I Got Kidnapped by a Frenchman
Like most Sundays, I wake tasting stale whiskey and drooling on myself, naked. I wake up cotton-mouthed in an unfamiliar place, scanning the room for my clothing and desperately trying to jog my memory for the name and gender of the other person under the blanket.
The sun is glaring in, from what I can tell, it’s early, and judging by the dark hair on the leg protruding out from under the cover, it is a man beside me. I’m on the second floor of what seems to be a townhouse, the room is weirdly empty, the man strangely small, and the cause for alarm growing. I need water.
While I am no stranger to a four-litre jug of wine, or not knowing where I am, the situation feels suspicious, there is an air of doom and an ebbing feeling that I am in some trouble. Wearing his child-size shirt and some boxers, I go to look out the bedroom window for evidence, or some clue, of what may have happened.
We are in a complex of rustic, brick townhouses, and then there seems to be literally nothing else here, but there is a highway sign I can just about make out from the window, tiptoe and strain my neck to see, careful not to make any noise, should the small beast wake before I have my wits about me. And what I see shakes me to the very core of my abused and degenerate being, bringing with it a flood of memory and consequently, a terrible understanding of what brought me here; whiskey my old friend, I see you’ve played your hand, and it’s a straight flush straight to Fucksville.
The small man… pale with dark hair… my immediate distrust of him and his house; as if my innate Canadian spirit sensed that wherever I was, it was somehow affiliated with Quebec.
The sign on the highway says Toulouse: 17 km. I’m in a house in FRANCE.
There are three reasons that this is distressing:
- I don’t live in France, or a house – I live in a forest.
- Aforementioned forest is located in San Sebastian, Spain, which is roughly 350 km away.
- France and I are mortal enemies.
Ever since my first week overseas, nigh on three years ago, France and I have regarded one another as entities that just do not jive together, much like ouzo and the ability to decipher between the neighbours’ patio and my bed. My nights in Paris, those fateful years ago, were a painful blur of Moulin Rouge, absinthe and sleeping in the piss-ridden streets in the rain, the likes of which I did not want to revisit. Over the following years, the few times I had to enter the country were wrought with misadventure, misery and guns. After having a ride show me a .22mm he and his girlfriend had in the glove compartment before dropping me at the border to Spain, I made an agreement with France, that we would leave each other alone, we had seen all we needed and more of each other and if we respected the boundaries, we would never have to endure this inexcusable difficulty again.
And I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for that meddling alcohol.
Fetes du Bayonne, that’s what’s happened here. Fetes du Bayonne is not just a festival, but a series of festivals lasting five days, mirroring that of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, just out of Spain, not far from San Sebastian. We’d originally decided to stay in town, but the decision to stay was easily swayed once we got three-quarters of the way through a bottle of whiskey, so me and my two forest house-mates took to the road; we would hitchhike out to France for the night.
Having been, from our perspectives, moderately stable for over four months, even this small trek to the festival was making us travel crazy. The exhilaration and copious amounts of whiskey fused together, making us delirious, euphoric and for myself, ambivalent towards the dangers presented by entering the country I’d nearly made a blood oath not to enter again.
We got a ride in not more than 10 minutes, and entered Bayonne, which was swirling and beating with the quickening pulse of a city that had been madly raging for four days already, and like a dying man clinging to life, the festival was in the superhuman throes of desperate intensity. The music was deafening, only broken up by the shouting and screaming of thousands of people, littering the streets with all and every kind of deviancy: people were tied to each other so they wouldn’t get lost, there was a grassy knoll near the entrance that had clearly been designated as a drunken, naked pile of sweating bodies writhing around in some sort of frenzied orgy, people were smashing bottles and a few bowled over vomiting on the ground, more than a few were star-fished on the street, legs spread and passed-out. This undignified circus of music, lights and sleep deprivation was vibrant and violent, if a city could be diagnosed with a mental illness, Bayonne would be at the sharp, transcended peak of a manic episode.
And it would be beyond lunacy to do anything but join in.
Within an hour, I lose the two girls I am with, and probably not much longer after, my shoes. While the rest of the night is an intense mash-up of dancing, hardcore drinking, and substance abuse, I do have a faint recollection of driving away from the festival in a car with some girls, and whom I assume is this guy in bed, all French, and not really being able to communicate.
Which would explain why I am here now, in this room, unsuccessfully trying to make this small-statured but surprisingly handsome French man understand that I need to go home. And I’m really kicking myself not utilising the free French classes that are mandatory in Canada.
But he speaks a little English, and I can speak a little French, and a few cigarettes and some coffee later, I believe we’ve come to the understanding that he’ll drive me back to Bayonne.
I believed that. I believed it with all my heart, which is why I didn’t question anything when we drove for two hours and met up with some friends of his to smoke a joint, because I thought we were on the way and since he was doing me quite a favour, I wasn’t going to open my soiled mouth about it.
And so ensued about six hours of driving around and meeting up with his friends, smoking more hash, not understanding a goddamn word, pulling a whitey in the forest, and then driving to the next place, all before we end up at a small cottage to have a very confusing and uncomfortable dinner with his parents, and then straight back to Pierre’s (I know, don’t even say it) house. All this was done without the aid of shoes.
I should mention that all throughout this, I have verified that he was in fact driving me back to Bayonne, and he agreed every time, kind of motioning with his hands in what I thought was meant to mean “later”. And I really should have just got my balls in order and started hitch-hiking, but I didn’t because… hangover. I think he’s explaining that now it is too dark to drive to Bayonne, and indeed it is, it’s 10 o’clock at night and we’re back in this godforsaken townhouse.
But whatever, at the end of the day, I’m in a bed with a really good-looking fella who feeds me, so I’m not going to complain too much, and we’ll be on our way in the morning.
George Bush once said, “Fool me once, shame on, shame on you. Fool me, you can’t get fooled again.” He also once said that he hoped fish and man would one day coexist peacefully, which has nothing to do with this, but it is quite funny.
And on both points Bush Jr was very wrong: you CAN get fooled again. You can spend another six hours in a vehicle driving around France for the second time, and end up at another family dinner later that evening, still 350 km from your home, and sadly, still unable able to find any common ground with a fish.
Then things take a turn for the weird. The difference in the family meal tonight is that his brother is there, and I’m not shitting you, his name is Jean-Luc. His brother is very excited to meet me, his parents very warm and I take all this as a cultural thing, just nice people, right?
Once again, very wrong. You see, Jean-Luc speaks some Italian, as do I, and so for the first time in two days, I am able to successfully communicate with someone, and Jean-Luc is surprised to find that Pierre and I just met two days ago in Bayonne, and he is surprised by this because Pierre told him that I am his long-term “fidanzata”, and that I am now living with him. As you can probably surmise by this point, “fidanzata” is the Italian word for girlfriend.
Once the necessary information was gathered, I understand that what’s happened here is that Pierre is a man who hasn’t really ever had a girlfriend, but for the last two months he’s been talking about a British girl who everyone thought did not exist, because no one had ever met her. And in fact she did not exist. Pierre goes to Bayonne, finds me, and because we are unable to speak to each other, he is unaware that I once self-imposed a contest to have a perfect week, incorrectly assumes I am a girl who should meet his parents. In essence, he has been trying to trick me into being his new full-time girlfriend, and this is why he’s dragged me all over the goddamn country introducing me to his friends.
Fair play France. I broke the rules.
So after one more night there, some tears, and Pierre trying to trick me thrice in the morning, I duct tape my feet up and start hitchhiking back to San Sebastian.
And though it would not turn out to be true, as unbeknownst to me, my future held one more horrific jaunt through France involving a piss-stained monkey onesie and a lost passport, I vowed that I would never cross that border again.