It’s been a while, and I’ve got a few blog posts languishing in my documents folder – I’ll finish them and post them soon. There’s one about afternoon coffee and cookies with an elderly couple I used to tutor, and how the woman couldn’t remember who I was. That will be a long post and I’ve been a little precious about the writing of it because it was such a beautiful moment that I would like to do it justice.
However, last thing’s first: I just got engaged! It almost happened by accident on the train. I had been hiding the ring for a month, buried in my luggage and my traveler’s man-purse. It was safely tucked away in my backpack on the train to Royan. When the contrôleur came around to check my ticket, I couldn’t find the thing. He waited patiently while Rebecca and I rifled through our belongings in mounting desperation. Rebecca was asking me where I put it, making me mentally retrace my steps, speaking French for the benefit of the contrôleur. I asked her to look through her things, and she gave a cursory glance, saying that it had been ME that last had the ticket. As we got closer to Royan, I contemplated having to pay for a new ticket, as well as a fine. I took it as poetic justice – when I lived in Royan a few years ago, I’d had a system for getting the most of a single ticket, now when I actually HAD a good ticket I couldn’t find it. Karma. We began to rifle through my things, Rebecca pulling the open maw of my backpack toward her. I snatched it back. Okay, if she finds it, just propose right here and now. Actually, that would be a really awesome story… I kinda hope she finds it.
“Have you looked through your things?” asked the contrôleur.
“Yes, but it’s him who had the tickets.” She went through her purse one last time for good measure… and found the tickets.
On a beautiful, cool Friday evening we took a walk down to a beach where I used to go in the evenings to watch the sunset. We sat on one of the German bunkers that are still scattered around the region, leftover from the second World War. We chatted for a bit and decided to head down to the beach. She got up to leave and I hung back. When she turned to see what I was doing, I was kneeling and holding the ring aloft. I don’t remember exactly what I said. I felt strange, like coming out from under anaesthesia. Nervous. She did the thing where she put her hands up to her mouth that every girl seems to do when they’re proposed to, and said yes.
She had been expecting it… Even had her nails done for the occasion. I’m terrible about keeping secrets. She usually has to fight me to keep me from telling her in advance what I got her for Christmas. This is the one secret I thought I’d kept decently. But it WAS our anniversary weekend, and it WAS Royan, and we DID splurge on a nice hotel. So she guessed. Tant mieux. The nail polish looked nice. But I tricked her by switching the day to the day BEFORE our big fancy dinner at the first place we ever went on a date. The night of the actual proposal, we had pizza. Buy one, get one free.
Royan is a small town on the Gironde Estuary. One of the oldest lighthouses still in operation lies just offshore. It was completely destroyed by the Allies during the second World War when it was a German stronghold. Before the war, and as far back as the 1800’s, it was known for the bains de mère – swimming and lounging by the water in those silly full-length bathing suits beneath those iconic striped beach tents. Those tents are still there today. Tourists from England in Germany swell the population several times over during the summer, and I lived there for a year as an English teacher at a local language institute. Rebecca lived in a nearby town, and as we got to know each other we split our time together between Royan and her town, La Rochelle.
It seemed like the perfect place.