look. Instead I dragged myself along the street to the laudromat and bought some essential food and a warm jumper and a pot to boil up some pasta.

I sure hope 2011 has some great stuff ahead for me. Hey, this time last year, who would have thought I’d actually be living in France. Amazing.... but it can be hard too.


Alison said...

That's such a bummer. The smoking certainly got to me, but I was just incredibly grateful that the smoking ban in public places had come into effect a year or so before. Get well soon - that's the main thing!

Defogger said...

I found your writing very moving, the first portion, very from the heart. It is a shame some people fail to realise that others do get genuinely and directly impacted by smoke. I am sure they thought they were only being funny, even if reminiscent of teenage boys without a clue about anyone but themselves.

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