Now in Toulouse and already into day five of a 12-day stretch.
It was go, go, go in Paris so I’m relieved to slow the pace in a city I know my way around in a bit.
I arrived Toulouse on a Wednesday afternoon Air France flight out of Orly. It’s a sixty-minute ride. The flight operation at Orly is impressively well-organized and disciplined.
You check-in via stand-alone kiosk and tag your own bag. Or you can check-in on your mobile. That’s how we do it in the states of course. But then you must wait until the two-hour mark prior to scheduled departure to learn of your flight’s assigned “hall.” Only then can you hand off your bag. Airline workers check your boarding pass and examine the tag on the suitcase but they’re merely funneling you into a completely automated smart-system that puts the onus of completing check-in on the person flying. The technology is such that this process feels shielded from some of the potentially unnecessary stressful human interactions required of a regular enplanement.
Even security was markedly more professional and definitely less chaotic than the typical TSA free-for-all.
Once thru the x-ray, sure enough there was a clean, well-stocked snack shop that you always seem to see in French airports. No price gouging.
As you board, there’s not a myriad of ordered groups. There’s no frenzy to get on the plane. You can grab one of eight or nine major French newspapers for free as you enter the jetway.
US air carriers should seek to implement some of the sanity-based initiatives advanced effectively in French and German airports. Professionalism, cleanliness and self-reliance at critical parts of a basic check-in (by supplementing rather than diminishing labor’s involvement) makes flying a pleasure. Easier said than done, I guess. Especially given the entrenched place the TSA now has in US bureaucracy not to mention a greater thirst for profit by America’s aviation business positioned entirely in the private sector.
US airlines ultimately control even the government-imposed framework of the flying experience through their lobbying might and it baffles me how little interest the American aviation industry has in tightening up basic principles executed so well in Europe.
From the Toulouse airport to the city’s center, it’s less than 2 euros for a ticket on the tram. It’s about a 25-minute ride. And from there, I walked 15 minutes to meet the young man who handed off keys to his rented apartment via the Airbnb plaform. I’m staying at the exact same place as a year ago. At about 58 dollars a night, the apartment’s location is the key. It’s in the heart of town – close to everything. It’s on a quiet street and in a quiet building.
I was pretty tired the first night on arrival so kept it low key. On Thursday, I went to a gig at Le Rex – a pretty big club that’s close to where I’m staying. The Paris outfit Zombie Zombie was the headliner. I actually preferred the opener – DERINËGOLEM – a two-piece from Sète. Megi Xexo plays violin and gets maximum sound and range way beyond what you’d expect. Brian DeBalma plays drums and the combo is extraordinary. Xexo is from Albania and she incorporates her homeland’s flavor into the duo’s sound.
The audience reaction was very positive such that the Xexo wanted to play longer than the gig’s organizer would allow. There was a brief staredown on this before the house lights came on and made it official.
The indie rock video is mostly a lost art form currently but DERINËGOLEM made a really great one for their tune DERINËBUGGG. They played the song Thursday night and it sounded great.
The oddly-elevated platform bar inside the main room sold pints of lager for 6 euros. After purchasing my second beer of the evening, I missed a step returning to the main floor and nearly went down. It’s actually kind of a miracle there wasn’t a calamity given how I stumbled. I lost three or four ounces from the cup and sprayed some suds on a few standing patrons to whom I apologized. I returned to the bar to ask for clean-up materials, wiped up the mess and carried on without a problem.
Jacques and I went to the Ligue 1 soccer match between Toulouse and Nice on Friday night. The French league makes schedule adjustments on the fly to accomodate unique television windows on Friday and Sunday nights and so it was a complement to Toulouse to get the prime time shot on Friday. The website of the Toulouse Football Club advertised 15 euros tickets (with a 2 euro day-of-match surcharge on seats bought at the box office). Yet, when we arrived the cheapest ducat was 22 euros. Jacques briefly protested but the woman in the booth made the dubious claim that the 15 euros seats were “sold out.”
We sat in the end zone near where TFC’s supporters chant, sing and wave flags. It’s called the “Brice Taton” stand in honor of a TFC fan who was viciously killed in Belgrade before a Europa League match in 2009. The 28-year-old Taton and the TFC fans he was pre-gaming with were attacked at a bar near the stadium by Serbian thugs.
There was a moment of silence for Taton before Friday night’s match. His picture was displayed on the video board during the tribute.
Nice’s lone goal in the first half Friday came on a rush that started with what appeared to be a rough, foul-worthy take-down of a Toulouse player. TFC supporters reacted by shouting a crude sexual slur in unison at the referee.
A tying goal for Toulouse came in the second half followed by a blown scoring chance for Nice who had a three-on-one advantage in the box. 1-1 was the final. Toulouse sits eighth of 20 in the Ligue 1 standings after hanging on for dear life to avoid relegation at the end of last season.
The highlight of my stay so far in Toulouse came Saturday afternoon. Jacques was preparing pastries for an event that night and made a lunch in his backyard. I sipped from a bottle of cheap but tasty Faugeres. It was 75 degrees, breezy and beautiful. An insanely fresh splattering of fresh mozz topped a plate of just-picked sliced tomatoes from the adjoining garden of Vincent and Claire. There was saucisse de Toulouse with real-deal Dijon mustard and a fresh baguette followed by a medley of cheese that included Jacques’ new favorite.
“Beaufort d’ete” is made from cow’s milk produced in the summer in a hilly region between Grenoble and the Italian border. The cheese-makers credit the cow’s consumption of “la riche flore alpestre” or variety of flora unique in the summer like dandelions and the like for producing the dynamic I can’t even begin to describe. It’s amazing.
That night, we met at an old industrial hangar (about a fifteen-minute tram ride from city center) to watch two films selected by La Chatte a la Voisine (the non-profit music and arts collective that stages regular events in Toulouse). There were two English language films: “Kurt Cobain: About a Son” and “24 Hour Party People.” The Cobain flick was essentially an audio interview between a writer and Cobain (after gaining success) set to images of the places the Nirvana frontman came of age in.
“24 Hour Party People” was much more interesting to me. It’s a really entertaining retrospective of the broadcast journalist and Factory Records co-founder Tony Wilson. Set in Manchester, the film is presented in frenetic psuedo-documentary form and narrated by actor Steve Coogan who plays Wilson.
A heavy rain fell during the movie and some dripped through the ceiling in the hospitality portion of the building. The screen in the cinema section is huge. Patrons wore headsets to hear the film’s audio and there were French sub-titles which I tried to mesh with the sound I heard.
Today, I did laundry (mainly for clean socks) and went to see a photo exhibition featuring the work of friend and veteran photographer Franck Alix at a former Carmelite Chapel that dates to the 1600’s. I watched Enable and Frankie Dettori win the Arc on TV. Tomorrow, I’ll see the horses run in Toulouse.
I’ll drop in some details of the stretch in Paris and Lyon but that’s it for now.