There was a postscript to the Morocco trip. My volunteer companions and good pal, threw caution to the winds and decided to come to France with me for a week afterwards with no agenda other than having a good time. Hasar!
We hired a car and spent the week racing around the South of France armed with sunglasses, decorative scarves, some genuine paper maps, and a gleeful lack of planning. It’s raining in Toulouse? Well we can either buy closed toe shoes or we can drive to Nice… Nice it is.
A bathroom stop leads to an afternoon drooling in a chocolaterie – why aren’t there more of those around the rest of the world? They’re fantastic, and a possible career option for me. I like the thought of handing over that business card: “Hello, I turn dull afternoons into dreams come true, I make bad days go away.. I am a chocolatier.”
How awesome does that sound? Especially if you imagine it being said in smooth, silky tones, maybe by Tom Hiddleston. Would that be weird if the business card came with a voiceover? And why has no-one done this yet? Maybe because people don’t want things in their wallet which talk to them.
Imagine if your credit cards did that… constantly being either judged on your spending habits or persuaded into making impulse buys. Maybe different credit cards would have different personalities: Visa would start off sensibly and then become cavalier, “Are you sure you need it? Will it make you happy? It will? Well then what are you waiting for! And whilst you’re at it, you should get another one in blue…and in pink too.”
Mastercard would be more like your dad: “How often are you going to use that? No, get the other one, it doesn’t matter about the pattern or the size, we can chop a bit off the house to make it fit, get the one with the extended warranty.”
Wheras American Express would be more like one of the real housewives of wherever land, “But why shouldn’t we buy this? It’s fabulous, I’m fabulous, therefore obviously we belong together. If you don’t buy this…well, I just don’t know what kind of a future we have together.”
Anyway, back to delightful France – very nice. Lots of lush green countryside, rolling hills, 13th century farmhouses dotted around, artists and musicians taking up residence under every rock and tree, medieval villages that were SO quaint and charming, I couldn’t get the philistine thought out of my head: sophisticated Disneyland for grown-ups. Sorry France, with your millennia old history that survives and thrives today, I apologize for not being able to come up with a more adequate comparison than a consumerist driven theme park/animation entertainment empire started in the 1950s.
Nice was preparing for both an Iron Man competition and the European Cup, there were many sporty types out and about which makes one feel inadequate, so we spent our day there traipsing around the old town, doing that idle shopping thing where you say, “No no, I’m not getting anything, only this one little … oh I appear to have six bags in my hand , how did that happen?”
From Nice we meandered down the coast to Cassis, the most gorgeous of gorgeous small fishing villages, that aren’t really fishing villages, but more a seaside resort (with a castle on top) that doesn’t feel like a seaside resort because it’s just so classy. Even the roads are cream, polished cobblestone. Ludicrously fabulous, American Express would feel right at home.
Cassis was the place though where I lost my cool ever so slightly because when I was exiting the – admittedly difficult to navigate – parking lot (pillars in odd places, angles, steep descents), two separate people decided the best thing to do would be to stand in front of the car and attempt to instruct me how to exit the fucking car park.
Do you know how confusing that it is? Forget first of all that it was in French, and just imagine two people using their own individual brand of sign language, standing directly in your way and expecting you to move whilst they’re still standing there. It’s not helpful. And of course I make the situation worse, by not wanting to appear rude blatantly ignoring them…which is what I should do. It is the most frustrating thing in the world to have someone telling you to steer left because you’ve only got six inches on the right, when you are aware that you have the six inches of the right but that you also have only one inch on the left.
And honestly – I’m going to risk some gender stereotyping here – this is a predominantly male trait. I’m not saying all men do it, they don’t, it’s a minority, but by comparison it’s really rare for a woman to do the same thing. I guess it’s similar to the thing where women go to the toilet in pairs: the majority of women don’t, but the amount of women that need a pee buddy vastly outweighs the amount of men that require one, so we think of it as an XX chromosome thing.
Women, if they think that assistance might be appreciated, will go up to the window of a female driver wave to get their attention, and then ask, “Would you like me to stand over there and guide you in?”
And if the driver replies, “It’s okay I’ve got it, but thanks for offering,”
the first woman will reply, “No problem, I just thought I’d ask because I would have trouble with that tiny space,” give a self-deprecating chortle, and then leave. She would not stop to watch, she would leave.
Conversely if there is a man who thinks a damsel might need help with their parking, he will go stand in the way of her car and yell directions whilst doing some complex mime at her, without being asked. Friends will often come out to watch, and give commentary.
I don’t know if they do it if the driver’s a bloke though. Are there any male drivers out there who’ve had this happen to them? Maybe if you’re a guy this scenario is not irritating it’s just a stranger being helpful, that or you don’t feel bad about ignoring unasked for advice…either way it sounds like a much healthier reaction than mine if I’m being honest.
But back to France. The only thing we did that was planned was a day trip to Lourdes. Lourdes has become a site of pilgrimage for the sick and/or the devout since the 1800s when a young girl, Bernadette, claimed to have had several conversations with the Virgin Mary in a cave, and that Mary led her to discovering a spring which was/ is imbued with healing powers. Clerics interviewed the girl and declared that hers was a true visitation because she was able to tell them information that she couldn’t possibly have known without having a personal chat with Mary – Maz to her friends. The clerics didn’t reveal what that compelling information was, but everyone accepted their judgement, and a catholic Mecca was born.
The town itself is a little odd, the streets leading up to the church are lined with shops selling Mary memorabilia, and containers for the water which range from small discreet glass bottles with ornate stoppers, to 5 gallon plastic jugs.
The church is beautiful. It rises from a granite outcrop set against a the backdrop of the Pyrenees, looking like it’s grown out of the ground and has had all of it’s rough edges, expertly chiselled away and polished. A fast flowing river with dark teal coloured water runs alongside the church, it is stunning.
And then of course there is the eclectic mix of hundreds of visitors, from school groups adorned in colour coded buckets hats and scarves; to families and groups of friends who are there to support someone they love; to nuns with large cross-body bags filled with an array of two litre bottles collecting water in bulk to distribute to their parishioners; to tourists taking in the sights. Everybody eventually makes their way to the water fountains on the east side of the building where they can drink directly from the fountains and also take some home in a bottle.
I’m not religious; and I am not a person who’s going to drive nine hours in one day to see a church; so why was I there?
Well…. a couple of weeks prior to my trip, I was at my sister’s house. She’s a busy lady, so I decided I’d help out, do the dishes etc… I collected a few half empty coffee cups and glasses, and then I noticed a plastic cup on top of the book case that had some water in it.. so I poured it down the sink and washed the cup along with the rest of the dishes.
Yes. The holy water from a different continent, that had been presented to my sister 12 years previously, and that she had kept safe and unharmed for 12 years, that she distributed to people diagnosed with cancer… I poured it down the sink.
And that’s why I went to Lourdes.
Sister is now the owner of holy water that resides in bottles with big signs on them that clearly say LOURDES, and have embossed images of the Virgin Mary.