A Closer Look

Something was wrong with the outlet adapter. My curling iron blinked when I turned it on but wouldn’t heat up. Feeling befuddled from lack of sleep, I grumbled and fussed until my daughter plugged it into a different outlet, where it did work, but didn’t have a mirror near-by.

Getting out of the wrong side of the bed can happen even while on vacation. With our five-a.m. wake-up call, I’d only had five hours of sleep. Then, instead of taking a speed train to Lourdes in southern France today, as we’d originally planned, we were riding a bus. The French train workers were on strike.

Beneath all these aggravations, was the niggling, pinching, chafing realization that today would have been my 48th wedding anniversary if my husband, Arnie were alive. I felt sad and, in a way, abandoned.

Our early morning wake-up call was not only to avoid the morning commuter traffic in Paris, but because it would take our bus longer than the train to get to Lourdes. I picked up a boxed breakfast and a cup of coffee from the hotel lobby, trying not to spill or drop either as I took my seat on the tour bus.

Juan, our tour manager said, “We have a special treat planned for you today. We’re stopping in Tours at the Basilica of St Martin for Mass.”

I remembered the popular story of St. Martin of Tours, a saint who had lived in the early fourth century. As a young man in the Roman army, he saw a shivering beggar at the city gate one cold winter day. Impulsively, he cut his large military cape in half to share it with the man. In a dream that night he saw Jesus wearing the robe.

France is nearly the size of Texas. Paris is in the north, Lourdes is the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains in the south, so we had many miles to travel.

Everywhere we saw fields filled with yellow blossoming plants. I told my daughter Tammie, “Those plants look like the mustard weeds that Daddy had us pull from among his oats as kids.”

Tammie answered, “Whatever it is, there’s a lot of it!”

I countered with, “Whatever it is, it isn’t a weed here. You can see that it was planted in rows.”

From the front of the bus, our French guide explained, “The yellow blossoming plants produce rape seed for making canola oil.”

Laughing, I pointed out to my daughter, “I was right when I said the yellow plants looked like mustard plants. Rapeseed is in the same family.” The name, rape, comes from the Latin word for turnip, rapum. The oil from rape seed is called canola because Canadians developed a new way to refine rapeseed oil in 1973. Their trademark used the first letters of Canada. Since then the word canola has become generic.

In the afternoon we stopped at a wayside for lunch. One of the stores at this traveler’s oasis promoted local products-featuring the best of French agriculture; honeys, wines, cheeses many wonderful hard sausages and woolen products. Instead of buying a souvenir that was pretty but frivolous, I fell in love with a pair of common wool slippers. The minute I laid eyes on them, I knew I’d enjoy them for years to come.

Many miles later that afternoon, I saw what looked like low-hanging white clouds at the horizon. In a few seconds I realized that I was looking at snow-capped mountains. We were getting close to Lourdes.

Zipping anonymously through the French country side on a speed train to southern France might have been fun, but that was not our experience. I can’t help thinking the slow way of getting there was better for us. I will always fondly remember the closer look we had of pretty green rolling hills and many fields of yellow-blossoming rapeseed plants.




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