Sometimes a small move off the planned path can make all the difference! Last weekend, Kerry and I were in Montpellier with the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg for the final two concerts of the season. For me, they were the last concerts on my one-year conctract as 3rd horn with the OPL. It has been a wonderful experience for me, being a full-time member of the orchestra for the season (I have been working there on and off since 2001 and will continue to do so on an occasional basis in the future.) After delivering the ending chords of Dvorak’s 7th Symphony to an enthusiastic audience at the Festival Radio France Languedoc-Roussillon, I felt the poignancy of another stage of life coming to a close. There have been many of these lately, including sending my younger stepson off to university. The next morning, the orchestra boarded a bus to Avignon, to catch a 6-hour train to Metz, then transfer to busses for the rest of the journey to Luxembourg. From the bus window, I felt the intense Mediterranean sunshine, looked upon fields of sunflowers, rooftops of Provençal villages… and thought, why are we leaving this beautiful place so soon? Now that the kids are gone, no one is waiting for us back at the house. Kerry and I exchanged barely 2 sentences about it and decided spontaneously to ditch the orchestra in Avignon, spend the rest of the day and night there and look around, then travel to Paris, returning home a couple days later. Just coloring outside the lines like that felt so liberating! We said a few quick, “Have a great summer, we’re staying here, bye!” ‘s before purchasing our TGV tickets to Paris and Luxembourg and boarding the shuttle bus for the center of town.
We knew that Avignon had a rich and vibrant history which included being the seat of the papacy in the 14th century, but we had no idea we had arrived in the middle of one of the most renowned theater festivals in Europe. It was a small miracle that we found a hotel room at all – though it was at the very first place we tried. How great it felt booking tickets and hotel rooms the old-fashioned way rather than reserving on line! After checking in to our room at the Bristol Hotel (does every European city have a Hotel Bristol? Seems like it) we slathered on sunscreen and hit the streets. Besides the main plays being offered at the festival, Avignon has a secondary “Off” festival much like the Edinburgh Fringe. Actors from the numerous plays wandered around town in costume hawking their productions, and we were taken by a beautiful Japanese violinist handing out flyers for La Violoniste et l’Esprit de la Chaise (The Violinist and the Spirit of the Chair. This play, all done with dance, mime, and instrumental music, was deeply moving and beautiful. There was a message about artistry and overcoming the negative voices who come between us and our creativity, our magnificence of spirit, as well as the sadness of what is lost in war. You can see highlights from the show here. Having just dealt with a difficult personality on the podium ourselves, the play was balm to our souls.
We ate a delicious traditional Provençal meal with local wine under the stars, sat on our hotel balcony and watched all sorts of colorful folks pass by on the street, slept deeply, had croissants and espresso for breakfast the next morning, and then wandered out to the Pont d’Avignon, the Avignon Bridge. I had known the famous song about dancing on the bridge since my French teacher taught us the tune in high school, so of course I had to do a little dance over the Rhône before departing. Kind of a cheesy thing to do, but fun nonetheless.
The train from Avignon to Paris covers 742 km (463 miles) in under 3 hours, so I watched the southern landscape give way to distant Alps, Burgundian hills, and finally the flatlands that lead to the capital. Arriving in Paris always feels a little like coming home, since we often find ourselves there. Kerry led us to a hotel he had stayed at many times in the past in the area near the Sorbonne on the rue des Ecoles. Everything we did on this trip was very spur-of-the-moment, including ducking into a shop featuring Celtic trinkets, recreations of Samurai swords, even Lord of the Rings paraphernalia. Kerry found a fabulously cool lamp with a knight in full armor on one knee, holding the stem of the lamp, and we vowed to come back the next day for it. Just outside the shop, we saw a young pigeon who was flapping around on the ground helplessly, one leg stuck out at an awkward angle, poor little thing. I couldn’t just let it lie there, so I asked the shop owner to help me get it into a bag and inquired where the next veterinarian was (luckily just a couple of blocks away.) Did vets take stray street pigeons, I wondered! I sat in the waiting room for a while until the vet was free, then asked if there was anything he could do for the bird. Luckily, no one laughed at the foreign lady with the pigeon in a green sack (at least not in front of my face!) While I sat there, I gave Reiki to it through the bag as it calmed down and blinked up at me. The vet x-rayed the little bird and found that its pelvis was smashed beyond repair, nothing he could do other than put it to sleep. At least it was a gentler end for the pigeon than a hungry feral cat. I paid a discount fee for the x-ray, bid the bird farewell, and left quietly.
We walked around that part of town for a while then went out for Ethiopian food, one of our favorite cuisines (I couldn’t bring myself to eat the chicken, after trying to save the life of another bird.) And while sitting at an outdoor cafe that night, I remembered that a friend of ours lived near the Sorbonne, so I got in touch with her – she was on the rue des Ecoles just a couple of blocks up from the hotel! So Julia had us over for breakfast the next morning, we went back to the Celtic shop and bought the lamp as well as a delicate fairy figurine for me, and the shop owner wanted to know all about the pigeon. We took our luggage on a long walk past the Notre Dame cathedral in search of a particular Jewish deli in the Marais quarter to find pastrami, a rarity over here. After getting lost a couple of times, we found it just in time for lunch then caught the metro to Paris Est station for our train back to the Burg.
Though I am a seasoned traveler and can cope with just about anything that comes up on a journey, I prefer to leave as little to chance as possible. Trusting that we would find seats on the train and hotel rooms and get everywhere we needed to be was a bit of a stretch for me. This particular stretch led into some unexpected pleasures!