I’ve been digitizing some old photos and stumbling onto some interesting chapters of my life. I thought it might be fun to post some here and write about them, and in that way get the creative juices flowing before moving onto other, arguably more important work.
Some ground rules:
- The photos will be from my fairly distant personal past
- There’ll be some story associated with them
- I won’t overthink the writing, the idea is to get the story down quickly and post it
Now, to the story behind these two photos.
France, 1993. I was studying French in Aix-en-Provence. At the beginning of the year some friends and I had gone to a social event at a place called La Cave, which I think took place upstairs at the St. Sauveur Cathedral.
There we met some French guys, who were definitely more interested in my friends than me, cuz the French guys were single, in their twenties, and my friends were largely comprised of attractive Swedish, Danish, and Scottish women, but it didn’t matter because they were decent guys and we all quickly became good friends.
The two main guys were Nicholas and Francois. Around Christmas, Nicholas invited some of us to celebrate New Year’s Eve at his place in Nantes with his friends and family. I accepted along with my friends and fellow Canadians Deborah and Doug Cameron, who are the couple you see at the end of the table facing the camera in the picture below (and with whom I had celebrated an amazing vegetarian Christmas days before the trip to Nantes).
I drove to Nantes with Francois. I had barely three months of the French language under my belt at this point, so I was always learning new words and expressions. Unlike our native languages, which it seems we just pick up organically, I remember where I was when I learned most of the French I know.
Francois and I drove under a bridge.
“Comment dit ca?” I asked him, pointing at the bridge.
“Pont,” he told me, and my vocabulary increased by one. This would happen several times during the trip (and indeed the entire year).
In Nantes, I switched to Nicholas’ car and Nicholas and I drove around a bit, visiting some of his friends. It was pouring rain.
“Il pleut comme vaches qui pisse!” he said.
“Quoi?” I said, cuz I hadn’t understood a word of that.
We almost never spoke English, so he explained it to me in French, and eventually I came to understand that he’d said that it was raining like a bunch of cows pissing.
Back at his place, which you see in the pictures, we had a great evening of delicious food, vast quantities of wine, stilted conversation in French, and even some dancing. Nicholas’ sister taught me “le Rock and Roll” which was fun, but which, months later, none of my Quebecois lady friends back in Canada would dance with me because apparently it wasn’t cool there.
Because I was having such a good time, and because I’m not very bright, I drank way too much. The next morning I woke up in Nicholas’ house with a terrible hangover. And when I say “morning” I mean “afternoon” because I slept crazy late. I knew Nicholas, and had met his sister, but I hadn’t met anyone else in his family. Aware that I was essentially in a stranger’s house extremely hungover, I didn’t want to get up and go downstairs and meet everyone, with no idea what “everyone” would consist of.
I forced myself to get up and take a shower (with a weird French shower attachment that didn’t hang on a wall, but that you held in your hand while sitting in a tub, so that afterward you would realize that you washed every part of yourself except the arm holding the shower attachment). Clean but precariously nauseated, I went downstairs, where Nicholas’ family awaited me. His Mom, Dad, and about half a dozen others. Never was quite clear who was who, but there was a four year old boy who spoke better French than me, and about half a dozen others. Nicholas father looked strikingly like Patrick Stewart, or, considering he was French, Jean-Luc Picard.
We all went out to see the French version of the movie Aladdin (with the genie played by Richard Darbois rather than Robin Williams). Trying not to woof my cookies and thus embarrass myself in front of Nicholas and his family, and new to the French language, I don’t think I understood a word of it.
Back home we ate a special New Year’s Eve meal which consisted largely of cheese and a mystery meat. I had no appetite but they insisted I try the meat. They asked me to guess what it was.
“Poulet?” I guessed. “Vache?” Chicken? Cow?
“Autruche,” I was told.
“Austrian?” I said, shocked, still trying to grapple with the language, and the possibility that I had wound up amongst cannibals.
Everyone laughed uproariously, and someone corrected me: “Ostrich!”
Despite feeling ill, I had a good time. I was embarrassed for having overindulged the night before, and for having slept so late. Nicholas family was generous and friendly. Although I thanked Nicholas, and thanked his family at the time, I feel like I never really properly thanked them for their hospitality, and unfortunately I never saw any of them again.
May this post constitute a step toward a more proper thanks, then.