En Train à Grande Vitesse

6:30am
TGV baby! En route to Paris, to meet some friends from home who are on a holiday there, before continuing on for Amsterdam this evening, where other friends will arrive tomorrow morning. I’m a bit hungry and caffeine deprived (it didn’t seem right to start at 5:10am) but I’m very excited to see everyone. Much to my amazement, the taxi I ordered yesterday actually showed up -any successful telephone interaction is nothing short of a triumph -and brought me to La Gare for 6am. As a stark contrast of lifestyles, when I turned on my phone first thing this morning, what pops up on the screen but “Bestie écrit…” -My bestie is writing!! WhatsApp messages! The dirty divil is only going to bed as I am getting up! And I only at Greenwich Mean Time +1. Very glad to be on this side of the time difference though, as I am not feeling too hectic and am already fantasising about the pharmacies that are going to greet me when I stop in the next train station. Panadols and coffee and I’m hoping to be right as rain.

For the moment, I am being rudely reminded of my Chinese friends, and their horror at the public displays of lust that are all too common in France. They are particularly upset about the sound of lips smacking against lips, which assaults their ears at all hours of the day and night. To be honest I hadn’t noticed this until they pointed it out, but now that it has been noted it cannot be unseen. Or unheard. It is 6:30 am and the two behind me are slobbering loudly over one another like attention-starved St. Bernards. They look at least 45 years old. I’m with the Chinoises on this one. As long as my hair doesn’t start falling out I suppose we can risk some common ground.

 

8:45am
I have finally done it!! I’m on a new TGV now towards Paris, and I have found the holy grail -a nice coffee!!! Un café allongé, avec beaucoup d’eau chaude !!! You add in the request for milk casually at the very end, to avoid risk of contamination. And crème de la crème, they also gave me the much sought after but oft times elusive mini-chocolate. Heaven! It’s taken an entire month, but it’s been worth it. It is so delicious. It probably helps that it is my first caffeine fix in 24 hours, but I want it to last forever.

So with a bit of time on my hands for reflection on the train, I’ve just recalled this phenomenon in rock climbing, that affects the person who is second to climb a route. This is often the less experienced climber, as the leader is the one who takes on the risk, and seconding a climb is a reasonably low risk and easy thing to do. However, as the second, you can often start imagining while you are climbing, what it would be like to lead the route. Even on routes that are well within your ability level, you almost invariably convince yourself that the route is perilous beyond imagination and that you could never lead such a thing. You therefore end up at the top of what should have been a walk in the park, white in the face and covered in sweat. It’s weird. And it’s kind of like that with French. I find that when I’m leading my own route -having a conversation that I actually need to be part of and know the gist of -I get by just fine. However, when I play the game of “let’s see can I understand the snippets of conversations of the passers by” -as I foolishly attempted in the queue for the coffee just now -I immediately become dejected and deflated, convinced that I will never understand a word and am doomed to confused mumbling for the rest of my time here. It’s odd. I don’t have a solution, but I guess just keep leading on up.