Writer, Broadcaster

Category: Travel (Page 1 of 3)

Artspace Book and Zine Fest Coming up in Peterborough

I’m looking forward to attending the 5th annual Artspace and Zine Fest coming up in Peterborough on Saturday February 29th. It will be held at the Peterborough Public Library in The Community Room, which you’ll find on the bottom floor of the library at 345 Aylmer St N.

According to the organizers, “The event will feature artist-made zines, comics and graphic novels, letterpress prints and cards, the work of small presses, woodcuts, screen prints, handmade books and other types of book and paper arts.”

It’ll also feature me! Along with my friends Tanah Haney and Tanah’s husband Mark Harrison, with whom I’ll be sharing a table. Tanah is a local poet, harpist, novelist and music teacher. Mark is a photographer, graphic designer and digital artist. They’ll be there with their collaborative work “Where the World Bleeds Through,” which represents a collaborative journey through poetry and art spanning over 25 years. I’ll be there with my debut novel A Time and a Place and my new short story collection, Other Times and Places

Hope to see you there Saturday, February 29, 2020 10am to 5pm!

Find out more here: https://artspace-arc.org/event/5th-annual-artspace-book-zine-fest/

End of Year Q and A

My friend and fellow writer Angela Misri just tackled this list on her blog and for some reason it resonated with me, so I thought I’d tackle it here. Here goes:

1. What makes this year unforgettable?
Definitely a trip to the United Kingdom with my family (England and Scotland). I saw Stonehenge during that trip, which I never thought I would ever see, and yeah I know it’s a bunch of rocks, but rocks don’t get much cooler than Stonehenge. The history! And did you know they have graffiti on them? Roman graffiti! We also spent a lot of time in London, the Isle of Skye, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Great family trip.

Me and Lynda at Stonehenge

2. What did you enjoy doing this year?
Wait, didn’t we just cover this in question number one? I should probably learn to read ahead. Okay, aside from a trip to the UK, I enjoyed working on a couple of special projects. One is novel number two (working title Captain’s Away) and the other is a secret project I’m helping a friend with. It’s really cool, and I’m honoured to be helping him with it.

3. What/who is the one thing/person you’re grateful for?
My wife Lynda. Kind of a miracle that not only did she show up in my life but that she chose to stay there. If we expand the list to include three people, which I insist that we do, it would include my daughters Erin and Keira too. I must have paid extra in the Before Life for the Super Special Family Package, and I’m sure glad I did. Worth every cent.

4. What are your biggest wins this year?
Pleased to have successfully put together a little short story collection, which I’m calling Other Times and Places. There were a few wins in my day job, too, just a few projects that came together nicely. But the biggest win is probably the trip to the UK.

The new short story collection

5. What did you read/watch/listen to that made the most impact this year?
There’s one movie I saw that I keep thinking about. It’s called The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp, a British film that came out in the early forties. I discovered it when Jim Donahue @otherjimdonahue mentioned it on his twitter feed. I knew Jim had interesting, eclectic taste, so I went looking for it. It did not disappoint. It’s about the lifetime of a soldier who’s lived through the Boer War as well as the First and Second World Wars. It’s really about growing older. You see an old person, you’re just looking at the tip of the iceberg. Behind what you see is an entire lifetime of experiences, not immediately visible. How did they become who they are? What did they go through to get there? That’s a part of what The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp is about. But it’s also about changing times. How what might have worked for you in, say, the Boer war might not necessarily serve you well in the Second World War, against the evil of the Nazis. Fascinating movie, and one of Martin Scorcese’s favourites, that directly influenced how he made Raging Bull.

6. What did you worry about most and how did it turn out?
I worried about a book fair some friends and I put on in May. Concerned it might turn out to be a complete disaster. There were disastrous elements, but we survived. We didn’t go broke, some people sold a few books, and we got some great interviews out of it. .

7. What was your biggest regret and why?
Long ago I vowed to live my life without regrets. With that mindset I make the best possible choices I can. In retrospect, they may not be the right choices, but looking back I know that they were the best possible choices I could have made with the information I had at available at the time.

8. What’s one thing that changed about yourself?
I care even less whether anyone likes me. Or so I tell myself.

9. What surprised you the most this year?
I discovered that I can’t do word problems involving math under severe time constraints surrounded by Vice Presidents, engineers, surgeons, and nuclear physicists working (more successfully) on the same problems. I really shouldn’t have been surprised by that, but I was. This happened at a course I took at Queen’s University Smith School of Business. A man’s got to know his limitations. I guess that’s one of mine.

10. If you could go back to last January 1, what suggestions would you give your past self?
Write more, better, faster. Completely useless advice, but it’s what I’d tell myself.

Joe’s Top Travel Tips

I travel a lot for work these days. This travel has taken me to every province and almost every territory in Canada as well as to parts of the U.S. Like John Candy and Steve Martin in one of my favourite movies, I’ve travelled by plane, train and automobile. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been able to see a bit of the world this way.

As a way of paying it forward, here are a few travel tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Become a Trusted Traveler

I have no idea whose hands these are

If you travel frequently, consider getting a Trusted Traveler Nexus card or the equivalent. This can expedite travel through major airports. While everyone else is lined up waiting to get through security, Trusted Travelers are usually whisked through. You still have to do security like everyone else but there will only be a handful of people ahead of you in the Trusted Traveler line. Caveats: Smaller airports don’t make a distinction between Trusted Travelers and everyone else. And on one occasion the Trusted Traveler line in Toronto actually took longer than the regular line, but in my experience this is unusual. Getting such a card will take a bit of time; you fill out an online application, wait, and have to do a physical interview at the airport, but it was worth it for me.

At the Airport

Random airport shot

I think everyone knows to get to the airport early, but every now and then I forget that excellent advice and cut it a bit too fine (usually this has to do with early flights and wanting more sleep). I recommend building in extra time in case your ride arrives late or doesn’t show up at all.  Ideally I plan on being at the airport at least one hour before boarding begins.

A few words about getting through security. Make sure your fluids are travel-sized and fit in the small bag the airport provides. Double bag it within a ziplock bag to prevent spills in your travel bag. Know and follow the airport rules. No knives etc. as they will be confiscated. Don’t wear metal, or make sure you take it off before you pass through the security scanner. I stubbornly wear a metal belt that I always have to take off before stepping through the scanner. It is my one inefficiency. One day I will find a plastic one. But dammit I like that belt. And keep your hands out of your pockets as you step through the scanner.  

The Perfect Bag

My bag. I love it

I only ever travel with one piece of carry-on which I never check unless I’m forced to. My longest trips for work so far have been seven days and both times I managed no problem with just the one bag. I love being able to walk right off the plane into a taxi.

I use a small carry-on with wheels and a padded compartment for a 13” laptop. It’s perfect. I made sure to get one small enough to fit into just about every airplane overhead compartment. Because I travel often, I always keep my bag partially packed. I have toiletries and cables just for travel that live in that bag permanently. I can pack the rest of what I need in minutes.

Accessories

These aren’t actually my accessories. I was too lazy to take a picture of my actual accessories

I always bring a pair of headphones for the plane and for catching the odd Netflix show in the hotel room. Like everyone else on the planet these days I carry a cellphone, and I make it work for me. I have apps on my phone for Air Canada and WestJet with all my info, including my Frequent Flyer numbers. When possible I download my boarding passes directly to these apps.

I always travel with a battery charger for my phone and at least one spare cable. This is especially important when my flights are long and involve multiple legs, and I’m relying on electronic boarding passes.

I carry a hair brush, a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, spare shampoo (twice the hotel didn’t have any), Ibuprofen, my laptop, a power cord for the laptop, and that’s about it.   

Identification

I have no idea whose half a head that is

Once in Iqaluit the authorities almost didn’t let me fly home because the name on my ticket was Joe Mahoney but the name on my Nexus card is Joseph T. Mahoney. It took almost an hour to convince the authorities that Joe Mahoney and Joseph T. Mahoney are one and the same. I nearly missed my flight. Now I always make sure the name on my ticket is exactly the same as the name on my identification.   

On the Plane

One day I will get my own plane

I always book an aisle seat when possible. When I first started travelling I always booked window seats because I enjoy the view, but that was soon overshadowed by the need to pee at least once every trip because of my tiny little bladder. Now I love the convenience of aisle seats where, if I have to get up during the flight, I can do so at my leisure without bothering anybody. Now other people bother me to get up, but I don’t mind.

I always bring a good book and my laptop. I rarely take advantage of inflight entertainment, preferring to either read, work, or nap.

Airlines

I took this shot after being ejected from a flight one day, on the way down. I thought it displayed incredible presence of mind

In Canada, I prefer Air North. Unlike southern airlines such as Air Canada and West Jet, Air North always feeds you, anywhere from a steaming hot pasta dish to a hearty sandwich to (once, for breakfast) a muffin (it was a damned good muffin). On a recent trip to Whitehorse, Air North concluded lunch with chocolate chip cookies. For half an hour the entire plane smelled like freshly baked cookies. The cookies were delicious.

If I can’t fly Air North, I choose West Jet. Unlike Air Canada, West Jet still serves pretzels along with their free beverage, at least the last time I flew with them. Also, you can upgrade your seat to Premium seating with more leg room and a few more snacks for as little as forty bucks.

If I can’t fly West Jet, I grow a pair of wings and fly myself.

If I can’t do that, I fly Air Canada.

Take the Train

Whenever possible I take the train instead of flying. I highly recommend Via Rail Business class if you can swing it. They feed you in Business Class, and the food is good. The train takes a bit longer than the plane but it’s so worth it. It’s better for the environment, for one thing. And you have the option of booking a seat all by yourself. A window seat, no less.

Meals

At first, eating out every night while travelling for work is a treat, but if you travel often this can become an insidious trap. It’s easy to spend too much, eat too much, and make poor choices. The less you spend, the more you benefit from your per diems. Consider adopting a specific strategy to ensure that you eat well consistently. One day, one day soon, I plan on adopting such a strategy.      

See the Sights

One fine morning in Iqaluit

I don’t often have much in the way of spare time when I travel for work, but I usually have at least one evening to myself. If I’m some place new, I like to take a walk around, get a bit of exercise, see the sights, take a few photos, and eat at a restaurant unique to that location. I’ve really enjoyed exploring Iqaluit, Yellowknife, Calgary, Winnipeg, Kamloops, Prince George, Kelowna, Victoria and New York this way, and I’ve been fortunate to have friends old and new show me around St. John’s, Rankin Inlet and Washington, DC, to name just a few locations.   

I hope you find some of these tips and observations useful. Feel free to share your own travel tips and thoughts in the comments below. Or not. Hey, it’s up to you.

Safe travels!

A Visit to Rankin Inlet

I love the sky in Rankin Inlet

It’s cold in the hamlet of Rankin Inlet but the air is clear and you can see for miles. People come and plan to stay for a few days or weeks or months and wind up staying years. This despite the cold weather and the slow internet and the distinct lack of Costcos.

Or maybe that’s why they stay.

Myself, I was only there for three days. I was a little wary of the cold. The coldest I’d experienced to date was minus twenty-nine one day in Whitby. That day I walked my daughters from the van to their elementary school entrance to make sure they got inside safe thinking damn, this is cold. My first few steps in Rankin Inlet were about that cold and I was thinking pretty much the same thing. It was minus thirty outside and even though I was dressed in four layers I was shivering by the time I made it from the plane to the airport terminal. Maybe because I’d already been cold inside my North Air Boeing 737, sitting in a window seat, where I’d touched my hand to the window and realized that there wasn’t a whole lot separating me from some pretty cold arctic air. I really hoped we didn’t crash. Of course, if we did I’d probably have bigger problems to worry about than the cold.

The Katimavik Suites Hotel sent a truck to pick me up at the airport. It was too cold to wait outside so I waited inside the terminal. It was pretty crowded. I admired the attire of a young mother who was wearing a kind of parka with an enormous hood. But the hood wasn’t for her head, it was for her child, tucked comfortably into the enormous hood, his feet perhaps wrapped around his mother’s waist. This permitted Mom to have both hands free, an arrangement that worked quite well, I imagine, unless she happened to bend over too far to pick up something, such as, say, a fish, in which case her infant might shoot out of the hood over her head. Which actually happened once, somebody told me later. Fortunately the parent in question caught the child, though they lost the fish.

Warm and comfy Katimavik Suites Hotel

A young woman from the hotel clad in furry winter boots stepped into the crowded terminal looking for me. In her truck I spent a couple of minutes trying in vain to locate a seat belt but there was none to be found. “Nobody uses seatbelts up here,” she told me. “We don’t go fast enough.”

This was another one of those communities — like Iqaluit — with a fair amount of vehicles on the road (mostly trucks) but not a whole lot of road to drive them on. There is only one road out of Rankin Inlet, and it only goes for about twelve miles before ending at an Elder’s Lodge.

Beyond that it’s snowmobile country.

It may have been cold outside, but it was warm inside. A bit too warm—in the hotel I had to strip down to a T-shirt to make myself comfortable. In the morning I enjoyed a continental breakfast in Katimavik’s kitchen and chatted with a bunch of guys in town to convert an existing hardware store into a Home Hardware. Myself, I had business at the local CBC Bureau.

To get to the bureau I had four taxi companies to choose from, which seems like a lot for a hamlet of only 2900 people and a finite series of roads. I chose Fluffy’s Taxi because I liked the name but, although friendly, there was nothing fluffy about the guy who came to pick me up. I shared the taxi with two women from Iqaluit who were in town to do some accounting for the local government. Government work being, I understand, Rankin Inlet’s primary industry, though it’s also known for other things such as mining once upon a time, and hosting the only Inuit Fine Art ceramic production facility in the world.

CBC Rankin Inlet

After spending the morning at the CBC a colleague took me to lunch at one of the few restaurants in town, the Captain’s Galley, located adjacent to another hotel, the Siniktarvik Hotel. I ordered a salad, but it turned out they were all out of salad ingredients (this happens a lot in the North, my colleague informed me), so I had what he was having, the Inukshuk Club Sandwich. A fortuitous choice; it turned out to be one of the best club sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. And so huge that I wound up skipping supper that night.

Driving back to the bureau (it was too cold to walk—maybe the reason there are so many taxi companies) I saw lots of big black birds, about half again as big as crows. Ravens, my colleague told me. Nevermore! Ravens are the raccoons of Rankin Inlet, after your garbage. Except, unlike raccoons, they work in broad daylight and disappear during the summer, heading further north, maybe. Or perhaps they’re simply on vacation then.

I saw a lot of dogs, too, some loose, others chained up. Apparently the hamlet has been cracking down on loose dogs since a couple of kids were recently attacked. The dogs all appeared to be of the husky variety. Not a whole lot in the way of Chihuahuas.

Back at the bureau we parked beside the local graveyard, where no grave dates earlier than 1950. Before 1950 those who passed on were buried on the land, usually beneath a pile of rocks. Due to the permafrost, a backhoe is required to dig the graves. The story goes that one year the man in charge of the graveyard, deciding to get a head start on the digging during the summer, pre-dug a bunch of graves. But he dug way too many. So many that everybody thought it would take years to fill them all.

That year they filled every single grave.

They never pre-dug the graves again.

That’s the graveyard, off to the left. No pre-dug holes this year.

On my third and last day in Rankin Inlet the temperature rose to minus 12. “T-shirt weather!” a local joked. Not quite, but it sure felt nice after minus thirty. It was quite comfortable, actually. People who reside in the north have told me that they find minus one in Toronto harder to take than minus thirty in the north. A different kind of cold. Drier, warmer somehow, up north.

That morning the aforementioned local (he didn’t want me to share his real name, so I shall call him Rupert here) offered to drive me around the hamlet and show me the sights. We drove through every part of town, which is divided into Areas 1 to 5, if I recall correctly (I was hoping we’d see Area 51 but apparently that’s in a different, much warmer part of the world.) He showed me the hamlet’s giant Inukshuk, one of the human-made towers of rocks that my club sandwich had been named after. Inukshuks are used by people of the north for several reasons: to signify a cache of something valuable, or to act as a landmark, or to indicate direction. Rupert also showed me the town dump, a bit of an eye sore, I’m afraid, but one that hamlet authorities appear to be dealing with if the “no dumping” sign at the edge of the dump is any indication.

Fairly typical view within the Hamlet of Rankin Inlet, as seen through a window of the CBC Bureau

Rupert pointed out a long pipe that ran from the coast into town, which is how they get fuel from oil tankers into town. And he told me the legend of Marble Island (though we couldn’t see it as it’s located 32 kilometres east off the coast). Marble Island only looks like it’s made of marble—it actually consists of a type of rock called wacke, laced with quartzite, which just happens to resemble marble. Anyway, according to Rupert, a young girl got swept out to sea and prayed to her Gods to save her. In response to her prayers, the Gods made Marble Island rise from the sea to carry her to safety. Or so the story goes. It didn’t save eighteenth century explorers, though, who got stranded there and perished, starving or succumbing to scurvy when they foolishly refused Inuit offers of help.

We drove past a long, high fence at the edge of town placed there to prevent too much snow from accumulating in town. It’s made of slats with plenty of holes between them and is strategically placed to inhibit prevailing winds. It’s much higher now than when it was originally built because the permafrost is gradually forcing it out of the ground. The permafrost is an issue for housing, too. There are no basements in Rankin Inlet. All houses are elevated and designed in such a way that the houses can be relevelled every couple of years. Also, you have to be careful how you build houses up there. Even a tiny hole can result in massive snow piling up inside your house. A couple of guys from the south came up and built a house with ventilation in the attic. Perfectly sensible idea in the south. Bad idea in the north, unless you like lots of snow in your attic.

Sadly, I didn’t get to see any Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) during my time in Rankin Inlet, but maybe this was a good thing because I like to whistle, and according to Rupert, if you whistle at the Northern Lights they will descend from the heavens and take your breath away. Rupert swore this happened to him one night outside of town. Putting the legend to the test, he whistled at the Northern Lights and sure enough they began to descend from the heavens. Before they could take his breath away he stopped whistling and hightailed it back to town and has never whistled at the Northern Light since.

One curious feature of Rankin Inlet is the local military base, which, although diligently maintained, is completely uninhabited. Once in a while a few soldiers will come up for an inspection or to fix or check on something or conduct a military exercise or two, but nobody ever stays for long.

Aside from that, Rankin Inlet is a bustling hive of activity. A central hub for many smaller communities in Nunavut that you can only get to via snowmobile or airplane. It’s got variety stores, grocery stores, hotels, restaurants, an elementary, middle, and high school, a college, and even a minimum security prison.

“That’s got to be fairly empty, isn’t it?” I asked Rupert.

“Pretty full, actually,” he told me. “Minor infractions, though, like the two guys busted for throwing furniture out a hotel window not long ago.”

Shortly afterward we drove past the hotel in question and sure enough, a large window on the second floor was boarded up.

But what is there to do in Rankin Inlet? Lots, it turns out. Right now they’re building a new sports arena. Rankin Inlet just happens to be the home of Jordin Tootoo, famous Canadian hockey player. If you like hunting and fishing, like Rupert does, you might like Rankin Inlet. Or maybe you like Bingo. Early on in his stay in Rankin, Rupert was invited to a Bingo match. He wasn’t interested. Until they told him it was a ten thousand dollar purse. They take Bingo seriously in Rankin Inlet. He bought cards for himself and his roommate. His roommate won the ten thousand dollar purse. Rupert never played Bingo again.

If you prefer something a little more dramatic, you can spend your time in Rankin Inlet on the lookout for Russians. In the arctic, we have our own version of Texas Rangers, called Canadian Rangers (often mistakenly called Arctic Rangers). Five thousand strong, armed with Lee-Enfield Rifles, our rangers patrol the north, assist with Search and Rescue operations, and help train soldiers in cold weather survival. If I lived in Rankin Inlet, I would want to be a Canadian Ranger.

It’s an expensive place to live, though. You want to be smart how to spend your money. Goods only come in via airplane and barges. You have a choice between spending a fortune shipping something up by plane, or planning wisely and using a barge. Not one you have to build yourself. One you can rent space on. For instance, you want some printing paper? Consider purchasing three years worth via barge rather than $70 a shot by plane.

Rankin Inlet is undeniably frosty, at least in the winter. It gets up to about 10 or 15 degrees in the summer. Rupert told me he couldn’t get warm for the first three years he was there. Until he finally got himself a homemade winter jacket. It’s all about the windproofing, he told me. A friend made it for him. Rupert bought some raccoon fur and sewed it on the hood himself. He was wearing it when I met him. it looks terrific. Honestly, I thought it was store bought. It’s much thinner and warmer than a Canada Goose jacket. Which, according to Rupert, is the sort of coat tourists wear.

It’s a small town, Rankin Inlet. Everybody knows everybody. And, according to Rupert, they like one another. It’s easy to make friends in Rankin Inlet, Rupert told me. That’s why he likes it. For the people.

I liked it too.

Seven Months in Provence: Part Nine (or Joe’s Brush with the Law)

Hôtel de Police – Aix en Provence, France

Back in 1993/94 I spent seven months in Aix-en-Provence, France, drinking red wine, eating les Calissons and attempting to learn some French. When I got home I wrote about the experience. Thought it might be fun to post a few excerpts here. Here’s Part Nine:

Going to skip ahead a bit here and recount one of my more interesting days in France. It was around Christmas time, between Christmas Day and New Years. But a bit of background first.

The room we lived in was on the top floor of a small apartment complex with four floors. It was a long complex, with about three separate sections. You couldn’t get from one section to the next without going outside.

The people living in the unit beneath ours — an old man and a woman and their son — were completely intolerant of noise. The old man and woman were already so old that the word old could also be applied to their son. Their old age didn’t seem to have affected their hearing. In fact their ability to hear seemed to have only improved with age.

So it was that whenever a few of us and our friends gathered in the evening in our apartment we could count on the eventual tap on the floor (their ceiling) and a subsequent phone call. At first I never answered the phone, because these people spoke no English, and in the beginning I spoke no French.

I remember the first time Mark and I had some friends up and the doorbell rang. It was the son, who looked a bit like a Ferengi from Star Trek: The Next Generation in that he had the largest ears of any man I have ever seen. I only ever saw him once or twice, but I still have a strong mental impression of those ears.

I answered the door and the guy started in on me in French. It was pretty obvious that he was going on about the noise. My friends, some of whom spoke French well enough to understand a bit of what the guy was saying, helped me out with the translation. The fellow was a little upset but not too bad this time round. I kept saying, “D’accord, d’accord,” because “okay” was about the only thing I knew how to say in French at that point, and I thought it might help soothe him. My friends laughed over this for months to come, me trying to calm this guy down with my heavily North American accented “d’accord.”

We never really did make a lot of noise. It was rarely more than a group of people speaking, and sometimes when there was no noise at all these people would still complain. One time they rang up to complain when my flatmate Matthew dropped his pencil on the floor. Another time they rang up when we were all playing Axis & Allies (a military boardgame) in Marcus’ room. That time I answered the phone because my French was coming along and it was good practice. I was happy because I got the gist of what the guy was saying. I promised that we would be quieter. We thought that they were crazy but still strove to be respectful. In fact, the problem may have had more to do with the nature of the floor than them. Perhaps we were fortunate not to have had anybody above us.

That’s one piece of background to my interesting day. Here’s the next:

During the year I was fortunate enough to make several French friends. One of these, Francois Esnault, a researcher in the France Department of Forestry, made arrangements to meet me at a cafe called Le Festival, the usual meeting place for all of us. We were to meet at 1:00pm on this particular Friday. Francois was going to drive me to Nantes the following Monday to celebrate New Year’s Eve with other French friends.

I’ve already mentioned in these notes the problem I had with my clock radio (see Part Eight). It ran off time, but I knew how to compensate for it, and in any case I had my watch as a backup. So on this Friday morning, according to my clock radio, I woke up around ten. Because I had stayed up late the night before, and wanted to sleep in, I reset the clock radio using my watch.

I finally got up around 11:30, according to the clock radio, and got ready to go out. I felt quite rested. As I got ready to leave, Marcus told me that we had received a letter from the police saying that we had to go see them that afternoon at five. It had to do with our neighbours complaining about the noise we allegedly made. I found this quite disturbing. I thought it sounded pretty serious, having to go see the police. Apart from sorting out my Carte de Sejour I had never had to see the police before in my entire life, and now here I had to do it in a foreign country! Would they throw us out of the country? That sounded a bit extreme, but I was worried about it.

I was also worried because Marcus planned to move out. He informed me that he wasn’t going to go to the police because it didn’t concern him anymore. Mark was in London for Christmas, so he couldn’t go, and Matthew was nowhere to be seen. It looked like I would have to go to the police on my own, and my French — three months in — was still pretty limited.

With these thoughts on my mind, I left to meet Francois. The day had a strange feel to it. The light outside the apartment complex was weird; off, somehow. Halfway down the hill on my way into the city I met Matthew coming back to the apartment. He asked me if I knew about the letter from the police. I said yes, and he said that he would go with me. The appointment was for four o’clock. I was relieved that he would be there, as his French was pretty good.

He asked me when I planned to be back at the apartment. I told him that I was aiming for three.

He said, how do you expect to do that?

I said, what do you mean?

He said, it’s after three now.

I looked at my watch. It said a quarter to one. The damn thing had stopped. And I had used it to reset the alarm on my clock radio. I cursed and told Matthew that I had been supposed to meet Francois at one. He had a good laugh. I went back up the hill with him, wondering how I would explain this to Francois, and if he would believe my reasons. I felt quite badly about missing my rendezvous with Francois, as he was a really nice guy and I pictured him wasting his lunch hour waiting for me at Le Festival. Also, I knew that it would be difficult for me to explain the situation in my limited French.

Making it all worse was the fact that Francois was to drive me to Nantes the following Monday, a twelve hour drive. I hoped that he would forgive me. If not, it would be an uncomfortable ride, if he still agreed to take me at all.

Later, Matthew and I went to look for the police station, which wasn’t too far away. We discussed how we would defend ourselves. We agreed that Matthew would do most of the talking. We found the police station easily enough and were ushered in by a burly, serious looking officer. It was a small detachment, and it looked like pretty much his show. He asked us to explain our side of the situation. Matthew went on at some length about how crazy these people were, describing the pencil incident and so forth. Afterward the officer said something to the effect of, okay, try to be quiet guys, and don’t get these people too pissed off. Then he asked us how we liked France. We said it was just great. He smiled a big, broad smile and wished us a bon sejour (a good stay). Then an older fellow came into the station, and the officer looked at him with a serious expression and greeted him with a nod and a “jeune homme.” He looked at us and winked, and Matthew and I laughed, myself because I was relieved and also because I had understood the officer’s little joke. I was always quite pleased when I understood any joke in French, even a tiny one like that, because it didn’t happen often.

I phoned Francois that night from a payphone outside the apartment (we couldn’t make calls out from our phone in the apartment, we could only receive calls). I had looked up the words I would need in the dictionary beforehand, such as the word for watch: “montre”. Francois accepted my apology gracefully, and said that, yes, he had waited a bit but that it had been no big deal. I was frustrated that I couldn’t explain in English, sure that I would have come off more sincere.

But Francois still drove me to Nantes, and the drive was lots of fun, and I got a letter from the man three years later when I was back in Canada (“le temps passe vite,” he wrote) so I guess he never held it against me.

And with that we come to the end of the notes I originally made about my time in Aix-en-Provence in 1993/94. I do have some letters I plan to transcribe and a few other interesting memories (well, to me at least) so maybe I’ll get around to posting a few more stories someday. We’ll see.

Back to Seven Months in Provence: Part One

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