We were in Normandy for almost a week already. That day we drove to Étretat and spent a few hours there, going up the hill with the church on top and enjoying the view. The sky was overcast but it didn’t rain. We walked around, through tall grasses, peeking at the white cliffs, feeling dizzy whenever we got closer to the edge. Later, we strolled on the beach which was covered with round pebbles. A sign reminded us that everyone who is caught trying to steal stones will be fined. I tried to imagine how the beach would look like without its round marbles. Would there be a beach at all? Could it really be that there are people, vigilantes, who follow tourists around and pay attention if they shove a stone or two in their pockets?
In the afternoon we landed in Le Havre. The clouds disappeared, a generous sun was warming up the afternoon, boats and ferries transited in the distance… Had a feast of baguettes and cheese and tomatoes on the rocky beach, then had a stroll through this rectangular city - most buildings being erected after the old town was destroyed in the war. Up on a hill, there was a strange structure — white and shiny, it looked like a squid’s head. It felt modern, a sort of homage to extraterrestrial life. It turns out, the sugar loaf, as they call it, was built more than a century ago by a widow commemorating the death of her husband “somewhere along the Irish coast” and its position, its shape and color should make it visible from afar and remind others of dangers of the sea travel. A lightless lighthouse of sorts.
Even before we got to Le Havre the warning light signaling an almost empty fuel tank went on and when it was time to leave the city, just before hitting the highway, I pulled over to fill up. It was only a self service pump — there was nobody around and my credit card didn’t seem to want to work. I reckoned I could drive around 20 km more and I took my chances of finding another gas station on the highway. And we did. But it didn’t work either. I was getting sweaty, even if the A/C was turned on and had no other choice but to keep going and keep hoping. Lo and behold, we reached a third gas station but couldn’t get to it because of road works which cut all access to that side of the highway. By that time, the fuel tank light started blinking incessantly. I turned everything off, no A/C, no music, no charging of phones. Each time we went downhill, I put the gear shaft in neutral and let gravity do some of the work. I took the first exit and right off the highway, on a national road, I pulled in front of a restaurant. As I got out I noticed the remains of a house that got destroyed by a fire, burnt wood and broken walls, still surrounded by a “keep out” line. It was getting dark. I hoped I will find somebody to help me. The restaurant was full and seemed to be a good one. A woman folding table napkins asked if she could help me, though she seemed busy and rather eager to dispense of me quickly. I told her I needed gas. She said - “Pont-l’Évêque”. I looked at her unsure of what she meant. “Pont-l’Évêque. It’s the next town. Down that road.” “Is there no other way? Would you have another solution? I have a child in the car and would not want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere!” “Pont-l’Évêque. 5 kilometers.” “But…”. “Good luck, Sir! Pont-l’Évêque!” and she was gone.
Well… Pont-l’Évêque then. Took a deep breath and hoped the car will start. It did. It kept running even if the little orange LED was blinking nervously. Pont-l’Évêque is a nice little town. We got to see it at slow pace because… gravity… No… we made it but sluggishly so… It felt like we were in a fairytale town - old houses, wooden beams, small squares, and almost nobody around. Tried to take as much in as possible, overlooking the skyrocketing adrenaline and the sweat covering my brow. And then, there it was: The Holy Grail, the white/green BP logo! And, as if that were not enough, another car pulled in at the same time, driven by a young French guy, accompanied by a happy Labrador wagging his tail on the back seat.
“Sir”, I called, “would you be so kind and wait until we are done filling up? We might need your help!” And he said yes. And smiled. And I tried my card again and it didn’t work. And he did it with his. And it worked. And I paid him cash and was so excited and happy I drove out the gas station without closing the little door to the fuel tank. The good, young French guy honked to remind me about it. R said he’ll write a story about him, because he’s the nicest guy on earth and lives in Pont-l’Évêque.

A post shared by Gabi Fugabi (@fugabi) on