Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bonjour Grenoble!

After boarding the train for Grenoble, I promptly fell asleep, waking two hours later in Lyon, where I had to change trains. During the hour descent to Grenoble, from the silent cocoon of the TGV (bullet train), my bleary eyes rested on the gentle scenery rolling by; the red tile roofs, the ‘fraidy cat’ electrical towers extending over the entire landscape, and cathedrals on hills—citadels of suffocation, or refuge, depending on your point of view.

We passed country villages, towns and small cities: La Tour du Pin, St. Andre le Gaz, Voiron; passing the Chartreuse distillery, which I visited on my exit from France four years ago; watching the man at the picnic table behind the factory, drinking a beer; spotting the first peaks of the Alps come into view, still quite distant and low, and the white cows of the region—Charolais. In Voiron, a woman board the train with her bike.

Finally arriving in Grenoble, we poured into the station and out onto a pavement hot with the warm temps of an Indian summer day, and filled with disenfranchised youth. Where was the bathroom?!

The Moores found me first, wandering around the Grenoble train station, wondering what the arrangements were to get to my final destination: Camp des Cimes—Camp of the Peaks—the camp where my French journey began in 1991.

The family I worked with for 10 years in Lille, as jetlagged and bedraggled as me, surrounded me for a group hug, and I met Andrew, the newest member of the family, Patty’s husband of two weeks.

Howard began punching numbers into his cell phone to connect with Allison, their daughter and our chauffeur back to the camp, where she works. It was a glorious autumn day in Grenoble, and we stood in the shade of the train station chattering away until we saw her roar into the parking lot.

We quickly loaded the luggage, jumped in the van, and found our way out of Grenoble, to make a pit stop at LIDL, one of the cheaper food chains in Europe, to load up on groceries for the week. You probably never saw a sillier group of shoppers, giggly and punchy, squealing with delight as we rediscovered forgotten French treats, specialties and favorites—tiramisu, iles flottantes, chocolate mousse, baguettes, wine, cheese, sirop de menthe, herbal teas, pate au canard, du champagne, au porto (sorry for those of you who don’t know these delicacies, but for those of you who do….well, you know what I’m talking about!) Our basket was soon full of all the goodies, and few of the essentials.

An hour later, after a breathtaking ride up into the Alps, we pulled into the camp, and Allison showed us to our rooms. After almost two days of journeying, we dropped our suitcases, back packs and water bottles, and convened in the kitchen to break into the Swiss chocolate and French coffee—it was gouter, snack time, a quintessential part of French culture, and not to missed the first day back!

Besides, we had to introduce Andrew to all this! Dinner and a slide show followed, falling asleep to Patty and Andrew’s pictures of their honeymoon in Boston.

It’s going to be a good vacation.

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