(on the road to Sete, Venice of the Mediterranean)
Three days stay at the grand hotel in Sete was enough.
I had hoped it would be paradise after the three weeks constant cycling.
I had reached the end of my voyage,(the Mediterranean), but I found myself sneaking out to check the yellow bicycle a lot and taking it for little spins around the harbor or down to the beach for swims or to the markets.
( fresh fish at the market in Sete)
The palatial room I was given over looked the canal, so, besides the sneaky cycling, I spent a lot of time sitting at the large floor length window looking out at the canal drawing the traditional fishing boats.
(view from my window in the Grand hotel)
One of my favorite Artists is ‘Leon Morocco’ and I was excited to see the very same boats I had admired in his paintings. (my offerings of them were not quite so wonderful).
But I was getting bored and that sadness of missing family and friends began sweeping over me again.
(Afternoon tea with two Scottish ladies in the Grand hotel)
I also missed the slow long meditative cycling where the turning of pedals seemed to turn thoughts into day dreams or sometimes even into constructive idea’s.
I had reached the end of my journey. I could go no further east unless by boat.
(fresh oysters abound here )
On my third evening as I sat eating oysters at a harbor side table, I noticed sadly I was no longer enjoying the chatter in french or the fluid movement of the busy waiter’s.
In fact the noise was beginning to annoy me as was the the sound of the far off rumble of a train drowning out the calls of the seabirds..
‘A train! that was it!
‘Un cafe s’il vous plait’ I called to the waiter, pulling my diary out of my bag and checking dates…
‘Yes’ I thought as I sipped the coffee ‘why not?..I had cycled all this way from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, it was time to investigate other means of travel but still with a bike.
Early next morning I stood on the platform at Sete station very excited by this new adventure..
Getting your bike on the train is not as simple as just pushing it on.
Most Local trains(wise to check first) have a special carriage with hooks where you can hang your bike.. This carriage is supposed to be stated on an electronic board which isn’t always turned on, but there is also a bicycle sign on the window of the bike carriage.
The trains don’t stop for very long and as the train itself might have many carriages, you may well find yourself racing with bike the length of the platform looking frantically and hopefully finding the correct carriage before the train moves off again.
For the first time since I was diagnosed was overcome with that dreaded feeling of stress.
Good now and then in small doses but in the long term stress lowers the immune system and can make you ill.
I did not want to be as stressed ever again as I had been in recent years. In fact one of the purposes of this journey(besides proving to myself that i was 100% better after my surgery and treatment for cancer) was to eliminate it as much as possible from my life and here I was, stressing over trains. Maybe this was not such a great idea after all.
So I was happy to find the carriage and hang my bike and then find a seat to view the way I had come.
It was a beautiful sunny autumnal day.
We passed the oyster rafts at bayou and then the suburbs of Sete, I saw stables with horses being schooled in a sand arena and the salt marches…
How I had struggled against the wind along this exposed part.
I could see the Montagnes noir in the distance.
I was lulled into a dreamy state as we pulled into Narbonne. and we stayed there ….for what seems like a long time.
Passengers are getting off to see what’s causing the delay.
I pulled down my window and leaned out. I could see figures and smoke far down the the track and there was a sound of gun fire.
For a minute I wondered were we being hijacked.
The two students sitting across from me disentangled themselves from an embrace and looked glum.
‘C’est un manifestation’ A revolution!’…they informed me ..’the workers are protesting against wage cuts due to the recession’.
They joined me at the window. We could see lots of protesters on the tracks, waving red flags and letting off smoke bombs .
‘Why don’t they do this in Ireland?’ I thought to myself…’Why aren’t we out on the streets protesting? What happened to the wonderful days of poets and writers and artists joining the common people, Climbing over rubble . We were good at it once .but now we are so complacent and excepting. What has happened to our ‘fighting spirit?’
The students didn’t hold my views totally ‘ But we will be late for college’. ‘they grumbled miserably.
‘College? of course today was Monday .
I realized that the day of the week no longer had any importance for me, in fact half of the time I had no idea what day it was. How wonderful not to have to be anywhere at any particular time.
I felt sorry for the students as I sat back relaxed on my seat and wrote ‘Manifestation’ in my diary. What a wonderful strong word.
I honestly didn’t care if the train stayed here for ever. I had my bike and if it was the case I would just take it and resume my pedaling.
But when I felt like it.
People were running down the platform now,
‘Come on ‘ the female student pulled my arm. She was more animated now and her boyfriend ran ahead, leading the way.
‘Yesssss! I thought excitedly ‘We are joining in the revolution..what fun’
The scene at the end of the platform appeared like a major battle field. People were shouting and pushing and gesticulating and as I got closer I could see the crowd had surrounded a poor unfortunate man with a trolley.
‘Oh no’ I thought in horror ,’They’re attacking him’
Every now and again a passenger would dart away with something under his arm.
I was about to start yelling for someone to help him and had even started pushing my way through the crowds when I caught sight of the station’s large clock , both hands pointed to twelve.
a wave of relief poured over me .
I didn’t need to do any rescuing.
The man with the trolley wasn’t being lynched by the crowd instead he was frantically handing out little cardboard lunch boxes as fast as he could..
For even if the sky was falling on their heads or a major earthquake was happening beneath their feet or in this case the workers were holding up a train to protest against wage cuts , all would stop for lunch.
‘Let them eat cake! Wasn’t that what Marie Antoinette was supposed to have said when the peasants were revolting during the French Revolution? Though unlike the railway company, I don’t think she had any intentions of giving them bread, let alone cake.
I carried my box carefully back to my carriage .
Inside was a container of tomato, olive and tuna pasta, a piece of baguette, a slice of cheese, a pot of fruit yogurt and two small cartons, one with fruit juice and one of red wine.
Later after lunch I wished ‘bon chance’ to my two friends and cycled off (the train was still standing in Narbonne ) alone along the canal De la Robine. Serene and undisturbed by all the excitement (the canal , not me) I once again fell into my wonderful contented pedaling. The bridge ahead, reflected to perfection in the still water.
I reminded myself that this is my favorite thing. Just me and My yellow bike, the sound of water bird’s, the gnarled tree trunks of the ancient plane tree’s also reflected in the canal. (if you look at these gnarled roots for long enough you will begin to make out the shapes of ancient animals).
Yes! I tried the train thing for a few kilometers, and I was glad I did, but nothing can compare to the constant meditative pedaling on the yellow bicycle.
I was happy…