Across To France

It was raining when we left London, and all the way down to the coast. The visibility out the windows of the bus was poor, but that wasn't much of a loss; they were doing a lot of work along the highway and the view consisted largely of raw chewed-up earth and piles of construction materials. The legendary white cliffs of Dover were gray behind the slanting rain.

And the ferry was jammed with weekenders, particularly teenage floating-mall rats; but it was easy enough to find a quiet sheltered spot out on a side deck and watch the waves and the gulls. It was Phyllis's first sea trip and she enjoyed it, in a moderate sort of way; the Dover-Calais crossing isn't one of the world's more exciting voyages, after all. She had been a bit worried about seasickness, but it failed to strike.

For myself, I was feeling a good deal better than I had a few days ago, but still a bit on the weak and shaky side. The moist Channel air, though, seemed to be good for my head and chest; at least I finally got some relief from the hacking cough that I'd been fighting all week.

The rain was fairly bucketing down in Calais. The ferry-terminal bus ran late and we barely got to the SNCF station in time to catch our train. Phyllis watched as I got the tickets and then asked a station employee which platform. "That's amazing," she said. "You really do speak French. I thought that was just another of your bullshit stories."

It felt marvelous to be back in France; ever since last year, I'd wondered if I'd ever get to return. Phyllis was mildly interested, as we rolled southward and then inland across the low green country of Picardy, but she fell asleep around Abbeville and didn't wake up till we pulled into Amiens.

By then the rain had stopped; and a good thing, too, because we had one hell of a time finding a room; some sort of event was happening in Amiens that weekend - we never found out what - and the hotels were full. We walked all over the place; Phyllis got to see quite a bit more of Amiens than anticipated before we finally found a room at the little Hotel Normandie. It was pretty basic and up many flights of very steep stairs but it looked damned good to us by then.

And just a little way down the street was the cathedral.

It was as magnificent as I remembered; in the swirling mists of late afternoon it looked even bigger, with an air of ancient mystery.

Phyllis was profoundly impressed; I was impressed myself, and I'd seen it before.

A little while later, we were tucking into a most excellent dinner at the same café where I had had my first meal in France, back in the spring of the preceding year. They still knew how to do roast chicken...Phyllis chewed thoughtfully on her first mouthful and then announced, "I like France." And a little while later, when the handsome young waiter brought her an enormous chocolate mousse for desert: "Okay, that's it, I'm not going home."

By the time we were done it was dark and it had started raining again, harder than ever. We slogged back to the hotel, hugging doorways and awnings for shelter, wondering if it was going to be like this the whole trip.