Part I of II


So I made it to France some time ago. I arrived by bus in Lille. Took a step outside, put down my bags, and looked around the station… Now what?

I frankly had not planned a single thing. Only that I was to reach Amalfi, by whatever means necessary.

If only I knew those means?..

My intentions were grand; to pass through an entire country! I headed to a library, set up my computer and explored around on Google Maps.

Paris, I decided – I might as well pass by Paris first. Then just straight south towards Lyon, and then – Italy~! Bon.

So… Would I… Walk? How long would that take, a week? No good. Hitchhike? So what if I spoke no French. The car conversations would help me learn.

But… That would involve…

… You know. People.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not one of those ‘I tell people I hate people’ person. Isn’t it a generally sensible thing to not admit your hatred towards whatever’s associated with whoever you’ve just met. I dare anyone to change their statements from ‘I hate people’ to ‘I hate blacks. I also hate whites’. Or, ‘I hate men, and women? Bitches’.

No, you see. People, hate me. It’s something to do with my #1 talent of ruining conversations. It’s #1 because it’s at the top position of my 9 special abilities. #3 is starting conversations for me to ruin.

The unique position of public enemy actually offers me a distinctive perspective on things, and by extension, a valuable one. Therefore, I am the most important person on this planet.

An aside, unfortunately being hated by everyone tends not to work well with me being a melo-dramatic romantic. This is why I have to take cross-countries journeys to win the likes of the Italian Boss.

Well, bless my soul, I took a real shot at the hitch-hiking thing. It began with me sitting at the side of a road staring at my A4 pad and pen for an hour before writing anything. The next hour was me holding up a sign for a town in the complete opposite direction. Someone eventually felt sorry enough for me to pull over and drop me off at the correct road nearby.

When I did hitch a ride I had some semi-normal conversation in mostly-English, and all was well. Then when I left I wasn’t sure if I should do la bise or not, so I stood there for a second, then went for it and bumped her glasses. La bise. I feel like the word should be a French curse word. Or insult. How would you feel, if I likened you to the world’s most awkward and inconvenient social norm? If you answer is ‘not bad’, you haven’t been to France. La bise is the French greeting; you kiss both cheeks. Or, you kiss one cheek twice. Or perhaps both cheeks twice, one-two on the left, one-two on right. Or, one left, one right, another left, then right. Or start right first. How do you know which of these to do?.. … Faith.

As I write this, an amiable girl is trying a conversation with an Italian man who speaks little English. ‘It’s not good if it doesn’t hurt’, she tells him. As it happens, the best way of getting someone to admit something deep or interest, is by not speaking. The Italian can barely say a word. So she’s telling him all of her life’s philosophy. Probably because she’s not sure how else to hold a one-sided conversation. ‘You can’t change how you are. You can’t change your heart’. She really likes him.

I don’t think she’s right, but if she is, perhaps it’s fortunate, what I found some few weeks ago. Mon Vélo. My bike. My pain.

I was in Lille, and found online a bike for sale. It was in Belgium, so I had decided to walk. While that sounds bad, it was only 4 hours of a walk on Google Maps. I’d learned to trust Maps’ estimations for walking, since usually I was quicker than the time estimations. But, back then, I didn’t carry everything I own on my back.

I pack well, I’ve thrown out many things. But kept, voluntarily, three items. A small portable speaker which I planned on selling, a ??? (I genuinely can’t remember what it was), and an antique book I’d found in a mountain town when I was 15. It was a collection of Shakespear’s stories & poems, but with fine enough print that it really wasn’t so heavy.

I left for my journey at 10 a.m. I reach La Madeleine. The bag is too heavy. I abandon my plans of selling the speaker. I leave it on a bench. I reach Bondeus. It’s 2 p.m. I ??? my ???. ??? no more.

Hours later, I make it to Roncq, and I collapse on a bench. Well, I’ve made a habit, my back aches severely, everything inside is sorely needed, except for… I take my book out of my bag.

I hear a chime. A bell. Not of a church, not something heavy. A chime. And another, they are high-pitched pings.

Roncq, as it happens, has a collection of electrically wired bells in its town square. At 6 p.m , they chime in rhythm, making a peaceful song. Or, charming. That precisely is the word. It’s a charm.

By the time it ends, I’ve forgotten why I’m holding my book; I put it away in my bag and make the final stretch to my destination, Menen.

Mon Vélo. The blasted thing. The devilish device. My curse.

Well, in Menen I find the owner, an older man trying to get rid of his kid’s old things. It’s a children’s bike, and he’s raised the seat and handle to fit an adult on it. I bought it from him and carried it downhill to a nearby forest so I could get some sleep. The next morning, I take it, feeling ready to mock my past self by cycling the distance I’d struggled to walk. So I set up, and take off. Ready to conquer the Earth. I begin, and reach the hill.

How can I describe it despite my shame?

I didn’t reach the top of the hill.

Mon fucking Vélo.

It turns out, old rusted children’s bikes are a good deal harder to cycle than one might expect. Here I’d thought a bike was a bike. It’s just a mechanism, so anything should work. This is not the case. Childrens’ bikes? With heavy bags? Are un-cycleable.

I leave it in the ditch where I’d had my tent.

Mon fucking Vélo…