Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nothing Toulouse

It was cold and raining in Tours, and we were feeling miserable, and we'd already been to see James Bond and there was nothing else, not even at the art-house cinema. At seven we came in from cycling across town soaked to the bone, and neither of us could stop whinging for long enough to listen to the other one, which is a frustrating state of affairs. 'Sarah,' I suddenly said. 'Go and pack an overnight bag. We're getting out of here.' We dropped the keys at a friend's so he could feed the cat and by eight o'clock we were at Tours station. 'N'importe-ou... vers le sud... vers le soleil.' The lovely woman offered us Marseille, but it meant changing at Paris. We chose Bordeaux instead- Paris was not going to cheer us up- and hopped on the next TGV. The beers I bought on the train cost more than the ticket. Bordeaux has every thing you could ask from a 'European city break'- a tramway, a cheap hotel with an expensive continental breakfast, a massive river with beautiful stone quays, cafés and sunlight and a glorious cathedral (St. André). I lingered in a tiny second-hand shop selling everything from authentic aquitaine lace caps to fur boots to bright plastic telephones while Sarah had her hair cut. Tired from the Museum of Aquitaine History, we sat on a wall in the autumn sunlight and watched old men playing petanque. I surreptitiously sketched them as the gold plane leaves drifted down around us. Then on the Friday night it clouded over a bit- clearly we hadn't gone far enough South. We thought longingly of Barcelona. Back to the station with the same criteria. This time the man was a Southerner himself. 'Oh, if you want sunshine,' he assured us. 'Don't worry about Perpignan, just get down to Toulouse.' Moment of worry about being stranded in Toulouse with class on Monday morning. 'How much will it cost us to get back to Tours on Sunday evening?' The answer was... ridiculously cheap. So back on the train- this time I remembered to get my beers from the corner shop before we left. We got to Toulouse just before midnight. The area around the station was charmingly big-city, rather like King's Cross before they got the Eurostar in St. Pancras. I had a bath in the hotel- our bath in Tours was not made for someone of a reasonable height such as myself. Sarah Wikipedia'd Jean Jaures for me- maybe we're morons but we had seen so many roads and squares named after him in our travels we thought we should find out who he was. Was gratified by this nugget in the entry:
In the 1976 film Maîtresse (English title: Mistress), a character looking at a Parisian map laments, "There are too many avenues named after Jean Jaurès."
The next day we fell in love with Toulouse, with its grandiose red brick buildings, threaded through by the gorgeous Canal du Midi and the wide Garonne. I reckon it's the perfect size for a city, the fourth largest in France, with around a million people, and the one of those sweet underground systems with only three lines. And it was awfully Occitan, with the street names written in two languages and people talking with a twang in their accents. They do love their red brick!- even the churches- even the twelfth-century churches- everything. It looks lovely in the bright southern sun. I went to a wicked modern art gallery in an old -red brick- abattoir and saw some great drawings by Antonio Saura. Especially loved the illustrations for Don Quixote. (I have been thinking, and if I actually HAD to pick the greatest novel ever, it might well be Don Quixote. Picking Ulysses, which is what everyone always seems to do, is like picking Jaffa Cakes as the greatest biscuit ever.) In the evening we went to the oldest wine bar in Toulouse and sipped posh-arse wine out of playmobil-sized glasses. Then something amazing happened- we found a restaurant that sold Real Curry! Like you get in Britain! Awesome. I practically kissed the waitress when she brought the bill over. Do you know how long its been? Of course we did a little shopping, and saw the fruit markets and the brocantes on the Sunday morning, and the botanical gardens at great speed, and as we raced to the station on our last day we remembered a little bottle of wine for the guy who fed our cat. I had been pissed enough on the Saturday night that I happily slept all the way back to St Pierre des Couilles, the annoying suburban station that serves Tours. (Our main station is not big enough to take all the trains it needs, so they run a shuttle made out of recycled cans back and forth.) There is a moral to this story, children, and it is one of my mottos, so listen carefully:
Fed up? Raining? Don't like your life? Run away!

1 comment:

weierstrass said...

in "Un sac de billes" the two boys are making up a new identity for themselves to tell the Gestapo.
"Notre adresse a Algers, c'etait 10 rue Jean-Jaures."
"Pourquoi 10 rue Jean-Jaures?"
"10 parce que c'est facile de se rappeler, et Jean Jaures parce qu'il y a toujours une rue Jean Jaures"