Sundown On the Zip Train to Poitiers

The Duck Pond
Imaginary photo of going too fast to see the ducks -
with blurry real pond and willows.

Time for Wine, None for Sandwiches

by Linda Thalman

Paris:- Monday, 20. October 1997:- At the TGV Gare at Montparnasse in Paris I don't need to be as early as at Orly for a charter flight. Destination: Poitiers on the 18:50 TGV run. On the train, at 18:50 there's one buzz, the doors close and off we go.

Ten minutes later and we're already 35 kms southwest of Paris - this is an hour's trip on the local suburban RER. Weaving down the aisle to the Bar Car - ten minutes on board and I haven't even ordered yet! - to the gentle sway of the train.

The sunset approaches as we cross La Beauce where some rails freshly tilled fields are golden brown and village church spires poke their heads up in the distance, just like on postcards. We're on a seemingly straight track through small woods, and rows of poplars are more or less a blur.

My ticket cost 249 francs, for a reserved seat - on-the-aisle, smoking-section - which I ordered by Minitel and paid for by debit-card. The ticket itself was hand-delivered by the snailmail-man to Boullay-les-Troux - which means; 'Bully for the Holes' - earlier in the week.

Blurry photo of real SNCF rails, with fake countryside.

Finally, after three or four paragraphs, I reach the Bar Car and pay 27 francs for 25 centiliters of Bordeaux, Yvecourt Premium 1995; and receive a free plastic wineglass from a smiling hostess.

Fluffy clouds dapple the rosy sky, as we pass blue-grey farm buildings. The blue-grey-suited SNCF 'controlleur' arrives and punches my ticket at 19:25. Before boarding I had punched - 'composted' - it in one of the orange pillar-boxes in the main hall at Gare Montparnasse, so this was the SNCF's routine double-punch.

In my reserved space, there's room to spread out my paper, handbag, briefcase, pen, plastic glass, and mini wine bottle on the flip-down tablet and use the tablet of the empty seat beside me as well for the spill-over.

An orange-yellow sun blinds my view to the west. I forgot my low-level prescription variable-density sunglasses again. Several seats in front of me a debate begins between a passenger and the ticket-puncher. Those of us close enough, eavesdrop. A ten-minute discussion leads to a pink form being filled in. The tone rises between the ticket-puncher and the passenger without a valid ticket. Will he get thrown off the train here? Or will they wait until it slows to below 300 kph?

Pale-green, and fairly clean pleated curtains remain open, though most travelers are absorbed in reading. A few others gaze idly at the rapidly passing landscape of stunted corn fields and ocre-tinted tiled roofs. There's a slight decrease in speed, then a tunnel, which seems to suck the air out of the wagon. The slightly disgruntled passenger and the professionally cool ticket-puncher finish their 'conversation.' Calm recommences in the carriage.

I've not brought a map and there are few - even speed-readable - signs along the way, but we've reached Saint-Pierre-des-Corps at Tours, where the train loiters for a leisurely 10 minutes. Gliding out on track one, the train begins its run to Poitiers.

My driver is to meet me there at 20:32. Will he be on time? He has to come from the Chateau de Ranton along the 'Roman Road,' some 65 kms-worth, south to Poitiers. As the TGV crosses Whizzing landscape the Loire, overhead ducks are in a 'V' and a brilliant red sun sinks into the river water. Picture postcard quality sundown - and I don't have a camera. I'll have to remember it instead.

Blurry photo of fake TGV window, with real French countryside.

Along the tracks there are weekend gardening plots, weeping willows, slate grey roofs. No billboards or neon signs are in sight. By phone, I talk to Pierre, my driver, who suggests I grab a sandwich as we need to hurry back to the castle for the end of the concert - there will be no time for a restaurant meal in Poitiers.

I sway back to the Bar Car. Jean-Paul, a charming, smiling SNCF ticket- puncher tells me we were doing 300 kph between Tours and Paris, but the train has slowed down to two hundred and eighty - plus small change - for the approach to Poitiers.

"No, you haven't missed your stop," he says. "We arrive in about two minutes." And we do: at exactly 20:32 on the dot. But no time to grab a sandwich either.

My chauffeur, Pierre, pulls in just as I step out of the front of the station and off we go at half the speed of the TGV - up to 150 kms on the straight parts, but a little slower on the curves to avoid tipping my plastic wine glass - to the Chateau de Ranton to give guided tours during France's 'Heritage' weekend.

Back in the 'heritage' days, this trip would have taken three weeks - but today's little zip - it was merely the duration of a 'Long Sundown.'

Linda Thalman©1997

Ed's Note:

Linda Thalman is the lady whose name is at the bottom of every page in Metropole - as the person you should write to if your Web browser doesn't work. She gets to answer these technical questions because she runs Metropole's Web server, expertly.

France's 'Heritage Weekend' took place on Saturday-Sunday, 2O-21. September. It is the annual weekend when France's public and fast drive, dark private historical monuments are open without charge to the public - and some of the sites are only open on this weekend.

Blurry photo of car moving downhill fast through forest, taken by driver.

Linda sent this account of her ride to Poitiers on Sunday, 28. September, but it has taken me until now to produce some illustrations for it - and I afraid I still couldn't find 'fluffy clouds,' a suitable sunset or any ducks passing through. I have arbitrarily given Linda's article Monday's date; but this is exactly five weeks after the fact.

Metropole's coverage of 'Heritage Weekend' appeared in issue 2.38 and featured a personal account of a visit to La Tourelle, the soon-to-be- dismantled estate of the late Richard Carrott, eminent art historian.

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