The Train to Provins

The little, quiet town, a place reached by train. An hour and a half, rattling and clanking through suburbs of tall tenements, chimney and iron, under grey skies of Parisian drizzle.Beyond the aisle is a woman, well to do, well dressed, a hint of expensive perfume. The woman speaks to her mother on her phone. I see a tear in her eye, and I look away, back to the hoardings, as tall as houses. Many years ago, a powerless boy, I sat in a classroom in a land not my own, and I looked out on the walls of pebble dash, soaked by rain. The radiators hummed gently as our teacher gave us ‘dictée,’ a dreary torment. I stared at the black and white image in my course book, a photograph of a Parisian street scene in the 1950s. A dampness, a sadness, alienating, sullen. The streets beyond the window of our double decker train remind me of that day. I read a little, rest my eyes a little too. Eventually nature usurps brick and concrete and tile. Undulating hills, trees that remind me of French films of yesteryear when my life was just starting and my imagination absorbed all I saw.

We arrive. Saturday morning in a small town in France. Walking on cobbles, I look up at light blue skies, a church tower, a bird circling. There is a market in a hall, the floor wet and slippery, stalls with huge selections of cheese, white and creamy, hard and smelly, decorated with sprigs of parsley. There are fish stalls, horrific and silver, and the smells of tempting smoked meat from nearby. We eat crusty bread and cheese for lunch, walking towards the ancient citadel on the hill. It is quiet here, few tourists and no English voices. For a while I can pretend to be French, pretend I could belong here.

The original image used here can be bought at


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