Planes and Trains and Bomb Cyclones

Check out that blue sky

I am in France. In Ceret, a small town in the Languedoc region, to be exact.  I am here on a writing retreat and this morning, I’ve hit my goal of 2,000 words (a little over, actually), wandered around the town, then drove to the seaside village of Collioure to buy Soupe de Poisson. (Fish soup, which is served here with a special aioli, croutons, and grated parmesan.) The Mediterranean was a deep blue in the sunshine and on the way back the mountain nearest to our town was socked in with snow! This is exactly how I wanted this writing retreat to go when we first started talking about doing it: a lot of writing, sinking into the rhythms of the town, visiting a few nearby spots, drinking the excellent local wine each night. But mostly, writing like crazy.

It was a looong journey to get here, however.  We had booked our flight through San Francisco to Paris for Wednesday. But when we arrived at the airport that morning, we were told we had a delay due to weather. A delay that would cause us to miss our connection to Paris.  We could maybe go the next day. But that would cause us to miss our train on Saturday morning in Paris. So we were rerouted on a flight early the next morning that went through Newark.

Yep, Newark. Where a bomb cyclone was about to hit. Which we didn’t find out until we got home from the airport.

My living room for the next month

And, this caused us to forfeit our one night in Paris. But oh well. The point was to get to Ceret and start writing.  Despite dire weather reports, we were loaded onto our Newark plane at an ungodly hour.  Since I had taken the very cheap ($29) upgrade offer on the SF plane, I squawked loudly enough as they rebooked us that I got a window seat in the aisle row. There was nobody in the middle seat–maybe they were scared off by the bomb cyclone–and it was luxurious. I had so much room I felt like I was in first class.

And then the pilot came on the intercom and informed us that the weather in Newark looked bad. Dire, even. Winds higher than what that very lovely aircraft was rated for. So we probably wouldn’t be able to land there.  Maybe we’d go to Cleveland. Maybe we’d go somewhere else. Who knew? He said if we made it as far as Pittsburgh, we’d be going in.

Usually I’m an anxious traveler. I’m not afraid of flying but I get edgy about logistics–making connections and all that. And I am a person who likes to know what is coming my way.  (Which is why meditation is so good for me.) I like to know what we’re having for dinner so I can plan my lunch accordingly. I like to know what is going to happen in my book, at least until my characters start doing unexpected things.

But this time was different. I had my perfect window seat and a view of the mostly snow-covered landscape below. I was happily reading the second Maisie Dobbs book and I was comfortable. And so I reached this wonderful place where I just shrugged my shoulders and quit worrying about what might happen. Cleveland? Pittsburgh? Paris? Who knew?

A few hours in, the pilot came on again and said the winds had subsided enough that they were going to “try” to land. My seatmate and I looked at each other and said, “Try? That doesn’t sound too confident.” The pilot warned us over and over again that the landing would be rough.  He would need to use his automatic brakes and it would be “firm.” Also, we would experience much turbulence as we landed. That we did, though I’ve been in worse. But–the landing was perfect. Firm, indeed, but perfect. Everybody in the plane applauded.

While I’m not an expert, the Newark airport seemed far less busier than usual, probably because more than half the flights were canceled. I kept waiting for a text message from United telling me our flight had suffered the same fate. But no! After several hours, we boarded.  Alas, we then sat on the runway in a driving snowstorm for two hours while we got de-iced (the machines looked like giant lit-up bugs) and also, I learned later, waited for the winds to subside to a level the plane was rated for the plane.

But we took off, eventually, and made it to Paris, albeit several hours late, thus missing our train.  We made it, though, and here I am, happily writing and strolling around the town for breaks. When first we conceived this writing retreat, it felt like a whole month was going to be the most luxurious stretch of time ever. And it is (especially because my family is dealing with the chaos of remodeling at home).  But time is going fast, too! Slipping away. I vow to make the most of every minute.

How about you? Have you ever taken a writing retreat, short or long? Leave a comment or come over to the Facebook group and discuss.

(You can also follow me on Instagram for lots more photos.)

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