We retired to a small cafe on the square behind Sacre Coeur for wine. Eric was a jovial companion. I enjoyed him almost as much as Raven did, although I would have felt more comfortable if he had had a girlfriend with him. Blue-eyed, blond, tanned, and ruggedly handsome, with Raven hanging on his every word – I was feeling an irritation that had become all too familiar.
Raven and I were living frugally, camping outside Paris and taking a bus into the city. What a typical American tourist would spend in a day, would keep us alive for two weeks. On the ladder of affluence, we were near the bottom.
Eric was one critical step lower. We knew that we could not eat in a restaurant; Eric did not know where his next meal was coming from. We knew that if we were not careful, our money would soon run out. Eric was broke any day he did not make enough tips to cover that day’s expenses. He was staying in the youth hostel on Blvd. Jules-Ferry, but would have to move on soon. They had a four day limit in midsummer. “It doesn’t matter, anyway,” he laughed. “I’m not making enough to eat and sleep. Paris is a tough gig.”
Eric was originally from Bodö, just north of the Arctic Circle, and had gone to school in Oslo. Now he was a refugee from the winter-long northern nights, but there was a homesick longing in his voice as he described the beauties of a northern summer. Raven hugged my arm and said, “We have to go there!”
“If you go to Bodö,” Eric said, “you must see the maelstrom. It’s not far from town.”
“A gigantic whirlpool. It inspired your writer Poe to write his Descent into the Maelstrom.”
Raven had bought a cheap camera in Nice. Now she talked a waiter into taking a picture of the three of us, promising to give a print to Eric.
It was after midnight when we got back to the campground. We had to take the metro to the end of the line and then take a bus out to the edge of the countryside. I had forgotten to pay last night, so I stopped in at the office to correct matters. We were on the list of delinquents, and the manager made nasty remarks under his breath until I paid for the rest of the week. Then he dropped the matter, satisfied, and went on to his next customer.
The French have a worldwide reputation for being actively unfriendly. It isn’t true. They just don’t give a damn if you live or die. If you want people to like you, you probably won’t be happy in France. On the other hand, if you can go about your business independently, not expecting courtesy from strangers, you will do fine. I never have any trouble in France because I don’t expect much, and that is exactly what I get.
The campground was a sea of tents, jammed edge to edge with their guy lines overlapping. Walking among them was like stepping over limbs in a blown down forest. Ours was a small blue two-man dome. I stayed outside until Raven had undressed and crawled into her sleeping bag, taking off my shoes and shirt while I waited. Then she squeezed over against one side of the tent while I struggled out of my pants. Once we were both horizontal, the tent was big enough, but dressing and undressing on a rainy day was a major undertaking. Fortunately, it had not rained much so far.
An hour later, I woke to the sound of rain. more tomorrow