Brief en­counter

French Property News - - News -

I boarded the Calais/mar­seille overnight sleeper, walked the cor­ri­dor check­ing on berth num­bers and found mine. In­side were two bunks and sit­ting on the lower, a lit­tle old lady.

“I hope you don’t mind,” she said, “I’ve taken the bot­tom one.” She didn’t look like an ex­pert lad­der climber. “Not to worry. That’s fine.”

As she turned her head, I saw that she had se­vere bruis­ing to the face. “Been in a fight, luv?,” I asked. She laughed. “No. Re­cent hol­i­day in New Zealand, coach trip, driver sud­denly braked. I was in the front seat and tipped over the rail. Bro­ken cheek bone.”

There was nowhere else to sit so I joined her on the bunk. We be­gan chat­ting and in spite of the dif­fer­ence in our ages bonded in­stantly. Ruth was on her way to visit a friend in Men­ton, a town near the Ital­ian border. She learned that I was Ron­nie, my des­ti­na­tion Cor­sica and a wild camp­ing trek across the maquis.

Over the miles the train grad­u­ally picked up to full speed and Abbeville sta­tion was a mere blur as we raced through. At that point she sud­denly said: “They al­most caught us here”. “Who?” “The Ger­mans. They would have shot us.” “The war?” “We were a Jewish family, born and liv­ing in Bel­gium. Af­ter the Nazi in­va­sion we were run­ning for our lives.” “Ob­vi­ously you made it.” “As far as East Lon­don. We’ve lived there ever since.”

Si­lence for a while as I con­sid­ered all this. Then she said: “Can I show you some­thing?” She reached down, took an ob­ject from her bag and handed it to me. “It’s a cam­era. My son works for Ko­dak. Be­fore I went to New Zealand he gave it to me. Asked me to try it out. See what I thought.”

I ex­am­ined what I had been given. “Looks dif­fer­ent.” “Yes, ap­par­ently it’s some­thing com­pletely new.”

And in­deed it was. I was hold­ing in my hands the world’s very first dig­i­tal cam­era, a mo­ment in his­tory, and I missed it com­pletely. I was like a monkey look­ing at a space­ship, not a clue, with full un­der­stand­ing com­ing much much later.

(In the end, Ko­dak hes­i­tated far too long, wor­ried about their roll film sales, and were beaten into the mar­ket place by the Ja­panese – the first dig­i­tal sin­gle-lens re­flex cam­era was a Nikon. And Ko­dak went into fi­nan­cial cri­sis.)

Af­ter that we talked a lit­tle more, fi­nally fall­ing into bed, sleep com­ing quickly. We said our good­byes at Mar­seille’s St-charles sta­tion, Ruth to catch a lo­cal for Men­ton fur­ther along the coast, me to board Le Napoleon ferry to Ajac­cio.

Just be­fore we parted she handed me a small pack­age. “What’s this?” “Tea bags. You won’t find those in Cor­sica.” Ron­nie Mcgowan

Boni­fa­cio, Cor­sica

The au­thor of this month’s star let­ter WINS a bot­tle of Do­maine La Gemière Sancerre blanc, 2015 (Aman­daswines.co.uk)

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