The gorillas hadn’t attacked in force the previous night and I was already buzzing at the thought of meeting up with Mick, Deb, Brian and Mick’s cousin, Tim. Deb and I had been flatmates when Mick and a bunch of others from a Rozelle share house had gone off on a motorbike adventure around Oz for six months and I was drafted in as first choice replacement housemate. You know, one of those people who people don’t mind sharing with – house trained, able to handle a bong and a beer, knew the in-off rule in pub pool, liked live bands and was happy watching Moto GP’s late on a Sunday night. In the Drummoyne House, Dave cooked the mains, I did drinks and dessert and Chanel kept us in check, cleaning wise. We did well. Brian worked with us and was Deb’s future husband. Fine people, each of them.
I lobbed onto the Paris train and got to the gare I wanted with enough time to decipher the Metro map for the closest stop to the Eiffel Tower. I arrived fifteen minutes early and started searching the milling crowds for signs of my friends. I was half expecting a Rugby League scrum to rumble its way up Le Champ du Mars but that wasn’t to be. Just after midday I spotted Mick who was with his cousin, Tim. Then Deb and Brian also filtered into view and it was Happy Times! What to do? Well we hugged, laughed and then started walking and talking. We ended up in a left bank café ordering couscous and beers. Their largest beer glasses were called “formidable” and that’s what we hooked into. We spent a fun afternoon telling travellers’ tales, listening to the jukebox and ignoring the looks of distaste angled our way from the visages of the locals. Fuck ‘em. If they wanted to argue we’d simply display a VW logo and wait for the white flags to start fluttering. A lot of people say the French are arrogant and Parisiennes doubly so. I disagree. What pisses them off is loud English speaking tourists who make no attempt to acknowledge the French language. We were most of the above except we loved practicing our crappy French, particularly when ordering drinks from toothsome bar wenches.
To further put off the locals we pulled out our maps and started planning our next RV. It looked like an invasion planning session and it didn’t take long for the Parisiennes to realise they’d lose this war and they actually started giving us a few snippets of information. I’d planned on looking a bit more at the north of France while the others were spending a few days doing the Paris thing. I’d been Parisfied on a previous trip so was more keen on seeing some other towns. We settled on meeting up at the Palace de Versailles the following day and then a couple of days later catching up on Il de Batz. The only reason we chose this place was because it sounded almost exactly like Hildie Bartz, a work colleague of ours. We found this incredibly amusing, belly laughing at the whole concept. In our guffaws we stuck the island on our “to do” list in large, blinking, neon letters fixed with the superest superglue we could find. Our muse bore genius that afternoon. It ended up becoming one of the best travel decisions ever made.
I left the others early in the evening and got back to Chartres in time to have a couple of settlers with some Danes back at the hostel. The following morning I was feeling chipper about the day trip to Versailles. There were no treaties on offer nor was Louis XIV putting on a typical “Sun King” bash but it’s a magnificent estate nonetheless. I’d been there previously and dug the palace and the surrounding gardens and parkland. It was all tres cool.
We wandered around digging the civilised vibe, checking out the palace and the gardens. Being summer the tourist coaches were lined up outside and amongst them I spotted a couple of the camping tour operators, Contiki and Top Deck. I’d been on a Contiki invasion of Scandinavia and the USSR previously and recognised the driver, Ian. Seeing him skulking around his bus reminded me of an episode in a campsite in Russia one night. We’d hit the champagne and vodka hard and a lot of trysts were formed. As a result of my encounter with a Kiwi lass I had drunkenly fronted Ian with “Are all Kiwi girls like that?” before stumbling into my tent. The next morning, in amongst assessing the gorilla carnage and suffering severe short term memory loss, he walked up to me and repeated my question as he saw me groggily trying to make sense of the morning. “Oh shit. Did I do that?” as I vaguely grasped a memory of Roberta and the pashing session we’d conducted. He cracked up, slapped me on the back and finished off doing his bus maintenance checks.
I snuck up behind Ian from the off side of his bus in the Versailles coach park and enquired “Are all Kiwi bus drivers as dozey as you?” Surprised the bejaysus out of him but he soon had his crafty laugh cranked up. We shook hands and swapped updates of travels. He'd landed in Paris the previous day picking up another busload of punters for the start of a six week tour around Europe. Like most employees of the camping tour industry he was always having to reject most of the offered favours from young females who saw his profession as somewhat romantic. Like most of his colleagues he just saw their offers as the side benefits of a largely routine, poorly paid job. They earned extra cash through kick-backs, and for those on the trips behind the Iron Curtain, black market deals. It was good to see him still in fine fettle and telling me of his trysts and he was amused by some of my travel vignettes. We promised to try and catch up in London for a few settlers.
After traipsing around Versailles our little group headed back to Paris and the cheap dive where the others were staying. Brian had the ferry times sorted out for the island, we confirmed dates and times over baguettes and wine then I headed off back to Chartres. That night I did a clean out of my pack and found I had too many books. I left a few well worn tomes in the hostel library as was the custom of the day. Those little libraries were a marvel. If you had a book you’d finished you’d leave yours and take any others which jumped up at you. I tossed up whether to finally give up on “Ulysses” but decided that hanging onto Jimmy Joyce’s piece of confusion could still be worth the trouble. I left behind Hemingway, Arthur Hailey, Robert Heinlein and Clive Cussler, picking up Harry Harrison’s “Deathworld 2” and the first instalment of Jean Auel’s Wonder Cave Girl epic. I’m surprised her heroine didn’t get around to inventing the internal combustion engine, television and faster than light drive.
In the morning I headed off to Morlaix. It was close to Roscoff where the Il de Batz ferry terminated. The walk from the station to the hostel was a fair step and the weather was surprisingly hot so I’d become thirsty by the time I booked my bunk. Ha! Beer! I sat around in the company of a bunch of French guys and gals, falling behind in the froggy chat but more importantly keeping in front with the Kronenburgs.
I seemed to be missing out on something, a key fact, that vital detective’s clue which would unlock the secret of romance and music. Fuck it, more beer thanks.
We cooked up a communal feast replete with half decent wine and some amusing monologues from the hostel manager. He ended up being a useful raconteur, with one of those stretchy faces which was able to evince a wide range of emotions to embellish his anecdotes. After we’d eaten I helped clean up and when I returned to the table everyone seemed to be ready to call it quits for the night. Whip off the bails and call it stumps. Bugger! I was flummoxed. I’d obviously been misled into thinking we were going to have a great evening of wine, song and laughter and maybe something else. I’m sure a few of the girls were dead ringers for potential Mrs Therbses. My confusion was answered by:
“Would zhoo like dansing tonite wiz us?”
It was uttered by this really nice looking girl using a really, really hot French accent. It was one of those moments where your head is zapped with thermoblasts of lust and love and you have the wedding planned, kids named and decisions about living in France in their summer and Australia in our summer confirmed; all done, dusted and sealed in a microsecond. We'd get jobs in the U.N. and live fascinating, jet-setting lives, solving the world's problems and making love in exotic places.
"Sure, er... I mean oui!" I rasped it out , affirming the verbal with a nod of the noggin.
She rose as a goddess with my mortal form an unworthy shadow. There were six of us crammed into a Citroen 2CV. The "deux-chevaux" (two horses) was France's answer to the Fiat Bambino, and the VW Beetle. It was designed for a couple of adults and two children. What this meant was that the going was very slow but I didn't mind this, cushioned on one side by Yvette and on top by the lithe form of Louise, who seemed to be laughing a lot and patting me on the head and the leg. It interrupted my design of Louise's engagement ring and the wedding guest list. I know, we'd have an ice sculpture! That'd be great. Stick a mess of beers at the botton and it'd keep them cool for days! Genius!
"What do you think of ice sculptures?" I asked Louise
"J m'excuse - eyece skoolpture?"
"Oui. Objet d'art made of ice."
"Sorree. Don't know zis one".
Bugger! Here we were planning the wedding and I didn't even know if she liked fancy shmancy ice blocks!
It was at this stage we pulled up at the grounds of a festival. The hostel crew explained it was an annual Gaelic Festival and then something clicked. The Prof with the gammy leg in Chartres had told me about this and bingo! Here I was. The grounds were a couple of hectares ( a few acres) of stalls, a stage, a large marquis, a big bonfire and lots and lots of French with a few Scots, Irish and Welsh along for the ride. There was beer, wine, local food, and some sort of cider style beverage which was more potent, more "spiritual". It wasn't scrumpy but whatever it was went down a treat. There were gaelic bands playing including some Irish and Scottish groups and the whole thing was a blast. I ended up in the dance square with a couple of the girls. I then noticed Louise, my fiance, snogging some other bloke. Turned out it was her real fiance. They were getting engaged that evening. Oh well, I guess it saved me a lot of air travel. My wedding plans went "ploot!", a bubble of hope and love vanishing, leaving behind only a few scattered reminders of its once proud, verdant existence. I'd been clean bowled with very few runs on the board and tucked my bat under my arm and headed towards the pavillion wondering how to explain my innings to the press.
"Dance, oui?" A voice from the onside, 'round about fine leg. Except this wasn't cricket, not even the French version. I turned slightly going with the line of the ball. It was Yvette.
"Oui indeed! Cheers Yvette!"
So we danced for a while then things got a bit closer and our lips met. Over Yvettes shoulder I noticed that this was de rigeur for dancing couples. Everyone was playing lip wrestling. Then things became tonguey and gropey and we were no longer in the dance square but on a patch of grass near the apple drink tent. I found this pretty amusing. These French had basically taken me along on a last minute impulse and I knew one of the other blokes really fancied her. So it was likely I was simply cannon fodder in some bizarre love war. There wasn't a lot of ardour in Yvette's efforts, it was like she was going through the motions. So I put the hard word on her, to see what was really going on.
"Non, no sex." She hook her head firmly on this and got up. I stood up, straightened myself, and offered,
"Like another drink?" I nodded to the tent, "Encore boisson?"
We went and listened to a Scottish folk band, had another couple of dances with pash and visited another tent which was pouring beer. Just outside was a bbq operation run by a couple of blokes who looked as though they knew their way around cooked flesh so I indulged in some small but spicy sausgaes and a bit of juicy pig. Brilliant stuff.
I then noticed that Louise had rejoined Yvete and they were doing that girl catch-up thing, nodding, frowning, laughing, frowning, glancing at me, laughing then finishing their drinks. Louise waved me over.
"Allons-y" was my reply and the girls just laughed. We stumbled back to the 2CV, tangled ourselves in the back seat where this time Yvette found herself sprawled over me. Poor girl, that'll teach you to play love games with a heart-broken bloke from Sydney. She even whispered sweetly into my ear'
"No sex. Da'ccord? No sex."
"Gotcha the first time sweetie."
Back at the hostel we had some of the apple drink which someone had brought back as a souvenir. A fine souvenir it was and we sat outside, with couples gradually pairing off and disappearing into their own world of festivities. Lousie gave me a sweet peck on the cheek as she went off with Fiance M. le non-Therbs which left me, the hostel manager, Yvette, another girl and Yvette's suitor all eyeing each off. By this stage I was back on the beers and it was getting a bit silly, trying to figure out what the fuck was going on without being able to speak properly or follow exactly what they were saying. I got up, said "Bon Nuit" and headed off to my bunk. Well, stumbled is a more apt description.
The next morning I woke up with my sleeping sheet half covering me. I was also fully clothed including shoes, so I stripped off and clambered back into the sack to get in some more snoring.
A few hours later I got up properly, cleaned up and headed into the kitchen. Louise had a rosy glow to her cheeks as she flipped omeletees around a couple of pans and I made a brew of coffee and rustled up some toast. The bread was thick and tasty and the butter was rich, melting on the warm bread in luxurious puddles. I scooped out jam from a pot on the bench and tore in.
After my breakfats I felt reasonably healthy. I was impressed with last night's apple beverage. It was quite drinkable, had a fair kick but didn't seem to be a hangover hellboy.
So, all clean and fed I hung outside for a local bus to take me to Roscoff. As I was waiting Yvette came out to say goodbye. She kissed me with one of those "Perhaps I was wrong" kisses. Tender, but not full on, with hints of tongue and a caress of the cheek. We were standing there as the bus puuled up, I offered her "Bon chance, 'revoir". I heard "'Revoir", took one last look at her and saw Louise waving from the hostel door. I yelled out goodbye to her as well.
Fuck it, Roscoff next then the ferry to Il de Batz!