Thursday, February 05, 2009

My Cut-Rate Grand Tour: Day Nine

Wednesday, 14 December, 1988
Toulouse to Carcassonne and back again

Made the 9:06 train for Carcassonne this morning. It got in around 10:10. I bought a couple rolls for breakfast at a briocherie in the lower town then walked across the Pont Neuf over the Aude to the old city.

Reminded me somewhat of the village below the abbey at Mont-St.-Michel but with the cloudy weather the effect wasn’t the same. It wanted more people.

Went and saw the church of St. Nazaire first off, since I tripped over it. Romanesque nave and Gothic choir and transepts, almost all glass. Viollet-le-Duc hard at work restoring the vitrame, but at least that meant there was light coming through most of them. They had some rather nice large scale figure sculpture, too.

There were a man and three children in there hammering together the Christmas crèche. For that matter, all of Carcassonne, the Upper and Lower towns both, was decorated for Christmas.

They allow cars and trucks in the Cité. Rather anachronistic.

A great many of the of the shops were closed for the season but there were still an adequate number of tacky souvenir stands open. The forte here is hammered copper (or some facsimile thereof). I contented myself with a few post cards and a guidebook.

Took pictures of all the older-looking houses I could find, going on what I knew from Margaret Wood and that Wooden Houses book Eric* gave me. It was awfully cold and windy, though, and with no sun anyway I decided to take an earlier train than planned back to Toulouse.

But first I would make a circuit of the lists between the two walls. Went partway round before the cold north wind drove me back in to the shelter of the houses. But then the sun started trying to come out so I went back outside and walked along the outer fortifications, and looked at the countryside to the east, opposite from the city. Vineyards and hills, off into the distance.

Popped in and out as I saw a likely-looking gate. There were a few people around, mostly couples. Nearly saw an accident at the Tour St. Nazaire as two cars approached it from opposite directions at once. I could hear the car coming in through the single-lane gate and pointed it out to the driver of the exiting car and he stopped just in time. I can’t believe how closely the other one scraped by, though. Very French.

Back out into the lists, continuing clockwise around the citadel. It occurred to me how isolated it was through there and I mused that it would not be particularly romantic to "fall beneath the walls of Carcassonne," since for me at this time it certainly would not be in pursuit of some knightly deed.

Funny I should think of such a thing just then . . . funny-peculiar. Just about the time I passed this semi-circular cut in the earth (a drain of some sort?) just past the Tour de Cahuzac and the Tour du Grand Canisson I noticed a man, middle-aged, stocky and dressed like a workman in blue trousers and zipper jacket, standing looking over the battlements towards the lower town. From whatever conceit I decided to give him a wide berth. But as I passed him, he turned, came towards me, and demanded, "Donnez-moi votre main!"

Well, as far as I know this is not standard etiquette and I was having none of it. I said, "Non!" and drew away, but the creature tried to grab for my hand anyway! Over and over he babbled, "Donnez-moi votre main! Donnez-moi votre main!" Again I pulled away and began walking fast, whereupon the horrid person sped up, passed me-- and waited for me just inside the arch of the Tour Carrée de l’Evêque. The whole thing was unbelievably absurd and became even more so when, as I came opposite him within the tower, he again came at me and not only tried to grab my hand but also my rear end! I evaded contact and kept on going, while he started saying some other things that it’s just as well I couldn’t understand-- I wouldn’t want them rattling around in my mind.

I got out to the approach to the Tour de l’Inquisition, the creep still at my heels. I wasn’t scared, exactly, because the whole thing was so pointless. For what it was worth, I said sharply, "Laissez-moi tranquille!" as advised by one of the books I’d read on travelling in France. But he just grinned, kept babbling, and inside le Tour de l’Inquisition tried to grab me again.

No, I’m sorry. He did grab my hand. And began to pull it towards his crotch.

Well, that was enough. I was not being over dramatic, this was real and quite dangerous, especially considering the constriction of the lists just ahead between the Inquisition Tower and the Tour du Petit Canisson. Seeing it gave a whole new meaning to the expression "to be in a tight place" and I didn’t like it one bit. I snatched back my hand, gave out a shriek to show him I meant business and would really scream if his aggression continued, and took to my heels. I hoped my being younger would avail me if he came after; I couldn’t hear him following but I wasn’t taking any chances.

The lousy part was up the incline towards the Porte d’Aude. It’s rather demoralizing-- not to mention potentially petrifying-- to realize you can’t run like Thomas Magnum. I mean, if my accoster had really been trying I could’ve been lost right there.

Fortunately I knew exactly where I was, having entered through this gate in the first place. I doubled to the left and back into the cité to where the open shops and restaurants were. I have no idea if he meant me serious harm or if he’s just the kind of slime who likes scaring girls, but I wasn’t sticking around to find out.

My intention was to find a gendarme, or maybe report the guy at the post office. But the post office was closed for lunch and no policemen were to be seen. And my French isn’t good enough to make a random passerby understand what the problem was and help me do anything about it. So I decided to make myself scarce. I still didn’t feel safe-- what if he had followed me in? I didn’t want to hang around. So I found some other people, a couple, and began to follow in their wake. Fortunately they were going in the same direction as I’d decided to take-- towards the Porte Narbonnaise, opposite the side where the creep was hanging out. The carpark is there, and other people, and traffic. So I emerged there and circled round outside the citadel to where I found the way back over the river to the lower town. So help me, if I’d seen that jerk again you could have heard me all the way to Oxford.

Back towards la gare, bought some pizzas for lunch-- by which you may deduce that I was not terminally frightened. But I was impressed by the presence of evil in this world-- and moreover of the utter purposelessness of so much of it.

But it was "while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us" . . . And He knew about all this crap ahead of time!

Back to Toulouse by the 1:29 train. The sun actually decided to stay out so after resting at the hotel a little I took the camera and headed back to St. Sernin to see what I could see.

Much better than yesterday. I do seem to be having better luck with my Romanesque churches than with my Gothic. And today somebody went up and began practicing the organ! Maybe it was the composer chosen--Vierne or Messien or the like, but the playing didn’t seem as fluid and composed as that at Bourges. Still, it was a good thing to hear it. And it was audible out in the place at the west front, too.

Made a Decision and walked over to the rue Alsace-Lorraine and bought Marian*† a cloisonné box shaped like a quail, for Christmas. Around $13 US.

Got some orange juice and a chocolate bar at the Monoprix and came back to the hotel. Consumed much of that and the third 5" pizza from Carcassonne while playing with train schedules for the next week. Spent entirely too much time on that and didn’t get around to washing my silk blouse till after 10:00. Had it in the sink when I noticed the rules and regs notice saying that doing laundry in the room is "interdit." Oops! Well, tant pis, and if it’s not dry by morning I’ll hang it in the closet and no one’s harmed by the enterprise.

Wrote Mom and Janie*‡ postcards. I told them the gray weather is depressing but I didn’t admit I’m homesick-- for England. Kept singing the Simon & Garfunkel song "Homeward Bound" in my head today . . . Wish certain parts of it fit more than they do . . . and certain parts, less.
†My younger sister
‡The friend who was subleasing my apartment back in the States


whiskers said...

Oh how scary! What an...icky person that must have been, propositioning you like that. I'm glad you screamed, and even more glad you got away from him.


Sandy said...

How terrifying!