Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Halflings are More Interesting than God

Thursday night I caught the last train to Nice.  For Friday, terrible wind and a fast were scheduled.  By fast, I mean that in memory of something or another that I couldn't remember, observant Jews refrain from eating or drinking between sunup and sundown.  Not conducive to paddling.

At first I had looked to take a train for the weekend to Genova, where I had hoped to be anyways, but for a week of headwind.  Nice is cheaper, and I know some people there.
I caught the last train to Nice and had to change trains in a mysterious city in the night.  I got off at the right stop and looked around.  Other people were getting off the train to, so I asked one of them whitch platform was for Nice.


“Ci, ci.”  I said, hoping that 'Nice' and 'Nitza' were the same place.  The young couple indicated that they too were going there.  We began looking for the platform together.
A word on languages.  I often ask the locals how to say what ever it is I want to say in the local language.  In so doing, in Spain I learned a little bit of Spanish, and then a little bit of French in France, and now I'm learning some Italian.  But I'm horribly confused.  In fact, I have never been more confused about anything.  I cannot effectively communicate the most simple sentence in any of the above languages without inadvertently including at least one word from each of them and then trying again with some other multilingual gibberish.

Not knowing what country I was in or what hour of the night it was, I was not prepared to open my mouth.  But I followed the couple and came to understand from time tables and their growing panic that the train that both they and I had been promised independently, did not exist and would not come.

I did not have my sleeping bag with me and it was cold.  There would be no more trains until morning.

The train station was now empty and quiet, except for the sounds of our footsteps walking back and forth between the platform, the posted time tables, and the electronic announcement board, which somberly went about their mission of telling us we were screwed.

I decided I ought to be somewhere, so I waited on platform one for the promised train that would not come.  A man opened up a door off to the side of the platform and the couple pounced on him for information.  They spoke, words meaningless to me.

I followed the couple out to the front of the station.  A bus was pulling up, a bus for us.
When I got on I went to pay the driver and he told me not to.

The bus drove from that strange place for a time I could not measure.  It stopped in Monaco and I recalled how in all of France, it is the only city I have been to whose streets were not covered in dog poo.  It drove on to Nice.  I looked out the window; the bus had stopped at a light in front of the hostel I hoped to stay at, and the driver kindly let me off.

I called up on the speaker to learn that the hostel was full.  It was the first time since winter came that I found a hostel that was full.  This is the off season.  I got bad directions to another hostel and looked for it for a time.  On the way I found many hotels for 80 plus Euro, so when I found one for 35, I checked in and slept.


Friday was a fast fast.  I went back to the cheap hostel that finally had a room and slept through the day.  It had been a hard cold week.  For the Sabbath, Chabad people were again happy to host me.

Friday night I was one of two guests at a young couple's table.  I asked the other guest sitting next to me “So what do you do?”

“I work.” he told me politely. 

“Aahh.”  I said.

The bearded man at the head of the table was a rabbi.  He gesture proudly to all the books on the walls.  Their were a lot of books. 

The rabbi's wife, the mother of the four children four and under with another one about to come, was very friendly and originally American.  “So why does your fleas* say 'kayakdov' on it?'”

I told her my story.  Dinner was yummy and my hostess was very friendly. 

Lunch they next day was similar.  The same guest from the evening before again sat to my right.  This time there was also a French family of guests.  The rabbi spoke almost without interruption for about an hour in French while I ate quietly and the other people listened (or pretended to).  The word “Messiah” cam up from time to time, a frequent theme at Chabad tables.

Afterwards when I was helping to clear the rabbi's wife told me she was sorry that I hadn't understood any of it.  I assured her that even if the rabbi had been speaking in a language that I understood, I wouldn't have payed the least bit of attention.

“Oh,” she said “So you're more of a thinker then a listener?”

That was kind.  “No, I just have a short attention span.”

I had been thinking.  I can't help it, my mind wanders during sermons.  In point of fact, I had been thinking about halflings.  Like I said, even if the rabbi had been speaking in a language I understood, he never had a chance.

* I think he means "fleece." *chuckle* ~ ed.


  1. at least where i live, it is considered impolite to ask "what do you do?" we think what one "does" for income is not "who" that person is and that she should not be defined or judged according to her profession.

  2. i'm sure there are specific reasons for that where you live. :oD

  3. Thanks Josh! I wasn't sure how to handle it on my own.