Bayeux was a tragedy from the start. Every day for a week I would wake up early in the morning, trudge down to Gare St Lazare, sitting at the front of the metro with all the old women, and ask where the train to Bayeux is, nobody ever understanding my pronunciation. And each day the train would not get there in time for me to get inside the museum to see the famed tapestry. I would use these days to go shopping and visit all the little things in Paris I otherwise would not have seen, perhaps, although I didn’t want to leave Paris at all. Ligne 14 seems to be the furthest underground, it takes four escalators to reach, I think, and as it approaches its final stop at Olympiades, everyone who’s familiar walks to the front car of the train and then runs out to be first up the escalator. The last of the escalators is very long, and at the top are old women handing out newspapers, they may be communists, I’m not sure, I never took one, and in the evenings a large tent is set up and candy is sold, life-size candy bananas and all the colors and shapes and smells to make me feel like a child. I never bought any, on Celine’s advice, because she says it’s all filthy from chemicals floating around in the streets, and I suspect children touch it all. But when Celine took me to a Christmas market I did buy a macaron flavored with bergamot, how many chances does one have to taste bergamot outside a teacup? And also I bought a dried banana and a dried kiwi. I was in heaven, and it was while I was enthralled by my purchases that Celine and her mother sneakily found out what sort of scarf I was hoping to find, I pointed to a bunch of men, anything with stripes, I want to be French! And they bought it for me for Christmas!
Finally, I left early enough in the morning to make it to Bayeux, and its train station is not inside the town itself, but rather far outside it. I was on a schedule, and I heard the sound of English, so I broke my rules to ask a man if he spoke English, and he was stereotypically Irish. ‘Do you know how to get to the tapestry?’
‘Don’t bother, mate, it’s closed.’
‘What do you mean it’s closed? Are you sure?’
‘Trust me. It’s closed until tomorrow.’
‘Is there…anything else to do here?’
‘There’s a pub across the way.’
I had 20 minutes to eat and then catch the next train to Paris. I left the train station and went to the hotel, a grimy place decorated with American and Canadian and British flags and signs saying ‘we welcome our liberators!’ They didn’t have any food at the bar, so I figured I’d walk to the town and see if maybe this Irish guy was wrong, I mean, it’s Bayeux, it has no reason to exist anymore except the tapestry, there’s nothing else in it, how could they close the tapestry? But they had. Some unimpressive doors held a small paper sign with a messy handwritten note that they’ve decided to close for a few days. I walked into the town, up and down the streets, all their shops marked ‘SOLDES!’ just like in Paris, but already the Paris mindset had poisoned me, nothing was chic enough. They’ve tried to give some history to the city by marking every old building and explaining its construction, how the upper floors extend over the lower floors, for instance, to help prevent rain from getting on the ground floor. The oldest building in town still has a fleur-de-lis carved in it, though you cannot see it, it’s so faded, the building boarded up and for sale, an inn that royalty may have stayed once, maybe, or nobody really knows what the hell happened there, but it’s old, the other buildings have computer classes inside, they look modern and lack character. Water flows through the city, stone restaurants, water-wheels, tunnels and iron grates. I couldn’t find a bank anywhere–somebody directed me inside a smelly food store where I found an ATM, and went up and down the streets determined, now that I’d missed my train and would have to spend the whole afternoon here, to find some food to make me happy.
I wanted a mozzerella sandwich, fuck French food, and I found a tiny place that served them, I knew I’d made a mistake as soon as I walked in the door, but the fat woman who owned the place had already seen me, and I felt like it would break her heart if I left. She had an enourmous menu and almost no food, a few pastries scattered in a glass case, a few sandwiches in the window. I ordered a mozerella sandwich, and a small plastic baggie she’d made up herself of haribo candies. Food prices were about half of what they were in Paris, and I was delighted although a bit nervous–it didn’t seem right, are they okay to eat? It wasn’t mozzerella, it was chevre, which even by this point was beginning to make me gag a little, and I threw it away, this goddam skimpy sandwich, I won’t miss the tapestry and reward myself with a shitty sandwich, and went to a larger bakery and bought one of those, I wish I remembered its name, a common French sandwich that they have two types, one for men and one for women, and it’s a piece of bread with some meat on top of it and some melted cheese, very messy and greasy and not especially enjoyable, but…well, it was enough, and I had my candy, and then, when I’d exhausted the town and its narrow sidewalks covered in old people and hipster teenagers,
I went to a bakerie filled with mirrors, one of these places in which there’s barely enough room to walk, so they put in two doors so you can just be forced through like goats, but I loved that it was filled with mirrors so that I couldn’t figure out where it began or ended, I bought a bag of madeleines and something that looked like a baguette but the woman told me was sweet. Sweet is a meaningless term in France because sweet may mean something that is only sweet in your imagination it’s so subtle, like eating a piece of bread while looking at a sugarcube, or something so sweet that your blood congeals before your tongue even knows what’s going on. I prefer the subtle sweetnesses, they remind me of the taste of love. I was running out of money, I continued back to the train station, stopped at the hotel and spent two hours working on translations and drinking chocolates and coffees because they were so unbelievably cheap, some obnoxious old men came in and sat behind me talking loudly to everyone, they seemed to know the bartender, and an old black man came in and sat and watched everyone with a silly grin on his face that one would never see in America, he kept adding comments here and there and everyone treated him very well, and a young woman, perhaps my age, but with eyes that said she had two or three kids, and a short and fetid old woman who shuffled around chewing on her lips, and when I asked where the toilets were and if I had to pay, I went to them and she followed me in, and I closed the door, turned on the dim orange light and stared out the window, and didn’t even undo my belt, just stood there, knowing this horrible smelly woman was on the other side of the door waiting for me, staring, and I finally opened the door, and there she was, staring at the me as I knew she would be, and I stalked out, still having to piss. I had had a brilliant idea, to take the chocolate they gave me and put it in my coffee and it would turn into a chocolate coffee. It didn’t work, once I’d finished the coffee it looked like someone shat in my cup. I tried to eat the horrible stuff to save me from shame, brought my dishes to the bar, paid my obscenely small bill…
and then I caught my train, after taking my pills I fell asleep and a man woke me up fifteen minutes later to let me know we had to change trains. So I followed him out, and he led me to the parking lot where he got in a car and drove away, so I went back underground and found my way to the station, figured out what train I would need to Paris, and spent a while in convenience store looking at erotic novels and debating what the conditions would be for me to have to buy one–I think I promised myself that if I could find a magazine about weight-loss I would buy some erotica. I couldn’t find the magazine, so I just left when my train arrived. I probably ended the evening by picking up a pizza and sharing it with Nathalie, we would drink tea and listen to Keren Ann, and she told me how wonderful it is that I take trains to nowhere and see nothing, because it gives me something to write about. And then I don’t write about it until today, when she knows I’m miserable, she calls and reminds me of these things that we could sit around and laugh at and our wonderful evenings, and she tells me to write about this.
‘You have your music, and your writing, and I have my photography. You need to write, you need to write, and do it now, because you need to use this powerful energy for something or you will lose it for nothing. You are part of a chain.’
‘I don’t like being this part of the chain.’
‘But it’s what you are. Other people depend on you, because when they hurt, maybe it will be something you wrote that will make them feel better.’
‘I don’t care about how other people feel. I don’t care for them, I only care about me and how I feel.’
‘But just think, so many people will suffer like you, so many people will be hurting, and most of them do not know how to create music or write beautiful things or take photographs, they just have to suffer in silence, and when they are through suffering, they have nothing to show for it. ‘
‘Then I want you to write me about things we did together.’
‘I don’t understand. Like what?’
‘Oh, I don’t know, like ending up in the Luxembourg garden and the cafe being closed and sitting in those green chairs in the cold eating our desserts for breakfast, or that bitch with the hot chocolate–we had a lot of hot chocolate episodes, or going out on New Years and being unable to find a bar!’
‘Or going out on my birthday and walking for hours trying to find a bar and finally you got annoyed and demanded that I choose any bar!’
‘I didn’t get annoyed, but they were all going to close soon and we Had to get a drink.’
‘And afterwards we spent a whole hour in the fucking cold trying to find a cab!’
‘I need you to write all these stories, all the stories you can think of.’
‘Yes, I will, and I will send you the recipe for flan and you will impress your parents with your cooking.’