I was on the the French Riviera! It had been a long trip. Excitement got me through the first day’s exhaustion and now on the second day jet lag. But that was just the beginning of a very surprising 2nd day.
My mistake when going down to the center of vieux Menton, rue St. Michel and the Marche for the first time by myself was to start too late in the morning; July and August are the peak summer months after all. It starts to heat up by 10:30am. The temperature continues to rise throughout the day. I was careful to look back as I left the apartment, to take note of specific landmarks that would aid in my return–actually, breadcrumbs dropped along the way would have been an excellent idea. Although I was armed with the knowledge that all of the streets up in the “old town”, when going down in a westerly direction, will eventually lead to l’Eglise St. Michel. Knowing this wasn’t very handy as it turned out since I was wanting to go up in a easterly direction on my return. Now, I’m not the best and brightest in directions, but the sea right there was a brilliant clue even for me.
I made a mental note that at the arch separating the Parvis St. Michel from the beginnings of the upper vieille ville, I should go left of the white toilette sign, left of the green shutters, right at the Madonna and down the tunnel sort of thing. And maybe at this point your eyes are glazing over…….but it was really, really confusing.
Thinking back, I did all of the right things except for one……I went left of the Madonna but kept on going up! I became dangerously over-heated; had stayed in town for over an hour. As it turns out, I returned to the church square four times after repeated attempts going up into the rabbit warren of streets and tunnels and alcoves and stairs and ramps and crossovers…… Panic was setting in. As I sat there, somewhere, deep in the interior there were people of whom I asked directions. One man in particular I remember distinctly. He was flooding the streets with water, washing them I suppose. Now I know who he was and the story about just who’s water he was using and wasting.
No one could understand my very poor French; startled I’m sure by my red face and rather pathetic sounding voice. I was barely able to get the words out of my mouth. Finally, on my fourth trip to the l’eglise I found myself once again on the very bench where less than twenty four hours before I had been sitting waiting for my contact to fetch me. Too hot and fearful of heat exhaustion, I decided to stay right there until I either encountered someone who could could give me directions or that someone I knew (most unlikely) came by. Not many people came by at all. They were smarter than to be out in the noon-day sun and heat.
There I was, surrounded by a lot of marble and stucco, when an Italian gentleman came out of the vaulted entrance to the vieille ville; the very entrance I had been through more times than I cared to remember. “Pardon Monsieur, ou’est la rue l’Agriculture?” To my utter surprise and gratitude, he understood, took the time, felt sorry for me and explained where my street was located….and I got it! FINALLY! He repeated the directions until he was sure that I understood. I will be forever grateful to the Italian good samaritan, but will never know his name. He leant a hand when I most needed one. I spent the rest of the day into the evening collapsed and tired, but thanking that man over and over in my head.
Lessons learned: 1. Always carry water…..like every other person did. 2. Start shopping, or anything else that necessitates going down the hill, earlier in the day. 3. REVIEW MY BOOK OF FRENCH PHRASES!!