France / Travel

The comforting quiet of a European city on a sunny Sunday afternoon

The guy at the register seemed excited to practice his English so I dropped any pretense of having worked on my French. He smiled and handed me my change, 37.20 from a 50, the last of the twelve I’d withdrawn from an ATM in Le Havre 9 days ago. His jovial voice aside, there wasn’t much sound to discern in Chambéry France today.

It’s Sunday and, save for that newsstand, a few ice cream parlors, and a smattering of cafés and kebab shops pouring out into the sun soaked stone streets, this city was silent.

There’s something comforting about a small European city on a Sunday afternoon, in peak season yet all but shutdown because, well, because it is Sunday and that’s the way it goes over here.

One is keenly aware of the city, of its breathing, of its virility, but also we observe from the inside that the city is at peace. Money doesn’t need to be made today, so buy the postcard, or not. Conversations between older men on park benches in the shade of trees in the center of a statue-still thoroughfare didn’t need to occur. Instead, the men clutch newspapers and let their cigarettes dangle aimlessly from their mouths; the men look down at stones as if to be whispered an insider’s tip, a winner in the 8th race at the track, or they look up at the sky and remember a lover who has passed. They sit in pairs these men but they don’t need to. Still, there’s something about being quiet and alone together that puts enough distance between the self and the anguish of loneliness to make it through another day.

I walk on, weaving my way through the streets back to the Kia Sportage parked on the edge of the city. There’s a sticker book under my right arm and two blind bags of French dolls in my slate grey cargo shorts left pocket, and all the while I’m fighting the urge to indulge in un boule of brisures d’oreo which, loosely translated, means broken Oreos. It’s ice cream, chocolate-based which makes the pull that much stronger, and it looked down-right delicious on this 30° C day in Chambéry.

And all the while I also fight the urge to find a spot on a bench in the shade beside a Frenchman, to look down for wisdom in the pebbles at my feet or up for a sign that someone remembers me.

The only picture I took in Chambéry
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