There were some bumps on the flight, but they served me some sparkling water and it was a smooth landing in Bristol. As I approached the customs desk, my mask and snorkel fell out of my backpack (I think I mentioned that I had to hastily reduce the weight of my baggage in La Rochelle? That included putting all my books and snorkeling equipment in my carry-on). I picked them up and carried them to the customs agent, who told me I needed to have filled out landing card.
A few minutes later I walked out to the main concourse and thought about stopping to put my snorkel and mask away. Nah… Enchanted by the absurdity of walking out to meet Matt and his family with snorkel à la main. Matt and his family and girlfriend were waiting in the lobby. I shook Steve’s hand and he asked me if I’d had to swim from France. I raised my snorkel hand slightly and told him that I just wanted to be prepared just in case god forbid.
I wasn’t sure whether to shake hands with the ladies or give them one kiss on each cheek like in France. I think I did the latter with Matt’s mother Sue. Two years of meeting new people of different nationalities had left me confused about what to do with whom. French do the two kiss thing (the bise), British people… shake hands? Finally, Matt introduced his petite amie, Hannah.
My hangover resurfaced upon landing, just in time for the car ride to the restaurant. As that battery acid taste crept into the corners of my mouth I started to worry that I’d have to ask Steve to pull over. What a first impression. Well, I’m sure he’d understand. Still.
Monday morning, I awoke early in the morning and decided to go back to sleep. Reawakening a few hours later. I submitted three photos to a National Geographic photo contest.
We went to the vet’s office that morning. I am leaving most of this one unexplained.
Welsh is a fantastic language. The vowels are round and the consonants scrape past the sides of the tongue in a way that doesn’t sound like any other language I’ve heard. You don’t hear much Welsh in Wales: Apparently the largest percentage of fluent Welsh speakers is kids aged 12 and down. The Government of Wales is trying to establish a revival in the language, which is being met with, as far as I can tell, tepid enthusiasm.
Still the Welsh accent is the most gorgeous thing to happen to English.
Later on, we went to the local Botanical Gardens and my camera ran out of batteries. So, we decided to sojourn to Verdi’s; an ice cream shop, and a Mumbles institution.
Mumbles is a seaside town just next to Swansea. Hometown of Catherine Zeta-Jones. At Verdi’s we had some tea, ice cream and a milk shake and I plugged my camera battery into a wall outlet.
Wednesday night out on Swansea. An evening that was destined to emerge later on in hazy pieces at random moments. Not from the drinking. Just the disorienting, improvisational way we lived it. I didn’t really drink that much. But it was raining and I remember covering my head because it’s my deeply held conviction that when the rain smoothes my hair down against my head I look bald. Ing. Otherwise let the rain come.
I had to get to an ATM. Out into the rain, back into the pub.
“Where is it again?” I asked Hannah. She told me.
There was a dickish guy with an impossible accent to place in line behind me while I held an umbrella for another guy… Polish? Maybe. His friend was asking everyone where we were from, or I thought ‘everyone’ until I turned to see two girls under an umbrella, figures in my quick glance made blurs of pink, black, and fishnet. Just as well, I remember thinking. I don’t want to have the conversation about why a Floridian is here in Wales.
Later on, exhausted at the bar. I hadn’t seen Matt for a while… Glancing around, I saw him standing with Hannah by the bar. As I write this, I feel the cold stab of remorse that I didn’t give him any shit about that – disappearing for… however long. The truth was, I might have done the same, and I didn’t mind. Still… I missed an opportunity. Anyway, Matt: Here’s the shit I should’ve given you.
Honestly though, I was content to sit and cast my eyes around the bar and out the window. I was tired. The bar seats were so high that you had to jump to get on them, and the table was so far from the stool that to lean across the chasm between seat and table to rest your head in your arms left you in danger of falling if you fell asleep. I leaned back against the chair and looked out the window, grateful for a lot of things: To Matt’s parents for putting me up and feeding me, to Matt and Hannah for showing me around Swansea, to Matt’s mates for coming out (although I gather that if they hadn’t come out for my last night they’d have found an occasion). Outside, women walked like weary refugees through the rain in that ungraceful plodding tip-toe that announces a lady in heels. Their skirts and hair clung to them. The effect was comical. Out hiccoughs a laugh: The rain is making a mockery of your designs on grace and sexiness. Still, it makes me cower beneath my jacket, anxiously shielding my scalp from public view. What are you gonna do?
Steve picked us up just before two… what a mensch. We stood around chatting for a few minutes, then the bus pulled up. I went right away to put away my suitcase under the bus so I could stand around for a few more minutes, but the bus driver let me know I should board immediately. Shit. Hasty goodbyes from Matt’s friends… it was really fucking good of them to come out. Then Matt and I were standing there, like last year in Saintes, neither quite prepared for the goodbye. Oh well… Mec, it was real, and we seriously have to do this again. In America. Seriously.
It was a long ride, but mercifully I was able to sleep through most of it. The next morning, I did some things I’m not proud of, and I took to the air only an hour or so late. That was the end of my European adventure.