my plane landed in marseilles and i quickly found the train station and boarded the train to nice. i was still a little on edge from the morning’s events in tangiers, morocco, so i didn’t really enjoy the train ride or its scenery, unfortunately. but it was only a matter of time before the delicate side to side rock and roll of the train lulled me into a fast asleep. i awoke only minutes before the train pulled into the station.
i exited and hoped it wouldn’t be too long before my friends had found me. i was tired of being on edge and i was tired of not being able to trust people. the morocco medinas had worn me out. i stepped out into the terminal and walked a few feet. i didn’t see my friends, but something else had momentarily captured my attention. nothing. people rushed around me, hurriedly trying to catch another train or grab a cab, music played softly overhead, and people navigated on autopilot while interacting with their cellphones. but no one cared that i was there. i may as well have been a garbage can, merely an obstacle to avoid, an object to tolerate but pay no mind to. no one was trying to sell me anything, no one in my face demanding that i purchase some item that i likely had no use for, no opportunistic agents persuading me to follow them down some darkened alley to a “hotel” i had no desire to stay at. i was completely anonymous, and not a single soul around me gave one ounce of a damn about me. i breathed a sigh of relief. i’d never been so happy to be among the french.
a few minutes later, gregory and thomas located me and approached quickly, offering big hugs. gregory introduced me to his beautiful girlfriend, laetitia. we quickly left the train station and drove to gregory’s home where they had all prepared a traditional french dinner with a few dishes i had never had before. they enthusiastically ask me questions about my journey and i tried my best to fill them in on the highlights of all the places i had been since i had last seen them in iceland 3 months prior. we reminisced about the funny pair of days we had spent together hiking up to the top of notorious volcano eyjafjallajokull and recuperating down in reykjavik. i told them stories about hitchhiking in austria, ruinpub hopping in budapest with the wonderful locals, getting drunk and making a fool of myself in spain, riding camels in the sahara, and all the while they listened captivatingly, with a sense of awe and reverence and excitement. they made me feel so important, like i was someone who had done something important, even though all i had done was draw lines on a map and set foot to path.
at some point during the conversation, i had an epiphany that gregory and thomas were not speaking with the same friend that they had made in iceland. i had changed. i had grown. and it occurred to me that these two wonderful people were perhaps the first to see the beginning of the effect of my transformative journey. when i had met them on that mountain in iceland, i was a completely different person. i was a scared kid, bundled up with every layer i could find in my backpack, trying to stay warm on a frigid hike to the top of a volcano, while trying to somehow confront my real fears about who i was and if i even belonged in the great big scary world. i was afraid of how people saw me and if they liked me, i was afraid that i would never be cool enough or attractive enough for another woman to ever love me again, i was afraid that i’d never have a successful career again. but most importantly, i was afraid that i might be living a meaningless life full of wasted potential and uninspired banality. but now… something different. i hadn’t solved all the answers to those fears. i just simply wasn’t worried about them anymore. those paralyzing forces no longer had any power over me, they had somehow ceased to be relevant. it was almost as though i had unconsciously stopped allowing any of that doubt and negativity and fear to be a component of the equation. it had been eliminated. i can’t yet say that they had become fully sown, but the seeds of fearlessness had begun to produce, and i was beginning to leave my cuccoon.
the next week was spent lazily enjoying the carefree peace and anonymity that comes with nice in the winter. rain clouds had settled in quickly and remained, leaving me to either leave the hillside apartment that gregory lived in and wander the sleepily dreary and rain-soaked streets of the french riviera, or to simply stay inside and write. often i elected for the latter, and i unapologetically confessed to gregory and thomas that i was just so tired from morocco, and being a vagabond in general, that i was more than content to have a quiet place to lay my head and spend my time in peace. i realized there were so many beautiful and lovely things that i would likely miss, but i also knew there would be more
time in my life to someday return to southern france, and i could always come back and see it then, especially in the summer months when everything is at its apex of picturesque. instead, gregory and i would have philosophical conversations about life and its meaning, and everything in between. i introduced him to my new favorite hbo show, “true detective,” and we watched all 8 episodes in a matter of days. gregory was a very intelligent individual, the kind of guy who possessed a well-balanced wisdom and intellect, and used it to
weigh decisions before offering advice or opinion. he listened with a kind of specific precision, and when he responded, the level of astute acuity astounded me and inspired me to want to be a better listener, so that i could perhaps offer the same kind of poignant observation that he did. there was never a dull conversation with him, and he was always willing to venture down a tangent as far as needed to draw out an idea, and he always did so with a cheerfulness and a curiosity that i had seldom found in my travels.
we went to dinner one night at a fantastic little restaurant right in the middle of the city. we had waited for thomas to get off work from the software company he works at, and then met him in a small plaza, walking a few minutes until we located a small but tasteful little restaurant that was largely empty, but thankfully quiet. gregory and thomas ordered everything for me in french, as i had no idea what was going on, and i graciously thanked them. while we waited, i asked them about life in france, and thomas jokingly steered the conversation toward international travel.
“let’s not talk about france! france is filled with french people! we are boring!” we all laughed. thomas was the funny one. he had a clever wit, and if you watched his eyes during conversation, you could see that he was perceptively dissecting everything that was being said, waiting for a chance to insert a quip or witty joke, or share a funny story that related to the subject matter. he was the perfect conversational companion to gregory, as i could have easily lost myself in all sorts of metaphysical topics of science and belief and purpose, or just as easily engaged in silly yet witty hilarity with thomas and laughed the night away until i couldn’t breathe anymore. luckily we did both, weaving in and out of the serious and the comical for a perfectly balanced dinner conversation.
as we talked travel, suddenly i realized that all these amazing places that i had gone were all right in their backyard, and yet they had not been to many of these destinations, particularly the eastern countries. austria, germany, morocco, holland, hungary… to go from france to any of these was no different than to drive from california to colorado, or even simpler to fly. and yet these friends of mine hadn’t been to many (this is not to say that they were not well-traveled. they both are. but it was a shock to me that they hadn’t been to many of the countries nearby in europe, which most americans dream of going to their whole life and never do). it seemed simple enough to me: if i lived anywhere in europe, i would be gone every weekend, exploring a new region or country and systematically trying to eliminate my unquenchable wanderlust. i inquired incredulously, and they
explained why, each having a similarly understandable answer, and then i began to think about my own home, and it all made sense. even though i am one of the few people i know who has been to almost all of the states in the US, most people i know haven’t even been to a third of them. it is so simple to travel between states in the US, but people seldom take the initiative to explore, especially in their own country.
this made me sad as i conversed with gregory and thomas, but i could tell that the list of nearby countries they had been to would not remain short for very long. they had been taken by travel desire in a devastating way, and all my stories were doing was stoking the flames of a growing fire burning bright. they explained to me that it was actually a big deal for a couple of french guys to escape to a place like iceland, and that most of their friends hadn’t been able to comprehend why they ever bothered to leave such a perfect place like nice, even if it was only for a week. i looked around at all the comfortable people in the restaurant, sipping wine, laughing, enjoying amazing food. it was easy to see why someone might never want to leave. nice had a magic to it, a soothing melody that lulled you into relaxation. even in the winter. it didn’t matter. there was a casual sophistication to this city, perhaps too sophisticated for me, but not too sophisticated that i couldn’t appreciate it for a time. the beauty here, whether natural or manufactured, was obvious and tangible, and i really did like it.
a few days later the rain broke for a few hours, and gregory, laetitia, and i went for a hike among the hills above pointe de rauba capeu. it was beautiful outside. we found a waterfall among the ruins of an ancient castle from times long forgotten, we sat along the walls on the cliffs and marveled the beauty of the city as the sun dipped down on the mediterranean horizon below the cloud line, bouncing fierce oranges and reds off the already colorful buildings and back up onto the cloudy ceiling, creating a majestic scene.
that night we all piled into a car and i was given a cheap tour of monaco. i was entertained by the ridiculous display of wealth in the way of outlandish sportscars and gaudy hotels. every corner turned up a lamborghini, or ferrari, or bugatti, or some other vehicle you might only be lucky enough to see in a rap video or james bond movie. every hotel we drove by was a model of high class and taste, and beautiful people were everywhere. we met some friends of gregory’s at a tasteful little restaurant/bar down near the docks among the beautifully lavish boats that were docked and enjoyed the swanky atmosphere with expensive beers and a mediocre dj. everywhere i looked were young adults getting bottle service with their friends, undoubtedly paying with family money, and doing the things that young adults do. everyone in the place looked like they could be a model, and i suddenly realized i was wearing a tshirt and jeans. i felt like i was living in hollywood again. it didn’t bother me, but the humor wasn’t lost on me, as i noted that excess is celebrated in much the same way all over the world
i had greatly enjoyed my time in nice, and it could not have been more perfectly timed. i had needed a quiet refuge where i could collect my thoughts and restore my soul without being bothered by the noise of society or commerce or the obnoxiousness of salesmen, and nice had provided just such a shelter. much of it had to do with my hosts, gregory and thomas, as they had provided the perfect atmosphere for me to reflect on how far i had come and where i had yet to go. they had intuitively understood, without me even having to explain or ask, that instead of being a tourist, for a couple of days i just wanted to be a nameless face, a quiet observer, passing through from one place to another without offering or demanding a thing. i was still amazed that two people i had met on a hiking trail in the lonely, barren wild of iceland could be so generous and become such good friends with me in such a short time, and here i was now on the opposite side of the continent, enjoying their company and hospitality. in my previous life, there was no way i would have been that open and accepting. but that was the spirit of my journey, that i was learning from incredible people like thomas and gregory.
i expressed to them my desire to see them someday in the united states, and that i hoped they would consider visiting the natural beauty of colorado, so that i could return the kindness and generosity they had granted me by showing them how incredible my own home was as well. they dropped me at the airport and i boarded a flight for venice.
this week’s selection is a slow jam, in keeping with the theme of the entry above, the feeling this week is all about relaxation. summer is now here, and slow summer vibes are necessary. hailing from canada, tep no’s “pacing” sports a smooth electric guitar riff with a peaceful background ambiance and soothing vocals that all combine for a cocktail of calm. spin this after you get off work and you’ll be feeling those summer vibes in no time. enjoy…
and for those following along at home…