August is a dead month in actorsland. Even in London where, they claim, people don’t make a disappearing number “en masse” leaving the city at the end of July for their summer holidays. Casting directors are mainly women and they go on holiday with their kids. Theatres don’t start their castings until September. So unless you’re at the Edinburgh Festival or in an open air show (tough luck, with the rain appearing every other day open air shows are only for those whose lungs are unaffected by humidity and cold) nothing happens in an actor’s life in August. Even my usually never-stopping voice over business has been dead for a week.
I usually leave London around the 6th of August and return at the end of the month. I can’t stand not having a proper summer, and London in August drives me mad with its pale sunshine and overcast sky, so gray it’s like the gods have placed a lid on Earth trapping us all in.
And I’m driven even more mad by the Brits claiming “we’ve had a great summer this year!” just because for a couple of weeks between June and July the temperature went beyond 25 C. Bless them… It’s true that to the hungry even stale bread is a great meal. But for us Mediterraneans summer is supposed to last 3 months, not 3 weeks!!!
I usually leave London on the 6th of August and bu….er off until September but this year for the first time in centuries I’m actually not single so I’ve planned a holiday with my boyfriend.in Greece, leaving on the 20th.
However, since there was no way I could wait until the 20th in London, I accepted my friend Tanya’s invitation to visit her in France. She has a house in the Auvergne, 2 hours from Paris, in the middle of the countryside. Sounds good to me. Not exactly like the 3 weeks in Polinesia I had last year but at least it’s “away”.
So here I am, on the Eurostar, EN ROUTE VERS PARIS.
Je devrais pratiquer mon francais parsque j’ai perdue completement mon vocabulaire, en fait il serais une bonne idee d’ecrire uniquement en Francais jusq’a’ la fin de ce blog, mais… I CANT BE BOTHERED.
Taking the Eurostar is fun and it feels fairly posh. The International terminal at Kings Cross is brand new and modern, shiny and sleek.
It’s like being at an airport but right in the middle of the city, and at the check-in nobody forces you to throw away your bottle of water or your shower gel. I can even keep my tweezers! The check in is smooth and painless, and at the passport control the French officers are so careless and relaxed they just chat to each other without looking at your face or at your passport.
When I go through, just after a Japanese group, the officer doesn’t even notice I am no’t from Tokyo and stamps my passport!! When I point out, “I’m not supposed to get a stamp, I’m European!” he looks at me and giggles. “Oh, oui, you are! Oh well, it’s a souvenir, ha ha.”
I’m not usually in the habit of giving suggestions to terrorists and I hope no Al Quaida’s leader reads my blog but, honestly, I don’t know why they bother so much with planes. You can carry all the liquid explosive you want on the Eurostar and nobody even checks your documents! I could have passed the border showing Yuki Kushida’s passport and they wouldn’t have blinked. Arigato’!
The moment you go through custom at the Eurostar’s terminal, every single staff member begins to speak with a French accent. They say “madame” and “the ti-cke’t”. It’s so hilarious I suspect they’re actually from Croydon but they’ve been trained in sounding like Poirot just to entertain passangers.
ON the actual train though, the poshness disappears.
The Eurostar’s seats are small and worn out, the coaches overcrowded and I find out to my dismay that I have the same seat number as somebody else. Infuriated, I get a conductor to sort out the mistake only to realise that I was looking at the reservation for my return trip…
I look like a true idiot who never travels and I’m deeply ashamed. Oh well, I’m not myself first thing in the morning, my brain cells obviously don’t wake up until 9am…
When I finally get to my coach, at the very very front of this very very very long train, basically already half way out of London, it’s like I’ve entered paltform 7 1/2 in Harry Potter… The few Brits and the many French and the odd Japanese people who crowded the rest of the train have magically disappeared to leave room to a whole couch of Chinese passengers, talking frantically and loudly to each other, eating noodles, arguing and walking up and down the aisle as if training for the NY marathon. It’s like I’ve boarded a train in Shanghai. It’s totally surreal. I start sighing out loud and saying “shush!!!” But the Chinese take no notice.
I fall asleep with my Ipod on. The train goes underground, or, better underwater. I try not to think that I’m deep under the surface of the ocean and that tons of water are now over my head. I suffer from claustrophobia.
Midday. I’m finally in Paris!
and looking forward to spending an hour surrounded by Parisian charm while waiting for my next train.
But reality is once again disappointing.
Gare Du Nord might look nice from the outside but the Eurostar arrival platform is a horrible place. As I’m about to discover French stations are shabby, seedy, run down labyrinths that smell of urine. Exactly like Italian stations I must add.
I’m hungry and I’d like a snak but French sandwiches are horrible, huge and full of butter. Where’s Pret a manger????
Oh dear I’m turning into a Brit…
Hey, hold on, I can’t buy a horrible buttery sandwich because I have no money! Speaking an embarassing anglo-french I walk to the Bureau du Change and I try to explain that I’d like to use my credit card to get some euros.
He looks at me puzzled: why don’t you use the cashpoint? He asks, quite rightly.
Now, this is a very complicated story to explain, especially in French, and I know the natural conclusion he’ll jump to is that I’ve stolen the card.
The truth is different.
I would like to give my British bank account a rest and use my Italian card to withdraw euros, which makes much more sense since Italy and France have the same currency. Pity my Italian debit card’s magnetic strip has become unreadable so I can’t withdraw money from the ATM. I do have another Italian credit card but, and this is the crucial point, I never knew the PIN for that one, so I can’t use it at a cash point.
Yes, I know I sound like a cross between Mr Bean and Fantozzi (or like my friend Armando, which is the same) but you only realise your bank has never sent you a PIN for that credit card you never use until the moment you DO need to use it. This is a universal law.
Result: I can only withdraw money with my Italian card by signing on a receipt, old style. Which in our electronic time equals to being a weirdo.
The French guy at the Bureau looks at me very susipicously, charges me a ridiculous 12% commision and disappears.
I start looking for the RER to go to Gare de Lyon. The signs inside the Gare di Nord are very confusing and it takes me 10 minutes to locate the station. I buy a ticket and go through the barriers.
Metro tickets in Paris are a supertiny, paper affair and the moment I’m past the barrier I loose it. Great! Which means I get to Gare de Lyon and can;t get out. This is the second time in 3 hours that I’ve behaved like somebody who’s never left her front room.
I shyly walk to the booth where a female Metro officer is sitting, reading the French equivalent of Hello! magazine.
“Excusez-moi,” I said, in my nice little girl’s voice. “J’ai perdu mon billiet…”
“Oh mon Dieu de la France!” she says.
Honestly, do they audition these people? Mon Dieu de la France????
The woman stares at me and shakes her head. I expect her to report me to the Metro police (since I left Britain I’ve already passed for criminal once), but I’m saved by my very evident tourist attire (suitecase, camera) and by my also apparently evident ENGLISH accent (I’m desperate. I speak French with an English accent. WHY??? To a French person I sound like Don Lurio (only my Italian readers can understand how dramatic that is), how did that happen? Britishness is creeping up inside me like a snake… Please when I start asking for a cup of tea with my pizza, shoot me in the head.
The Metro officer smiles and handles me a new ticket.
“Tenez,” she says. “Utilisez ce-ci.”
Gare de Lyon is even shabbier than Gare Du Nord or at least the bit I arrive at is. There’s no sign pointing to the main forecourt exit, only to side exits opening on seedy streets where if you stand longer than 5 minutes you probably get mugged, attacked or assaulted according to the time of day. In comparison Victoria, Paddington and Euston seem like the Ritz Hotel.
After wandering about for about 25 minutes I find the main forecourt. Paris! Finally I see what I expect: pretty streets, a few cafes, nice buildiings in the distance… I sit at at the Cafe Europe just outside the station, and for the gracious sum of 5 euros I’ve the priviledge of drinking a very bitter cafe au lait. Now, this is the 3rd time in 3 hours I behave like a clueless tourist who’s never travelled (rule number one: avoid touristy cafes just outside stations, they’re terrible and they rip you off). But at least this time it is a deliberate choice.
After 20 minutes I walk back to the station and board my train to Moulins.