Sunday, June 26, 2011

More, or less, travel funnies…(4)

More, or less, travel funnies…(4)
Torrey Orton
June 26, 2011

Fire, fire…

Walking around Bourg en Bresse in eastern France early the first morning of our five days there, having found a copy of the International Herald Tribune after a bit of a search, along the way noticing some fire trucks in fighting positions up a street which I avoided…and then wandering around the neighbouring streets until I came out a street away, out of their sight and into a strange smell – a wood fire at 7:30am before the wood-fired pizza joints opened…and suddenly realising it was 200+ year old wood burning…give or take a few years.


One repeatedly shared moment across a month's travel was spring constantly sprung on us at every turn, with backwards steps spread among the flow towards summer. Looming out of the memories are two visions: one of greens of infinite shadings but not yet the full ones of high summer, and, two, dogwoods in bloom showing off in the edges and depths of woods as flights of light in the surrounding green darknesses. From this picture you can get a sense of their suspension, unsupported by visible limbs. That's how they look where I grew up. Not the massed and florid specimens you will find if you Google 'dogwoods in flower'.In nature they illuminate their surrounds. This is how they appear in New England wilds, sprinkled across a wood, not massed.

The illumination strikes but the greenness dominates as the context for all things natural. And this is the story of the US ascension over Europe (the little bits we saw) in greenification. The northeast is increasingly covered with forest, growing in the relegated farmlands fallowed by refrigerated transport and short crowing seasons typical of continental climates. On the roads we saw chipmunks, squirrels, deer, turkeys, foxes, Canada geese just wandering around having a munch of this and that. But for the chipmunks and squirrels, these are animals I never saw in my 1950's youth in a small country town with lots of its own woods. Judging by the complaints of locals, and relatives, the deer and geese are taking over everyone's flower and vegie patches, as well as littering the freeway bounds like roos do some country roads in Oz – markers of the domain of the car.

In Europe the Alpine wild strawberries are still to be found – unfortunately we missed the ripening season by a week or two. The feeling for me in France – the Bourg-en-Bresse region above, as well as the Chamonix of Mont Blanc – was controlled exploitation with occasional spurts of wildness (4900 metres comes to mind). By contrast, the northeast of the US was more real wildness than I grew up with…a sense of nature taking the land back, swamping cultivation in goose droppings (the close relatives of those who brought down the AA flight into the Hudson two years ago).

My central plains and westcoast associates will remind me that northeast is not USA, and they might be pleased if it did fade back into its prepilgrim-invasion aboriginality. Cultural resentment notwithstanding, as they fear that fundamental American truth came from the east, a new truth may be on its way, revealed to them in the forced reintroduction of predator species in the face of bovine resistances. After all, the great American west was once the east, settled with a gun, etc., hiding its terrible past in the applied gentility of its age. But I regress.


Fast forward to arriving at 11pm from Geneva with 30 minutes to spare between flights in Helsinki to be told the departure for HK was postponed uncertainly and indefinitely with next news at 1:15am.

As we waited for the next news cycle at 2:15am, already two hours plus beyond scheduled departure time, attempting a recuperative snooze on unoccupied bench seats, every three minutes a two-beep alarm went off – loud enough to hear and soft enough to be unworthy of complaint, and anyway not stoppable because coming seemingly from nowhere. Only an hour and half later of interrupted snoozes, more promises of eventual take off and beeps did I discover the source 25 meters away from us - a little electrified,two seat (2 year old size seats) car flashing lights in beat with the beeps and followed by a saccharine solicitation – "would you like to take a ride?"

I could have just pulled the plug on it but it was too late. The first call for boarding (now 4:15am) was echoing thru the waiting hall.

As we were taxiing for take-off the flaps, or something similar growled, with undiscernible purpose signalling the potential disaster our wait should have forestalled, sounding and feeling like a trap door opening and closing with a clank that made us wonder if the repairs had been made to the wrong parts of the plane. Lift-off was ponderous and climb slow…and here I am!


9 days later I bumped into a dead ringer for the offending vehicle in the walkway to our local supermarket – not having noticed it sitting there for years probably until now – with a Wiggles logo on it and a similar supplication to jump in for a ride. At least I wasn't trying to sleep.

This is the last of these words.

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