Cold and wet I wake. In drunkenness I had forgotten to close my tent, now my mat and blanket are wet. The storm outside persists, the sky a thick gray woolly mass and the wind hits my hungover face as I try to pack my things.
Cycling is not easy, after the village of Jade and Patrick there are hills for which I have no energy. The cold wind hits me head-on and I don't want to go on but also don't want to stop.
Cars ride here without a driver bringing me into a state of confusion until I realize they are Brittish cars. There are Bed & Breakfasts and people drink pints and eat fish n chips, it's a strange cosmopolitanism.
help yourself, loveThe pain in my calve stings and I stretch and bite away the pain. The way here is long and the empty villages know increasingly less life. When I climb small fruitflies attack me, they get into my nose and ears and my mouth any time I try to breathe.
The trees shine wet, the church sounds a lonely time and except the wind there is no sound here. I leave the town where I slept on the playground. A farmer who is also the mayor of the town gives me a melon, jam, food, and a stone from his house. He tells me a story of the pilgrims who used to rest in the house, this is a piece of the floor. He says it will bring me luck on my pilgrimage.
The lonely day passes and in the evening I stop at the promise of a festival. A barefoot man with long dreadlocks and a flowery shirt stands on a podium. He sings about spitting on an already-cold body and the millions of stars above his bed. People sit around drinking Nelly D's beer as she dances behind her self-made bar. Brassens sounds through the speakers and I feel the warmth of France.
Het gevecht tegen te wind put me uit. Ik kom in een dorpje dat twee cafés telt en ze zijn allebei open. Er zitten een aantal oude mannen binnen sigaretten te roken, ze maken me uit voor gek en brengen me brood met geitenkaas. Ik zit buiten op een oranje plastic stoeltje, de witte tenten op het plein kraken onder de lucht die gekozen heeft voor woede.
Cyclists and tourists crowd the streets of Uzene. The flowers breathe an artificial reality, people sit on the terraces drinking milkshakes and eating quinoa bowls. It's a strange place, as an island of being in a sea of having-been. I get to the next town, a busy road straight through her heart has killed any possibility of life. A boy of twelve moves along and back over the road, a mantra of boredom interrupted by me. He smokes a cigarette as big as his face and looks at me curiously without words. I stop in the park to set up my tent and hear the mountainbike circling around me. The unspoken invitation leads him to stop and he says, "I am the only kid in this town, there's just papa's and tata's. I actually live in Bayonne, there it's always a party." His blue eyes hold the wisdom of the world.
I ride through endless ways of pine trees and dust. It's unbearably hot. Dogs aim for my calves, a man growls "Gaston ne mort pas!" but Gaston doesn't listen.Gaston, ne mort pas!” maar Gaston bijt weldegelijk.
Before I enter the city I stop for water. Jerome works in his shed with bent hands, "wouldn't you rather have some beer? It's better than water."
I agree with the man and follow him into the large garden behind his house. A sea of flowers and birds bathing in bowls of water under the old trees. His wife, Marguerite is confused to see me when she comes out of the house. "The girl wanted water, but that won't cut it wit this water!"
"Maybe not for you Jerome," she smiles, "some people do drink water..." She has red hair and a wrinkled face showing beauty exceeding a mere human life.
She bends under the old willow, "This my lovely husband meant to prune but of course he forgot, as with all. And now we cannot walk here normally..."
"We haven't been able to walk normally for a long time my dear." ma cherie.”
They are both 85 and have been married for 57 years. They tell me about the town, how there used to be a baker, a hairdresser, a school and three cafes. "We had balls here every week, we danced the tango, the waltz, and all the ladies of the town came here to dress up." Marguerite dreams, "it was magnifique.”
The landscape becomes more beautiful with each kilometer that passes. People are younger and actually smile at me warmly. A big climb and I see the Pyrenees intimidatingly high above me. I have gotten somewhere and will go somewhere, they invite me to partake in the future. I hope I can handle it.
An old farm forms the border between this village and the next story, it is the last village of Les Landes. After this Bask country will start. I stop for some water and ask if there is space behind the farm to camp.
"Come in, come in!" The farmer is a face of hard work and a thick sun-tanned face, she hurries to the kitchen to get me some fruit juice, "this will refresh you!"
I tell her not to hassle as she wrestles with a big bucket of grain but she won't hear it and tells me to follow her into the house. The kitchen holds a sweet air which sticks to my mouth. She is making melon jam. I trip over the mess which is everywhere, the cats and the chickens moving between the stuff stuff stuff. The driveway is a chaos of beings. "Michel!" she yells to a bent back that is her husband, "this lady will sleep with us tonight!" He grins and has an S-shaped mouth, which smiles and is serious at the same time.
I wake at seven to participate in the rituals of Meriem and Michel. The three cows chew the mustard plants that Michel throws at them, he closes the iron bars around their necks and sits down to get the breakfast milk. Belledemoiselle The milk hits the side of the unsteady bucket as it shakes, Michel jokes to the beautiful lady cow that she must keep still and laughs at his own jokes. When he is done we walk up the hill towards the house. A rope is tied to the ground so Michel can pull himself up, walking is not what it used to be.
We sit in the kitchen drinking the fresh milk, eating bread with melon jam, the sweetness brings me back to the room and the night and I will never again experience a melon the same. The cats and kittens; brothers, sisters, nephews, cousins, half-brothers and half-sisters play with the chickens while the dog looks calmly at the spectacle. Michel tells me he kills some of the kittens with his bare hands to control their numbers and laughs at my shocking reaction, "we don't have money for vets." When I leave he tells me paradise awaits and with Meriem, they wave me goodbye. I say I will not forget them as they pause on the driveway. Then they are turned backs and go on.
The way is climbing and descending and the villages no longer read freedom, equality and fraternity. Instead of the France I had become so used to, here I meet large trucks and long boulevards, industry and jobs, people and mega-supermarkets. It's a strange development, everything goes faster. People buying, rushing, selling.
Bayonne welcomes me with confusing roundabouts. I ride in circles and don't understand how to get out of the city, cars push by me and everyone seems to be rushing. Bayonne brings me the feeling of return, as I'd been here before when I explored Europe's mystery by hitchhiking. Then I stood for hours trying to get a ride. Now I have my own wheels and thus need nobody, it feels good.
I stop at a bakery along the endless traffic jam. A man comes out to smoke and says I can only do this because I am good-looking, "see," he explains, "if you were ugly this whole thing would've gone differently." I tell him to give it a try.