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Published: December 16th 2009
at the castle at night
…the blood spilled out, first as a trickle, then as a solid stream from my thumb. After some wandering around we were able to break apart a tongue depressor and turn it into a pressure-applying splint to stop the bleeding. After all the good times in Bonnetable, it was suiting that this would happen just before my departure. I wondered if the Gods were telling me to stick around.
Nevertheless, I hit the road the next day, traveling through Le Mans to arrive in Angers that night. It seemed that each day I traveled, the weather was getting just a little bit colder. As I went, I passed several areas under re-pavement. It really looks like this whole country is being repaved. Then I smelled something odd. My Russian friend Irina had told me that in Europe, the pavement included an additional chemical that 1) made the roads more resilient and maintain for a longer period, and 2) smelled absolutely awful. This must be it! But that smell… so familiar. Ah yes, BANANA FLAVORED LAFFY TAFFY! That’s what happens to all the horrible taffy you didn’t eat - it ends up holding European roads together.
Another note about the country
Dark medieval streets
roads out here; as you enter small villages, you will often see these black outlines of humans set up alongside the highway. The figures area all black, except for a red thunderbolt shape over their heads. I have NO IDEA what the hell these things are, but they have them in all parts of the country that I have visited. I wish I had a picture. I asked my host later, and she had no clue.
I had to stop at a small restaurant about halfway to Angers, just to order an espresso and thaw my hands out.
I had been looking forward to stopping in Le Mans for several weeks, but I just couldn’t do it. Not with all of my luggage strapped to the bike and no map.
It was a shame though, as my last host, Franc, had described Le Mans as one of the only cities in France with a medieval town square, untouched by the war. He said the Germans had left it alone because it wasn’t a center for anything that threatened them, and it wasn’t located on the Loire.
I arrived in Angers while the sun was still up. I was out of
fuel, and couldn’t find my host’s address for the life of me. I drove back and forth down the road about four times, before I abandoned the effort and retired to a bar to waste time in the old European way. I called my host, and the phone just kept ringing. I had another, and called again - same deal. Finally Anne picked up and apologized because she had disconnected the phone to take a nap.
She met me at the bar, and led me back to her home. I unloaded, and she made me a cup of herbal tea. I could immediately tell that we would enjoy each other, and the night was spent with her adorable 5-year-old son Louis, examining medieval tapestries of the apocalypse in an awe-inspiring 800-year-old castle.
While walking around the castle (which blew my mind with its utter REALNESS) I stumbled upon a hand-written, 700 year old bible. I’d always wanted to see one of these damn things, and THERE IT WAS. I tried to read ANY word in it, and found the task impossible. Those monks got so fancy with all their calligraphy that I’m sure it obscured the message. I can imagine
The Cathedral at night
a preacher, unable to make out many of the words in this priceless museum piece, making up whatever he thought sounded right. But I’m sure that never happened…
I’ve always felt that cursive writing in genearl was really an exclusionary technique. I never find it any faster to write in cursive, and it’s ALWAYS 10x harder to read. I'm sorry Grandma Bernie, I was never able to read ANY of the birthday or Christmas cards you sent me.
I’ve been having odd and amazing dreams almost every night on this trip. Nearly all my friends have guest-stared at some point. Last night I was a pirate, with a revolver loaded with chocolate bullets. I think Darrell Willams was the captain of the ship (appropriately). I mentioned this dream to Anne’s son Louis, and he immediately ran into the other room and put on a pirate costume. It was cute.
I also had a dream where I became a representative at the United Nations, and then proceeded to carry my brother around on my back through a children’s museum.
The next day was Saturday. Anne teaches an introductory English class to French people on Saturdays. She liked the idea of having
at a tower in Angers
me come into the classroom, and letting her students ask me the basic questions they had learned so far. She gave me directions to walk across town, and sent me out on foot to meet her, as she crammed her schedule so tight I was starting to get the bends.
I found my way there by passing through this incredible garden in the center of the city. Wide pathways, waterfalls, sculptures, ponds, a petting zoo full of goats and rabbits, flowers and plants everywhere, and young frenchies making out on a bench - THIS IS WHAT I CAME TO FRANCE FOR.
As soon as I got to Anne’s English class, I took the hot seat in front of the class. They asked my name, where I was from, and what I did for a living. Then somebody asked if I was married, and what my phone number was… Hmm… What kind of class is this??? When I try to communicate something complex with people who don’t speak any English (and I don’t know the French word for ___), we become like those mumbling aliens from Sesame Street playing charades. I love muppets.
After I left the class I walked to
Castle at night
the tourism office, where I discovered the city’s jazz club called the “New Jaz Café.” It was actually just a few blocks from where I was staying. I met Anne again around lunchtime. She’s already eaten, so I wolfed down a “Fred sandwich,” with steak and frites in a baguette. Pretty damn good, actually. I ate it while watching a group of demonstrators drumming in the city’s main commercial area. They were raising awareness about the disproportionate effects of global warming on the developing world.
My host had become odd with me. Something was stressing her out, and it wasn’t clear what it was. I found a jazz club earlier in the day, and returned there just before a show was scheduled to start. The band was having dinner at the table next to me, and we chatted for a while. The bandleader, who spoke English, described the act as Balkan Jazz with some American roots music. He was from Romania, and said he wanted to do what every jazz musician does - mix his own roots into the sound.
While I listened, I became friendly with the young Moldovan waitress, Olga, who also spoke very good English. I originally
tried to speak to her in French, and then was surprised when she spoke English to me. It’s relatively uncommon in this part of France to find people speaking English - that is, outside of the James Joyce Irish Pub where I watched my first rugby match earlier in the afternoon. Along with English and French, Olga also speaks Romanian and Russian. Her mother is in charge of the language program at the schools in her small city back in Moldova. Olga encouraged me to contact her mother when I get there, and perhaps I could help out teaching English. Sounds perfect.
I’d planned to leave early the next day. Instead, there was a knock on my door. “Brennan, do you want to go to the Arab market this morning?” YES.
Except for banging my head on a very low overhang, the Arab market was everything you would expect: duty-free dealings and a wide selection of oddball food. I took a video of the cheese stand, and many pictures of the beautiful flowers they were selling - the best I’d seen in France. A word to the wise, go for the almond-filled croissants.
Before leaving, I had the chance to
Castle garden at night
try my hand at interpretive dance.
My impression of interpretive dance is that it consists entirely of crawling around on your back, on the floor. I felt like The Dude’s landlord on the fourth floor of this art center, as I rolled left, then right, lunged my paws outstretched in front of me, before rolling over again. On second thought, I look more like that fish, at the end of that Faith No More video. Everyone there looked as silly as I did, so I enjoyed myself. There was no music, just the two male directors, giving clear advice (in French), encouraging the 9 of us as they could. Though I enjoyed myself, I eventually I realized that I was simply taking up valuable real estate in the room, while everyone else was taking this practice seriously. As I got up to leave, I found the exit door and pushed forward. No luck. Locked from the inside; are you kidding me? What is this, a freaking 19th century garment factory? I tried again, and it was indeed solidly locked. I was stuck - no exit. I could feel the adrenaline in me winding up to one of those Kellogg’s POP’s
moments. How the hell do I get out of here???
To be continued…
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