The train from Marseille to Avignon was a pleasant 90 minutes. The south of France looks like Spain, and reminds me of family holidays when I was a kid – walking along in flip flops and baggy shirts down to the beachfront restaurants for an evening meal, the night air warm, crickets chirping in the bushes.
I met Seth at the station. I’d been running late, and when I found him outside he was leaning on a railing, shaven-headed, grinning at me through a pair of dark sunglasses.
I’m on a train rocketing across the south of France, and from the window I can see the ocean and hills and a rusty abandoned car with lime green paint. Daniel Bedingfield has come on shuffle somehow, and it’s making me feel like a wide-eyed young girl on a 1990’s road trip.
I look like a toad. I look like a sack of flour that’s been hung from a butcher’s hook and thumped until it burst. I look like an unkempt ballbag, recoiling in the sunlight for the first time after a long winter bundled up inside a pair of long johns.
It’s been five and a half months in Strasbourg. This blows my mind. Half a year here, and still life feels like a waiting room; waiting for my French to improve, waiting for solid friendships to form, waiting for our money to stop fluctuating quite so madly.
Strasbourg is quilted with snow. We were supposed to go hiking in the mountains yesterday, and we got up early to dress ourselves in layer upon layer of old ski gear. When we got to the train station, however, we found our train cancelled due to some trees having collapsed onto the tracks.
I’m acquiring a lot of physical possessions in France, which is scaring me a bit. On my desk I have a sepia French globe (a gift from Jeanne), a harmonica (a gift from me to myself; extremely ill-advised), and a strange glass ornament containing sand and water and bubbles, the three of which drip over one another to form little orange pyramids whenever I shake the thing, which is every thirty seconds because I have the attention span of a hummingbird.
France’s version of the Job Centre is called Pôle Emploi. It’s pronounced ‘poll ump-LAH’, or something like that. It seems to change every time a French person says it. It certainly changes every time I say it.
Coffee is my kryptonite, except it’s worse than kryptonite because at least Clark Kent doesn’t wake up every morning going ‘Oo a tell thee, a wouldn’t mind eating a nice shard of old krypto’. My relationship with coffee is a testament to the blasted duality of Dan: I love it, I love it so much, and yet it slays me. It ruins me. It gives me powerful, throat-punching acid reflux, and it kickstarts my anxiety with the rumbling force of a shifting tectonic plate. I know all of this, I experience it every single day, and yet… I just cannot say goodbye to my lovely, warm, bad-breath-making drink.