"Europe 2004-05" story # 42

Mimizan Plage, France           March 24, 2005

Mountain streams rumbled their thick paths wherever they pleased, slicing through small fields over-stocked with snow. A trusting mother let me sit behind her fourteen-year-old daughter, in the backseat beside her nine-year-old daughter.
     In fading villages, the houses were calm and square and broken. The villageīs grand churches had been made by Roman kids, or so it seemed; they were colorful and fun and incredibly old. The air felt cool, fresh, quiet. This was hitchhiking the small roads of the French Pyrenees.
     My time in Andorra had been fun. But, I was thrilled to be out of there and seeing small-road France.
     The first night, I got invited into the house of a twenty-seven-year-old, Delphine. She was short, and tingly romantic in that way all girls who come from Paris are. She lived with her boyfriend, Nat.
     Delphine and Nat both wore eye-glasses, theyīd been together since they were twenty, and they planned on opening a library together. They ate only organic (chemical-free) food, and Delphine made us a dish out of artichokes for dinner.
     Nat used to work for the French government. He kind of wished he hadnīt, because now he knows governments operate mainly against their people.
     He told of one time when the French government needed a leading American computer-engineer to come work for them. Before they met with him, they studied all records of the manīs credit card reports so they could create a conversation which would seem interesting and "natural" to him. Governments have profiles of every individual, based on credit card purchases and bank accounts. (I guess itīs a good thing all the credit card companies deny me!) Newly-issued, coded passports are now trackable. The French government puts restrictions on house-building in rural areas, because the people are easier to monitor when theyīre in cities. Nat and Delphine are happy living in a big, comfortable, veeery cold house in tiny Biert in the Pyrenees.
     When someone purchases something that could potentially be used for terrorism, the government begins to watch him. Nat used to work for Franceīs anti-terrorism information team. The perception he got was that governments will often know a terrorist act is coming before it happens but will do nothing to stop it. Itīs in a governmentīs best interest for terrorist actions to occur. The government can then repeal many of its frightened citizensī rights, as in the passing of the U.S.īs Patriot Act. Many other countries have quietly passed legislation resembling the Patriot Act.
     Governments want power, said Nat; they donīt care about their people. He said they control much more money and resources than they let on.
     We discussed the recent crisis of Argentina, where bank accounts were frozen and people lost around two-thirds of their savings. Argentina is a resource-wealthy country full of poor people. If the people of Argentina wonīt revolt, it proves governments have little more to fear now. Nat and I can both envision first-world citizens one day having their lifes reduced to the subhuman conditions of present South Americans.
     Governments watch carefully to assure thereīs no organization against them. If someone would try to launch a revolutionary action that seriously threatens a government, he might be imprisoned or have his family members threatened. Luckily - and he will tell you this, over and over - Nat hates his in-laws.

For breakfast, Nat made crepes.
     The flattened dough sagged wimpily if my hand didnīt offer support to the whole of each saucer-shaped crepe. It was just firm enough to hold the sugar sweetness in between its top-and-bottom flaky crusts. I smeared a bit of chocolate spread or fruit jam on it and rolled it up. Mmm, "bonjour," sweet France!
     I still had energy when a Madame Renee Duba picked me up that afternoon. She was a sixty-six-year-old retired nurse with fiery red hair and glasses. She was on a driving tour for the day, and I was invited. With a sixty-six-year-oldīs tenaciousness, she asked everyone in the Pyrenees village of Sentaine - including a ninety-three-year-old lady - to give her young American friend whatever historical information they could.
     She pointed to a pass between the white-capped mountains to the south. That was where the Jews had tried to escape to Spain during World War II. Hitlerīs occupying Nazis who hunted them snuck through another pass and murdered many of them anyways.
     She pointed to a monument standing before Sentaineīs pinkish-hued, carnival-fun church. On the monumentīs pillar were written the names of the villageīs young men who had died in World War I. A little French soldier wearing blue stood at the top. Madame Duba sighed. The French soldiers had worn BLUE, she said, no wonder the Germans could spot them and shoot them out. When I asked what the Germans had worn, she said surely something camouflaged. All the little villages have these monuments.
     "Bonne continuacion," said Madame Duba when she dropped me off. (Good continuation of your trip.)
     I spent that night in my tent, on the outskirts of a little village.
     At night, I watched out of my tent as a bunch of car lights passed by. They all hovered in the road, even with my tent. And then I spotted some young punk running towards my tent beside the stream. Running as if he was going to come wrestle me. Or kick me, perhaps. Or give me a wedgie. I swirmed in my sleeping bag.
     -- And then I woke up. Geez, a bad dream. I was stationery in Andorra for so long. I forgot to be tough for a solitary life on the road. I took a deep breath, puffed out my chest, and went to bed more at-peace with my tent and my mountain stream.

The next day, I took a bigger road in the direction of Franceīs Atlantic Coast.
     A deliveryman named Stefan gave me a ride. I told him I liked France; I liked how the people greeted each other always and seemed compassionately polite. I liked how the people flied with good feelings and still got tickled by the simple joys in life.
     Stefan really liked France too. But, itīs changing for the worst. People are becoming more selfish. They have their televisions and their cars, and theyīre more self-absorbed. And - as Iīd heard before - the job market in France is becoming scarcer and scarcer, and many people are without work.
     Stefan dropped me off. "Bonne continuacion!" (Good luck on your way!) Almost everyone said that.
     "Bonne journée," I said back. (Have a nice day.)
     Traveling up the Atlantic Coast over the next few days was a nice treat. An enormous planted forest of thin, three-story pine trees obstructed views of the ocean. Through this underdeveloped part of France, the roads wound breezily like a quiet road in your neighborhood. The rich air belonged to a time before polluting man.
     The forest dominated. Only in selected spots did it open up to allow shining villages. Simply square, citrus-pink architecture lounged beside a light-green-ocean-aqua Atlantic. Hissing waves and neverending soft-sand beaches made you just want to lay down all day long.
     The tiny town of Mimizan Plage may have had lots of tourists in the summer, but it was almost perfect in March. A shy twenty-two-year-old, Mathieu ("Mat-hyoo"), came up to me while I was writing at night and said I could stay with him if I wanted. Well, of course!
     He was a guitarrist with black hair to his chin. He was easy to smile. He loved over conversations about philosophy and the girl, Angelique, who he really liked. He didnīt have any money until his next "gig," so I treated us to dinners.
     By night, Mimizan Plage featured a great nightclub. It was aptly called meaninglessly, "Le Pili Pili." The energy inside was fantastic on Saturdayīs Disco Night. Only a dozen or so of us danced. But, we wore afro-wigs, funky shades, and blond hippy wigs to our butts. The muscular bar-tender did a good Michael Jackson impression, the girls tried to keep up, and we all danced ītil five a.m.
     I stayed two nights with Mathieu. He was as friendly as a cartoon mouse. He went to give me cheek-kisses good-bye, as guys do in France or Argentina. I just shook his hand. Afterwards, I regretted my culture-born coldness.

"La Dune de Pyla!!!" was my next stop. Aw-awooh!
     My ex-roommate, Cyril, and I always yelled out this destination name to give us hope while we were mired in "la vie du chien" (the life of the dog) in Andorra. I camped out for two nights on this massive sand dune. It stretches like a a giant brontosaurus, sandwiched in-between a lush near-rainforest and a vast, tranquil Atlantic. There were only a couple of March tourists on the dune while I stayed there.
     I love sand dunes. I always go to them when I travel. My brother says I have "blood of sand." I grew up in the Great Lake State of Michigan, where our sand dunes are possibly the best.
     Camping alone - I admit - felt lonely at times. I missed Michigan. I missed my grandparents. I really missed a girlīs touch.
     Of course, Iīm going around the world for a good reason. Iīm going to learn as much as I can about life and people, and then (yawn) lead the world to communism. Itīs tough; love and leading the world to communism donīt really mix. Between the two, love probably feels better.
     I did live some really amazing moments during my first week in France.
     Skinny-dipping in the Atlantic. The water was cold when you dove under - cold as if your older sibling was dunking your head in the water and you didnīt know if he was going to let you come up.
     Mathieu took us to a park where silent pine forest ran into beach. When I finished writing a story at a forest picnic table, the day felt great. The sun was hot, and the air salty and full of pine oxygen.
     And the sand dune. On the Dune de Pyla, I played a game where I rolled a tennis ball ahead of me down the dune then raced after to stop it from reaching the forest. "The Infamous Amphibious Tennis Ball Game - Sand Dune Style," itīs called. I had one really good one. I sprinted downhill and pounced at the zooming ball. But, I missed it. The ball was then way below me and traveling at a steep pace. There was almost no hope. I jumped to my feet and accelerated like a race-horse. When the ball was just within reach and about to speed away, I dove head-first down the dune. My chest plopped to the sand at the same time my out-reached arm hit the ball. My speed had been great, the bellyflop had been elegant, and the palm of my hand was just barely big enough to grasp the descending ball. And I made the catch!
     Solo celebration followed.

bye. - Modern Oddyseus

Thanks to Martin; Gauthier & "Picasso"; Kathy, Annabelle, & Laura; Patrick; Isabelle & Marie; Delphine; Ivan; Mme Duba (Renee); Magaleine & Lucy; Stefanie; Stefan; Christine; Stuart; Jean-Pierre; Agnes & Benjamin; Bernoire; Stefan; Florian; Mischel; Jannine; Allen; Denise & Jean-Mattiste; Frederic; Alex; Nichola; Stefan; Cyril; and Mathieu for the rides!
Much belated thanks to Louise; and much thanks to Delphine & Nat; and Mathieu for the places to stay!

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