Part I Ric
Chapter 1, March, Los Angeles
Somewhere summer light was falling over the days. Long glorious days. The southern cities: Buenos Aires, Coolangata, Bali. They were bathing in the gold of it. Girls were laughing off the hours. In the northern hemisphere it was winter and I was in LA daydreaming through the evenings under a blanket of rain. I’d been daydreaming too much lately. I was reading a love story, thinking: what I wouldn’t to do fall in love.
She came in and we argued about it but not really. She was exhausted from twelve-hour shifts. “Really?” was all she had said before she went to the kitchen to make a can of soup. “That’s what you’re going to do with your money?” My heart already gone.
I felt bad though I should not have. I’d always dreamed of traveling. Adventure really. I could not keep the smile from coming. This being the last step: telling someone goodbye. She nodded at me. And I went off to sleep or read, I wasn’t going to sleep.
In LA it seems spring will always come but not this year.
I was twenty. Two hundred and thirty-eight books were in stacks against the walls of my room. These were secret trophies. Forty-seven non-fiction. All their spines were broken, worn. Marks of a childhood spent alone.
Halfway through my second year at Santa Monica City College, with plans to study business and economics so I could make a lot of money, I planned a trip for the summer. I had scraped and saved hard over the past few years. I could have used that money for a car, school, my own apartment, practical things.
If my life was a river then it was time to cut into a new channel. I’d had a thousand fantasies lately of traveling through Europe and finding a wild job or a foreign woman, and waking up rich on the Mediterranean ten years later. There had been a tumultuous stirring in me for a few years now, to see and do more than school, I felt some piece of me would die if I did not go.
Europe is a dream.
Chapter 4, May, Paris
Paris. I wandered under a streaming sun, a clear endless sky: Monet’s Water Lillies, the bateaux mouches, crepes, Picasso, Dumas, locks on the Pont de l’Archevêché, the Champs Elysees, the Louvre, the Luxembourg Gardens. It was a chilling day, a cold beautiful day, a day moving through history.
I was on the right bank of the Seine watching the people move past the bookstalls, the water move under the bridges, and the birds of the city head to the sky. Over the hours I had been thinking Europe was a beautiful place but I was sure there was more to it than that. That it was not just a movie backdrop. I’d brought vague expectations of adventure but there was an unexpected emptiness to the place. I did not plan on the loneliness, the way it had opened up in me over three near silent weeks.
As I wandered in the late afternoon, the pale golden rays of the soft European sun cast down a sumptuous glow over the buildings and the streets. Sunlight trickled like unsettled dust onto all the people while the incandescent bulbs of the shops struggled to be more radiant. It was the land of a thousand waning eves. The flow of Parisians appearing on the streets at dusk was like an incoming tide, growing every minute. There was a beauty to the flow of anonymous faces. A few gleaming girls caught my eye. It was a luxurious city, a stream full of silver fish. Everything in this world felt already owned.
It was amazing and I was done with it all. I was even thinking maybe I should save money and go home. I was tired of staring in at life, not being a part of it. Angry. Ha! I could have done this anywhere. Three weeks of silence. I had talked to no one. It seemed as though the cities had welcomed me yet held me at the door. A dog invited to the stoop of a kitchen for a scrap but beaten if a step was taken inside. The brilliance of the light in this city was staggering.
Later, with nothing else to do I came into the Latin Quarter and strolled over to the Boulevard Saint-Germain. At a place called Café de Flore, the lights were coming through the glass, same as this century or the last, the waiters were dressed up in black pants and white long-sleeved shirts, with their hair slicked back. Two young guys and a girl were sitting at a table outside with a pile of food and drinks as if they had sailed away the hours there.
The crowd swept me by them but I could hear their American accents – there was heated chatter as if they were coming off a ride. The girl was outrageously pretty, a slender olive-skinned brunette, one of those girls that makes you hold your breath for a second, or longer. She was playing with one of the guy’s hands up on the table the way you cradle something lucky to you.
Perhaps I was unhappy at their advantages. I crossed the street and kept walking then stopped, went back, and sat down next to them.
“Are you alone?” They suddenly asked.
“Yeah.” I couldn’t help but smile.
“Pull a chair over.”
They ordered me a drink, we introduced ourselves, and they were friendlier than I had anticipated.
After a few beers they recounted to me all they had done that spring. Then they gave me explanations of the brioche, the saucisson, a kir vin blanc, a whole secret history of Europe, if only France.
Finally, the topic turned to me. I felt my heart slow down till it seemed as though it might seize. The ache of my throat was intense. Regret, bitter and undiluted, was coursing through me.
“You? How have the travels gone?”
“Me?” I asked. What had I done? I skipped over the chilling lonely hours. Regret over wasted money. I even tried to talk my time up a bit.
“Any good parties? Cool people or any adventures? Or girls?” Evan, the one with the girl, smiled at me.
“Not really.” I felt like now I was confessing. As if I had committed a crime! And I knew I had.
“No? Really?” He couldn’t believe it. They couldn’t believe it.
“A girl.” The girl chipped in. “You’re cute. Don’t be shy.”
I looked over and she looked at me with sparkling eyes. I felt the words run through me.
“That’s what makes traveling so enjoyable. Party, explore, but you have to meet people.”
“Biarritz.” The other guy said. “You are a surfer you said. Right? Why wouldn’t you go there?” He asked me. “I bet you’d like it there. Sounds like you are making things hard on yourself. The waves are everywhere.”
I don’t know if it was the light falling out of the sky or my second drink or what.
“Go.” They all said.
That night I was on the train. Eager, nervous, it would be the last of my money. It was supposed to be a crazy adventure. You have no idea how badly I was hoping something would happen and I had no idea what. All you have to do is talk to people, you have only yourself to blame.
The train ran into the darkness. Eventually, somewhere I fell asleep.
Chapter 6, May, Biarritz
It was early in the morning and the whitewashed beach town and the cool tiny streets were slowly coming alive, the waiters were sweeping away the sand from the day before. The beach, just east of the Grande Plage, called Anglet, smelled of fresh ocean air. I rented a board from a small surf shop. The water was warm and the waves were pretty good so I paddled out and surfed for a few hours.
By midmorning the sand was golden in the sun, shockingly full of sun-bathers, the men in speedos, the women topless. Summer had kick-started days ago and I saw so many pretty French girls as I walked up on to the sand I thought I was in heaven. So they, Evan and Adrianna were right and I decided I did not want to leave.
Summer. There are days we pray it never ends.