A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Monday, September 12, 2005

Sept. 2.

Bordeaux, Part Two - When we last left our hero, he was sick and homeless in Bordeaux. With the temperature dropping, I was also now shivering. But with nowhere to go, Vince and I settled on a bench and tried to kill the seven or eight hours until our hostel would open. Having finished my Murakami novel, I started in on Sartre. It was a great read but I found it impossible to concentrate. I was spending too much energy sniffling and rubbing my arms to keep the goosebumps down. I also really had to go to the bathroom now. But I forced myself back to the page to read as much as I could tolerate. When it felt like two hours had gone by, I got up to check the parking meter. Twenty minutes. I started to pace around the block, trying to endure fifteen-minute blocks. As long as I could get to one-fifteen, I reasoned, I could get to one-thirty. Still, time moved as slowly as a turtle on heroin. Around three, the pain in my bladder became too painful to take. I found a desolate, unlit street off the Rue Buffon and squeezed between two dumpsters. On my first day back in France, I was reduced to pissing like a bum.

Somehow, finally, five o'clock came. The first buses of the day were running again and a pallid blue hue started to peek through the black. We hoisted our backpacks back on and walked halfway to the station before we found the right bus. The few other passengers looked bleary-eyed and adrift. When we got to the Gare St. Jean, a man was twisting a coat hanger to steal chips from a vending machine. Bums in defeated winter jackets were pawing through trash cans. At least it was warmer here, I tried to convince myself.

Vince and I took refuge in the sale d'attente, or waiting room, with the other anxious travelers. I tried to get some sleep with my bag clenched between my legs but I was too nervous. I looked enviously at the man in the center of the room. He was lying with his face down on the floor, so still and straight and oblivious to the thundering noises of rumbling trains and slamming doors that I thought he might be dead. It was then that I realized what had happened: I was trapped in the middle of a Tom Waits song.

I ended up sleeping in paranoid half-hour intervals, more out of need than desire at this point. Then eventually, the ordeal had ended and we made our grateful return to the hostel. By now, the sun was shining and I was too numb to feel too bad. When we arrived at Hotel Studio, we even got the good news that we wouldn't be charged for the previous night. Still, I felt that Bordeaux would have to work pretty hard to undo its earlier slight.

I took a nap and ventured out to see the town. To my delight, it was not only well worth the trip but turned out to be my favorite stop on the trek thus far. Filled with shops and bistros, galleries and wine shops, I was utterly disarmed by its charming and unassuming allure.It felt like a modest neighborhood of Paris without the tourists or the city's accelerated pace. It wasn't centered around landmarks, souvenirs or double-decker buses. It just was what it was, an enchanting, relaxing ville in the heart of wine country.

For lunch, I found a Champion supermarket and roamed the aisles. I ended up with a baguette, a jar of store brand Nutella knockoff and, in the interest of recovery, a bottle of fresh-pressed clementine juice and some bananas. It had been ages since I'd had the silky brown chocolate-hazelnut spread and I'd forgotten how decadently good it was. After lunch and some MTV Europe and then a dinner of more Nutella and bread, I ventured back out to explore the town again, which I still couldn't get enough of.


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