Help Spread the Word
This area does not yet contain any content.
This area does not yet contain any content.
Wednesday
Jun172009

Push It A Little Bit Harder

I awoke from a dead sleep and with ten minutes to check out I threw my things in my bag haphazardly. AsBret will attest, I don’t like to be rushed when packing. Every morning I would be up a half hour before Bret breaking my tent down and organizing and yet somehow he would always be waiting for me.

We walked around Parisfor the rest of the morning in a haze, drifting here andthere andthrough the Latin Quarters looking for something to eat. I was somewhat tired and hung-over and just wanted to sit down but Bret wouldn’t have it because it was too touristy. In our hung-over state, we were getting on each other’s nerves a bit but when we finally sat down at the Beire Academy , a Belgium Beer restaurant where we had eaten two nights before, we were back on track. We decided it would be in our best interest to have a few Duvel Beers and crash on the train ride home, but has fate would have it, there would be no sleep on the Thalys from Paris to Amsterdam.

At the beginning of the trip on the TGV train from Amsterdam to Avignon, we sat across from an older women and a very attractive French girl aboutour age. She must have been in advertising as she was working on some proofs for a good part of the trip. I tell you this; if she looked at us once it was a lot. Bret and I got a good laugh at this afterwards thinking, how can you sit across from someone on a train for four hours and not even look at the person across from you and at least fake a smile. Are we that despicably detestable?This train ride would be different, however.

Across from us on this train ride sat Eva and her two-and-a-half year old daugter Noa. Eva had a bright, warmsmile that I’m sure could even warm the heart of the apparently heartlessgirl we sat across from on the way to Avignon. She had a great energy about her that was at once welcoming and open.At first we were thinking, this could be a long train ride with a screaming kid across from us, but Noa was amazingly well behaved and had some of the most beautifully striking, innocent, and curiouseyes I’ve seen.With those eyes and her mother’s spicy personality, she will surely be a heart breaker.

From the moment we sat down across from Eva until the train pulled into Paris four hours later we were talking up a storm. She was on her way to meet up with some of her best friends in Paris and told us to come out the next night for ‘ladies night,’ and if that didn’t work, perhaps we could meet up the following day in Westerpark for Bret’s friend Thom’s birthday.

When we arrived in Amsterdam, Bret and I left each other at Central Station and I went back to Susan’s for what I hoped would be a mellow Saturday night, this was not the case however. In the Bourbon Street Bar in Leidseplein, we ran Owen and his Irish cronies and Ron the Northeastern American expat. “I love Amsterdam,” Ron said. “Where else can you take your bike to the store and pick up some Milk, baby’s diapers, and some hash?”Needless to say, we didn’t get home until 6:30am that morning,and consequently,I did not make it out for girl’s night the following evening. I did not even get out of bed until 2:30pm.Bret didmake it out for girls nightand he didn’t get home until 5am. At that point, I don’t think my body was ready to handle two nights of that.

Saturday night I went out with Judith and Susan in the trendy Jordan area of Amsterdamfor our African reunion tourand they caught me up on the rest of their trip afterwe left each other in Zanzibar. My favorite part wasthem telling me the story of a botched Safarithey went onin a two wheel drive van with a driver who had barely ever driven off road.At one point hetried to cross a small river and said, “Hold on!” Well, the car went in and never came out. It was leaning in thigh-high water ata 45 degree angle in the middle of nowhere. He told them to get out and push and they said absolutely not as snakes were in the water and the area was known for some of the most aggressive Lions inCentral Africa (at one point years ago when a railroad was being built, roughly 140 people were eaten by lions).

The driver said his phone didn’t work and after seven hours of baking in the sun with the Judith said, “Give me that damn phone!”She was holding it up in different places all over the car and finallymanaged to get a signal andcall into the station. To make a long story short, they got help and left thedriver there for lion bait. When they got back to Nairobi, they called the tour company to get their money back but they would not give it up. Finally, Judith yelled into the phone, “Your gonna give me my fucking money or I’m going to burn your mother-fucking place down!” They got their money back. Sometimes you need to speak in a language the Africans understand.The two lessons learned here, a)if you are in Africa and go on a Safari, make sure it is a reputable tour company, and b)never cross a Dutch woman if you are a home or business owner.

***

The weather in Amsterdam is incredibly unpredictable. Bret says you can get all four seasons in one day but sometimes it seems like you can get them in an hour. The following day, Susan had some things to do so she escorted me to Leidseplein on bike where she left me on my own to find my way to Westerpark. The moment we left her house the skies opened and we got stuck in a downpour. I was feeling a bit shaky on the bike as you have to cross train lines and watch out for other cars, bikers, and pedestrians, not to mention have a general understanding of the bike system. As soon as Susan left meon my own, however, and I got out of the busy areaof Leidseplein, I was thinking to myself, this is really fun -I’m having a great time.The moment I had completed that thought, my back tire blew so loudly I was sure someone was using the American as target practice. I could do nothing but laugh once I realized blood was notpouring fromany gunshot wounds.I asked several people if there was anywhere to get the tire fixed but it was Sunday and everything was closed so I was forced to walk the bike the rest of the distance to the park.

When I got to the party which was under a tent in the park, I changed out of my wet clothes and had some food and drinks, but in the back of my mind I was still thinking, what the fuck am I going to do and how am I going to get Susan’s bike back to her house? As my buzz got greater, that thought receded further and further into the back of my mind. At one point someone broke out a soccer ball so I decided I needed to teach the Dutch a thing or two, and while playing, Eva showed up as well. It was a great afternoon filled with good people, good food, and drinks, and the first sunshine I had seen in Amsterdam since the the day I arrived.There waseven a little guitar action and the ‘Push It A Little Bit Harder,’ song was created, a song with descending chords about what I’m sure you can imagine. The last ten of us were singing the refrain at the top of our lungs; push it, a little bit harder, a little bit harder, a little bit harder...I can assure you it is a catchy number and I sang it in my mind for the next few days.

At the end of the party, it was decided that I should walk the bike back to Leidseplein and lock it up over night, and from there I could take the tram back to Susan’s house. Westerpark and Susan’s home are on opposite sides of the city so there was just no way I could walk it all the way home that night, not to mention I wasn’t exactly sure how to get to Susan’s place.

As luck would have it, however, the tragedy of the blown tire turned out to be a blessing in disguise (at least on this day). Being that I was forced to walk the bike all the way back to Leidseplein, it forced me to slow down and really look around at the city - to pay attention to its architecture and to watchits people - and sincethe rain had stopped, a beautiful sunset was unfolding over Amsterdam.

On the ride home, or should I say walk, everyone was busy doing something. In Amsterdam, every one rides their bike; women in very, very short skirts, men in business suits, people ridewith their children in small baskets on the front or back of the bike, and all the while they are holding bags of groceries, an umbrella, talking on the phone or texting and driving across train tracks and over bridges and canals. At one point I walked past a skate park and stopped to watch the kids who had no doubt been riding the half-pipe all day -back and forth and back and forth. It was poetry in motion. They were fearless as their body and mind became one fluid motion.

After a while of hunching over the handle bars to walk the bike, I began trying to walk the bike by just holding on to the seat. It tookquite a while to figure out the right balancingact. If you held on to the seat too tight you forced it to do something it didn’t want to do and if you held it too lightly, vice versa. You needed to hold it just right and gently guide it. Any force in the wrong way would make the wheel turn and buckle. I thought this was a good metaphor for life; you must hold on to the reigns of life while gently guide it, and in that process, it will take you where you need to go. If you force things, they just don’t work. I also realized you can turn just about any repetitive action into a Zen exercise or meditation by really being aware of what you are doing, whether it is walking a bike, walking down the street, or breathing. That night was one of the best walks home I have ever had.

The first day or two in Amsterdam I was overwhelmed at trying to get around and figure out their transportation system. To be quite honest, I think many Dutch people haven’t figured itout either. But I realized that night, the only way to figure out a city is to just do it; walk its streets, ride its transportation systems, follow winding streets that seem to go nowhere on a bike, ask questions, and meet its people. All you need isa penchant for adventure, a willingness to explore, and an insatiable curiosity.

July 26, 2007
Genoa, Italy

Wednesday
Jun172009

One Night in Paris Makes the Hard Man Humble

Ah, the blank page. I know you so well my old friend and nemesis, and yetI know the only way to deal with you is to greet you andbegin the conversation.

How to possibly catch up on the last few days since we left Pavel and the south of France? There was Avignon and my birthday, two nights in Paris, and afew nights in Amsterdam - one which included driving home onthe back of a bike at sunrise. So much to tell, so many words to describe it,and as always so little time. This much I can tell you; for the children’s sake, I will not be able to divulge all the details because the content involves heavy sexual and drug content that is only suitable for a mature audience, and in no way do I want to influence a minor or suggest in anyway that what I do should be mimicked. I am after all an uncleto some very impressionable minors. Plus I must leave some air of mystery.

I guess I will just choose tofast forward to our main night in Paris when we met ‘Guy’. I won’t reveal his real name because I am pretty sure Interpol, the KGB, the FBI, and the Canadian Royal MountedPolice are looking for him, but if ever there was a character to meet in Paris it wasGuy. The day before we received an email that said, ‘Are you interested in treats? I am going to see the Wolf tonight,’ so this piqued out interest as to who this international man of mystery was.

Guy is a friend of the great ‘drinking man’s poet’ who I mentioned earlier in this story and in no way, shape, or form am I talented enough as a writer to pin him down in words. He is a true character, the kind you not only want to run into in Paris, but write an entire novel about.

We were supposed to meet Guy at the Bottleshop Barnear the Bastille on the Rue Trousseau, across the street from the Auberge International des Juenes at about 6:00pm.When we arrived, Up, Bustle & Out was playing, a Spanish band reminiscent of Morecheebameeting Theivery Corporation and I thought, this bar has a good, familiarvibe to it. Not long after our first or second beer, the bartender changed the music to Ray LaMontaigne’s Barfly which has consistently been playing on my iPod throughout the trip and has servedas a part of the soundtrack.If you know the song, it was the perfect scene and the one I had somehow imagined ever since I first heard the song. Here we were after traveling for the last two plus weeksonour second and last day in Paris, at the tail-end of amad, mad trip,about to meet acharacter straightout of a Hunter S. Thompson novel.It was one of the first pauses in a go-go-go two weeks where we could actually sit backandenjoy ourGrolsch beers.

The Bretster and I sat in an open window facing the street, looking over the drinking patrons on the sidewalk as we watched the garbage truck go back and forth and back and forth, and we wondered how much garbage could really be on this street. Behind the bar, a sexy siren from Fairfield, Connecticut, was serving drinks. She had the type of beauty and bone structure that made you wonder if atone point she haddone some international modeling,and yet she had these far awayeyes, as Mick Jagger called them.They were eyes that looked off to a distant place, a placethat existed somewhere between the past and the future but in no way was a part of the present. Only a few hours earlier I said to Bret, `Paris would be the perfect place to go if youhad to or wanted todisappear for a while.´ Beneath the archways,below the history, and in between the narrow winding streetsandmedieval buildings that stretch off into the distance,it is a place to very easily lose yourself and your trail.

It was one of those nights for me where I was somewhat amped with energy and I wasready to tackle any challenge. Bret and I have traded off these nights throughout the trip where one person’s energy carries the other to a new level. Perhaps it was due to the fact that Guy was my friend’s friend so I had to carry the conversation and interaction throughout the evening until we reached that jumping off point where it didn’t matter any longer.

As it turned out, even though this bartender was gorgeous and probably out of my league at any given bar in the states, I was determined to get her story. When she played Barfly I saw my window open. She was immediately impressed by my musical knowledge and said she had only come across a few people in Paris who knew of himand very quickly, even though the bar stools around her were filled with expats drooling over her, Igained some credibility and attention. As it turned out, I was right; Paris is a great place to hide out and there was something behind her far away eyes. Just a few months prior, while she was studying in Paris,her best friend died so she quit school andbegan bartending.

It is at this jumping off point, asI said earlier, that I am going to have to refrainfrom some of the adult details. You will have to read about them in the book so I will fast forward through them, letting your imagination wander. What I can tell you is that Guy did in factsee the Wolf the night before, but what the Wolf gave him burned a hole in his pocket that night so he had to do most of it - in fact he did enough of everything the night before to wipe out on his bike on his way home. But being the professional he is, he had a potpourriof things and from theBottleshop Bar we found ourselves walking the streets of Paris.

The Bastille is a very busy areaand on this night it was no exception. Compound that with the fact that there was a pretty significant building fire on the corner of the Bastille with probably 10-15 fire trucks with their ladders moving up towards the people hanging out of their windows as thedark smoke billowed over the building. It is horriblethat we took the opportunity to videotape and talk to a few cute girls from Houston, but after all, we are men. In my defense, no humans were hurt and every one was evacuated from the building safely.

We took this opportunity to realize that probably the Police were somewhat distracted and figured down by the water and canal it was fine to go have a cup of some of the Dutch coffee we brought down. The three of us sat there brewing a cup and told Guy the whole Jack Will Travel story. He was loving it andhad a shit-eating grin on his face like Ralphy from A Christmas Story when he finally got his Red Rider BBgun.

When the cup of coffeewasbrewed, the Bretster was ready and had that look andenergy about him soI grabbed the video camera, plugged in the microphone, handed it to him, and threwthe cameraon the uni-pod, which generally makes us look like we have some credibility (we were also supposed to have earphones to add to the prop-factor but they were just too much to carry at this stage).

Bret jumped into the walkwayand began throwing the microphone in people’s faces (can you say ugly American?), but in actuality, at this point in the night, people were receiving it somewhat warmly and with intrigue. I’m pretty sure everyone in the area was smoking hash and drinking anyway.Guy, inthe simplicity of his brilliance suggested the question, `We are in one of the fashion capitals of the world. What doyou think the color for next year will be?’ One of the passerbys told us but I can´t reveal it at thismoment as I want to be at the forefront of fashion this fall.

When the tomfoolery was over down by the canal, we walked aroundthe area for quite a while, occasionally stopping to interview people. I peaked myhead in one bar with the microphone in hand and the camera behind me and theymore or less slammed thedoor in my face. This does not, however, deter an American with a buzz and a microphone in hand.With the gentle coercion of Bret and Guy behind me, I stormed my way into the bar andbeganquestioning thesmall circle, asking such questions as,´Whydo French people hateAmericansbesides when theyask questions such as this and put a microphone in their face?´ It´s not quite as obnoxious as it sounds, or maybe they wereacting similar to the passive-aggressive Seattle-ites I’vecome to knowand love. Maybe they were just entertaining us, despite their loathing.From there we searched fora place that suited our mood and agreed that the only place possible would be the Bottleshop Bar, where the evening began.

Since Guy was the newest member of the ‘I have a girlfriend club,’ it gave him the authority tobe pushy about hitting on the single women. It was the old ‘If I was single and I was you,’ routine which if at this point as the single guy, if I had a dollar for every time I heard that one I would be retired. The Bretster and I have had some fun on this trip when the time was right, butthat hasn’t necessarily been a focus of the trip. But as I was stepping up to the bar to order some beers, Guy said, ‘Hey Tim, wouldn’t it be nice if you ordered some drinks for theseladies?’ I took a moment to think about it and thought, why yes - it is a lovely moment to do that.

I took the opportunity to buy a round of drinks, which turned intomany rounds,for the five very cuteFrench girls that weresitting next tous. We knew they looked young but later found out they ranged from 20-22. Age is so hard to distinguish these days. On the approach, I felt like I was storming Normandy Beach butwithout casualties. The only thing we were risking werebruisedegos.In only a matter of minutes we had punched through their front line, secured the area,and showed these prettygirls that we were not just simple American G.I. automans, buthuman beings beneath all the guise.

At this point, I think Ineed to take a pause to say that throughout thetrip, we have barely gotten a second glace from the French woman. They are tough nuts to crack. Here and there we have had minor victories but we had yet to win a battle. I don’t know if we are not good looking enough for them or ifwe don’t smell sweet enough, or if it is thefact that we look like German backpackers with our gear. At one point I told someone that the French had been great to us and they said that they are probably gauging that with how recently they had a run in with a German person. And yet again, theGermans we have met haveconsistently beendelightful, warm people. Oh well - to hell with stereotypes anyway. But the French women - this is no joke my friends.

After we punched through the front lines, we used the opportunity to ask them again why the French don’t like Americans butas it turns out, they love Americans, atleast this small group. From that point on, they were puddy in our hands and the girls took turns moving around the table and sitting next to us. I felt like a soldier who had just liberatedParis.Asluck would have it of course, every girl sitting at this table had a boyfriend, but itdid not stop them from exchanging information with us. Had we had one more night in Paris I think one or two of themmight have forgotten about their boyfriends but hell - that is a dangerousgame. Been there, done that, don’t need to do it again. Again, the index cards proved to be invaluable entertainment. I hope this secret doesn’t get out too far because it is money when it comes to meeting women outside of international waters. The victory was in fact, if they did not like Americans before, they like at least two of them.

We left them that evening(after Guy spilled an entire pint in my lap - luckily I had my shorts in my backpack)giving the typical two or three kisses goodbye and as is also typical, I went for five or six. Hey- I was a philosophy major and numbers have never suited me. We walked a good 45 minutes through Paris and I had to go on the blind, drunkenfaith that Bret knew where he was going. Of course, as the good navigator he is, he foundour way home. I hit the pillow hardand awoke what seemed like seconds later with him pounding on thedoor saying, ‘Timbo, what are you doing? We have to check out in ten minutes.’

 

July 23, 2007
Amsterdam, NL - 12:25am

Wednesday
Jun172009

Pavel, The Chechnyan Rebel

A word of advice about renting a car in Europe; should you be under the constraints of a mileage clause, before you leave the parking lot, make sure you know how to check the odometer.

On the morning of July 16, our last day in Avignon, in my impetuousness I made the decision for both of us that we were going to rent a car, despite the fact that the Bretster was not looking favorable upon the decision. “I just hate to be cooped up all day in a car,” he said.I imagine for Bret it is somewhat like purgatory. My reason for renting the carwas that we only had one day left so let’s see as much as we can in that amount of time. Granted, I ’shit the bed’ on this one as they say because we only had 100 kilometers to work with and no idea how to view the odometer. Compound that with the fact that I also forgot to ask what the penalty was for going over the allotted mileage. I was looking for a little help from Bret when renting the car but he couldn’t be bothered and said, “This is all you Timbo. This is your thing.” Being that he is the consummate professional traveler, when he puts big things like this in my lap I am bound to make rookie mistakes. I suppose that is the best way to learn, however.

We were going to hit the lavender fields of the Luberon region, but that would have eaten up most of our guess-stimated miles so wewent straightto the Colorado of Provence, a combination of the Bad Lands of South Dakota and Colorado’s Red Rocks. We walked around there for a few hours in a section known as the Sahara and it was just that hot. As always, did some filming and put the camera up on a little mini tripod to get us both in the picture. Next time of course we will have a camera man.

We cruised around more that day, traveling from one touristy hill town to the next. The Bretster said, “You see what happens when you rent a car? You fall into the circuit.” The towns we visited were laden with sun-burned tourist with multiple cameras around their necks and the streets were crowded with cars, bikes, and mopeds. In Roussillion, you would have thought were were in Paris with all the congestion and the languages that were being spoken around us. As always, however, very little English speakers or Americans. It was quite a different experience from the small, somewhat quiet (except when we were there) hill towns of the Valcluse.

You would think filling a gas tank would be a pretty universal experience but no, not in France. ‘Things are a little different around here,’ is what we always say. After a stressful experience of trying to fill the gas tank with about eight cars in line behind me, we returned the car with six extra miles to go. Score one for us.

The stage was set for a mellow evening that night. We went into town, had a small bite to eat, came back to the campsite and kicked it in our camping chairs. We split a bottle of Rosè and Bret read the the Herald Tribune while I listened to music and organized some of my notes and index cards. By this time the friends we had met at the campsite had moved on and it was basically us and some new people. One of the new men was a very drunk man about our age named Pavel from Chechnya. His effort to communicate with Bret fell somewhere between passion and desperation and Bret was kind enough to entertain him. Like a good wing man, I hit pause on my iPod to listen in, however, I didn’t take the earphones off so as to not be dragged into the conversation. Pavel was going off about this and that and after a long time, he moved on to me. I snubbed him a bit, leaning into my tent to get something while he was talking to me and he got the point and moved on. A new German couple with their motorcycle, roughly our age, was next to us and said, ‘Do you have any idea what he is saying?’’Not a fucking clue,’I replied.

“He is a wery, wery crazy man,” said the wiry, scraggly-hairedGerman. Wewere surprised to learn that he was a Police officer and he confirmed our suspicion that his commander didn’t approve of look. ‘But there is no rule against it,’ he added. When he heard that our Jack Will Travel European operation was based out of Amsterdam, he said, ‘I like Amsterdam. It is a wery nice.Clean city,’ he added.’But every one there smokes the shit.’ We concurred.

Darkness was fully upon us as we talked to this couple for a while and soon Pavel came back. We are not sure what he was saying but he was able to communicate with the German police officer’s girlfriend who was from Borat’s country ofKazakhstan. She was a little red-headed girl with a tight body but tried to convince us she was blond;she had vixen written all over her. Pavel realized he could communicate with her and was chatting awaywhich made the German police officer not too psyched so in an effort to mark his territory as a dog might pee on a fire hydrant, he put his arm around her and pulled her in tightly to his body.

Pavel was going on and on about this and that andmaking some very exaggerated motions as if he was firing a rifle. Pieces of the conversation moved from Al-Qaeda and Islam to Christians and Christ and there were even hints of communism and fascism as well. He was very interested in the two of us and our opinions because we were Americans, even though we could not communicate with each other. It is in these instancesinterpretation takes on its own momentum and being that you can’t understand the other person, you mold what they are trying to say into what you believe they might be trying to say. What we pieced together from all of these seemingly non sequitur comments Pavel was making is that the U.S. Navy is fighting Jesus Christ in Brooklyn. Damn - I want to stay out of that war zone.

Our German friend became very uneasy and again I snubbed Pavel. I tried to tell him to keep his voice down because people were sleeping but he took it the wrong way and stormed off in a self-deprecating manner, as if he was going to start lashing himself with a cat o’nine-tails. Again, our German friend took the opportunity to tell us Pavel was a wery, wery crazy man and that he was going into his tent to get and sleep with his can pepper spray. In the meantime, Pavel was just pacing around the campsite as if he was on speed or meth. Bret started to get rolling and say things like, ‘Hey Timbo, we don’t want to fuck with this guy. He may have fought in the Chechnyan war or something. He could be really crazy.’Thiscomes from the fact that Pavel, who was pacing the campsite as a spy or ascout might do, was communicating with his friend over by their campsite making clicking and whistling calls back and forth to each other as one in the military - or a militia - might do.Bret was having a more fun time with thisthan myself. I had my rain fly on but Bret was saying,’Man, I want to see what he is doing and if he is coming at me,’ soI took my rain fly offto keep an eye on him all night. I was imagining an ax or sledgehammer coming down through my tent and my obituary saying something to the effect that it was such a shame Tim didn’t make itto see the morning of his 33rd birthday. I was so riled up, the half a valium I took to make sure I got a good night’s sleep for once didn’t even work.

In what I now view as a bit of an over reaction, I slept with my hand grasped to aknife on my chest that night. When I awoke, I would search for the knife as a child might search for his security blanket.It was a very restless sleep and every time I woke up, Pavel was still pacing. When I finally got up that morning, Pavel and his friend were packed up and just pulling out of the campsite in their car. They gave us a big, warm smile and waved to us enthusiastically. I am almost certain they didn’t sleep that night.

God speed where ever you were sleeplessly off to Pavel, my crazy incommunicative Chechnyanrebel friend...

 

July 19, 2007
Paris, France

Wednesday
Jun172009

Bastille Day - Viva la Fance!

The first time Imet the Bretster, as I call him, we were at a party in high school. We went back tohis house afterwards with another friendand went into his room to have a few more drinks and a smoke. He turned off the lights, put on a lazer machine and a black light, and all over his room he had painted abstract things that would only show upunder a black light. He was also playingEnigma.At this point in my life, my musical repoitre consisted of classic rock and the Grateful Dead so this was pretty far out there for me. Who is thisyoung, crazy, creativemadman? I thought to myself.Whoever he is, I want to be friends with him. It is hard to believe that was almost 20 years ago. You thinkyou know someone and then all of the sudden they say something and you think to yourself; “Wait -do I really know this person?” That is what I thought to myself on Bastille Day when in a drunken, dancing frenzy, the Bretster leaned into me and yelled over the band, “This is my favorite Christine Aguillera cover!”

At this point in the story, I have no idea if I have written a thought in this blog, my proper notebook, my pocket notebook, on index cards contained within the new filing system I have created, on a napkin, or if I said it on video. At all times I have been writing, writing, writing, logging notes and details in several forms. At any rate, the creativity is flowing at a furious pace and both of us are feeding each other.

It is July 17th, my 33rd birthday and what a great place to celebrate it. The days have been fast and furious but we have finally managed to slow things down a bit for the last two days. It would be hard to top Bastille Day anyway. As Thurston, our Harley friend said when I rolled out of my tent the day after Bastille Day, “That was quite a party last night, yes? Very hard to out-do, no?”

It was Saturday, July 14th and we rolled into town that night from our campsite (which is the closest campsite within a city yet) and had a bite to eat. As we have said every evening for the last week, “Let’s just have a mellow evening.” Somehow we never seem to find that happy medium, however.

After dinner, Bret and I were standing outside St. John’s Pub watching a band play aJimi Hendrix cover when Thurston and Bridgette walked up (I was calling him Tomas in the last chapter). We posed for a fewpictures and they invited us to sit down for a drink. As you can guess, one drink turned into many.There we were in the middle of Apt in the Luberon region of France- two American backpackers and twobikerswith leather andtattoos all over (they are actually tattoo artists and work six months of the year). “All we need is a place to camp, a little bit of food and beer, out motorcycle and each other,” Bridgette told us.As I’m sure you can visualize, our table stood out amongst the rest. Here is another travel tip; always buy the firstround. It is just in good taste I believe and a good way to make friends.

Since itwas Bastille Day, the French Legion was in town, decked out in their full, crispuniforms. They are an imposing group, chiseled from the Rock of Gibraltarand straight faced. A group of them sat right behind us and I think Bret and our biker friendswere a little uneasy, but I thought it was exciting and I was determined to offer these gentleman in some wayan olive branch.

As the trip has gone on, Icarry thevideoequipment at all times. Bret hates to carry anything and he would rather miss a great opportunity thanto be burdened with anything he has to be responsible for. Being the writer, I know a price-tag can not be put on the moment so I carry it at all times - just in case anything interesting mighthappen. Asthe wine from dinnerand the pints slowly made its way to our brain, Ihad to use the restroom so I said to Bret, “Get out the video camera and get ready to film me when I get back.”

On my return from the bathroom, I got right in front of the band and started dancing like a fool. There was no one else dancing excepta street-drunkand there were maybe 50 people listening to the music, drinking, and watching the animated American fool. When I got back to the table, the men from the French Legion seemed to like this and they let us take some pictures of their “cappi blond,” which is their white hats. Sometimes all I need to do is something idiotic like this to push Bret and get the game on. Neither of us could have had the adventure we are having without each other. We are a great team and constantly pushing each other further in one way or another.

I didn’t know much about the French Legion but apparently it was formed at the end of WWII. People from all countries, including Germans joined the French Foreign Legion so it is a fighting force made up of people from all over the world. 1 in 5000 people are accepted into this elite fighting class, so Thurston told us.

The light was almost completely gone from the sky and athunderous crack signaled the fireworks were about to begin so the party, as well as everyone else from the town, moved into the town square. The fireworks began and Bret leaned into Thurston and said, “These are all right but they are bigger in the U.S.” I am pretty sure Thurston knew we he was joking.

Whenthe last crack of the grand finale ended, everyone was standing and facing the direction of the fireworks, looking up at the sky as commuters might look at the boardfor the track changes in Grand Central Station. With the square being shrouded in a midst of gunpowder, the band started immediatley and itwas as if the track number appeared and the mass moved in one fluid action towards the stage. Thurston, Bridgette and I moved towards the closest bar.

At the first bar we went to, Thurston got served three drinks but they didn’t give him his and he was left there standing at the bar so Bret said, “Screw it. Let’s go sit outside. If they want our money they can come find us.” Brdgette has a collection of glasses from all over the world and her drink was served in a “51 Pastis” glass. Since she wanted it, we split the jointwith the glass under her leatherjacketand our free drinks, compliments of the French liberation.

I will probably never be able to hear “Billy Jean” by Micheal Jackson again without thinking about Bastille Day in Apt, July 14, 2007. The band that was playing, Kashmir, played a great array of covers from Lynard Skynard, to Micheal Jackson, to Bob Marley, but when Micheal Jackson started playing Bret started dancing like a madman. As I have said before, Bret has some seriously contagious energy. The guy at the next able was loving it so he bought us a round of drinks and then insisted we go outinto the square and meet his wife and friends. We were putting it into fifth gear at this point.

Within no time, the crowd was dancing with a new, revitalized enthusiasm as they played one Micheal Jackson cover after the other. I broke out the camera and had it on a uni-pod so it looked as if we were somewhat professional, at least the 15-year-old kids seemed to think so. They started forming a breakdancing circle and then were fighting to get on camera. These kids were good.

There was one tweaker at the front of the stage who was probably on LSD or somethingsimilar and Bret became his puppet master. He was loving and feeding off of Bret’s over-the-top energy and at one point Bret dropped to the ground and started doing push-ups and the kid dropped down as well. The video is hillarious. All the while there were a few French Legion guys around us who were letting lose as well. It didn’t take too long to be arm and arm with them yelling “Viva la France!” at the top of our lungs. They even let us wear there “cappi blonds” which Thurston said is like a relic and, in his German accent said, “It is wery, wery rare. Wery, wery good for you.”As he said this, hewould put his thumb, forefinger, and middle finger together, bring them to his lips, kiss them, and throw them into the air. It was his trademark move. It would be like a Green Beret in the United States army letting you put his beret on your head, he said.

At one point, I had to go to the bathroom, but while I was gone, two military police came and removed one of our new French Legion friends because he was so drunk. The guy was absolutely plastered. He had this “googly-woogly look” as Bret called it that almost made him look as if he had some sort of palsy or retardation. Bret said, “Man, if they take this guy, they must take anyone.” When I returned, the googly-woogly guy was gone. Lucky for his friend, he was in the bar buying us drinks. It was quite a scene to see two bikers, two backpacking Americans, and two French Legion soldiers arm in arm dancing to Bob Marley and pretending we were smoking a Bob Marley classic. It was as if we had just liberated France and it didn’t matter who you were or where you were from; freedom was ours at last.

I tell you what-I have heard lot’s of stories about how rude the French are to Americans but we have been received with open arms. I think people are just so curious to see these two Americans walking through the region in weather that is too hot to be outside at the height of the late-afternoon sun, in the the middle of July, with all of their belongings on our backs.

With the military police lurching, we decided maybe it was time for us to move out before they sobered up and thought we might be subversives. We headed back to our campsite and took lot’s of pictures along the way such as Bret and Bridgette on a see-saw. At the end of the night we hugged our new friends good night, telling each other how great we thought they were,but we were not quite ready to go to bed. We had to review and breakdown the night. “I can’t go to sleep. I’m too wired!” Bret said. The boy has a lot of energy.

We had a cup of “Dutch coffee” andfound a well-lit spot beneath a street light and I spouted some verbal diareaha into the camera. I was truly overwhelmed and having what I called a Serengeti Moment, which I touched upon at the beginning of this story and which I expounded upon in Jambo Tanzania. The Serentgeti Moment, as I call it, is a moment of clarity when all of your expereinces, thoughts, and feelings of your life come into one sigle-pointed moment of consciousness. It is as if all of the sudden the blurred image you have been looking at comes into focus and your life is forever changed. I don’t necessarily have time to expound at the moment, but as I said in the beginning of this story, the techtonic plates of my life have beenshifting. I didn’t really know what I was writing downin the first six chapters before I left for France but now they make senseto me.Perhaps Bastille Day was the great earthquake that has reformed the landscape of my thoughts and life. I think it will be hard to look at life again through the same lenses I have been looking through. The lense is different, but the camera is the same. As always, that camera, that tool that captures the moment for me is the pen. I have tasted the cup of the life on this trip. It is brilliant. It is rich. It is nurturing. It is vibrant. It is varied. It is seemingly random, and yet it is calculated - meticulouslycreatedfrom the oldest and greatest recipe, made divinely by the greatest wine maker. How amazing is life that I had to travel first to Africa, into the heart of the Serengeti and Tanzania to taste this blend, and then to a small town in the heart of France’s Luberon Regionto again imbibe in its rich, nurturing, inspiring, and life-filling taste.

As Bret said the other day, much like life, we are on a journey and these experience are just one of many GPS coordinates on the map that tellsthe tale of our lives. These coordinatesare the experiences that enrich us and teach us about who we are and what our place is in the world.

Happy Birthday to me. Off to Avignon where the madness began. There is the Festival d’Arts going on there and we have met many people along the wwy who are performing in these small productions. Hopefully we will see some tonight.

 

July 17th, 2007
Apt, Fance

Wednesday
Jun172009

Just For Shits and Giggles

Yesterday we left Carpentras headed for Cavillion to make our way to Apt in the Luberon. Unfortunately, we got some faulty information and didn’t need to go to Cavillion, so from Cavillion we had to go back to Avignon and then take an hour and a half bus ride to Apt. Most of the day was spent traveling and I think all of the previous “get up and go days” (we have a get up and go theme song we wrote)of traveling caught up with me. Perhaps the liter of Rosè at lunch in Carpentrashad something to do with it as well as the pint in Cavillion.

Since we had time to kill in Avignon, we decided to buy two train tickets to Paris for Wednesday. We weren’t sure if we were going to do Paris or not but we said what the fuck since I have never seen it. It will give us a little structure as well, so we thought.I don’t know if it was the wine, the traveling, or the fact that I realized the wine route was over, but I was a tad down and lacking energyfor most of the day. This trip has been a total high and each day produces one great surprise after another.

I got a good sleep in on the bus even though I fought it because I didn’t want to miss a moment of the scenery. When we did arrive in Apt I was feeling much better. Since Bret has been here before, he remembered the way through town to the campsite, which was sold out, but since we only had two small, single tents, they said we could pitch our tents where we could find space. We wound up filling in this circle of sorts next to a Harley Davidson looking couple, complete with bandanas, tattos, leather, a braided beard down to his chest, andtheir bike parked right next to their tent. They were Germans and we were surrounded by them, however it provided a much different feel from what you would imagine France in 1944 to be.

This German group was ariotand we quickly found out they were good people and loved to drink. As always, the onlookers curiously checked us out. The best way to make friends is just to give it a shot and to laugh at yourself in the process. Again, they were curious about our tiny tents. We alsohave this contraption that turns our camping mats into chairs and Bret was laughing, saying out loud, “What are they going to do now? Oh wait, they are turning it into a chair!”This just ads to the gay factor as we sit there in our matching chairs sipping on Rosè.We joked with them and quickly made friends.

The best way to make friends in these camping situationsis to go to the reception and buy a bottle of wine. In case you haven’t noticed, it is what you do down here in the South of France - well -at least we do and the people we interact with. We were all packed in to thistight little circle so we got to know each other quickly. This time we truly were huddled together like refugees in a camp. Lucky for us the attention was quikcly diverted from us and onto another new arrival who blew up their air mattress before they put it in their tent and then were making a big production to get it in. The Germans were loving it and laughing so hard our Harley friendhad beer coming out his nose.It almost became uncomfortable but the jovial spirit continued.

The Harley couple were a riot and I have a feeling we will be drinking some more with them this evening. I hope to get some great video with them as well. Turns out they love au-natural camping, which are these European nudist camping sites. If we have time, we plan to check one out for the experience. When we pulled up, Brigette was wearing a g-string and her husband Tomas was wearing a good old fashioned Euorpean bannana hammock. I may have to get me one of these. You know what they say, “When in Europe...” On second thought, maybe it is best not to firghten the locals.

I wouldn’t be surprised if our new friends areswingers. They are very free and open people which is always refreshing and they are digging what we are doing with Jack Will Travel, granted, they don’t know the real story and that we are full of shit. My writing career is also getting more and more impressive every time we meet someone new. I think tonight I shall tell someone I have a book deal with Simon & Shuster.Our new Harley friends said if we come to Hamburg, they would love to show us their Red Light District and they can garuntee us a good time for 70 Euro. We alsogot a good laugh when they compared Bush to Hitler, but first he called Bush the greater cowboy than John Wayne. “Hey,” Bret said in surprise, “I did’t know you talked about Hitler!”

As I believe I have said before, Bret is a great travel companion. He speaks a smattering of French, Italian, Dutch, and Japanese, has traveled all over the world, knows his European and Asian geography, and has a motorcyle at home in the U.S. He saw his opportunity with Tomas to talk about his bike so this quickly brought us into Tomas’s inner circle. You can never waste an opportunity. I’ll say it time and time again.

After partying with the Germans for a bit, we headed into town to grab something to eat but it was so late already that most places were closed. We found a Kabob stand and sat on a bench beneath an awning of Sycamore trees. Behind us were four cute blond girls and the moment we heard them speaking English, Bret was loose enough after a bottle of wine and two beers to go in hard. Again, you can’t miss these opportunities when you are traveling.Turns out they were four British girls on vacation and one of their parents had a little villa right outside of town. We extended their evening a good two more hours and could tell they took a liking to us; not enought to invite us back to their house, however. We did all we could but they weren’t having it. We said we would meet them in town the next day but they were leaving so the chances were doubtful. We were happy to talk to some fun ladies and left it at that. Sometimes you have to make a connection and move on.

The next day we heaeded into town and straight into the Apt Saturday market. The streets were teeming with people under the hot Provencial sun. Everything you can imagine Provence was here; lavender, fresh flowers, floral table clothes, bread stands, habadashery stands, fresh fish, herbs, scented soaps, impressive displays of fresh fruit and vegetables. It is truly heavenly. We decided just for shits and giggles we would go to the area where we said we would meet the British girls at eleven, not expecting to meet them there. Sure enough, there they were. We spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon with them and told them the real Jack Will Travel story as well as our ages. Last night they guessed 28 and Bret said, “You got it!”. They had lot’s of great English expressions like “Oh you’re mad!” and “You’re having a right piss are you?” which means a goodlaugh in this case. When I asked Katie if she had a boyfriend and she replied no, I said, “I don’ get it. How is that possible?”

“Oh Tim,” she replied, “You’re being a bit cheeky aren’t you.” Katie, indeed I was, however there was a bit of truth to my cheekiness as well. She was a cutie, in fact they all were and provided us with a great afternoon as well as some decent footage. During lunch we pulled out some of the interview questions we wrote up and passed them around the table but they didn’t want this to be on film. They left in the meid-afternoon and we headed back to camp. Bret and I are becoming quite good at this travel thing and should there be what we are calling Phase 2 of Jack Will Travel, we will be pros at this.

Traveling is truly amazing and it seems as if interesting people seem to congregate. It is a microcosm of life at full speed. I once heard someone say that traveling can bring out your best self or your worst self - maybe your true self. One of those things. I certainly believe it anyway. We are experiencing freedom like never before, without a care in the world, going where the wind and wineblows us.

Bret does like to be on the move, however, and I am a bit more of a lolly-gagger. Before we left we had all of these conversations of what to bring, and then when we got to Amsterdam, we cut everything in half. I went back and forth on the iPod and decided at the last minute to bring it. Turns out it has been great because sometimes it is the only way I can get Bret to chill and focus so I can get some writing done. I am finding the Hereld Tribune, the European version ofThe New York Times is also great for this purpose. He buys it every day and as I sit here at the Internet cafe, he is back at the campsite reading it.

Tonight is Bastille Day, which is their independance day. Every night of this trip so far has been amazing. I’m curious to see what kind of tomfoolery we will find this evening beneath a blazing French sky of fireworks. Viva la France!

P.S. the damn spell check won’t work again!

July 14, 2007
Apt, Provence, France