Tuesday, July 24, 2012

L'oeil du Faucon

Yesterday's post jogged my memory about an incident that happened while in France. It has little to do with food, but more to do with the incredible generosity many people have towards travelers.

My friends and I had stepped off a ferry from Dover, England onto Calais, France. We had taken the last boat into France, expecting everything to still be open. Sadly, everything was closed. Cafes, train and bus stations, even hotel lobbies were locked up. And no one would speak English. There weren't a lot of people around in the first place, but everyone we approached looked the other way and said, "Non!"

We started wandering in the city. It was about 10 o'clock at night. Dark. We were supposed to meet the people we were staying with that night in Versaille, which was still several hours away via train. Finally we saw a couple walking towards us. I mustered up what little French I knew at the time and asked if they spoke English.

"A little" the guy said with a thick accent.

We borrowed his mobile and called the people who were waiting for us. Our to-be hosts asked where we were going to stay that night. The hotels were closed. There were no hostels. We were going to camp in the park. We didn't really have another choice.

But the guy who owned the phone heard our plans. When Laura hung up he told us that there were gangs and drug dealers roaming the city at night. He said that if we fell asleep with our backpacks, we would wake up in the morning without them. We would be robbed, and most likely knived before dawn.

So what should we do?

"Come back to our place with us" he said. "We don't have much, but there's a couch that folds out. It's a little dirty, but it's safer than the park."

So we walked to the couple's flat. It's true, they didn't have much. They had a dog and two white rats. They had oulets in the walls, but no lights. They kept the computer plugged in so we could listen to music. Their fridge had some bread and a bit of alcohol. There was a bathroom, but there wasn't a door on it. Everyone just had to look the other way when someone was using the facilities. The entire place was littered with cigarette butts.

We stayed up extremely late talking as much as we could. He had better English than she did, but they both tried. We did too. Laura had better French than the rest of us, so we stuck to the basics. Listen to music and smile at each other. Nodding to indicate that the band currently playing is good.

We found out that they were not renting the space, which is probably a good thing considering it wouldn't have meet the lowliest codes. They knew the guy who owned the building, and he was letting them squat while he renovated it. Neither of them worked. They had finished high school and were trying to figure out what to do with their lives.

The next morning they were both gone. They left the dog and rats, but they had shipped out. They must have gotten up early. It was about 9 when we rolled out of bed to an empty apartment. We were still rubbing the sleep out of our eyes when the door opened. They had gone out to get croissants and orange juice for breakfast. I couldn't figure out how, but they scrounged enough to buy it for us.

Then they asked how we were planning on getting to the train station. We were on a backpacking trip, so we assumed we would walk.

"Non non non! It is too far. You cannot walk. We have a car. We will drive you."

Their car didn't start. They went to the street and flagged someone down so they could get a jump. It took about half an hour, but they finally got the thing running, and we were off to the station.

As we were saying our goodbyes, we offered our friends money. They would have none of it. Before we left, the guy came up to me and gave me a small polished stone with a line in the middle.

He said, "This is called 'l'oeil du faucon.' Keep it with you and it will bring you luck on your travels."

I still have that stone today.

Traveling can be stressful at times, but my favorite part is meeting the people who will go above and beyond what is asked of them. We asked to borrow a cell phone. We got a place to sleep, breakfast, a ride to the station and a token of friendship. The world has genuinely good people in it. Finding them isn't hard.

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