Strasbourg | Bitche

Well, it seems I left my last blog post on a bit of a cliff-hanger by accident. Did I get diagnosed with COVID-19?

No, I did not. My test came back, and it turned out I had the flu. And I still have the flu. I can get up and walk around now, and even sing and dance and holler for brief periods, but I’m still poorly, and eventually – around 6pm each day – I must retire to my boudoir for an hour’s slumber, lest I collapse. Thus, my second week in France must be seen through this lens: the lens of a man unwell.

As I am infinitely fond of saying, a lot can change in a day, and a heck of a lot has happened in the last seven days. I went clothes shopping, for one. I brought only two bags with me to Strasbourg, and these were mostly filled with books. I’m a very slow reader – though I’ve not noticed myself doing it, apparently I gawp off into space for several minutes after finishing each page – and I have acquired a large back-catalogue of literature which I must lug around with me and work through. My other problem is that books in shops always look so much more enticing than the ones on my shelf at home. It’s as though the act of purchasing a book transforms it from a tantalising ‘I could’ into a tedious ‘I must’. Perhaps I would have more success as a reader if I shoplifted all my novels and strapped horse blinders to my head while consuming them.

The mound of books I brought to France with me left little room for clothes. I had a very frank conversation with my wardrobe before leaving England, during which I was forced to cast aside many once-cherished garments. I get attached to clothes. They say that it takes seven years for our body to completely rejuvenate itself, replacing every single cell therein with a newer, shinier one. One threadbare black t-shirt of mine – originally purchased from Zara some eleven years ago – has therefore seen far more of the world than I have. That black tee was in my backpack for Vietnam, Cuba, Fiji, India, Japan, and Australia and the USA – everywhere. It’s a very well-travelled t-shirt. Unfortunately, however, after a decade of use it now hangs from my torso with all the grace of an unravelled cock-sheath.

Moving to a new country is a good time for reinventing one’s image. My own image has been somewhat confused for several years now, with my lifestyle pinwheeling rapidly between backpack-bum and urban-commuter. My wardrobe is packed with garments that stand out and have interesting stories attached, and yet – crucially – match absolutely nothing else in my possession. A tie-dye t-shirt purchased from a rickety market stall in India? Perhaps I can pair it with this pair of Marks and Spencer chinos, and an off-white pair of Converse which fail spectacularly at their sole job of concealing my toes. In short, I never really look composed, or cohesive, or coherent… or co-anything, really. Thus my mission: to finally look co-ol.

With Jeanne’s guidance, I bought several new t-shirts, a corduroy overshirt thing, and a navy blue trench coat. I adore the coat. I’ve been watching the films of Jean Luc Godard recently – achingly cool black and white crime flicks set around 1960’s Paris – and I’ve been agog at the beautiful men and women on screen, puffing mysteriously on cigarettes and tugging at the collars on their long beige coats to brace against the cold. I count myself as a non-smoker now, however you can bet your nose I’ll be leaning moodily against lampposts in the rain for many months to come, trench-wrapped, outwardly brooding but secretly thrilled to bits imagining how brilliant I must look.

We’ve done a good amount of socialising the last week – already more than I ever did in Bristol, which is precisely none. Jeanne has a great many friends here. They’re a fun bunch – young and busy and smart and alive, and apparently innumerable. Meeting up with only one person seems an impossibility: one pretty, wet evening last week I accompanied Jeanne to meet one of her oldest friends, Elodie, in a bar called Au Coin des Kneckes. Jeanne and I arrived early and sat watching the rain from beneath a large awning. When Elodie arrived she was with another friend, Jordane. Soon after came more: Jean, then Chloe, then Thomas. I don’t know who is responsible for launching the social bat-signal into the ether each time any combination of people agree to meet up, but I like it very much.

My last bit of good news is that Jeanne and I have found an apartment! Our hunt was brief but intense. Finally, after a slew of viewings – one of which had a slanted death-trap balcony, another of which had a Willy Wonka-style hatch for an entrance, Jesus Christ – we bagged our dream place. It’s a huge ground floor apartment, 66 square metres, with high ceilings and lovely wooden floors; three rooms plus a large kitchen and bathroom. I’ve already begun referring to the extra room as ‘my office’, which Jeanne is firmly pushing back on. We will need to fork out for some furniture and whatnot, but Jeanne’s parents have a lot of spare stuff they are gracefully allowing us to pinch, including a very fancy desk which, if my persuasion (read: pitiful pleading) is a success, will take pride of place in my new petit bureau.

One small yet important criterion of our apartment search was, for me at least, the street name. I love the French streets. Rue des Freres, Rue du Savon, Rue du Coin Brûlé – they’re each a little poem, and they remind me of romantic novels. Before each apartment viewing last week, I made a point of checking the street name outside. Strasbourg has been given what-for by Germany on several occasions in the past, and as a result many streetnames are clunky Franco-Prussian hybrids. Rue Schweighaeuser?! Get out of here.

 If I was going to live on a Rue de Something-or-other, I told Jeanne, I wanted to make sure it was a beautiful one. Imagine my delight, then, when I found out the address of our new place: Rue De Bitche.

Tres bien indeed.

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