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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 78: 11 December

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysForty-eight hours to go before the deadline. Fogg at this same stage was literally burning his boat in an attempt to get the Henrietta to Liverpool. He'd already got rid of the cabins, the bunks and the poop-deck. 'The next day . . . they burned the masts, the rafts and the spars . . . Passepartout, hewing, cutting, sawing, did the work of ten men. It was a perfect fury of demolition.' At least he was on the move. I have the uneasy feeling of being marooned.

In grey, characterless weather much like that when, eleven weeks ago today, I first caught sight of the French coast at Boulogne, we are coming alongside the almost deserted container port of Le Havre. It's all rather anti-climactic. I remember the captain's concern to get his ship unloaded before the dockers had their Sunday lunch. Well, it's turned ten o'clock and we're not even tied up yet. The Southampton ferry has sailed and all Passepartout and I can do is sit and wait. Remembering the dockers and their Sunday lunch gives us an idea, and as the trucks begin to roll past the gantry cranes and the unloading begins at a decent, if not manic pace, Passepartout and I leave the Leda Maersk and set off in search of a French Sunday Lunch.

We pass the smartest ship in Le Havre docks, a white-hulled multi-decked cruise liner, not from Monte Carlo or Bermuda, but from Russia. She's the only thing that is smart in what is essentially an industrial complex, and the French, cultivators of the comfortable lifestyle, builders of handsome cities and attractive villages, are quite unsentimental when it comes to industry, so there's not much attempt to conceal the grime as we walk up beside a railway track with silos and warehouses on one side and the sad and derelict remains of the transatlantic passenger terminal on the other. That the glamour of the place where the great liners docked should be thus reduced is quite a shock and reminds me how long ago it was that I fell in love with Jane Russell in The French Line.
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  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 78
  • Date: 11 December
  • Country/sea: France
  • Place: Le Havre
  • Book page no: 245

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