justement, 8 rue St Paul, (Montpellier)
While I was in Vancouver recently, I re-read an entry from my journal from the year I lived in the south of France when I was 20 and I noticed the chain of circumstances had led me to today: At the time I wrote the journal, I had been on my way to Mainz in Germany after spending some time traveling around Europe but my plan for that place didn’t work out. So I called my mum from England and asked her if she could think of a place for me to stay, maybe for a few days with someone she knew somewhere in France until I figured out what I was going to do next (my mum is English and she still has some friends from when she was in France at age 18).
She called me a couple of days later and said that she had spoken to a friend of a friend whose wife Ms. DeJong was living in a city called Montpellier and they said I could stay with them for a few nights. When I very first arrived there, I posted a note on a corkboard at the university saying that I was looking for a roommate. Mathieu was the guy who answered my note and when he called at the place I was staying, he asked if I wanted to come and meet him since he lived just a few blocks away - we could talk about looking for a place together (but really we’d see if we got along). I said sure and picked up two bottles of wine – one to be a good guest and have a drink with Mat and the other to give the family I was staying with later. 4am and both bottles of wine later we were friends.
It took us a while but finally we found a place across from an old church on rue St Paul (the picture above is from the balcony) with three extra roommates, one Australian and two Germans. That was September. In February or March, Dagmar, one of the Germans came in in the evening and invited me to some dress-up party at one of her other German friends’s apartment. I didn’t want to go since I didn’t have a costume but we improvised something and we went. We got there and the apartment was packed - a two bedroom with at least a hundred people in it. I ended up sitting on a bureau next to a French guy called Benoit looking from above at the other guests and I noticed a girl across the room who I thought looked cool and I told Benoit so. He said that that was his friend, Tanya, who he introduced me to, and after many missed connections over the next weeks, she and I ended up together until I left for Canada again in July or August or whenever it was.
I got back to Canada and Tanya told me that there was a friend she had grown up with living in Vancouver and that she and I should meet up for a coffee. Her friend, Mandy became one of my best friends. A few years later, Mandy invited me to a concert with some Japanese tween-pop (as it turned out) band playing but I didn’t go and said that I might meet them later - where was she going after? Anyway, that night I was out for dinner with some friends and they went home about 11pm so I stopped in at the place Mandy was going after, though I wasn’t sure if she’d be there. I walked in and again that place was packed and I went from room to room looking for Mandy and her boyfriend and when I got to the last room, I saw them and had to squeeze by a girl to get to them. The girl turned around and our faces were about eight inches apart since it was so crowded in the place and she was so pretty and as it turned out really smart and funny too.
That girl is my Erin – if I hadn’t stayed with the DeJongs in Montpellier, I would never have met Mathieu or Dagmar or Benoit or Tanya or Mandy or Erin and my two boys would not be sleeping in the next room right now.
Revision 2012: Here’s one more aspect to this story that speaks to the concept of “good karma.” To get me to Europe in the first place, I had saved up by living in a cheap apartment and working a couple of jobs while attending my first year of university. At the end of the year I sold my crummy old car and bought an open ended ticket to fly to and from London, then an InterRail train pass to get around, plus some extra money to spend. After having traveled around the continent and living in Mainz for a few months, I was just about out of money and finishing off the last couple of weeks or so of my time away. Before going home, I got on a train from London to Cheltenham, where one of my great uncles and my great aunt lived. At Paddington Station in London, I had been mistakenly told that my InterRail would allow me to take the train for free in Britain (as it turns out, it works for most European countries but not in G.B.). I got on the train, sat there for an hour or so looking out the window at the Cotswolds on a grey, rainy summer day. Just before my final destination, the train conductor came by, told me that my ticket was not valid and that I could either pay the highest priced ticket from the train’s originating station, plus a fine (somewhere around £90 total, which was ridiculous) or I could get off at the next station and meet with the British Transport Police and explain my un-corroborated and apparently implausible story. I chose to pay the fine, leaving me with only £60 until I left England to go home to Canada.
Dejected I got up from where I was sitting on an empty train car and decided to take another seat facing where we were going rather than where we had just traveled from. As I was sitting in the new spot, I felt something which turned out to be a dark red wallet that was the exact same colour as the train’s seats. I looked through it and there was no ID and nothing identifying who the thing belonged to. In the billfold part was £280 - enough to keep me going for a while longer since I was staying entirely with family for the last days of my trip. Super. I was (relatively) rich! I put the wallet in my pocket then took it out again later. I looked through it once more and in one of the credit card slots was a folded pay stub and on that was someone’s name. Briefly, I considered that if I kept the money, I could stay a little longer rather than going back to Canada for the last part of the summer, then to university again in the fall - of course not, I’d call when I got in. When I got to my great uncle and aunt’s place, I looked up the name on the pay stub and the person was in Wales. I called her to let her know I had her wallet and the money. It turned out that she had lost the wallet the day before and the £280 was what was left of her savings after working over the summer in London. I sent her the lot that afternoon, planning now just to spend a few extra days in Cheltenham before heading back to London then to Canada on Tuesday or Wednesday. That evening, it was raining and cold for mid-August and I had a hard time being a good house guest at dinner while also hiding the fact that I was very disappointed at having had to pay such a big fine and the fact that my trip would soon be over.
The next day was Friday and in the morning my mother called from Vancouver. She was about to go to bed late but before she did, a letter from the Canada Revenue Agency (taxes) had come and did I want her to open it? Sure I said. Earlier that year in April, I had filed my taxes for the first time, though I had been working part time while in high school since I was 16. She opened the letter and it said that I had a tax refund of over $5000 - totally unexpected by me. It turned out that my boss, an old-school Italian guy named Stan had been deducting taxes from my paycheque and sending this to the government even though I was under the age of majority and therefore not required to pay taxes (years later I saw my old boss and he said that he had done this on purpose). The refund was all the tax money that had been paid while I worked for Stan in my teens.
I planned to use that $5000 to move to Mainz in Germany but eventually I moved to France, where I stayed for an extra 10 or 11 months, working very part time in a library and at the arthouse cinema and looking after the super DeJong kids a bit in exchange for the use of the DeJong’s car and just enough pocket money to pay the bills and go out. Mostly I just lived la vie bohème, reading, sleeping late, learning to speak French, being melancholy, sitting in cafes at 2 in the afternoon or traveling around the south of France when the DeJongs didn’t need their van, drinking cheap wine from the Languedoc, having highly intellectual conversations (of course), laughing loads about nothing, eating pastries, going to parties with the university’s international students, having people over for dinner then parties at our place with my four other roommates and all our friends, walking through deserted streets at night, going to the beach, watching movies and staying up all night by myself or with Mathieu or Tanya or whoever it was that didn’t have anything important to do the next day.
Mathieu related (Mat with a bottle of light): http://vimeo.com/8774894
(For SS - thanks)