It was a slow news day in Angers, and probably too in the surrounding swath of the Loire Valley, when I arrived to speak at the city’s English-language library. I could tell because the regional newspaper found space to announce the event. There I was in a picture borrowed from the web and a paragraph hailing me as “a globetrotting American writer with a new book out entitled Travel Beyond the Clichés.”
No, I do not have a book out entitled Travel Beyond the Clichés, though I wish I did, and taking a 90-minute train ride to Angers from Paris was the extent of my globetrotting that season, but the build-up was much appreciated. It helped draw an audience of twelve, if you count the five members of the library staff, the couple who expected to see slides of a globetrotting non-cliché traveler, and the guy who arrived in time for the wine.
The latter came up to me to apologize for having come too late to buy a copy of Travel Beyond the Clichés seeing as all that remained on the table was a stack of my book Paris Revisited: The Guide for the Return Traveler.
I nevertheless sold three copies of Paris Revisited, including one to a French woman who said that her English wasn’t good enough to understand anything of my lecture but the book would be good practice for next time.
Overall I was quite pleased. I’d come a long way from the time that I’d given a talk at a library in Westchester County, New York, where a man came up to me afterwards to ask if I’d ever heard of Toastmasters International. No, I said enthusiastically, thinking he was then going to invite me to lecture there. Instead he told me that I should join so that I could learn how to speak in public. Not only did no one in Angers suggest that I take speaking lessons but someone actually invited me to give a lecture at a writers conference in Paris in July.
The library staff in Angers, having nodded wide-eyed encouragement during my lecture, thanked me for coming and said that it was too bad that none of them was free that evening to have dinner with me. (They’d already invited me for a very nice lunch.)
I was spending the night in Angers, so before exploring the town I dropped off my box of books at the hotel. I was staying at the Hôtel de Mail, an old mansion that’s just they way we like our provincial European two-star hotels: clean, comfortable, old-fashion, somewhat empty, and somewhat ghostly.
The wonderful thing about being wandering through a town like Angers on a mild the evening is that there are no clichés about the place since so few people across the Atlantic have ever set foot here. Normandy is to the north, Brittany is to the west, the famous chateaux are to the east. Though only five miles from the Loire River, Loire Valley bikers, chateaux hoppers, tour groups, vineyard hounds, chateau-hotel clients, and “Garden of France” lifestyle mavens tend to lose interest in the region just before the signs for Angers get big.
Actually, there is one relentless cliché about Angers, even though it truly has nothing to do with Angers. It’s a cliché of a word play that leads travel writers to title articles about thi town “A Look Back in Angers.” No matter that Angers is pronounced a(n)zhay and that few readers have seen the 1956 John Osborne. It sounds good. I think I’ll use it here.
© 2008, Gary Lee Kraut