You could make a movie out of this. Seriously. Not that I personally could make a movie out of anything. And please don’t think, dear reader, that I am suggesting that you go out and make a movie out of my story. But it could be done. Read:
Scene 1: The self checkout of the hypermarché in Montélimar (basically, a Wal-mart meets grocery store meets Home Depot meets Jiffy Lube meets Best Buy…etc.)
Characters: myself, my lovely hostess, and an ornery French cashier
Plot outline: While trying to purchase a sandwich and sunflower seeds for later, the checkout machine kept beeping at us. The cashier came over to help, saw my (almost overly stuffed) backpack and tote bag for traveling, and immediately informed me that I wasn’t allowed to be carrying them around the store, and that I should have checked them at the entrance. I open them up to show her that I wasn’t stealing anything…and then promptly set off the sensors as we tried to leave. But passing each bag through one by one worked fine. I’m still not sure how we didn’t get accidentally arrested.
“Time Passes” Montage 1: train — Lyon station — very fast train (yes — the TGV is the Train de Grande Vitesse; literally, the train of great speeds) — Lille station, where it’s so humid that they put sand down to combat the puddles forming on the tile floor, which only makes it feel like the floor of a bathroom at a beach — French customs and UK Border Patrol, where it takes me 4x longer to pass through because I’m not an EU citizen
Scene 2: Onboard the Eurostar to London’s St. Pancras station
Characters: me and my seatmate
Plot outline: Through a bizarre turn of events, which includes me initiating a conversation, I find out that the girl sitting next to me is in the same program as me, teaching in a high school in Avignon. We strike up a very nice conversation and exchange emails. She regales me with a tale of the time she forgot her passport while traveling from France to her home in England…that day. So apparently, she either has to have her French landlady send it to her, or get a new rush passport in England and just say she lost hers. She’s still not sure how the officials let her onto the train.
Scene 3: Outside of St. Pancras station, on a bench
Characters: myself, a guy on the bench, and two very jolly British policemen
Dialogue: A jolly policeman: “Do you speak English, miss?”
A jolly policeman: “Oh, good. This gentleman here is perfectly harmless, but he is very, very drunk. If you’d like to move along to feel more comfortable, please feel free.”
Casting note: These two policemen need to be cast in such a way that every viewer falls completely in love with British policemen with one look.
“Time Passes” Montage 2 (A Montage of Great Difficulty): Journey from St. Pancras station to Northfields Hostel. In a perfect world, one could have taken the Piccadilly line all the way from Kings Cross to Northfields, about a 40 minute trip. Weekends in London are not perfect worlds. I ended up having to take the Piccadilly line to Hammersmith, change to a nonstop bus to Boston Manor, and then take the second part of the Piccadilly line back to Northfields. (These names mean nothing to you? Wow, what a coincidence…they meant nothing to me, either!) Adding to the difficulty, and the intrigue: the first four people — all Underground authorities — that I talked to gave me other directions, all unique. It took a while, to say the least.
Scene 4: The Northfields Hostel
Characters: myself, my Swedish roommate, the two slightly creepy guys who run the hostel
Plot outline: Dealing with the aforementioned creepy guys and trying to get fresh sheets for my bed. It’s a hostel. What do you expect?
Scene 5: En route to a local pub
Characters: myself, my awesome Swedish roommate, a nice Italian girl who speaks better French than English
Plot outline: I find a 20-pound note crumpled up in the leaves on the sidewalk. Awesome.
Scene 6, the pub scene, passes in a whirl of conversation and laughter, as we talk about anything and everything, from London to kings and queens to gay rights to why we don’t like beer to stereotypes, namely about the American twenty-somethings who get all dressed up (in not much at all) to go out every night, like the ones in the hostel. After which conversation we determine that I am not a “normal” American. For what it’s worth. I also bought the drinks, with my found money.
Scene 7: Kings Cross station, London, the next morning
Characters: me and my eventual hostess in Edinburgh
Plot outline: I get the key and directions to her place in Edinburgh, because they lost the tickets to their bus, and had to rebook on one that doesn’t get in until tomorrow morning. She’s freaking out, understandably…and I just see it as more of an adventure. I love exploring cities.
Scene 8: Edinburgh, nightfall
Characters: myself. And the city.
Plot outline: Less than three hours after arriving at the train station, I have settled in to “my” room and left again, wandering around to find dinner and groceries for breakfast tomorrow. You’d think I’d lived there for weeks. This city is gorgeous.
So, how does the movie end? It’s your choice, madame or monsieur filmmaker. It could end with my feet on the platform of the London underground, my head in the bustle of the Paris metro, simply because the musty smell is exactly the same. It could end with my pride at the first time someone mistook me for a French native. It could end as I practically make myself sick on delicious fish ‘n chips, complete with a sauce that is completely unknown to me, yet seriously tasty. It could end with a reflection on how happy I am to be speaking English again, even though I still have to struggle to make myself understood, and I have to turn off my automatic assumption that people are speaking a foreign language…because most of the accents around here sound foreign to my bland, American ears. But don’t follow my advice. I’m not good at ending stories. I just begin them, and see where they take me.