Last meal: Leek and blue cheese tart, followed by apple crumble.
Drink of choice: Valençay Rosé
Song in my head: (I cannot believe this came onto BBC2 – I just had to buy the soundtrack)
Jus leaving was really difficult, especially coming back to the apartment that we’d shared for the best part of two weeks over the course of the trip. A teary phone call to Janet made me feel better, and after a cup of tea I coaxed myself into bed.
On Tuesday morning I skyped with Mum and Janet, and somehow managed to pack the place up for the apartment manager. I’d organised to go to breakfast with Becky, a friend from high school who was conveniently in Paris! We went to a small café for coffees and croissants then just walked around a bit, which was a nice low-key distraction from my ever-increasing feelings of abandonment. In the end I almost missed my train to get to Tours, and I hadn’t had time to collect my prepaid ticket, but luckily a kindly word to the train conductor and falling asleep 20 minutes into the journey solved that.
I’d organised to stay at the Tours youth hostel so that I could finally use the cards that we’d purchased from Sydney Central YHA. I found it easily enough (it seems that iPhones aren’t as necessary after all) after a half hour trudge through the snow. Settling in to my bare little room by myself was fairly tragic, but after a few tears and stern words, I pulled my shit together and went for a run along the Loire river, just as the sun was setting.
For dinner, I bought a takeaway pizza and sat in my room by myself. Not quite up to being social yet, so it suited me fine. I ate the whole thing while watching Seinfeld. Absolute fatty behaviour. Don’t worry, shame was also involved.
At around 10pm, Jus skyped me which helped me feel better. Well, it was shit knowing that that would now be our primary form of contact, nonetheless it was reassuring that he’d arrived safely and he didn’t want to break up with me for a sexy Korean Air hostess or something.
On Wednesday, I sampled the delicacies of the complimentary hostel breakfast (their machine-made hot chocolate wasn’t so bad actually) then I walked back to the train station to catch a bus to my HelpX placement! Just to explain a bit, HelpX is a similar idea to WWOOFing, except that instead of daily help on only organic farms in exchange for food and accommodation, people can ask you to do anything – renovating, babysitting, establishing gardens etc.
I was off to a town called Luçay-Le-Mâle (via a beautiful town called Loches where my hosts had arranged to pick me up [Charles I’s apartments are there]) where a B&B property was in the process of renovating, and needed general help with that and house duties e.g. cleaning, cooking etc. The deal was 5-6 hours of work Monday-Friday, weekends off, all meals included, and my own room (up a spiral staircase!) complete with ensuite bathroom.
So my duties in the time that I was there included (in order of its frequency):
- installing insulation (possible one of the worst jobs ever in the world – imagine getting small bits of scratchy glass all over your hands, down your sleeves and collar, in and around your eyes [I swear my eyes still haven’t recovered their largeness or non-redness since] which are difficult to avoid and remove).
- sawing up wood from pollarded trees (surprisingly therapeutic).
- cleaning up the kitchen (cooking delicious meals for 5 hungry individuals is a messy business).
- ironing sheets and impossible difficult doona covers (one took me literally two hours to complete. Mum would probably tell me I need more practise).
The property was absolutely beautiful, when covered in snow (for about a week, the thermometer didn’t come above zero, and walking outside of a morning into -12°C was not uncommon!) and after it had thawed. However I think the most exciting thing about this placement were the individuals I shared my time with. There was another HelpXer, who had already been there for a month before I arrived, the husband and wife hosts, the wife host’s son, and two cats and a dog.
CHARACTER 1: Wensislas (as in “good king Wensislas”. That’s how he described it. Yeah, that helps me remember…) was the other HelpXer. Mid-forties and fiercely Catalan (“I live in an occupied country. You speak Spanish to me, is like speaking Chinese to a Tibetan!” I don’t know how many times I heard that phrase. Mum suggested talking about the plight of the Aboriginals to him, but I kinda thought that it might be inappropriate considering that in said scenario, I would be one of the invading British. Awkward.), he tried to convince me that the book I was reading, a brief account of French history and culture written by a Brit, was false and biased. A bit of a patronising douche to begin with, especially regarding the work, he softened a little as time went by. He’s one of those people who laughs heartily at a joke that he himself has said, and outside of work time he was largely confined to his room (secret Catalan business, I’m assuming). On the first Sunday we had off, our hostess had recommended us going to a free lunch hosted by the local Hare Krishas, who lived in an incredible château nearby. What the hell dudes?
CHARACTER 2: Rosemary. Such a mum. Amazing cook, worries too much, reassuring and supportive. Very British.
CHARACTER 3: Richard. Homg. Possibly the most frustrating man even to have walked the earth. First impressions: quiet, intelligent, watery eyes. After-impressions: sits on his computer all day while everyone else works; sarcastic; so freaking British it’s annoying (e.g. still talks in British Pounds Sterling when he’s lived in France with Euros for four years); stands right in your fire-warmth line; only talks about two things (immigrants and the terrible state of the EU); refuses to listen to anyone else; incredible British toff voice. Ok so I may sound harsh, and he was nice at first, but god by the end of the two weeks, I was sick of him! Wonderful full name though.
CHARACTER 4: Ben. Wasn’t there all the time, but kept me sane when he was.
CHARACTERS 5, 6 & 7: Alfie, Purrdy & Batty. Alfie the dog had an absolutely ridiculous amount of energy, and twice accidentally fell into the rapidly defrosting lake. Purrdy was a cute little tabby who, in typical cat fashion, hated you one minute and loved you the next, and had a particular habit of making me gooey for her and then try to steal the food off my plate/scratch my forearms. Batty was the most ragdoll-like cat ever – named because when she was a kitten, her ears were bigger than her entire head, her black fur and bright green eyes were such a precious combination, heightened by the fact that she’d always be up for a hold/nap on my lap.
Jus and I have been skyping/calling pretty much daily, which mightn’t seem so healthy, but it’s a transitional period so I’m letting myself off the hook for a while. After two weeks in a 98% english environment, I feel that my french has gone downhill rather quickly. Two brief exchanges with the farmhand down the road where I bought fresh milk have cemented my knowledge that my language skills are poor. Really needing and wanting that french immersion now. But I don’t feel too guilty because now I’m more ok with travelling alone and being without Jus so whatever.
I went on a few runs in my time (though I refused until the temperature came above freezing) which is where I sourced some of the photos featured in this blog post. Hopefully this New Years resolution will continue (despite the whole “daily” thing out the window)!
On Thursday just gone, I left the property for Paris where I planned to stay for four nights before my next place. It gave me the chance to meet up with a friend from ex-work, Sam, and potentially my uncle Ashley, who is ever elusive and we’ve made only sketchy plans. It’s been really nice hanging out with Sam on Thursday night for dinner (at a fancy Parisian bistro, then we each had 3 scoops of Häagen-Dazs ice-cream – derishus!) and yesterday we tramped around to Montmartre (Sacré Coeur and the Moulin Rouge) and the Champs-Elysées (Arc de Triomphe and macarons!!) for about 16.5km. No run.
Also a bird shat on me. Good sign.
Today has been very very lazy. Woke up late. Two episodes of Veronica Mars, procrastinating writing emails that I’ve been procrastinating for a while (I will reply sooner or later! I just need to be in the right mood! Later today, I’m on it. I should just go outside for a bit) and general facebook stalking, instead of doing anything useful or fun. I really like my sweet one-room apartment (seriously, there are two closets, one each for toilet and shower) in the 5e arrondissement, but the 7 flights of stairs really put me off going out for a stroll.
Oribia: stop being lazy and go outside. You’re in Paris, you knob.
And with that thought, I’m off!