You are rebooked for Tomorrow.
Whoops, the paper work, so checked and double checked still missed page one, which holds a QR code – something that those of us of a certain age are still unclear of its importance. But it only takes one whoops-e-daisy to learn pretty quickly. And so here we are back at number 19 Rue de l’Église, Gravelines, on the north coast of France for one more night.
We are staying in an old converted fisherman’s cottage, one of many such cottages along this street. The old fishermen are retired but some sons continue to take their boats, nets and hopes into the channel. The Granny wives stay sitting on a chair out in the street, catching the morning sun before tending their wind-protected gardens at the back. At onetime Gravelines was a thriving fishing town and much of the ‘old’ business is still in fish. Through the day the coastline is dotted with small fishing craft, a car ferry or two chugging back and forth between Dover and Dunkirk, and then a container ship looming, as they do, showing us the strength of our destruction. Now the town is mainly known for having the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. The size of the plant is sobering. Covid has made a good excuse for it not to have visitors – for the time being.
On our first day of meeting up, we are so excited to see each other again after 18 months apart from the little family in the Netherlands. We walked to the beach, and on the beach. The tide is strong, the beach low, the river pours in and is pushed back twice a day as with anywhere on this Earth that the Moon has residence. But the water is shallow. We have to walk a long, long way out to reach a depth that is swimmable. Clams live under the sand, jellyfish float back and forth in the small wavelets and, according to the restaurant menus, fish and the European spiny spider crab, are plentiful. But while at the beach, leading, and being led, into the waves by an ecstatic grandson, I look back along the long stretch of sand to see the dream-ghosts of solders waiting to leave. Queuing, all quietly, some in terror, and some with bravery. Gravelines was also a stronghold for the evacuation of Dunkirk in the Second World War.
We had been fortunate, our paperwork was all in order to make it into France and enjoyed the relaxation that only comes when someone else is in charge and a grandson is there to demand attention and shower us with love. And we thought all was in order to return today. But no – our age-related knowledge of the aforementioned QR code left us sitting at the station taking a deep breath with a good strong coffee for the return trip from Lille to Gravelines. Tired, dispirited, and in need of a deep glass of red wine to accompany Santi’s barbecued supper, the truth is we are only ‘inconvenienced’ in time and money as we sit outside on the patio for one more night with the little family.
Inconvenienced. It’s nothing. These last two weeks much of the world has been watching the Tokyo Olympics, athletes from 205 countries across the world giving their bes,t whatever their countries politics are. They have traveled with coaches, equipment, horses and often without loved ones. And some have come in fear. Fear of their health, their performance, and their governments, asking of each of them a different kind of courage: Simone Biles knowing her mind is not in tune with her body and retires, Harry Charles knew he was not in rhythm with Romeo 88 for the final showjumping event and retired. Personal losses both, as well as for their countries, but maybe nothing as sobering in consideration as the decision made by the Belarusian sprinter Kristsina Tsimanouskaya who appealed for, and received, political asylum from Poland. All three of these athletes are among many I haven’t registered who, often alone, have had to make such difficult and high-profile decisions. They all put our minor QR code ignorance and inconvenience properly in its place.
Driving back from Lille we enter Gravelines along roads that are becoming familiar. On the edge of town I look out at one nearly ripe wheat-field from where five young men have emerged. The farmer will be cross when he sees where they have walked in hiding. They are a rag-tag bunch, a couple have staffs, a couple more bags over their shoulders. They are very black, very young and very brave, as they slip away into the woods. They still have a ways to go before crossing the sea they are heading for and their tomorrow maybe a long time coming.
Tonight, as the church bells signal the end of evensong we will go to sleep for one more night in this little cottage. Tomorrow morning David will lead his granny back to the pastry shop across the town square and practice his 6 year old french,
“Bonjour madame, comment allez-vous ? Deux pains au chocolat, croissants et deux baguettes s’il vous plait. Merci beaucoup. Au revoir.”
And then we will walk home and have breakfast together just one more time.
This has been A letter from A. Broad
Written and read for you by Muriel Murch
First Aired on Swimming Upstream KWMR.org
Web support by murchstudio.com