I wouldn’t say we’re stranded in Dunkerque, but apparently we’re one of the first who wouldn’t say that. I love it here. Butters even more so. It’s got a beach.
Dunkerque was the place to which the English retreated as the Germans cruised through Belgium and into France. They didn’t tell the French they were going – guess they thought they’d whistle as they left and shut the door quietly. But the French had the same idea, and instead of evacuating 45,000 troops, as the English thought they were, in 4 days, they evacuated over 300,000 in 9 days. Perfect weather conditions for it – it was a feat. Of running off. The beach is so flat that they had to use vehicles as jetties. Dunkerque was almost completely obliterated during the War, and internet write ups say that it – the town, the people – have struggled to recover from the stigma; their buildings are new, compared with so much of the rest of France, I guess, and even though it is a cherub town on top of a flat, long-seeing beach, it’s got little self confidence. It was the place from which the English were evacuated, on Navy ships and any small fishing vessel that they could charter, when the French surrendered. (Can I say cheese eating surrender monkeys here?) I don’t think the French look kindly upon a lack of self confidence, in general, so they leave all of theirs in Dunkerque.
(Aside: Fitter. More relaxed. I forget how the Radiohead thing goes. But I am. Less crazy. Will post about health exploits.)
So that means we’re in France. In a Fiat Punto, which I now will defend with my life. It is cute and efficient, even if deformed and backward. Butters can drive, but he can’t drive a manual with confidence, having only learned a bit, in my Father’s farm Ute, about a year ago, and only in paddocks and up rocky, 90 degree dirt hills. I learned to drive on the right side of the road the day before yesterday. He could, but it’s not really worth the additional difficulty, for either of us. So I drove from Germany to France yesterday. My nerves have not yet recovered from being in a state of perpetual high alert, punctuated by moments of real, guts searing ‘the-lion-is-crouching-and-wiggling-its-bum-at-us’ alarm. Doing everything the opposite, in a car (apart from driving in reverse gear) is like being given a soft serve ice-cream, and being asked to consume it through your nose, while on fire. It’s weird, at times painful, often embarrassing and you’re doing it all very quickly. Actually – that was the cool bit: getting to drive at 130kph, instead of 110.
At one point, I pulled over to a shopping centre and had a panic attack, slapping Butters in the chest when he told me to stop it. After five minutes’ driving around the car park, trying to find somewhere to legally turn to get in to one of the thousand free spaces I could see, put the car in neutral, handbrake on, opened the door, and stumbled out as if drunk, toward the large steel and ad-blazoned monolith that I am used to (living in Wantirna).
I waddled in, through the comforting, automatic doors, sat down at a Paul’s and had a chocolate éclair, even though it wasn’t a responsible diet choice, and asked for a cappuccino in French. I know how to say one, cappuccino, please, thank you. Butters is the gifted interlocutor in this land, thank you very much.
(Aside: it’s a mixed bag, ordering and receiving coffee in France. You never know how they’ll interpret your order. At Paul’s, short on the milk and latte froth. And bitter. At a road stop, a shot of espresso and no milk. It’s better than in Germany: the coffee there is terrible, and they order it like that, as in, just ‘ein ‘koffee’. No variants. And yet, as Rowan tells us, the Germans are the biggest consumers of coffee worldwide. I once had a coffee in Dahn that tasted like washing up water laced with cyanide, and a dash of goat’s milk.)
Then, reconciled with wide eyed spouse and caffeine balanced again, I went to the first clothes shop I saw, and found the best clothes ever – I cute grey and floral dress, black shorts and a pastel striped tee shirt. They all fit right, and I bought them.
That being possibly one of my best experiences in a clothes shop, ever.
France. You were different than I thought you were going to be. I like you.
Then, getting back on the road, I had my first French road rage experience. I lingered for a little longer than I should have in the left lane while overtaking a truck (being Australian, and not European, I tend to give cars more than half a meter of personal space), and a BMW (that’s like saying, ‘a Holden Commodore’, on Australian roads) smooshed up behind me from nowhere (literally – I couldn’t see him when I overtook at all), and blared the horn. I pulled back over, and he gave me the finger. I reciprocated. He pulled in front of me and slowed down dramatically. I blared my horn at him, and then used two fingers. He sped off.
Butters (after telling me off) said that nothing would have pissed off a Frenchman more than a driver in a German registered, Italian car, giving an English two-fingered salute. So I’m satisfied.
We were as excited as a couple of mice finding a cheese factory all their own, when we went across the checking station and saw the Euro sign with ‘France’ written on it. Gosh did we squeak. Just before we arrived, I noticed the trees change, from German to French. I don’t know species, so it’s hard to describe, but they changed from uniform to bunchy, and some became thinner and more like those I think of as stereotypically Scandinavian (probably because of IKEA, let’s face it). The houses were cousins of the German handsome concrete blocks with sharp tiled rooves, but they were more delicate, made from reds and with fringes of black, always with a pointed spire in the middle of the town.
I didn’t think I’d ever get used to the idea of cruising down the side of the road that they usually only show on shaky helicopter police videos, but I found myself easing into it.
Now, when we cross the channel to England, I’ll be driving on the left side of the road, but the driver’s seat will be on the left, also. I’m gonna have so many new neural pathways now my brain will physically expand.
I’ll add some more to this post, about driving, perhaps, at a later date. We’re off to the beach. Everything is grey.