Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Best Laid Plans

“Fuck,” I said.
“Yes,” said The Student. “Quite.”
The giant board in Lille-Europe winked threateningly at the two of us, standing in the middle of the departure area in the midst of rushing Europeans in one of the busiest train stations I’d seen. The line that read “Bruxelles” also had a little buzz-kill “Annulée” just down the line.
“Maybe there’s a later train?” I asked.
The Student shook his head. “I doubt it. The weather outside is terrible, and they won’t run the trains if the lines are icy.”
“Ask,” I said.
“I’m not asking if I already know the answer, it’s a waste of energy. We should spend the time looki—”
“Ask,” I said.
The Student tossed up his hands in defeat and joined a very long queue at the ticketing agent booth. I followed.
There’s something unifying and vaguely warming about seeing people from different countries complaining about the same thing at the same time and in the same physical area. It’s one of those things that we miss out on in the States, unless you want to count the Southwest, which is just as bilingual as French Canada is. At any rate, the good vibes were destroyed once it became clear how incredibly annoyed and angry most of the people in the line were.
After a few minutes in the line, spent behind a couple of German ladies, we got up to the booth where The Student asked what was going on. The ticket agent responded that the Eurostar trains were canceled for the day because of the weather. The Student asked if we could switch to the French line, and the ticket agent laughed and told us to get the hell out.
We left the line, stood at the fence along the walkway overlooking the trains, and leaned forward. “Well,” I said.
“That’s a fairly accurate description of everything that’s going wrong today. Indeed. Yes.” The Student hung his head.
See, this would not have been a problem any other day, and we would have otherwise just gone on our merry way and head back to Pascale’s place to slumber until the afternoon. However, having planned to be in Brussells by eleven, we’d made certain arrangements with Pascale—namely, she’d frolic on out to her parents’s house, thus taking her keys with her, and we’d be drunkenly swaying around the EU’s capital. And so, Pascale already nearly at her parents’ and us stuck in the train station, we were faced with another day spent wandering around Lille.
Eventually, we left the station and headed back out to the plaza. The trains were closed for good reason. Between us and the entrance to the plaza opposite, a distance of about fifty yards, there was a sheet of snow blowing at about twenty miles an hour. Neither The Student or I had scarves, so we covered our faces with our hands, barely cutting some of the coldness, and schlepped across the plaza, up the staircase, and onto the pedestrian portion of a bridge, where the wind was even worse.
I looked up and saw that we had about a quarter of a mile to the giant mall in EuraLille. I was so cold, I didn’t even have the mental faculty to delude myself into thinking I was stuck in a fictional world like Hoth.
Eventually, though, we made it inside a chain café—kind of like Panera Bread back in the States, except French. Everything on the menu seemed to flavored with onions and garlic and served with a baguette on the side. If my heart hadn’t frozen solid, I might have thought about how this was healthier than deep frying potatoes with every meal, but most of my working mind was trying to keep my body from dropping.
The Student and I ordered some breakfast with a couple of double espressos and took our trays to the windows. The people outside looked just as miserable as we did, but took it with a certain European panache that said that, oui, they knew that this weather was coming and had planned for their outfits to match the weather.
“Bastards,” I said.
“What?” asked The Student, who was still shivering.
“They manage to take this in such stride. We resembled two hunched-over old men with...” words failed me, as they often did. “Hunched-overitis.”
The Student cocked an eyebrow. “Perhaps part of that is because we’re from a rather hot climate. This, you may have noticed, is not.”
“Quite,” I said.
Through the rest of the day, this would be a recurring thing. We’d be on the verge of killing each other because of the cold, retreat inside, and talk nonsense over a couple of too-large espressos.

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