People are LOOKING at me. Like real, actual eye contact! Many – most even – are greeting me! Where am I?!
Apparently not in Scandinavia anymore, where eye-contact and any verbal communication between strangers is reserved only for people who are crazy, drunk or foreign.
Here are some impressions of the first twenty four hours in Grez-sur-Loing, France: a little village about 70 km south of Paris where I will spend the next two months living in an artist colony.
Getting to Grez
I do have to say the directions to find my way here were a little less than thorough. In fact, they were about the bare minimum, or even less. I didn’t get the address of where I was going, any bus numbers or any general time tables. I did get the towns I would have to get to in order to find my way here – so it was something of a scavenger hunt (always fun with 40 kg of luggage..), where I had to hop from one town to the next in succession, hoping for the best.
I was armed with a printed paper which read the following:
- PARIS MELUN
- You jump at Melun
- You take the bus
- MELUN GREZ SUR LOING
- Then at Grez sur loing you have to walk and you will found the foundation.
Right. When I got to Melun I asked one of the train station attendant how to get to Grez, and even after showing it to him on a map he had never heard of it. He ran off. I stayed with my luggage. I didn’t jump, despite the directions telling me to do so.
A few minutes later he collected me and my luggage and dragged us all at a breakneck pace in the direction of the bus stop – a couple of blocks away. He deposited me on a bus, yelling to the driver (in French) ‘She’s foreign! She’s foreign! My friend here, she is foreign! Not me, but her! Make sure she gets off of the bus at Grez.’ And with that he ran away.
And somehow I made it.
Foraging for nuts and berries
On arrival I met some of the other inhabitants of the artist colony. A mixed bag, but all very friendly. Three were just headed out the door as I showed up, on their way to the super-duper market in a rental car. I dropped my stuff and hopped into the remaining seat. Clearly this village is too small to offer much in the way of nourishment at 7 pm, so off to the next actual town we went.
Groceries stores are one of my favourite pit-stops on the travel adventure because the combine 1) FOOD with 2) THE UNEXPECTED.
On the way to the store I chatted with my new artist-colony-mates. They were all, of course, artists. I asked what they did and they said comprehensible words like ‘painting,’ ‘poetry’ and ‘textiles’. They asked what I did and I said incomprehensible words like ‘phylogeny,’ ‘tree ferns’ and ‘biogeography.’ The Scot looked at the Finns and translated: ‘I think she does something with trees.’
Here are some of the visual highlights of my first trip to the super-marché in Nemours.
CHEESE. SO MUCH CHEESE. Brain exploding.
Horse. At least it is properly labeled as such?
Wine. SO MUCH CHEAP WINE!!!
The Hôtel (which is not a hotel.)
First off, the Hôtel is not a hotel. I was reminded of this by the caretaker when I asked if there was toilet paper, as my room didn’t seem to have any. It is in fact a series of fully furnished and equipped apartments, where each tenant is evidently responsible for nothing but their own toilet paper. This little artist colony was the home to Swedish painter Carl Larsson in the late 1800s. Now it is a series of small apartments where artists come, usually on scholarships, to focus on their painting, poetry, writing, etc in the peace and quiet of the French countryside. Occasionally an errant scientist makes their way here, and, well, we’ll see what happens.
There are a mix of nationalities staying at Hôtel Chevillon, of which a good portion speak Swedish. There are two Finns, a Swedish family, a Swedish woman, a Scottish man and myself. There will be some other people arriving shortly, I have been told. My brain is melting with the constant switch between English, Swedish and French. I don’t make sense in any of them any more.
On the bright side the place is beautiful, if linguistically-befuddling. The hallways are lined with paintings by the artists who have stayed here and the church is just meters away so a chorus of bells sings on the hour. My apartment is pleasant, and I also have a little office where I can work. Here is my breakfast table this morning, with a view to the court yard and sagging rooftops across the way.
And did I mention the boulangerie is a fifteen second walk from the front door? It actually takes me longer to get from my apartment to the front door than it takes me to get from the door to the fresh baked bread and pain au chocolate! Danger! Here it is, on the right side of the street (the largest street in town).
I still have lots of exploring to do and some details to work out (such as, can I get a phone?). But it will all come in time. For now I am trying to get some work done. That is why I am here after all, right?