Monday, March 5, 2012

Around the World: Bordeaux

March 5, 1992

The train is about to arrive in Bordeaux.  I hope it's a little bit warmer here than it was in England.

After storing my knapsack in a locker at the train station, I pick up a map from the elusive tourist information counter.  Just outside the station is a little bakery where I buy a lemon tart and some juice.  I look over the map while I munch on my tart and think it would be fun to see if I can find my way around Bordeaux on only my french, or at least my version of it.  Tossing the map in a trash can as I walk away from the train station, I have the presence of mind to look for a sign that tells me what the word for station is, so I can find it again.


I'm running low on francs so I begin my exploration of the city searching for a bank.  Along the way, I stop outside a boulanger that has set up a grill to prepare crepes.  Ham and cheese for me.  Delicious.

Bordeaux is full of cheese. Everywhere I look, cheese is everywhere, including my face from the crepe I devoured earlier.  I find myself in a large courtyard of shops and cafes where an artist is drawing 3-D pictures on the cobblestone path.

Photo courtesy of Clean Cut Media

My wanderings lead me to an open air market of clothes, food and trinkets.  Of course, several booths have a variety of cheese for sale.

By early afternoon, I'm less apprehensive about approaching strangers with inquiries in french.  I have picked up some new phrases and find people are quite patient with my attempts.  A young father watching his children play in a small park deflates my confidence when he responds to my request for directions with, "It's okay, I speak English."

So do I, pal, but that's not the point.  My french must be terrible.

Now that I am pleasantly lost, I have no choice but to ask for directions back to the station to catch the overnight train to Madrid.  I have wandered into an area that looks like it's either being demolished or stands as a reminder of damage from WWII.  I find a small group of older men, grandfatherly types, possibly in their late 60's to early 70's playing checkers in the remains of a large building.

"Excusez-moi," I shout from the pathway just beyond the rubble, "Ou est la gare?"  Well, at least that's what I thought I asked them.

The men burst into laughter.  One of them guffaws and I only catch part of what he says, something about being 40 years to late.  I don't understand what is so funny, and between giggles, they provide simple directions that lead me to the train station.  Whatever the joke was, my french must be getting better if both sides understood enough to send me to where I wanted to get to.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia Creative Commons

I have reserved a berth for the trip.  The bench converts into individual sleeping spaces for three people on each wall of the small compartment.  Four guys have each claimed the middle and lower berths.  

• ¤ •

It's a strange world of language in which skating on thin ice can get you into hot water.
~Franklin P. Jones

Something I learned years after my trip:
Gare - pronounced as an English word, rhymes with care, share, there, etc..  In French, the "e" at the end of the word has no effect the preceding vowel, and would be pronounced more properly as "gar", (rhymes with car). As I pronounced it, the men heard me ask them, "Ou est la guerre?" which, when translated means, "Where is the war?"