Saturday, February 26


First, I should really comment a bit on my last post a bit. The biggest problem with it was that I wrote it when I was dead tired [hadn't slept much the night before, and the reason was explained, as I recall]. As a consequence, I didn't read it over, and I think that I might have scarred the shit out of some people without really meaning to.

Don't get me wrong, what I did was very stupid. But not quite as stupid and crazy as it ended up sounding. The reason that I stuck around was that there were enough people in the group that originally approached me that I didn't expect anything to go horribly wrong too fast. And the reason that I didn't go to a hotel or hostel was that the cost of hotels on Corse are sky high. There are no hostels, and hotels usually start around $75, but getting in at the last minute made getting even one of those unrealistic. And there were other positive signs. I really don't feel like dwelling on this long enough to go into them. In the end, the bar [there were 5 employees total, plus about 10 regulars] all wanted me to stay for at least another month, but I really didn't feel like sticking around. The point is that it wasn't the grand escape that it came across as here. In hindsight, the title of the post didn't help, but I'm too lazy to change it now.

So with that out of the way, there isn't a hell of a lot new. I got fed up with the hostel in Aix-En-Provence, and took off for a town called Nîmes, a bit to the west. The hostel there was a blast, but the town itself was a bit smaller than was to my liking. Something that struck me as being strange was the amount of architecture left over from the Romans. It's bizarre seeing a huge, decrepit collision in the middle of a small French town, surrounded by modern buildings. Rome's done a better job of incorporating their ancient architecture into a more contemporary atmosphere. And of course, there's the question of why the Romans chose Nîmes...

But just as I was preparing to keep going west, I got a call from two businesses in Aix, offering me an interview. So now I'm back in Aix, having done a bit of a circle. I've had both interviews, and already been offered one job. It's in a book store, and it sounds pretty relaxed. The only problem is that it's about 45 minutes from Aix, in Marseille. The reason that this is such a problem is that Marseille is the second biggest city in France, and a little too fast paced for me to feel confortable. The other interviewer won't be able to get back to me till the middle of next week. That job would be much nicer, as it's in Aix, and has a higher salary. I'd be in charge of reception at an English school. The interview itself went quite well, or at least so I thought. So that means that it comes down to the amount of experience I have versus that of the other candidates. But regardless of whether I get the job or not, it looks like I'll be sticking around for a while.

I feel like ranting a bit on various things that I've been reading, but I'm at a fairly high priced internet café, so I'll spare you and cut this short :)

Monday, February 14

Stupid Decisions/Narrow Escapes

I'm beginning to wonder what the hell is going on. It seems like I can't get a peaceful couple of days to save my life.

So as I recall, my last post was when I was in the polish monastery. After leaving the town of Bastia, I went off to explore the rest of the island. All of the towns that I went to were very beautiful, though the island itself was extremely expensive.

First was Calvi, a smaller but very popular village. As there was no accommodation in the price range I was looking for, I ended up camping out in a park again. This time, however, there weren't any rude awakenings.

Next up, I headed south. The places that I had already been to were very French, but as you work your way down the island, the true Corsican culture becomes stronger and stronger. And to be honest, it wasn't a culture that I was particularly fond of. The people were extremely aggressive, and in the end, I felt lonely and edgy being around them. They're basically a cross between Arabic and Italian, with the only thing French being that they speak the language. I'm not sure where the Arabic influence comes from. Perhaps the original settlers (who came centuries ago) were of Arabic origin.

Still, when I say that the island is beautiful, it's an incredible understatement. After a few days, I ended up on the southern tip, in a town called Bonifacio. This is easily the most beautiful place that I've ever seen. Hands down. The town is built into the side of a 200 foot sheer cliff, and looking over the cliff side, the water is so clear that you can easily see the bottom. I'd never seen anything like it. And watching the sun sets were magnificent. My being taken-aback by the town brings me to the climax of weirdness of my current (or any other?) trip.

Just after I got into town, I'm walking by the port. Someone shouts out "Quebec, Quebec!" I have no idea how they knew I live there [I don't wear a flag on my back pack, as I think it's sort of silly. Just my opinion]. The voice was coming from a bar/restaurant, and so I go over to talk to the guy. Picture Napoleon on speed. He asks me what I'm doing in Bonifacio, and I tell him that I'm just passing through, before going to look for work on the mainland. He tells me to come into his restaurant so he can talk to me.

It turns out that he's the owner, and he tells me that he's looking for workers. Strange, considering that it's off season. But the chance to spend some time in Bonifacio is very tempting, so I hear him out. He looks over my resume, and offers me a job as a cook. The pay is 1500 Euros per month, including food and accommodation. The only hitch is that I have to work 14 hours a day, seven days a week. The offer sounds very good, and he offers to let me stay at his place that night, as there's no cheap accommodation in Bonifacio [I was planning on camping out]. My naiveteé combined with my really liking the town gets the better of me, and I give it a shot. He tells me that I'll only have to stay at his place for a week if I take the job, then I can move to staff accommodation.

The next day, I start work. Grueling, but I'm ready to handle it. I had left his place a few hours after him, and locked it with his key (very trusting guy!). And as if I'm in a bad movie, you can guess what happens next. Of course he gets robbed that afternoon. So I figure that I'm toast, good and proper. Somehow, though, he doesn't suspect me. He has one of the kids that hangs out in his bar pegged as the robber.

On a bit of an aside, pretty much every kid in the town is a hooligan wannabe. This was slowly becoming apparent to me. So he has a big argument with the kid, the kid denies everything. He doesn't bother going to the cops (the cops are pretty much non-existent on this island. I learned a bit later that it's all controlled by the Mafia).

Keep in mind, this kid is in the bar almost always. Hardly ever leaves. So naturally you expect him to take off after all of this. Not so. The next day, he's right back in the bar, and the Napoleon is still serving him drinks. All the time, still accusing him of robbing him. This whole thing just gets stranger and stranger.

Now, I'm not very popular with the other workers. They keep telling me that I'm not doing a very good job. The irony is that I'm doing all the work. They just sit around all day while I clean the bar and kitchen. Fine. I'm there to get the cash and experience.

Still, I'm beginning to become more and more concerned (about freaking time!). Everyone keeps dropping hints about which team I'm playing for, if you catch my drift. So I'm becoming pretty sure that Napoleon's intentions are less than pure. Still, in a few days I get to move into staff accom, so again, because I really love the scenery, and jobs are next to impossible to find there, I stick around. And I'm told that the reason that people aren't taking kindly to me is that I come across as a snob. Why is this? Because when you enter the bar, you're expected to shake the hand of every single person in the bar, whether you know them or not, and introduce yourself. If you know them well, kiss them on both cheeks. This includes guy - guy. And they're questioning MY sexuality... Sorry, but it's weird seeing two Ginoes laying big sloppies on each other.

Through all of this, I still haven't got the motivation to leave. Finally, I get the kick in the ass I need. I was told that I could move in with the other cook, but we'd have to share a one bedroom. Fine. Then I find out that he's already living with his girlfriend! This means no apartment, which means I'm stuck in Napoleon's living room. This, plus him making a pass at me is enough. I'm off to the road, where I hitch hike out. Still, I can't believe how close I was to staying, just because of how pretty it was there. I thought I was old enough to know to better...

After getting the heck off that island, and swearing never to go back, I ended up in Saint Tropez. This is basically the Malibu of France. Way too many rich people with way too much money on their hands. After a night there, I end up in Aix-En-Provence, which has been my long term goal for a while.

Last night I was looking forward to a nice quiet night, but not to be. I'm staying in a hostel, and at around 2am, I was woken up by a mad rush of very loud... paramedics! Seems one of my roommates got food poisoning, and the other called an ambulance. He pukes all over the floor, and feels better. The paramedics take off with a very loud exit, just as they came in. Given that I was half asleep, and unable to comprehend what was going on (let alone understand what they were all screaming about), I was having a hard time deciding if this was really happening, or just a bad dream. Maybe the entire past two weeks were just a weird dream. I wonder what I ate...

Tuesday, February 1

Before, Again...

It's hard to believe, but I've been in Europe for more than two weeks.

The last time that I updated this, I was in Norwich with my friend Nick. After leaving there, I met up with Will, a friend of mine from my last trip to France, who took french classes with me in Nice. Will is now married and living in London, and he invited me to stay at his place for a bit on my way from Norwich to Brighton. It was great to see him and his wife, Lucy. Unfortunately, my time in England was running a little short, so I was only able to spend the one night with them. Still, we had a wonderful time, first taking in a movie, and then going out for a few pints at a local tavern. Although I didn't have extremely high expectations for the film, it turned out to be one of the best big budget movies that I've seen in ages. It was the new Clint Eastwood movie, Million Dollar Baby, about a boxing trainer who decides to work with a woman boxer for the first time. From the blurb alone, it stunk of clichés, but had hardly any what-so-ever. And to top things off, an ending that by the middle of the film, you would never expect, and were unsure of up until the very end. It's also been nominated for the Academy Award for best picture, but that's not always saying much.

After leaving London, I spent a few nights in Brighton, a city of which I'd heard many good things. It lived up to most of it, and is probably my favorite place in England. A coastal town, it's very pretty, but above all else, there was a vibrancy that I didn't expect at all. I find that most English towns are sleepy and at times downright gloomy, but Brighton [as the name implies?] escaped from all of that. There was an extremely colorful carnival on the port that was open year round, which in some ways set the tone. But all over, there were nice buildings, beautiful parks, and wonderful beaches. I also met up with an old friend, Ben, who I first met in B.C. [Canada]. It's strange, but our paths seem to cross at odd times. The first was when we were both in a small town in B.C., Kamloops. I saw him again in Vancouver, and a third time when I randomly bumped into him at a drum fest in Victoria.

This time he responded to the mass email I sent, saying that he was in East Sussex, very close to Brighton. I was planning on going to Brighton anyway, as it was the only place in England that I had wanted to see but missed on my first trip to Europe a few years ago. Now he says that he might come to France, so our paths may cross again in the near future.

Speaking of which, while I had a good time in Brighton, I was eager to move on to France, so leaving England wasn't painful. My flight was from London to Nice, Nice being where I had lived for four months back in 2002. It was very strange being back there, as almost everyone I knew had moved on. A consequence of having made most of my friends in a language school. Now I know lots of Swedes, as well as a few Germans, Austrians, and English. But not many locals from Nice itself.

Still, the one person I was sure would still be around didn't disappoint. She was my old land lady from when I lived there, and she has to be one of the strongest personalities that I've ever met. Affectionately [at least by most] known as the pink lady, I don't think that I stand a chance of doing her justice here. She's around 65, always (and I mean always) wears pink, and works the most ungodly hours of anyone that I've ever known. She runs a restaurant, but refuses to hire any help. This means that she works from about 7 am till 2 am, seven days a week. On top of that, she owns two buildings next door, which she rents out. One of them being a hostel, she's always running back and forth. She mentioned once that she hadn't taken a day off in 11 years. That includes Sundays. The only help she gets is from her sister, and though both are very nice, they spend more time bickering with each other than actually talking.

A few things had changed with her, though. The first, and most shocking to me, was that she had changed the color of her restaurant. Formerly (as you probably guessed) pink, it was now bright red. And secondly, her dog had died. Finally. I call it a dog, but back when I lived with her, sometimes I wasn't really sure. It was one of those little lap dog things, but seeing as how it was pushing twenty, it looked more like an oversized hairball. It couldn't really move [like, at all], but knew enough to make some sort of gurgling sound when it needed to relieve itself. The gurgling was a queue to the Pink Lady to carry it outside and hold it while it did its business. Then it was back to it's chair, where it would lie, seemingly lifeless, until feeding time. At which point it's head would be placed into the bowl, as it couldn't do it itself.

After staying in the Pink Lady's hostel for a few nights, I realized that my time in Nice really was over, and that it was time to see if not greener, at least different pastures. So I caught the next ferry to the Isle of Corse, a French island close to Italy. The ship was run almost entirely by Italians, and [coincidently or not] was about two hours late. After docking in the town of Bastia at about 10 pm, and seeing as how hotels are very much over priced here, I decided to camp out on a beach for the night. I awoke to some homeless guy telling me that I was in his spot, of which he'd staked claim to about two months earlier. This was a wake up call that maybe, just maybe, my life style was getting a bit iffy.

I tried the tourism office, and was told about some affordable accommodation about 7km out of town. What I hadn't realized was that it was a monastery, run by an order of polish nuns. So yes, I'm now staying in a monastery. It's definitely the quietest place that I've stayed at in a while, and I've taken advantage of the opportunity to work on some more drawings. The one that I've started is of a picture that I find completely fascinating, you can check out the photo under scraps on the web page where I keep my drawings. Tomorrow I'll probably take off for a different town on the island, as it really is very beautiful here, and since I only have a week, I want to explore as much as possible in the time that I have.

On a bit of a side note, typing this has helped me get used to french keyboards again. For some reason, the french switch the w, q, a, z, and m keys around, which makes typing a bit of a challenge. Most Mediterranean countries do similar mix ups, hence typing becomes even more of a pain if you're travelling around a few different countries.