I've been here TRYING to become legal (just for the year, not as a citizen) for over eight months now. After months of paperwork, medical visits, long metro rides, meetings, running all over town with a baby and a broken stroller, expensive photocopies and letters and at least one daily encounter with a complete imbecile, it seems as though I may have once and for all obtained all necessary documents for la gouvernement française to grant temporary Health Insurance and an 'okay' to be in France.
And I'm Canadian.
I'd hate to think what other immigrants have to go through in this town on a regular basis and I'm starting to understand the French interest in 'manifs' and greves. It's because the whole system is a frickin' waste of time and money.
But...at least now, if I end up in the hospital again, it's not the end of the world and after five years of nothing, I might be ablet to finally see a dentist too.
Oh, did I mention that next week it's time to renew my visa? And so it begins anew.
Vive la France!
Posted by Julie Jolicoeur at 9:55 AM
When you move to Paris, you don’t assume that you’re going to miss a lot of things back home and never in a million years could I have possibly forseen just how much I would be willing to pay for pre-packaged gravy. I certainly didn't think I'm be having dreams of Kraft Dinner or that I could crave Maple Syrup in my coffee and it never occurred to me to pack a few cases of black beans and spicy salsa, that's for sure.
Saturday morning, I woke up relatively early. Kettle on. A bigger than normal dose of Carte Noir plus an extra couple scoops of the Kraft brand French coffee I love so much. My machine broke so I’ve gone back to a no-fail classic: plastic filter, hand-pouring boiling water over the grinds myself into an old-fashioned bowl. A bit ghetto but man, does it ever make a good cuppa Joe.
While enjoying the rare quiet of rue St. Maur, I got to list-making. What am I going to need for this Thanksgiving dinner? Twenty people have already RSVPed ‘yes’ and I’m still waiting on answers from ten more. I’ve got a gas range and a microwave oven. I’m going to need a lot of ready-mades if I’m going to be able to feed all these people with my minimal kitchen equipment. No worries. Turns out there’s an American grocery store in Paris called THANKSGIVING and they sell all kinds of stuff: stuffing, cranberry sauce, turkeys, gravy, cheesecake pans.
When Michael woke up, we rented a vélib, otherwise known as Paris’ practically free bike rental system. I should have guessed that things weren’t going to go smoothly this morning when the first two stations we checked out were out of service. Eventually we found one and off we went, weaving in and out of traffic down Richard Lenoir towards the Bastille and then up Rivoli to St. Paul. I still can’t believe after all these years in Paris that this store exists. Driving past the window of the Thanksgiving store, I’m flooded with flashbacks of Canadian visitors I’ve begged to bring me my ‘special requests’ from home: used English novels, glass bottles of Maple Syrup and endless cans of black beans. All of which have hampered the travel plans of my friends – heavy, space consuming, dangerously sticky. They’ll be thrilled to know that I’ll have no more requests, that Paris can finally fill my every request and has everything I could ever need or want.
My first roundabout in the store I’m like a kid in a candy store. They’ve got everything from Pop Tarts to Philadelphia cream cheese! I’m ooing and awing over Old Tyme Ginger Beer and A&W Root Beer and gummy bears when I see the cans of cranberry sauce and know it’s time to get serious. I’ve got more lists to make.
Ocean Spray. Perfect. Sachets of powdered gravy mix, PERFECT! How much? 6 euros each. WHAT?! To give you an idea, cans of cranberry sauce go for - $1.19 – making the markup on this stupid low-quality grocery (with the exchange) +85%. Sure, there’s the cost of importing or the hassle of asking one of your American buddies down south to bring a few extra cases of the stuff for his next pilgrimage to Paris but walking around the store I’m starting to wonder if I’m in the wrong business. Maybe I should just be importing crappy groceries - I could open a store that sells only Belmont Milds and cheddar cheese and make a killing. That's when I see it. Betty Crocker Devil’s Food Cake mix. Done and done. 7 euros! That's a bit much, no? Well, whatever, it’s a one shot deal and at least I get a whole cake out of it, not just a tart side dish or powder. I grab a chocolate icing to later on top knowing that in the past, I’ve never been able to properly ice a birthday cake without at least 2 cans of the stuff. At 7 euros a can, that would bring this homemade cake to a whopping 21 euros and that’s not including the oil and eggs I'll have to buy on the way home. I can’t get over how expensive this store is.
They have French’s mustard, so I grab a container because it’s only 3,50 euros. Pick up a can of Black Beans and set them right back down because 4,50 is just too much, besides, I’ve recently found some dried beans at the Oriental markets up by St. Ouen so I’m all stocked up. I hum and haw over the cereals and syrups but realize that a small bag of groceries at this store is going to cost me a month’s rent so I’d be better off sticking to filet mignons, ducks and fresh chèvres than splurging on shitty American products I’ve grown up with and gotten used to. Just because they remind me of home doesn’t make them worth any cost, though I’ve gotta say, the price inflation has made even Dr. Pepper look like a bright and shiny object that I need. But I don’t. I don’t need it. I’ve got Orangina and Gini soda. I've got better stuff, it's just not the same.
So back to Thanksgiving. I revert to English when addressing the owner of the Thanksgiving store and I’m a bit shocked to hear he’s got a thick French accent. I tell him that with Thanksgiving coming up in a couple weeks, I was interested in ordering a turkey and all the fixings to feed the twenty to thirty of my closest French friends I’m expecting on October the 10th. He calls his wife out from the back who seems to be American and reveals that they aren’t really equipped for Canadian thanksgiving, it being so far in advance of American Thanksgiving. That being said, it will consist of a special order, may or may not be able to get fresh yams, might not have all the stuffing and cranberries I’ll need. The turkey, well, I’m looking at 12,50/kilo minimum. 5 kilos/10 people. I’m looking at 187,50 euros JUST for the turkey. If you factor in enough cranberry sauce, the stuffing and the gravy, you can add at least another 100 euros, taking this traditional family meal of your average staples to a staggering 350 plus euros! Unbelievable.
Needless to say, I’m a little discouraged and unconvinced that I’m going to be able to pull this off. I wish things could be easier. I wish I could drive on down to Loblaws and fill my mother’s large fridge with fresh veggies and butters and cakes and pies, pick out a couple nice Butterballs or even be fortunate enough to find one big bird to feed the whole table. Instead, I’m going to have to send an uncomfortable email to everyone cancelling the day because it’s WAY out of my price range, because I couldn’t possibly fit everything in my university dorm fridge, because I don’t have enough chairs for 5 people in my teeny tiny place and because there’s no way I can cook three separate birds in my mini toaster oven. What on Earth was I thinking?!
So once again, Canadian Thanksgiving is going to roll on by without too many loud voices in my house, without tablecloths loaded with candles and maple leaves, without stretched-out sweat pants, without leftover sandwiches on hot buttered rolls with cranberry sauce. Without gravy.
But that’s okay. I’m still going to organize something for the day. A game for all of us to play together, a bar for us to gather in so we can all have a place to sit and be together. In the meantime, I’ll take the cake mix and the icing. It’s overpriced but 21 euros,(as opposed to 350) is a small price to pay for a bit of home this holiday season. And besides, I’m going to need something to wash down my one-millionth frickin’ ham on the 10th of October.
Posted by Julie Jolicoeur at 3:52 PM
I don't know why this time it seems to be taking but I've been almost 8 days without cigarettes now and I'm feeling FANTASTIC! I'm not even struggling, I'm amazed.
After all, I'm in Paris. The city where even non-smokers ask for a Marlboro after dinner. My walk home like a stroll through second-hand Hell, terrace after terrace of scarf-clad, wine-drinking, sour-faced Parisians sucking back my forbidden fruit. It's hard. The first couple days, I just tried to sleep as much as I could; that helped. Third day was a challenge for sure but drank a lot of water and crunchy veggies and that helped. I had a tantrum or two that I day, I believe. Day four, a breeze. Day five, NOT EASY. Whoever made up the ridiculous notion that it takes 3 days to get over the craving is a liar who didn't make it to Day Five. I was bitchy, I was sweaty, anxious, nauseous, tempted and my own worst enemy and great gatekeeper. I almost caved. I was this close but I got through it, psychologically and physically.
There are the occasional few moments a day where I miss the activity of it. After dinner. With coffee in the morning. When I push open those heavy wooden doors at 19h30 after a long day of nannying and light up for my walk to the metro. But, then, this overwhelming feeling of simplicity and happiness that is filling up my lungs where the smoke used to live suits me a bit better, I think. I have energy. I'm less emotional.
I'm weary about gaining weight but I'm taking things one step at a time. This week I've allowed myself to indulge in what I need to get through it - quiet time, bad tv, chocolate, ice cold water, easy reading and orange juice. I suppose that's still 'cold turkey', isn't it? I haven't had a drink in fear of losing my resolution, I have cut back on coffee and drank a lot more tea and soda than I'm used to.
I'm eating too much (but I'm going to start physical activity next week)
I have acne from stress.
Alternate between fever and chills when cravings happen.
I'm having a hard time breathing still and seem to have a perpetual cold.
Still a bit irritable every now and again.
I'm hesitating being social because I'm afraid temptation will get the better of me, avoiding cafés, bars, restaurants and anywhere I associate with smoking.
Waiting for the bus has never been so boring.
Sleeping a lot more.
More money which I'm going to put aside for a regular massage instead.
More time to myself.
No feeling of anxiousness awaiting my next cigarette.
No guilt over the one I'd normally be finishing and how I ought to quit but can't.
Less ventolin required so less shaky.
Actually want to ride a bike.
I can breathe through my nose and smell again!
I actually feel happy. Not just good but happy and fulfilled.
Stress has been minimized and things that seemed impossible feel manageable now.
Anyway, not trying to convince anyone to do the same. It just doesn't work that way. Even someone wanting me to quit smoking didn't help matters. It just had to be me. It had to be in my own time.
Over the next couple weeks, I've got a few more well-being plans. I want to eliminate other bad activities from my life for a short stint, I want to do more physical activities and start riding my bike to and from work again now that I can breathe normally. I want to start eating more carefully again, so not to risk replacing smoking with 1200 pounds of fat. I want to get writing again, more regularly and with two hands able to run over the keyboard and no flaming embers to watch in my hands anymore, that should be a lot easier. I'm going to start a yoga class, maybe some racketball and start organizing more dinners which is WAY more fun than emptying ashtrays I must say.
Alors, oui. C'est vrai. Je ne fume plus et c'est la mort si je le reprend encore.
Bye Bye Belmont.
Bye Bye Marlboro.
Bye Bye American Spirit.
It's been a while.
Posted by Julie Jolicoeur at 5:59 PM
I don't get it.
I stopped at the butcher's this week to look into ordering a bird. It's not the first time I've asked him about turkeys and it's not the first time he's offered me another strange game meat as a replacement. I don't want liver or tongue and I don't care how 'passé' this bird is over here, it's tradition, (even if I totally plan on passing off the stuffing and carving duties onto another...)
I'm immediately brought back in time to the year my mother pre-cooked the turkey and put it on top of the car to cool down once the guests (my father's entire family - imagine 100 hungry Catholics) had arrived. Turns out, my mother had underestimated the stress of having your entire family in your house and couldn't possibly forsee my father sneaking out for cigarettes mid-way through preparations, leaving a trail of turkey all the way down Hamony Road. That night, Dominos made our Thanksgiving precious.
There was also the year - one of my sabbaticals from - where we decided to pretend it was Thanksgiving in the summertime so that I could be included in the annum's festivities too. It seemed only fair, to me anyway. I complained every year about missing out on that bird and it had been years since I'd had a proper turkey for supper and I wanted all the Jolicoeur family trimmings: the parmesean stuffed tomatoes, the carrot gratin, the mashed potatoes and peas, the stuffing, the rolls, the gravy. The day after sandwiches with EVERYTHING on them. Good God, I'm salivating just thinking about this.
The butcher warns me that I've probably got my dates mixed up. American Thanksgiving, he announces is not on the 11th of October, it's the 25th of November. ¨" Merci Monsieur. Je ne suis pas Américaine, en fait, je suis Canadienne."
I'm imagining what it will be like. Already, there are some problems that come to mind. I haven't got a proper oven, just this little microwave oven. Second, I'm not sure anyone would be up for drinking milk with supper and frankly, I don't do wine and turkey, it's like a big ass sleeping pill if you ask me. Third, there are so many ingredients for the supper I can't find here - cranberry sauce, for example. Where the Hell do you find cranberry sauce in Paris? And cheddar cheese!
I've heard a rumour that a store in the Marais has opened called The Thanksgiving Store. Check out some of their specials: Cranberry Sauce, Stove Top Stuffing, Turkey Gravy Mix, Dr. Pepper, Kraft Dinner! I can't believe I've never been to this place!!!!
A few other questions arise, who do I invite? My apartment is small and I can't have everybody? I pick one person from each group of friends or just stick to one group? I should try to make it like a real Canadian Thanksgiving and jam a bunch of people who don't want to be together in one room for supper. That'd be like home. Maybe I can stream a Jays game in the background and give everyone an excuse to not help with the dishes.
Truly, my favourite part of Thanksgiving is actually retreating back to my room after gorging myself with so much gravy that I can barely move and reflecting on the year, for those things I am thankful for.
This year, there has been a lot I'd like to forget, truthfully. My grandfather's passing, Joanne's passing, Michael Paul's passing, mistakes, fights, spending, worrying, abusing, etc...but there is LOTS to be thankful for too. Michael is moving in! Zac is speaking French and English and doing caca on the potty! Catherine's about to get married to Rich! I'm back in Paris and things are relavtively under control.
I've got so many ideas of how I'm going to create my own family traditions for Christmas, that I hadn't given Thanksgiving much thought. Apart from the meal, how can I evolve this meal into a holiday that flies here in France. I'm not entirely sure the pumpkin pie is going to be a hit either.
Sweet Potatoes with Pecans
Fresh peas or Green Beans
Carrot Gratin (with old English cheddar)
Apple Pie with Maple Syrup
-No dressing up. No black dresses or high heels, no jewellry, no makeup. Come as you are, family-style. Stretchy pants are preferred.
-No cheese. Please God, give us a break from the cheese.
-Everyone must participate in clean-up (too many years of watching all the matriarchs of the family clean up after men with one hand down their pants holding their beer belly while they sit open-mouthed watching baseball.
-No one speaks French. English only!
-Afternoon group sports game: baseball will be tough in Paris, how about American football§
-Everyone speaks about those things they are greatful for.
-Evening of Benevolence: each person has to arrive with one good deed idea that can be accomplished later in the evening.
I love it. It's settled then. October 10th.
Shit, I'd better get to the butcher to get that turkey ordered pronto, otherwise the same guy is bound to tell me we Americans don't eat our turkeys until November and I must be "a l'ouest". I probably am. I've invited 30+ people.
Oh la la. This is going to be interesting...
BISOUS et a bientot!
Posted by Julie Jolicoeur at 8:21 AM
It's been yet another particularly tough weekend here in France. To tell you the truth, to sum it up as a weekend of suffering would be a bit like saying a death put a damper in my day. It's more than that, it's a lot of things that have been a long time coming and at one point or another, it's calling out STOP! It's looking in the mirror and wondering where that smile went and why I haven't seen it in such a long time now.
A couple weeks ago, I was walking through the Buttes Chaumont with a friend of mine. I haven't been hit head on the head with a coincidence in a long while. Maybe because I've been blinded by love. Maybe because I haven't been straight long enough to believe in anything. Maybe there just haven't been any to notice. I can't tell you for sure. They say a watched pot never boils and that you can't always get what you want. They say things only happen when you least expect them to. Lately, I've been weary of cliches and by that, I've been using all my energy not to become one, even if I know full well, they might as well plug my photo in next to the word on Wikipedia. Wait, maybe I can do that?!
There is a serenity at the bottom of the feelings. I met a man here in France who told me that the greatest thing about hitting rock bottom was how exciting it was to rebuild again. Another friend called me yesterday morning, at just the perfect moment and I needed to talk to her very much. It's hard when the people you consider your closest friends are so far. Apart from troubling facebook updates, they know very little about your day-to-day despair, especially if you're not feeling motivated enough to keep them in the loop which, for the past I don't know how long, I haven't been. Still, there are some friends that can sense it. I am lucky to have a great number of those people in my life. There are lots and lots of people here I absolutely adore but there are some people who you've already shared these profound moments with, who just get it, get you, without having to explain anything - because there are no words to explain what you're going through - and it's true what they say, sometimes something is lost in translation. To these people, you can say the most horrible things and they'll laugh along side you, knowing that it's only funny because it's coming out of you; the irony of it being the joke. And even though I forget over and over again, these people come back into your life and sweep you off your feet again and again and remind you that love comes in all forms, that there's a lot more to the word than romance. Romance, not love, is overrated.
Anyway, like I was saying, I was walking with a friend in Buttes Chaumont. It had been a pretty heavy week of emotions on my end. Touched by the death of a family member, a series of misfortunate events, long walks down memory lane and me all the while questionning everything all over again; every facet of who I am because I hated the person I was seeing in another's eyes, I was losing sight of everything I came here for and realizing I hadn't grown an inch in all my three years abroad. I was precisely in the very same place I began. It wasn't like me to be so down. I drank a lot that week. More than I have in a long time. A bottle of wine to myself here. Too many shared bottles of Gris there. Tequilla when I couldn't see. I don't have a problem with alcohol and I barely drink - but when I do, I think it's more the hangover I'm looking for. I can see a lot deeper into my soul through my reflection in the porcelain mirror than I can in the light of day. Call me Blanche Dubois if you will, might be the 30-year old crisis I'm about to hit head-on. But it's true that sometimes you really do just need to let loose. Feel like yourself. Even if you can't possibly be that person every day - because she's obnoxious and irresponsible and her big mouth might lash out exactly what she thinks to just about anybody, once in a while, it does a world of good. This week in particular had a particularly strong effect on me.
With this friend, we walked through the park, looking at the people, barely talking. A little Dylan, a little sunshine, no shoes. After a while, I asked him if he'd accompany me to suicide bridge. I think he hesitated having witnessed my deepening depression first hand but I wanted to go because it's a part of this book I'm writing and I'd never even seen the God damned place with my own eyes. He's a writer too, he got it. So off we went, me, happy to have him there to force me to get me to a park in the first place, to somewhere new, out of the day-to-day routing. In Paris, I find there is so much to see that most days you see nothing, overwhelmed with the beauty of every step, it's easier to close your eyes, or close the shutters and stay in your expensive little apartment and watch re-runs of whatever English programming you can get your hands on. Not today. Shoes on. Dylan off. Sun set.
There was a big white sign that just said "OASIS" leading into the bridge. Totally random. Whatever, I thought to myself. Weird but whatever. Strange choice for graffitti. And then my ears perked up. There was a guy in front of us playing "Wonderwall". If it would have stopped there, I still would have found it to be an interesting coincidence. In no way meaningful. I don't think there's anything too deep to take from Wonderwall or Oasis but the combination of the two things at that very moment, I was sure was trying to tell me something.
We continued to walk. So did the musician. This French man walked two paces in front of us, guitar in hand, singing the entire song in English, beginning to end. I was so uncomfortable. Mostly because I didn't want anyone to think that we were part of his band. But it was the three of us, taking on the bridge, a music video from start to finish and for the first time in a really long time, and only for the span of a pop song, life felt magical again. Oasis. Who knew? I had a smile stretched from ear to ear and I felt happy. It wasn't the song. It wasn't even the oddity of it, I just knew.
There have been a few more of these types of instances in the past few days. Things coming into my life at just the right moment, or perhaps it's just me opening up enough to hear it or see it. A movie. A book. A phone call.
And then all of the sudden this evening, sitting over my I-don't-know-how-many-times-I-can-eat-the-same-fucking-arrabiatta-pasta, I realized that for a while there, I had totally lost faith. Faith in a happy ending but not even just that. That never particularly mattered to me. Just faith in the fact that life is beautiful and that mine is a story worth telling. I don't know how I lost it, if I was robbed or if I gave myself away of my own volition but I want it back, I want to own it again, I want to keep it with me everywhere I go.
I don't know if I've shared this story with many people but it was a very important moment of my youth (yes, I'm turning 30 this week and this happened only 4 years ago but let me use the expression because it feels like one of those times when it should be allowed) that I haven't thought about in a long while. I was on a train between Venice and Rome. It had been a couple of days since I had really spoken to anyone about anything meaningful. I was day-dreaming of ex-lovers and broken promises and as cliche as it sounds, trying to find myself on a railway in Europe. I was seated across from an old woman who introduced herself as Pia, assuming "Hello, I'm Pia" was all the English an old woman from a small Italian town would know. I watched her say goodbye to her husband on the platform and it made me smile but only a little. They kissed and hugged and waved to each other until they were out of one another's sight completely. To my surprise, she went on immediately about how much she loved him. How they had never spent this many days apart - ever - but that she knew she had to go. Her sister's husband was going to die. She needed her. There was no other choice. These were the kinds of exceptions in life that made time apart acceptable and mandatory.
Having somewhat bitterly left an ex of mine in Paris after a disastrous combination of bad timing and bad behaviour, I didn't need this woman rubbing her happy ending in my face. She told me about her faith. About how beautiful life was if we were open to it and by the end of the ride, I was fully convinced that she had found the secret and that I wasn't on this train with just some old lady but with a Deity I had something to learn from. She was getting out at Bologna, I was continuing on to Florence.
If you're imagining me with a backpack, with a Canadian flag sewn to it, with a moleskine journal out on a plastic fold-out table and a ballpoint pen in hand, eyes all but glazed over with the tuscan countryside, you're there with me. I even wore a fucking money belt. Inside, I kept my wallet, my ticket, my passport. Pia dozed off a while and I opened my money belt to re-confirm my reservation for my next train, just to keep myself occupied and distracted from yet another draft or another bad love letter, I was penning watching the terracotta and gold and green landscapes pass my window. While fiddling, this coin-looking thing fell out. I had forgotten all about it. It was a stupid quarter-like piece of silver with a picture of an angel embossed on the front that my mother had insisted I take with me as a good luck charm on the trip. I thought she was absurd. Not only was I not religious but it was so cheesy I could hardly keep a straight face. She explained to me that she was only giving it to me because it belonged to my grandmother, who had it with her when she died. My mother knew very well that I had in part dove into this trip because of the great effect my grandmother had had on my life. So, after a little prodding, I agreed. I threw it in among the rest of the euros and the pence and had completely forgotten it was in my bag.
Pia woke up and told me the Coles Notes version of her life story: she was an English teacher once, married late, retired, had children and even grandchildren now. She felt incredibly blessed and incredibly loved despite having a very modest life. She barely ever left her small Italian town and her days were simple: gardening, meals, naps, visits. I told her I was looking for love again but that I was becoming cynical, that I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, how much it hurt to lose my grandmother and that my divorce had really shaken me to my core, made me act out in ways I didn't think possible. There wasn't much more to tell than that. After a while, I excused myself to visit the ladies room and when I got back, Pia was sound asleep again.
We were nearing Bologna. Pia's stop. I would be happy to take over the four seats myself but a bit sad to lose my sweet traveling companion. At least she had spoken to me. I hadn't heard much English in days and even if I was feeling a bit too cynical to really appreciate all she had to say in the moment, she had a good energy about her, she reminded me of my grandmother, who's last words to me were about how every night, before she went to sleep, she looked back at her life and said with a smile, "I've really done it all", that she didn't mind getting older one bit because she had finally arrived at a place where she could appreciate the life she'd had. These women had the wisdom I longed for. Seeing Pia with that old man on the platform, so in love, gave me the bit of hope I needed in that moment. While she was still asleep, I snapped a photo of her, then jostled her awake to tell her we were almost there. She thanked me and wished me well on my travels. Told me I was brave and that I had great things ahead of me. I thanked her and wished her luck with her sister and hoped that her husband wouldn't suffer too much in his passing. All the while, still fiddling with the stupid angel coin in my fingertips.
She got her overnight bag from the overhead compartment and turned to me before heading to the exit while the train slowed to a complete stop.
"You know, Julie, all she really needs, all any of really need now, is strength."
I smiled at her and waved goodbye, watching her slowly sauntering down the steps onto the platform. Getting comfortable and about to settle in for my own nap, I flipped the coin over in my hand, glanced quickly down at it and noticed something I had never seen before. There, etched on this good-luck charm of my grandmother's was the word: 'STRENGTH'. How had I never seen it before?
I got up from my chair, with only my money belt strapped around my waist and everything else I owned here in Europe still in the overhead compartment as the train was whistling last call and hopped off myself. Fortunately for me, she was a slow, old lady. I chased her down, screaming.
I placed the coin in her hand and said only: "This is for you. It belonged to my grandmother". She looked at it and we were both brought to tears without having to explain a thing. Serendipity. I quickly ran back to the steps, boarded and waved goodbye from my chair, feeling filled with possibility, with life, with an indescribable energy and power that only happens in those rare moments where the world aligns so you can witness its magic.
It didn't last long before the inconveniences and banalities of the 'quotidien' interrupted my high: train delays, missed connections, having my ass grabbed by some drunk stranger, but for a while there, I felt full of it, bursting with it. I saw how beautiful it all was and I was, as they say, in the moment.
Life is hard. It's ridiculously hard. People come and go, say one thing and do another. Some people will do anything to tear you to bits - use you, abuse you, judge you - and you'll let them because you partly want to concede, give up, be one with the madness, because it's easier to throw up your hands and throw in the towel. Once in a while, though, on nights like tonight, with my whole life crumbling around me and too many decisions swimming around in my foggy little brain, the answer seems so easy, so clear: faith. That's what I keep leaving behind over and over again and it's the one thing I've got to bring with me everywhere I go. When I've got it, I'm alive and when I've lost it, I'm already dead.
I was lost but now I'm found. I was blind but now I see.
Posted by Julie Jolicoeur at 9:58 AM
Last week, I saw the doctor. Something told me it was normal enough to have nausea when I start the pill again, not so normal to spend entire days vomitting from it and having the lovely symptoms of major weight gain and acne. Something in my body was way off. I wasn't sure what it was but I started to wonder if maybe all of it wasn't from the pill at all. Maybe I'm pregnant?
The doctor told me that in her opinion, I should stay on the pill, at least a few more months, the time it takes to really adjust. She gives me a pill for my nausea and tells me at the very least that I absolutely must finish the package. And, if by the end of it, I really feel like I can't do it anymore, to go ahead and go off of it and to find another means of birth control.
Every woman who takes even minute risks in this department thinks that she's pregnant several times a year. I know because this is not the first time I've been making my own symptoms fit the bill. From what I gatherned, their breasts grow, they become emotional, they get acne, they get uncontrollably hungry, nausea and just feel plain different - BINGO. Now, there are several things that can explain ALL of my symptoms. One big one, being the depression brought on by the pill that makes you feel like you're pregnant. My breasts are growing because I'm getting fat. I'm emotional because I can't take all the hormones. I've got acne because I'm stressed about my behaviour. I'm starving because we've had nothing but canned crap since we left Paris and I've become used to a certain way of things. Nausea, again - TOTALLY the pill and I'm certain. Feeling plain different? Well, who wouldn't with all of these things happening to my body?
I get up and have another shower. Michael has mentionned sleeping on a beach a couple times in the past couple days. You all know what that means. I need to take advantage while I have one.
While I'm getting all lathered up, I pull the shower head off the wall and the metal breaks off right in my hands. I've just broken the B & B's fancy shower. What is wrong with me? I start to cry. Yes, I know - somebody put me out of my misery.
I head out to the patio and read a bit of Walden. For anyone who hasn't read this book and is looking for spirituality in a world where they find none, I highly reccomend it. There is something very 'roots' about it. These days I'm finding it hard to focus on what's important but this guy is doing it for me and for a little while, I'm comfortable. I'm calm. I'm not a bitch.
Michael wakes up and tells me he's barely slept. We talk about what to do with the day. He wants to go hiking. I desperately crave laziness. As always, he is sweet and let's me choose. It's settled. We're going to find a beach and just relax. Later on, we'll decide what to do for the night. He doesn't like this place much, though, so we're going to head to the dining room for breakfast and check out.
The superficiality of the place's charm becomes brutally clear at the base of the stairwell. There are brochures everywhere. Tourism posters. I've forgotten for a moment that we're not at the Ardeche headquarters. I'm okay for leaving this place too.
We sit down to breakfast and I confess to her that I've broken her shower. She tells me there's no need to worry. Breakfast is way better here than at the last place. Fresh crumbly croissants au beurre, hot baguettes, a thermos full of coffee and orange presse. I'm a happy gal. Jars and jars of homemade jams: kiwi, apricot, peach, strawberry-orange, honey. And of course fresh butter. I wonder when I will tire of French butter.
Michael stays behind to pay the bill and I head back to the room contemplating a third hot shower. He comes back and asks me if I have any cash. The woman doesn't take carte bleu - only cash, and the price of the room is suddenly more than advertised in the brochure. I've got forty but searching through the car we come up with another eight. We tear through all of our belongings and four more euros surface. In the process, the wet canoe stuff has gotten mixed up with the dry stuff and the leftover food. It's starting to look more and more like my high school bedroom and my wet running shoes are emitting a new friendly odour throughout the vehicle.
Coming back to the clean bedroom, I sigh a little. Michael heads back up to the breakfast room to ask the woman if she'll accept what we've got, despite being a few euros short. Where we are, we're at least 25 minutes away from the closest bank machine. I really wish I hadn't broken her shower or at least that we'd waited to tell her about it until she'd realized we were long gone. She agrees anyway, probably out of a simple desire to get rid of us and I grab the rest of my stuff from the room while we load ourselves back into the car and set off back to town to decide what to do next. Dammit. I'm feeling nauseous again.
We pass by an open winery and Michael wants to buy a case of red to bring home with us. Normally, I would think this is a marvelous idea but at the moment, I can't think of anything but my spinning head. We go back to the car and I want to lie down but looking in our back seat of shit I know that's not a possibility. Michael looks irritated. "How the Hell can she seriously be sick again?" I wish he could feel what I was feeling. If he could, he'd get it. I'm not trying to ruin everything. I don't want to feel this out of control but just the sound of his voice is making matters worse. He keeps repeating that he wants me to be happy and I am looking through my mind for a switch to turn off the hormones but I can't find one. We drive with the windows down for a bit. On the way into the village, I noticed a sign for Olive Oil. I want to stop and get some. The prices for a litre are outrageous and I'm disgusted. All around us, people are advertising their love of lavender and I wonder if a little essential oil might calm me down a bit and let me sleep. Then, it happens again. I start to cry. What the Hell is going on?
We do a little tour of Vallon Pont d'Arc. It's a cute little village - reminds me a lot of Whistler. The same store over and over again; same outfits, different colours. Capitalism-friendly over-pricing. We walk around the small church in the middle of the square and watch an older couple planting in their backyard. The image reminds me of Millet's painting: l'Angelus. The tableau has always been a metaphor for pregnancy for me and watching them, I get a strange feeling in my belly and a worry that the pill hasn't been doing its job. What if all of this, it's because I'm knocked up. Wouldn't that just be a bitch. I never should have said out loud that I don't want to have children. I was asking for it.
I stop at the pharmacy to talk to the pharmacist about my symptoms. She tells me that it's very unlikely that I am pregnant, especially since I haven't yet missed a period. She gives me a test anyway and I take the bag with me. We've decided to head back to Pont d'Arc, to find a beach and to 'chill out' as we say where I'm from.
We find a path off the highway that leads down to the water. We walk along the water and across the rocks and find ourselves stuck between a literal rock and a hard place and have to cross a cold waterfall to get through. It's warm in the sun and I'm so happy, napping topless on the river. We're the only ones around - can't even hear voices - the only evidence that there was someone here before us is an abandonned canoe leading to a Grotte. We have lunch. Well, that's not true. Michael has lunch. I can't stomach raw beets, stale bread and pink cheese. After a while, we decide to head to a sandy beach below and swim a bit. The water is cold but it feels nice and nicer still to strip down to next to nothing and lie in the sun.
After I down half a litre of water, I'm ready to do the test. I sneak into the bushes while Michael sleeps under a tree and pee on the stick. Then, I wait. It's negative. Thank God, it's negative. I put the peed-on stick back in the bag with the groceries hoping that if found, it might inspire a new menu for the rest of the week. Lying there, I'm starting to get hungry but don't want to say anything after turning down the beets and the bread and the cheese in an attempt to avoid "I told you so."
I suggest we get in the car and find some lunch. Michael says he's hungry too. We head up to a little shack off the road. They've just stopped serving lunch but the barman offers to make me a sandwich. Michael eats a Solero - the European version of the Creamsicle. My sandwich is unbelievably good. I never want it to end. Nice salad, crudites, ham and cheese. It's absurd. It's like the first sandwich I've ever had in my life. Fresh baguette, perfect. The irony being, in Paris, I eat on average four or five ham sandwiches a week. There is nothing extraordinary about the sandwich at all, it just tastes like home. I just need a few minutes of home. Michael just needs a second Solero. And a third.
Living over here, some days it's exactly what I imagined. It's inspiring and beautiful - it's listening to the most beautiful music you've ever heard in the most beautiful places you've ever seen - it's Heaven. And some days, most days, I'd say even, it feels like home now. Still, every now and again, even often, I'd say, you realize that you're only on vacation in Heaven. That you're not from here, that things are different. That no matter how much you need strangers to be nice to you, that you desperately want a salesperson to help you or even just a simple moment when everything's not so fucking serious, a day to go off without a zillion complications, I cannot have that here. I can't just call up my best friends and have them talk me down. I'm here and I'm on my own. And that's a tough thing to deal with when you're suffering an emotional and hormonal breakdown.
Michael suggests we go back to the beach, relax a ltitle more and then head towards Nice and stop whenever we just can't keep going. He's enthusiastic and optimistic and in any normal situation, it would be the perfect thing to say. Only I know he doesn't want to go there. It's got to be the cheesiest place in France. I'm fully expecting it and I've never been. At the same time, I'm up for anything - I'm in France for fuck's sake! Any place is a wonderful place. Every experience is worth it. It's not something I'm going to say 'no' to seeing and there is no chance we can rough it on the Cote d'Azur. Yes, I love that plan. Let's do that.
Once we're back in the car and about to get on the highway, I'm feeling instantly guilty about the choice. The martyr in me almost doesn't want to give him the satisfaction of being the 'nice one'. We're both so stubborn. I'm sure I'm right. He's sure he's right too. I hate that he usually is. It eats away at me knowing that at the moment, I am out of control. Being aware of my mood is making me feel like I have to overcompensate and the overcompensation is getting on my nerves. How is it fair to have to conceal this stuff? Does he think I want to be a bitch right now. That I've been eagerly waiting for a chance to be a bitch for a whole week? Does anyone want that? If you do, I've got the perfect prescription for you.
That and a guy asking you to read the map better but not before taking repeated breaks to second-guess your every navigational choice.
I've wanted to see Aix en Provence since I came to France. I haven't got a clue why. It sounded beautiful. Just the name of the place made me think of paitings and Lavender bushels. I see that we're close so I ask if we can stop and take a look. It was surreal driving up to it and seeing that it's just le Marais the sequel but with more fountains. Fountains, fountains everywhere and a shopper's heaven. It's cute but I'm not in the mood (or in the company) to shop and it looks like everything is about to close anyhow. The only thing I could really use is a bathing suit. I'm totally regretting not having bought one in Ardeche. Anyone who knows me knows I really don't give a shit what people think. My only goal in dressing myself, most days, anyway (Nuit Blanche and theme events most definitely excluded) is blending in. At the moment, however, I'm in fancy-town and I'm dressed like a trucker.
We decide just to have an 'apero'. A cheap glass of something on a terrace where there are no cars. We find one but as usual, struggle to place an order. It takes time. They bring a plate of garlic olives along with the wine and I eat way too many and can't help but remember the sex talk my mother gave me in that greek restaurant when I puked and ran out of the place upon hearing the word 'erection' come out of her mouth. I was eight. Anyway, it's enough to make me chuckle. I'm in a good mood and for at least a couple hours, I can see clearly. I'm truly sorry for not being a better sport. I can do better than this. I am bigger than this. And for the first time in a long time, I'm longing to remove my ovaries and to be free.
We come back to the car and Michael wants to take a nap. I can't blame him one bit. He's exhausted from the drive and the more I look at the map (yes, I have started to look at it, to get it, to laugh at what a jerk I've been about it - of course it's quite useful - especially when you understand what all the letters and the colours mean. I've even started to legend into consideration), the more I realize that we're an awful long way from Nice and that we'd better pick another end point for the day. If I could drive, I would happiily take over but this is neither the moment nor the car in which to take chances or learn a stick shift.
We pick Frejus. I like it already because it sounds like Jesus. I haven't got a clue what to expect. Michael's been here before. We arrive at a bunch of round points that all seem to direct us in different directions. We're in a land of beaches so a street sign saying 'beach' isn't entirely useful to us. We find a parking spot in the little village and decide to seek out a pizza. I'm so happy I could cry.
There is a little pizzeria down an alley and to the left. Everything else in town seems to be closed. I'm dreaming about mozzerlla and basil and I think I could eat a whole one on my own. When we pop in, there is a very nice woman manning the ovens and what could be her son working in the front of house, pulling in the 'open' sign. They serve us and I'm grateful. Looking at the menu, Michael wants the basic Margherita. Any other day, this would be my only option. For some reason, I'm drawn to the name of the pizza below it because it has basil and mozzella and emmenthal. What I fail to notice is that this is a sauceless pizza. Michael seems a little irritated but as usual, abides by my choice. I know if he were English, he'd come out, in a cute little accent with "Whatever the lady wants." We sit there waiting. To my right, there is a huge stack of trashy magazines. I haven't picked one up since the last timeI was at the hairdressers and they're full of beautiful woman with beautiful bodies. Looking down at my stained spandex and dirty sweater, I'm not feeling too beautiful. Seeing a photo of a coked-out Lindsay Lohan, though, I'm relieved that I could look worse. The pizza is horrible but we pass a nice moment together mowing down on an old bench in front of the little town chuch.
The closer we get to the sea, the more excited I am. Michael thinks we should find a spot close to the ocean and sleep in the car.
"Or we could just sleep on the beach?" he suggests au dernier moment.
Problem is, I don't have a sleeping bag. As usual, when these types of situations come up, I am the perpetual 'make the most of it' kind of gal. I'm not going to buy a sleeping bag for one night. It's absurd. I've brought an old duvet from the apartment and a ratty 'housse de couette'. When I was little I used to dream of sleeping outside in the snow with only my fluffy duvet to cover me. Tonight, I'm getting sleepy and I'm cold. It's a bit windy by the ocean and what I really want is a good night's sleep so that I can feel half normal again tomorrow. We can't find a parking spot near the water. We drive for what feels like forever trying. Everywhere is either reserved for the rich who own sea-side palaces or else closed to vehicle traffic. I notice that there is a parking lot for a windsurfing school just beside.
Michael goes to check out the spot and see if he can find a nice spot to park his sleeping bag so he can make the most of the great outdoors. I opt for staying in the car and within a minute, I'm sound asleep. That past couple sleepless nights have done me in. I half want to join Michael on the beach (just to be with him because nothing sounds more romantic than cuddling up beside your lover and listening to the waves crash on the beach) but I'm half determined to stay here in the car, where it's warm, where my duvet covers me and glass keeps the bugs from biting my earlobes. Poor Michael seems less enthused because I don't want to join him. I try to make him understand why. I know that one more night of insomnia could potentially ruin us both and that I may end up destroying our relationship completely if I don't cheer the fuck up. I need to sleep tonight. I need to be where it's warm. I know Michael. He can sleep anywhere. All he has to do is close his eyes and it's settled. I wish I were so lucky. I know if I'm out there tonight on that beach, I'll listen to him breathe peacefully but I won't sleep a wink. I'll lie there ressentful, jealous of his 'sommeil' and dreaming of going back to the car. No, tonight, I'm going to sleep. I'm going to stay put.
"When I wake up, I'll come join you on the beach but I'm too cold tonight. I really need to sleep"
I lock the door and roll down the passenger's seat and settle in for what will be one of my first sleeps in a car. I'm so exhausted, I have no problem drifting off.
There's a knock at the window. It's Michael.
"Just want to make sure you haven't changed your mind. It's beautiful and I've found a great spot. Maybe tomorrow we could dry windsurfing..."
I've got the shivers from having the door open for just a moment.
"No, I'm good here, I'm sure. Bonne nuit and fais des beaux reves."
"Bonne nuit," he heads back all alone to his beach with a view, full moon lighting up the water's edge and the soft sound of the sea lapping at his feet. In my mind, I'm with him there, snuggling up in a one-man, sub-zero sleeping bag. In reality, I'm passing out in a dirty car with empty bags of chips at my feet, a crusty duvet and stanky shoes for pot pourri. There is no traffic tonight. And I can hear myself think nice things again. I am thankful for having such a great man in my life and know that with a little warming up tonight, a nice swim in the ocean, a hot shower and some laying in the sun, by tomorrow evening, I'll be begging for a reprise. This is any rational woman's most romantic fantasy. A night on a sandy beach under a full moon in the South of France with your lover. C'mon. I've obviously got a screw loose.
Posted by Julie Jolicoeur at 9:49 AM
I did drift off but woke up shortly thereafter in a coughing fit. There was something in my throat. I opened the tent to let in the morning and realized it was a spider I was choking on. To my surprise, the light also made something else perfectly clear. In the night, Michael had repositionned himself lengthwise on the boards. Unreal. I hope Captain Canoe had a peaceful rest. Between the pressure from the barrel in the canoe and the crooked floorboards, my back was aching and my knee had turned black and blue. I was determined not to complain. Stay positive. Surprises. This is what good trips are all about.
I came back to the tent and decided to be brave. After all, I was in one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen in my entire life. A quick shower'll do me some good and some Dylan. Afterwards, we can take our time reading a bit, maybe talking a walk and a nap before hopping back in the canoe. From the looks of the map, we had already done a good leg of the race.
I ran into the man who gave us the sleeping bags at the top of the hill. He frightened me a bit because the day was still blue and while I had gotten in the habit of waking up bright and early, I didn't know many other people who took pleasure in the silence - being able to hear leaves move and the river down below. There is no greater pleasure for me than existing while the rest of the world is asleep. I'm starting to wonder if our conscious minds, our way of life doesn't just drain the world of its innermost beauty.
He called me over and pointed to the sky. It was an eagle, soaring above us, making his rounds of the campsite. It was so beautiful and we didn't speak for quite some time, just watched and enjoyed the moment. Then he said something I didn't understand at all and, like I often do in this country in these types of situations, I just smiled. Partly because I was awkward. Partly because all the good intentions of the day made me happy. Partly because I really had to pee. But mostly because I didn't want to cloud the moment with voices. I asked him if there were any hot showers or if they were all cold. He told me morning was better and that the showers were hot. I wished him a good day and headed directly to the showers, certain that today was going to be different.
The showers are cold. Ice cold. No wait. For a second there, I can feel it warming up. Nope. Still cold. The worst part is that it's a button that pumps the shower for only a minute so I'm doing a freaky naked dance all by myself in a stall dodging the cold water from above and the spiders down below. Oh God. What I wouldn't give for a hot bath.
Back in the tent, Michael is waking up. He's already packing his stuff into the barrel and asks me if I'm almost ready to go. I want to stay. A hike, then? He asks. All I want, all I really want is for there to be no more talking. And to not have to do something that someone else wants to do. I just want to see where the day takes me. This is a holiday, after all. I want for everyone all around me to cease to exist. Not for my own sake but to prevent what's going to happen when I snap. This perpetual feeling is exactly why the vacation was so very required.
I can already feel the tears welling up inside of me. There's no way out of becoming a complainer and I'm ressentful because I'm in no mood to be a bitch. I'm too fucking tired. I find a picnic bench under a tree and I lie there a bit just watching the leaves against the sky, listening to Blowin' In the Wind. The truth is, the moment is perfect and in a sense, sitting here balling my eyes out under a tree feels wonderful. It's the ticking clock that's eating me alive.
Countdown to canoe-time. Michael comes over to the picnic table and I can see that he understands. He patiently tries to calm me down and encourages me to have a nap in the sun. He is being perfect. I look over at the fire he made the night before and imagine what it would be like if I was there, all alone. It would be cold and all I'd want to do is to come home and tell him about everything. Here I am with him and unable to enjoy it. I come to my senses. I apologize and know that I'm probably just exhausted. I can do this.
We pack up and head down to the canoes and set off. The water is way colder than yesterday but I'm actually excited about hitting the first rapids. Michael, however is not happy. Fair enough. It's his turn. We've hit the team of English youngsters and they're taking their time. All the talking is killing him too. We both really need some good old fashioned peace and quiet. You'd think a river in the middle of France would be the solution but not today. Michael has found his own solutions. We have to beat the English guys.
For fuck's sake.
We speed up and do the rapids first. I'm instantly soaked again and today there isn't the sun the dry us off. Michael's becoming quiet adept with the steering. So much so that he is perpelled to take more and more chances. Of course we should go straight for that rockface. Of course.
I try so hard to hold it in but I'm not going to make it much longer. My knee is so sore now and my shoulders exhausted. What on Earth makes me think I'm tough enough for this kind of stuff? I can take just about anything if I know there's a comfortable bed and a shower waiting for me at the other end. Today, however, everything was up in the air. Our differences are shedding more than a little light on the reality of being in a relationship. I want to be comfortable. He wants to suffer some more and live by the seat of his pants. He's suggesting we sleep on a beach tonight or that as soon as we end up back at the dock, we head on a big hike. I'm thinking I'd like a beer and a pizza. Then I'm thinking - and I have every right to. Or do I? I am seriously losing my mind. I'm not sure what is real and what is over-exaggerated and all I want to do is cry. For anyone who knows me, you know this is not my style.
There are several rocks accompanied by naked men others by couples having picnics. Everyone looks so at peace and I'm a bit jealous that they're living my dream but I know that after the emotional outbursts I've forced onto our holiday so far that you can't always get what you want but if you try sometimes...
We could see the dock from a ways away. It was laden with colourful bikinis and tanned torsoes drinking mojitos. When we set off yesterday, we were instructed to dock at the end of the campsite. We paddled away and I was ecstatic knowing that there was a cold drink and the possiblity of a hot meal awaiting me here. That the Hell was finally coming to an end and my body could rest. But Michael sees a rapid to our right.
He just asks.
And that's when it happens. I lose it.
"This is the worst trip I've ever been on in my life! Here I am canoeing! Can't you ever do anything for someone else?"
I'm hysterical and hearing my own voice makes me want to mock me. I hate myself. I head to the nearby bushes to take a pee and then tell Michael I'll be back. We're out of cigarettes. Of course there is only one vendor on this beach open. At least she sells coffee. If there's one thing I love in France, it's the smell of coffee in every establishment in the country and two euros will always buy you a hefty cup of hot happiness. I ask for two to go and sit down beside Michael and tell him that in fact, I may have over-exaggerated. It isn't the WORST trip ever. We talk and he asks the couple docked beside us if they have a cigarette. I'm always amazed at how even the most fit people in France are smokers. The guy gives us two. I feel relieved. The worst has got to be over and at least I've got it all out of my system. Michael makes me smile and asks me what I'd like to do next. We decide we'll get a B & B for the night, eat a nice dinner, play guitar and relax. I'm so happy, I almost don't care that I don't have another pair of shoes.
A new Australian-type shows up to load up our canoes. The others who were privy to my one-man hysterics show had only been going a couple hours. Everyone seemed quite shocked at the descent we had just done so early in the season. The van was warm and when the guy offered me a glass of peach juice I wanted to throw my arms around him and thank him for understanding me. We made it back to the car in one piece and decided to head into town to the tourism office to find a place to stay. I keep repeating over and over that I already found some in the area. That we could call them. That they don't have animals. I think Michael has learned to tune out the sound of my voice now. We're walking through town and I'm feeling like I should buy myself a proper swimsuit since I left all of mine in Italy a couple summers ago (the avid swimmer I am) and the one I've brought with me is for a twelve year old girl. Michael looks so bored just waiting a second while I ask at the first store we cross that I can't bare it. There's nothing worse than shopping with someone who hates shopping. We go for a beer instead. It's the best demi I've ever had and the best cigarette I've ever had and things are finally starting to look up. We walk by a place in town - Vallon Pont d'Arc, that is advertising canoe rentals. Michael sees a sign for 'speleo' and looks at me with wide eyes.
Oh - you mean adventure climbing through caves on a rope? There's no way. You should do it, though. I can find a rock like those old men we saw today and just be naked in the middle of France. Sounds wonderful. He reminds me that we're here to spend time together. I feel incredibly guilty for what I've said but wonder why couples find themselves so compelled to do everything together. It's no wonder most of them are constantly fighting. No two humans can spend that amount of time together without a 'dispute'. I'm going to save myself from one right now though and shut my mouth.
We find a B & B. Go there. They've got dogs...HUGE dogs. Leave. Call a couple more and finally settle on one with a pool in a vineyard outside of the village in a town called St Remeze. Michael is angry with me because I didn't ask on the phone if they had pets. I try a few more - hard to find people with no animals in the south of France. Maybe we could call those ones I just told you I've got in my bag. No no. Apparently my voice is still not making a sound. We find another one called Le Martinade. Michael is convinced it's a more pure, less touristy place. I am doubtful as it's part of the tourist guide. We don't ask the price. We just drive silently.
We arrive and it's stunning. The woman is there in front of her house - a mansion that sits upon hectars of property and vineyards. It's Heaven. I never, ever want to leave. I hear Michael tell the woman that we might be interested in staying a few nights and then I hear her complain about all the maintenance she has to see over, having such a big property. I'm wondering when we're going to get the punchline for the joke. She's not seriously complaining about living here? Is she insane. When she tells me that she won't touch the swimming pool unless it's at least 30 degrees, I walk away reassured that there are bigger bitches than me. That I'm not so high maintenance and that I've just missed feeling like a woman a bit. I'm so excited I could scream. We have our own patio, with a table over looking the vines. The sun is setting. It's romantic and perfect. And there's a hot shower and a place to plug in my blow dryer. Unbelieveably LUXE! We have a little cuddle and this is starting to look like a legitimate vacation.
After we head into town for a little dinner at the place our host recommended. It's called 'Barry's' she said. Michael really wanted to eat some food from the area. My eyes lit up when I found out it was a pizzeria but only for a moment. Of course I can't order a pizza when the menu is this wonderful. I want everything. I'm so hungry. All the plats sound delicious. So do the desserts. This never happens. I'm so used to picking through fatty digestive parts that I've never been faced with such a choice. I settle on the Entrecote (steak) with potato galettes, tomato salad and cheese fondu. A little pichet of red from the vineyard next door goes down nicely. I am officially a happy camper.
We are alone in the restaurant except for a group of six southerners mowing away on their steaks. It's a nice atmosphere. I apologize again for my behaviour and we talk about what we'll do tomorrow. I tell Michael I'm not entirely sure but that I'd like very much to not do much. Lie in the sun if it's nice out, explore if it's not. Just no canoes or rafts or mountain climbing for a day or two. I need a break. He looks at me again with those puppy eyes, like this is going to be the most boring vacation of his life. Poor guy. I try to cheer him up but end up weeping again. I know it's the pill because this is coming out of nowhere. He's sweet and keeps repeating that all he wants is to make me happy. I know it's not true but it sounds so sweet I hold his hand and kiss him on the forehead.
For dessert we have a crepe with honey and almonds. Walking back to the car the wind has started up again and it's quite cold in Ardeche. We're both physically spent. Come back to the room and crash immediately. There is a note reminding us that check-out is at 10:00 if we don't plan to stay a second night. I know I've already decided I don't want to go so I don't worry about making the most of it: lights out. I fall alseep instantly.
This time, it's Michael who can't sleep.
Posted by Julie Jolicoeur at 9:45 AM
I've got diherrea. The tiny little bathroom is shared with all of the people in the house. The walls are as thin as paper. I humiliate myself right off the bat before having to put on my canoe-clothes and head down to face all of those privy to my special morning accoustic session. I'm particularly afraid to see the guy who opened the door while I was in there.
We go to the breakfast room to have our complimentary brekkie. It's awful.
"Would you like Apple Juice or Yogourt?"
What the Hell kind of a choice is that? We're unimpressed and ready to get back on the road. I sneak outside to have a cigarette, something that makes Michael incredibly angry, especially when it comes the night after breathing troubles but mostly because he doesn't even think about cigarettes until late afternoon. Me, I'm dreaming about it from the moment I close my eyes. Because I haven't had much sleep, I really need this one. It's going to be a long day as it is.
We get in the car and realize we've really got to rush if we're going to make it to the Syndicat where we have to register our place at the Bivouac (special campsite for canoers on the Ardeche river). Without this piece of paper, we can't camp and if we're caught there's a huge fine. After that, we've still got to make it to the rental place. The guy has said we've got a 3-hour ride the first day. It sounds like nothing so we take our time. Let's have lunch.
The woman at the Syndicate isn't particularly friendly and Michael tells me that it's typical for people from the South. I can't believe the stereotype and I'm suddenly putting him in a new cadre of Parisian snobbery I hadn't seen before. I'm irritable and really hungry. I don't want another crappy gas station sandwich. I'm dying for a pizza. We are referred to a little bistro next door called "Clos de Papillon". It's brutally hot out. I'm in a tank top and mini shorts and boiling. We stupidly parked the car in the sunshine with our groceries inside. That cheese is sure going to taste good tonight. Ew.
Walking up to the restaurant, all I want to do is turn around and go in the other direction. We are the only clients. We sit down at a shady table (one of the only ones in the whole place) and the waitress asks us to move to a table for two. Unreal. Looking at the menu I want to die. Everything's either got a part of an animal I can't stomach or 'foie gras'. Everything. They have a strange version of a caesar salad but even it's got some kind of chicken parts. I try to be a sport and pick something even though I'm having flashbacks to my first Paris trip at 16 where, after only a couple of days I decide to become a vegetarian because I can't stand the thought of seeing one more bleeding, gooey thing on my plate.
The Clos Papillion caesar has got pulled chicken, pineapple, croutons, vinaigrette and crudite. Whatever. I really could have used something good before this canoe trip from Hell but I'll take it. The wine is amazing, thankfully and I'm done my two glasses before the plates arrive.
There are five little pieces of chicken scattered on a plate of greens and mounds of fatty lard that look like little tongues covering the rest of the plate. What the fuck? I try my best. The flavour's alright but I'm so grossed out by the goo that I have a hard time finishing. I know this is going to be my last meal until dinner time so I do my best, all the while wanting to hurt my travel-companion for having chosen yet another awful meal. I hate myself for not being a better sport but I feel what I feel and I'm having a hard time concealing it.
We head to the Canoe rental place after lunch. We've got twenty minutes until we leave for the Gorge by bus. In the Australian-looking shack, there are a couple men with long hair, blonde-streaks and all, giving us a verbal tour of the river, particularly the rapids, teaching us orally how to attack the rapids.
"You've got to be fucking kidding me."
He shows us a picture of what not to do and wishes us luck.
"If anything happens," he says "and you do fall in a rocky part, the best thing to do is just put your feet forward and float on your back. Try not to stop yourself on the rockface or you could get seriously hurt."
We arrive at the departure point with all our camping gear. We are reccommended to put our belongings in the plastic barrels provided. Michael thinks it's alright to leave the sleeping bag on the outside, seeming more than confident that we're not going to fall off. The people all around us seem to have one tenth of the stuff we do. I'm feeling like I've overdone it a bit. I realize I've got my blow dryer in my knapsack and I can probably shed a couple pounds. My duvet won't fit, so one sleeping bag will have to do. I put the rest of the stuff back in the car including the bag of Michael's stuff.
"You've got the food, right?" I ask him.
"Yes, of course."
I'm actually really excited. We talk a bit with the people inside the bus and they're only doing one hour. They're amazed at what we're about to do. I'm laughing but inside I'm terrified. What if this is WAY beyond our level of athleticism. Already, I am fairly certain that it's totally out of my league but Michael's pretty great at this kind of thing and with all the rock climbing lately, he's in super solid shape. We can do it.
I ask if we can be the last to go in. The guy pulls away and wishes us luck and a nice night camping on the Bivouac. He makes a last comment about the sleeping bag and Michael says again that it will be fine. It won't fit anyway.
We load up the barrels into the canoe and I'm instantly uncomfortable. Imagine having a giant round plastic pain in your back pushing against your spine while you do your best to paddle despite your body's constant plea for you to stop. This is not going to be fun. I can just tell. We push the boat in, I'm in the front. I asked MIchael if he's got the map of the river (because knowing when there are rapids coming up seem to be the general and most important advice given at the check-in. We're supposed to stop, look at them, come up with a stratedy and know where the rocks under water are. If you hit one, you're done for and you're going to fall in and possibly seriously hurt yourself.) He says yes and I trust him.
Not two minutes into the river, I notice we are not only heading for the first rapids without warning from Michael but that there is a giant rock up ahead. He is in the steering position and the only thing I can do is paddle. I opt instead for screaming.
"We need to go around it, Michael. Turn the boat. We're going to hit the rock and go straight into this!"
Bang. The plastic canoe heads straight into the rock, we tip over and the sleeping bag gets soaked and our canoe (now completely upside down in the cold river) is heading down the waters. I've bashed up my knee on a rock, trying to put my feet into forward position, barely able to breathe from the shock of the cold water. I'm terrified. We are so not ready for this. I look up and notice a whole group of tourists watching us fall. I'm pissed. More than pissed. I'm livid. How on earth are we supposed to sleep without a sleeping bag tonight? At least my barrel's full of sweaters.
Getting back in the canoe, I'm trying to be as understanding as I can be. Often, this very desire in me brings about a very different effect. For any of you who have had the pleasure :) of being in a relationship with me you know exactly what I'm talking about. THE BITCH...and once someone has made even the slightest mistake in my presence an even nastier form of the bitch arises - the MARTYR BITCH. Oh no, Michael is done for.
We continue on down the river. There isn't much excitement for a long while. We're yelling back and forth: which is somewhat normal in a canoe though less normal when there are no external noises or voices competing with ours. I'm irritable and cold and my mini shorts and underpants are soaked. The canoe itself is soaked. Fortunately, it's a pretty hot day, so I haven't really got much cause for complaint but one more mistake and this guy's in trouble.
Pont d'Arc. For any of you who know the Ardeche region you'll know this is the big natural monument or phenomenon and the reason most tourists come here. We're getting closer and I remember from the map that this is the site of our next rapid adventure. I ask Michael to check the map. He can't. It's ruined from the fall. Who the fuck gives beginner canoers a paper map, anyway? I can't get mad, we've just got to do this.
I see rocks. A lot of them. My knee is killing me and it's getting angrier just looking at what's ahead. Worst of all, there are a million tourists and southerners perched out in bikinis or topless just watching us attack the rapids. There is a team of English adventurers ahead of us. They are in their early twenties. They are doing training sessions on the rapids. I remember another suggestion the man at the rental place gave us before this journey began: NEVER ATTACK THE RAPIDS CLOSE TO ANOTHER BOAT. WAIT. PULL OVER. LOOK AT IT. DECIDE TOGETHER HOW YOU'RE GOING TO GO ABOUT IT.
Michael is of a very different school of thought. THE NIKE-BRAND - JUST DO IT - school. He's in control of the boat and my measly paddling isn't really doing much but increasing the speed. In short, I have to do whatever it is he wants me to.
These rapids are about twice the size of the last ones. They're mean and I'm flying over waves and rocks and taking the grunt of the water. Yes, this was something the man at the rental shop neglected to tell us. On this type of ride, it's the person who rides up front who takes the water in the face. I'm soaked again, to the bone and I'm so angry.
We pull over on the beach with all of the people and I'm doing my best to be a nice girlfriend. "Yeah, that was fun." (under my breath, I can hear "you fucking asshole) emerging but I don't want to say it out loud). We've only canoed about a half hour by this point and I'm ready to stop and eat and I need a cigarette. Our lighter was in my pocket. It doesn't work.
Fortunately, the beach is laden with people. Families, mostly. Happy families. It's an awfully cute scene and I can't stay angry very long. Michael finds the cigarettes in the barrel and we laugh about the inital fall. Things are looking up. I know we make a good team when we put our minds to it and in the moment, I'm feeling sorry for being so angry. Maybe I'm over-reacting. I can't be sure just yet but I'm going to try to be a bit nicer and see how that goes.
Next to us, an overweight man in a speedo picks up his newborn baby and dunks him underwater. The baby is screaming and the family is laughing. Little girls in only bottoms splash their big brothers. There is an old man smoking a cigar on a rock just taking in the sun. Everyone seems so relaxed. I envy them. They don't have another two and a half hours of this. After a short break, Michael reminds me that it's time to go.
It's not long before we're crossing another rapid. A combination of pride and excitement has made Michael determined to give each one his all. I know that he's worried that I can't trust him because of the first fall (which could have happened to anybody who hasn't done this type of adventure travel before!) and the rough waters give him 'envie'. Instead of following the instructions (which were too wet to make out), he wants to dart between rocks because he's sure we can do it. I'm not his biggest fan.
Every one we approach makes me angry. If I thought I could make it to the campsite with my own force, I might very well slap him off the boat and take the easy route around the rocks, avoiding the rapids all-together. I know I can't. I know that this trip is for us. I need to be a better sport.
Each one and I'm soaked through. Michael is laughing in the back. The sleeping bag is done for. We're doing fairly well, though and a second fall hasn't occurred. My arms are getting tired, my back hurts from the bulging barrel and just moving my leg makes me want to cry out with pain. I'm starving. I can't wait for dinner. It must have been three hours by now.
At our break, we managed to find the second emergency map I requested at the rental site. Former Girl Guides are often over-prepared. I'm SO looking forward to the potatoes I picked up at the supermarket - the ones Michael looked at, displeased when I suggested them. They were already peeled and steamed so I knew they'd be perfect on the small fire we'd soon have to prepare once we got to the campsite. We pulled over for an outdoor pee and studied the map. Before the campsite, there were two more rapids - the most difficult of the bunch according to the man at the rental station. We'd have to be fast and work better together. The sun was no longer shining like before and I had the chills looking down at my already goosebumped legs, anticipating our next fall. I smoked a Marlboro and before I knew it we were back in the canoe.
We were given a few options at the onset for taking on the 'BLACK TOOTH' rapid. Either, we could go around it to the left, or, if we were feeling adventurous, we could burst through two close rocks and hope for the best. I knew which one I wanted. Michael, unfortunately for me, was eager for the challenge.
We made it through both and I bit my lip trying to contain my inner-bitch. It wasn't easy. It wasn't pleasant, either. The thought of spending a night in a tent with this man was looking more and more like a form of torture than pleasure.
We were meant to cross a first campsit before we'd hit ours. GAUD. That was the name. We saw a sign a short while after the last rapid telling us that Gaud was another half hour away. It's not possible. How can this be possible. We paddled and paddled. It was starting to get dark and I'm getting frantic. What if we don't arrive? What if we don't find it at all? We left our two-man tent in the car because we purchased a space in a group tent at the site. We'd have to sleep outside.
"Et alors?" So what, Michael said. We're just not in the same calibur, he and I, I am thinking to myself while we keep looking for Gaud.
We turn yet another corner and see a couple on the side of a rockface, romantically enjoying eachother's company. I envy them. I want to park the canoe and give up. I wanted to make love under the stars and eat fancy cheese. I did not want a soaker and a wedgie. I can tell Michael isn't looking at me with much romantic interest. Partly because of my hat head and partly because he is so tired of hearing me complain.
Another hour goes by and we still haven't seen Gaud. It's really dark now and I'm starting to get 'insupportable'. All of the sudden, we come around a corner and see a sign. No, not a sign from God but a sign telling us that we'd finally arrived at our campsite! Gaud was closed for the season, we'd later be told, so there is no evidence of it from the river yet. I am so happy, I could scream. A hot shower. A change of clothes. I didn't bring anything but the wet running shoes on my feet but Hell, at least now we can build a fire and try to dry them out. I love camping.
We pull the canoes up from the water and follow the signs to the 'acceuil' which is 'check in' in French. I'm a whole new woman. The smile that's stretched across my face in anticipation of dinner, wine and fire is hard to contain. Wait a minute, the check in can't possibly be UP that hill. You've got to be fucking kidding me. There's no way. Fuck you. There's no way we have to carry our plastic barrels full of shit up this hill. After all that. Seriously? Could things be more complicated in France?!
We agree to leave them at the bottom and to go check in and find out if there's some other way up. There isn't. The man at the front desk is quite nice. He sees our wet sleeping bag and laughs, goes into the stock room without a word and pulls out two dry ones and hands them to us. My eyes light up. When Michael asks how we get the barrels up and the guy says "you carry them," I like him a little less. The site is practically empty. Not too many French people are keen on doing rapids in this cold. We do however have a big tarp to ourselves with wooden beams and a barbeque. We're all set. I want to leave the barrels and join the family in the other tent. They look so comfortable. They've arrived early. They're having a nice dinner and relaxing. The guy tells us where we can find the wooden coals for a fire and we're all set. He explains to us that if we lay our life jackets across our two paddles it'll make it easier to get the barrels up the hill.
We assemble. I'm in front. Canoe paddles here are double-sided, meaning one person must have a plastic or jamming into his or her side whilst walking. That person is me. I'm already struggling to walk with the knee and this pain in my side is pissing me off. I complain that I'm uncomfortable. Michael suggests I go up the hill and that he'll carry the barrels himself in a tone that can only be considered 'violent'. I am pissed. It's not that I don't want to help or that I can't do it, it's just we need to readjust. He's just tired of hearing me whine. That makes me angrier. I drop the paddle and let him do it alone.
I arrive at the tent and unpack a little. Mostly, I'm looking for the cigarettes and the wine but I'd like very much to put on a dry pair of socks too. I see Michael sweating carrying the buckets and though a normal reaction would be to feel guilty, just the sight of him makes me irritable. I leave the site and make my way to a little corner picnic table in the woods and cry while I listen to Shelter From The Storm. Michael comes over to console me and apologize, it's insincere but I'd like to have a pleasant night so I accept and suggest I work on the fire while he takes a shower.
There are showers. There are lots of showers. But they do not contain hot water. It's too fucking cold for a cold fucking shower. Michael comes back dry and I realize that this is about as clean as we're going to get for the evening. He fetches the coals and leaves me to build a fire. Now, I know how to make a fire and I'm a big fan of the tee-pee. I've never used wooden coals before and we haven't brought any paper with us. It's going to be tough because all the twigs are wet and the branches too. I'm not sure how to go about it. I spread it all around and use the packaging from the food I can find in my barrel. I've got a little fire but it's not lasting. I'm running out of fluid in my lighter and I can feel another tantrum coming on. I don't know what's with me but I can sense nothing is going to make me happier.
I ask Michael if he's seen the potatoes or the peanuts. He looks and says we must have left them in the car. I'm convinced that he's done it on purpose and I hate him for it. We take our cheese and somewhat stale bread and sit on a picnic bench in the sunniest spot we can find in the campsite to have an apero: wine from the bottle and cheese cut with a swiss army knife. It tastes magnificent. The only thing that could have made it better was the peanuts. I'll deal but not before shooting a couple angry glances in his direction. Motherfucker. You knew how important those potatoes were to me.
Still no fire. Michael assembles a bunch of wet leaves and makes the proper makings for a professional fire while I nag him and tell him that there's no way it's going to work. When it does, I'm half glad but mostly ressentful. I feel impotent. We cook our steaks and eat cold beets and green beans from the can. There isn't much in the way of conversation. He's exhausted (mostly of me, I think) and wants to go to bed. I can't blame him so we do. I lay out our sleeping bags on top of our wetsuits (which we didn't wear once) for extra padding on the wood floor. When I come into the tent I notice Michael has repositionned them against the grain for better comfort. I liked my technique and I am convinced that we will sleep better if we lie on the length of the boards rather than across them. Why do we never bring a blow up mattress when we do these types of things? Oh well, I'm going to shut my mouth and try to be a better companion. My knee hurts, I have a headache and I'm physically done-for. But I need to suck it up. I hate being this kind of woman. It's not my style to complain all the time.
We take a quick trip in the pitch black to the loo before lights out. Of course our final oversight was to bring new batteries for the flashlights...good thing I brought a pillow, though. In the common room, beside the toilets, there is an exhibition of all the wildlife on the island - bugs, snakes, wild boar, ect. I wonder if I'll be able to get that vision out of my head long enough to drift off. I'm remembering episodes of Lost and imagining what I'd do if faced with a wild boar looking to run me down. I doubt I'm going to be able to think on anything else. Our tent doesn't completely close and I hear Michael start to snore while my eyes fixed on the gap between the wooden floor and the tarp. It's just big enough to let EVERYTHING inside. I hear a noise and assume it must be a snake beneath the boards I'm wearing three sweaters, two pairs of tights and jogging pants and a wollen hat. It's going to be a long night but tomorrow's another day, right?
Posted by Julie Jolicoeur at 9:42 AM
On s'est tromper.
We thought it was Parisian 'holiday' time which would have meant leaving Paris at 5 AM to avoid 'embouteillages' or the great traffic jams of the French autoroutes. Instead, we leisurely made our way to Michael's mothers to grab the car, fill it with diesel and be on our way.
I am instantly regretting not having learned to drive a stick. Poor Michael's got a lot of driving ahead - and that's going to be the least of his worries. He won't know that until the following day but at this point, he's already concerned. I stock my iPod full of playlists that I think he'll like, games to play and the rest.
It's mostly a quiet drive. He's awfully concentrated. This is why he was hesitant to do a real tour of the country. He knew he'd be the only one to do the long legs. I sit comfortably back. The car's in pretty good shape by this point. Clean-ish. The iPod's fully charged. Only after several hours of not moving do I realize that this will soon feel like a prison. The one who drives gets to choose the stops.
I am so looking forward to trying different foods, cheeses and wines all across this beautiful country and excited to see where we'll make our first stop. To my great dismay, Michael chooses a gas station.
"Let's eat. Quickly. And then back on the road."
A variety of pre-packaged meats and cheeses await. I don't want any of it. We may be in France and they might be fancier than back at home but a gas station sandwich is a gas station sandwich in any country. And it's bloody expensive. I can feel a tantrum bubbling in my belly but I hold it in. I don't want to ruin the trip from the get-go. I choke down my chicken salad and we get back on the road.
I'm so bored and HOT! For some reason, Michael likes to drive with the windows closed. I guess the noise but seriously. I've never taken a road trip with the windows shut...at least not without a little air conditionning. Eight hours of this is going to kill me, let alone a week. The highways here aren't anything like at home. Well, that's not entirely true. It's like the 401 that never ends and by day one, I'm seriously underwhelemed by France. It looks a lot like the drive from Pearson to Oshawa. Industrial, bleak - at least it's sunny out today. Still, the signs are confusing as Hell. I think they're putting in towns an hour in advance just to make you believe you're almost there. It's never true. You're not even close if you look at the map. Of course, I don't really feel like looking at the map at all. I don't know the difference between A and N and D. Apparently they're all different highways. And, did you know you have to PAY to use the highways here? Yeah, the first toll is 30 euros. Just to drive on the road. Absurde.
We stop at a grocery store to get some things for supper. We're arriving at a Chambre d'Hote (B & B) later on and I didn't order the dinner. The nearest town is miles away. Michael picks a variety of things I don't want and I'm just trying to be a good sport so I don't say anything. Like a natural woman, I don't think twice about being passive aggressive: "Yeah, of course it's fine..." I scowl, thinking "Why the Hell doesn't this guy get that I don't like sausages or prosciutto?." Whatever. I found a hat for the canoe ride. At least my head won't be burnt.
We arrive at the first B & B: Moulin de Charrier. It's on a lovely little river. The south looks just like I imagined it would. Purple flowers dripping from colourful houses. The sun bouncing off the volets. Our room has three beds. I laugh and tell Michael I'm taking the top bunk while he crashes down, barely able to move he's so exhausted. But we're here. We're in Ardeche. I was particularly excited about star gazing that night by the river. The place advertised the amazing view of the sky from their property. We take our wine and cold slimey meat and some goat's cheese and pick at our dinner while we sit on a rock listening to the stream. It was nice. It's getting dark. I can't wait.
We head back upstairs and Michael says he wants to take a nap. What about the stars? Nevermind, you've had a long drive. I'll give you a massage and I'll go watch them myself.
There are no stars. There are clouds and the motion-sensored lights make it so I can't see a damn thing. I'm pissed. I go back to the room. I'm not feeling well. Shit.
I end up sleeping in the bunk bed so I don't wake Michael. He looks so sweet and peaceful. I'm a bitch for having been so passive today. The guy's just trying to be nice. Several hours later and I still can't sleep or breathe. Someone must have been horseback riding here or there must have been a dog at some point. I've sucked back too much ventolin already and I've got the shakes. I'm going to open the window. It's pretty chilly but I really can't breathe. Eventually I pass out to the noise of the moving water.
Only minutes later, Michael is awake and pacing around the room wondering where the Hell I've gone. The bunk bed is tucked into a little nook so he can't see that I'm actually there. He tries calling my cell phone but I've turned it off. He sees the open window and panics until he sees me and asks me to come to bed looking relieved that I hadn't disappeared into the night. I'm a little irritable that he's woken me up. I can't get back to sleep. I'm starting to think about the canoe ride ahead and I'm getting worried.
Posted by Julie Jolicoeur at 9:40 AM