Friday, June 22, 2012

Late Train to Haguenau (1975)

       About halfway to Haguenau, France, by train, a woman who was near me asked, “I see you are going to Haguenau, you’re an American soldier stationed in Germany, aren’t you?”
       “Yes,” I said, “along with my two boys, Cody and Shawn, why do you ask?”
       “Well, by the time you get to Haguenau, it will be very late, and the hotels will be shut down, closed for the night there aren’t many available anyhow.  They lock the doors there early.  Incidentally, I work for the museum there.  Your children will be hungry, and so forth, I can suggest a place if you wish.”
       “Yes,” I said, and then wondered why she said what she said, and she looked me square in the face—somewhat sternly; perhaps said what she said for the boys sake, I thought, but left well enough alone.
       “I know a hotel, my friends own it, and they’ll be glad to take care of you, I’ll bring you there when the train stops in Haguenau, if that’s okay with you.”
       “Oh yes,” I said in reply apprehensively, as if in some distance blue haze,  like still seas in a bay (yet trying not to lose the opportunity of her goodwill should I need it), “that’s more than okay…” I added to the comment, and I didn’t quite know what else to say, I was mad at all the French people because the waiter had the nerve to kick me and my boys out of the café area in Strasbourg having ordered our food from a vender and sitting at one of their tables—I had to cool my temper down; I had per near socked the guy in the face I had to move out quickly there was going to be a scuffle, he went to get assistance when I challenged him.
       But I guess she was making up for that waiter’s rude behaviour in Strasbourg, even if she didn’t know it. I had told her specifically, I had intentions of staying in Strasbourg, but was too angry to do so, so I simply bought tickets to wherever the train went in France, to be able to say, I was in France, which seemed kind of odd to her, but odd I was, and bored with my military life, day after day doing the same old thing.   

       ‘Next stop, Haguenau!’ said a man walking back and forth from one car to the next (the township had perhaps some 20,000 to 25,000-inhabitants).

       The train stopped, it was 8:30 p.m., and the kind French woman, who spoke English quite well, although slurred and broken at times, took me and my boys to the hotel.  It was locked as she said it would be, and she knocked hard on the door—very hard, someone came and looked though the peephole, they saw it was her, and opened the door, “These are my friends,” she quickly said to the owner in French, “can you put them up for the night?”   
       “Oh, it’s late but…sure! We can do our best, the kitchen is closed but we can find something, I’m sure they’re hungry,” said the Frenchman. And then they talked for a minute, and he said, confirmed, “No problem, we have a room all set up, just need to change the sheets, we’ll do that while they warm up downstairs.”

       “You can have room 202, if that’s fine with you,” said the man, the proprietor; the French woman had left.
       “You want beer?” he asked me.
        “Okay,” I said, tired, and just really wanting something to eat, but a beer sounded good also.
        “So here is the key,” he handed it to me, “see you in the morning…” said the tall thin, Frenchman, and then he disappeared.
       And before I did, before the boys and I went to the room, we sat with the group of people at a table as I finished the beer, to show them I was okay, sociable. Thereafter, we went to our room, and to my surprise there was a fine bottle of wine in a silver bucket with ice, and three large sandwiches of summer sausage and cheese, on dark rye bread. The note read in English, “Compliments of the house.”

       In the morning we went to the park nearby the hotel, there the boys played in the fountain—a large a beautiful rotunda like fountain—splashed me with water, the twins thrusting one another about, tackling and clashing and just having good old American fun, and with the morning patch of sunlight we walked about the park and rotunda, with our nostrils dilated to the smells of the cool morning crisp air, and the carved antique pillars, and little gothic knights. And we caught a train back to Darmstadt, Germany soon after.

Originally Written: 2002, reedited, 2004, and 6-2012