The Call of Music
Since I had long passed Tours, my next destination would be Chartres and then Orleans, then I would finally head for Paris.
An elderly man took me. He was very talkative, spoke French very fast and with a strong indistinguishable regional accent. I tried my best to follow but all I could make out was that he was not happy because he just had a breakup with a girlfriend, whom he went to visit in the South of France. That was why he was complaining all the time. I nodded my head and replied ‘seriously?’ ‘really?’ ‘Oh my goodness!’ to keep the conversation going and this strategy worked pretty well. He was so much absorbed in his monologue that we missed several turns. Instead of heading towards Paris, I saw we turned on a road showing the sign of Toulouse……
Me: Eh…. the road…
He: Yes! The road was so long! It took me such a long time to get to her place from Paris! Then what? She really broke up with me! Oh la la, it’s unbelievable!…..
Me: I mean, is this the right road? I saw the sign of Toulouse……
He: Do not mention Toulouse to me please young man! It is a torture for me to hear the name Toulouse! That is where she is from! Oh Toulouse……
Now I finally found a possible explanation for his mistake — subconsciously he was still drawn to her.
When he saw another sign saying ‘Toulouse’ he finally woke up. He apologized and offered to take a little detour to take me to Chartres.
Do not get me wrong, dear friends. I am not making fun of him here. We are all human beings and we all have our own episodes of drama. It is unavoidably part of our life, and thus part of traveling. The difference is that within the walls of our sedentary life, we only see the dramas of ourselves and those around us. While on the road, I see the dramas of people of all walks of life, regular office workers, inspired artists or passionate lovers, like this fellow.
The more I travel, the more I realize that traveling is only half about seeing views and another half is about reading the lives of other people.
Chartres was gloomy and when he dropped me at a road leading to the city center, it was already 5 PM. It was cloudy. I was about 2 km from the old city center. I wanted to walk, but I thought I might just try my luck for 5 minutes. Thus, I thumbed up for 4 minutes and 23 seconds and then Bang! A car actually stopped! Inside was an African dude from Zimbabwe. After a short complaint about the president of Zimbabwe Mugabe we arrived in the old town of Chartres, near Place Chatelet. The dude was a nice guy and very easy going. He said goodbye and was just about to drive off, music reached us from the square of Chatelet. He listened for ten seconds and then simply parked his car somewhere and came to the square with me. On the square, they set up a temporary stage and a band was actually playing. It was a totally free open air concert on a public square. They played so well that numerous passengers stopped to listen. People who were taking their afternoon walk with dogs or kids all flew onto the square. The 3 long benches were soon occupied. More people were coming. The floor in front of the benches was soon full. The cloudy weather turned even cloudier. Still people kept coming. It started to rain and yet still more people were joining, some with umbrellas but most not.
Eventually the square was totally full and that was my first encounter in Chartres, not with anybody, but with music. Sitting in the crowd, I could see the tall Gothic towers of the Chartres cathedral. I wanted to visit it before it closed at 6:30 so I said goodbye to my new friend from Zimbabwe and headed to the cathedral. Behind the enormous cathedral there was a huge park, from which I saw that the city was actually built on a hill, overlooking other neighborhoods and endless trees.
When I got out of the library, which I entered simply because it was such a cool old building, it was getting dark. I was still enchanted by the beautiful music and in spite of the oppressive weather, in my heart there was bright light. ‘I will try to get to Orleans tonight!’ I thought and off I went.
I tried different locations, passers-by said hi to me but no cars stopped.
The Bank of Loire
It became dark. Less and less cars were on the road. I decided to walk on, trying to stop cars whenever there was one. If nobody stopped eventually, I would just walk to the edge of the city to camp in the farm land. Of course, while walking my mind was not idle. I was praying to the God of Good Weather for Hitchhikers. I know, it was an odd title for a God, but do not laugh, it was working so far.
After about 40 minutes when I almost gave up, a very beautiful car stopped. I got in and saw this bespectacled driver who was in his early fifties, in a tidy shirt and his car was glisteningly new. He even spoke quite good English.
He: My friend, I am glad to see you! Have some water and I have bread also. I know I look drunk and indeed I did drink some wine at dinner, but don’t worry. I am perfectly fine. I totally understand you. I also traveled a lot myself. I backpack every year. Last year I backpacked in Congo. That was crazy but still, amazing people! There are amazing people everywhere! So when I see people with backpacks, I stop and help! We are fellow travelers!
The difference was that while my fellow traveler was a real estate agent who owned two villas, one shining car and God knows how many more properties, I was essentially penniless. OK, that was not accurate as I did have about 50 Euro in my pocket and I still had the fruits I picked up earlier that day, which I offered to him. I could hardly imagine rich real estate agents mingling with poor backpackers in USA, whereas here in Europe, especially in the socialistic country France, it was a reality.
He: Do you know that this road we are traveling on was initially built by the Romans? That was about two thousand years ago. Of course then it was rebuilt by France, but the route is essentially Roman. History is incredible.
Don’t know if I have told you of it, but I LOVE history! My dream job was to study Persianology and archaeology and then go to Persia and Central Asia to dig. WOWO! We talked about the historical wonders of the world, especially the most obscure ones which hardly any people knew of.
He: ‘Do you know that in Taklamakan desert they discovered thousands years old mummies whose appearances and traits looked essentially Celtic, even wearing the characteristic ‘kilts’? Taklamakan desert! That was in the west province of China! ‘
Me: Do you know that there are two places called Galicia, one in Spain and the other in Eastern Europe?
He: Yes! and they were both so named because they produced salt!
I was so engrossed in the conversation that I forgot to ask him where he was actually going…… When I suddenly remembered to ask that we were already out of Chartres for half an hour.
He: Oh! I am not going to Orleans actually. I am now going back to my family in Toulouse, south of France.
Me: I don’t know why, but there have been at least 3 times that people tried to get me to Toulouse either intentionally or not.
He: Since you want to go to Orleans, no worries! I will drive you there!
He dropped me in the outskirts of Orleans and made his way southwards.
It was totally dark. He stopped there because it was near the Loire river, upon whose banks I might find a spot for camping. I made my way through the darkness to the bank. However, the river was fenced. I entered one walled block with many residential buildings. One dog barked but there were no guards. At the other end of the block I found the locked gate to the river bank. Nope, I did not know how to pick locks, so I climbed over it with my big backpack and found my way to the thick wetlands. The vegetation was so thick that I could not find a piece of ground for camping. Eventually I simply put my tent on top of a bunch of reeds and hoped my body weight (you know I was a big guy) would push the reeds down.
Above the reeds I slept.
To be continued