On Tuesday, I was beat from running around Europe taking hundreds of photos and seeing as much as possible so I caught up on sleep and helped my aunt pick out a Christmas tree. That night we had my favorite French dinner, raclette, and then it was off to bed to catch an early train to Italy the next day.
My travels between Lyon and my ultimate destination of Asti, Italy on Wednesday were filled with interesting encounters. First, I rode a bus through the early morning snow to the Part Dieu station in downtown Lyon. I got a chance to practice my French (here? station? Part Dieu?) with a few of the other passengers.
Part Dieu train station in Lyon.
In the train station in Lyon, I still had a bit of time before the departure of my delayed train, so after getting yelled at for reading one page short of the entire International Herald Tribune at a newsstand, I ambled over to survey the food options.
I’m standing there debating whether to say, “Je voudrais un croissant,” (see, I didn’t actually want a croissant, I just wanted to use the FOTC line), when I hear someone behind me ask me a question in French. Not understanding, I turn around and standing around me are five HUGE guys, three of them dressed in army fatigues and assault rifles and two of them dressed in police uniforms with side-arms. Keep in mind this is at 7:30 AM, and years of learning Spanish and now Arabic has whittled my 10th grade French down to next to nothing.
I motion that I don’t understand, and one of them repeats the question in accented English.
“Do you smoke weed?” He asks, eyeing me suspiciously.
“What? No,” I respond.
He persists with the questioning. “Have you ever smoked weed?”
“No,” I say, growing irritated.
Another guy gets in on the action. “When was the last time you smoked weed?”
To this, I lift up my jacket, sweatshirt and t-shirt and proudly show off my lung scar to each one of them, one by one.
“Look. My lung collapsed! I don’t smoke.”
“What are you carrying in the bag?” One of the cops asks, not impressed by my bullet-shaped scar.
“Clothes, books, and a camera. I’m traveling across southern Europe.”
He makes a motion to reach for my bag, at which point I put it on the ground and start pulling out my camera, books, snacks, and clothes, scattering them across the floor of the train station.
It’s possible they expected either a fight or flight reaction, but upon realizing I was going to cooperate, they lost interest and walked away. I don’t know if I look like the stereotypical 22-year-old French drug runner, but it seems like they should have better things to do than stopping me at 7:30 in the morning to ask me about my clearly prolific pot-smoking habits.
View from the train, crossing the Alps
The first train took me from Lyon to Chambery, France, where I had to transfer to the second train to Turin, Italy. It was on this train that I had my next interesting encounter.
My assigned seat put me next to a Senegalese woman in her mid- to late-30s. We started chatting about Turin, she in limited English and me in (very) limited French, which was her final destination as well. After more and more probing questions, I began to notice that this was not simply a social conversation. Finally, when she asked me what I was doing that night and what hotel I was staying in, I came to the realization that she was offering me her professional services as a lady of the night. It was just about that time I put in my headphones, turned toward the window and went to sleep.
Out the window of the train
Chambery train station