When I Owned Poitiers


Food and the Starry Night

After carefully checking for dog shit, Etienne and I set up our tents on a piece of lawn next to the statue of St Mary. Under the statue there was a terrace, on which one could see the whole city lit up, like a piece of starry night on earth. We ate basically all the food we had, half a baguette from La Rochelle, two tomatoes from Limoges, a raw onion from Turin, three energy bars from Maryland and 4 olives from Lithuania.

Me: Lithuania? Man, how did they end up here?
Etienne: Oh, I met a German hitchhiker in northern Italy. He had too many olives. He was in Lithuania before hitchhiking all the way to Italy. He did much dumpster diving in Lithuania and ended up with way too many olives. He had a small stove. We had tomatoes with olives, smashed potatoes with olives, ham with olives and grilled olives. We even invented grilled paprika stuffed with olives! It tasted really good! But even after that, he still had too many olives, so I exchanged olives with my tomatoes.
Me: WOWO! I also tried to do dumpster diving while in La Rochelle. Nope! It did not work. I roamed around the city like a ghost after dark for hours and could not find anything useful except a French-English dictionary published 27 years ago.
Etienne: Germany! Go to Germany! It is the best place in Europe for dumpster diving!

We enjoyed our meal with the blessing of St Mary and Jesus and with the enchanting view of the whole city dotted by starry lights.

At night when we were already asleep in our tents, there was a roaring of a car near us. That was the thing about tents. It was not really sound proof. I always suspected something would happen around my tent. I awoke and charged out of my tent with an iron fist and a kitchen knife. Then I saw this group of party people with champagnes in their hands laughing and drinking. They just got out of their car. They looked properly drunk. It seemed to them that our tents were invisible. There were 3 girls and 2 guys. They were mumbling like drunk people should do. One of them pointed to the statue and proposed that they all climb the statue to kiss Mary and Jesus. Immediately all of them, girls with their high-heels and short skirts and guys with their suits all started climbing over the fences. It was a joy to see how they failed again and again. One after one, they all ended up lying on the lawn nearby our tents. I tried to wake them up and asked if they needed any help, you know, maybe they needed mouth to mouth artificial respiration.

Just kidding. They were dead as mud.



It is interesting to see different cities have different traditions for ‘what crazy things we can do when we get drunk’. In Copenhagen, the drunk teenagers would party all night and early morning they go to the statue of the Little Mermaid, jump into the cold water, swim to the statue and hug it. In Essen, Germany there is a big tree in the city. When people get drunk they would grab some bikes from the street and hang them up in this tree. In Leiden, the Netherlands the drunk students would jump into the dirty canals which were filled with garbage of all kinds.

When I woke up again in the early morning, the drunk youth were long gone and Etienne was still asleep like dead, without hearing anything from last night.

The sun was already up, shining over the Gothic old town and the blue river. It was a beautiful morning, In my mind I could smell the strawberries and camembert of the farmers’ market in the city center, which was about 3 km away. Yes, I had developed a dog nose overnight, after seeing so much dog shit, an essential problem of France.

Just as in Italy the mafia, in Spain the rife unemployment presented the most formidable challenges to the governments, in France it was the ubiquitous dog shit which gave the administration huge headaches. One municipality even imposed obligatory DNA registration upon all the dogs in the city and any unregulated dog shitting would be severely punished. In other places the mayors would swear to tackle the economic recession or the political crisis, but here the mayor swore to rid all the dog shits on the street.

Oh France.



Living on the Road

‘I plan to reach Germany by hitchhiking today!’ He told me excitedly when we were having the gorgeous view and the smell of grass for breakfast.

Me: Seriously? That is like 800 km from Poitiers!
He: Yes! No problem! I have my secret trick!
Me: What? You are going to dress as a woman?
He: No! That trick is too old. Mine is better! I am going to buy some chocolates and then write on my board ‘Please give me a ride. I have chocolates!’


He was young, about 20 years old and still enthusiastic.

My destination would be Paris, which was only 340 km away, but I would like to visit Tours, Orleans, Chartres, Angers, Bourges, Versailles and so on along the way, so God knew when I would arrive in Paris. I had a destination but I had no destination. My destination was just what my heart told me in the morning. This was the shinning essence of FREEDOM.

Now, my heart told me I was hungry, so I had better go to get some grocery.

I parted with Etienne at the bridge on Clain river. The city was still quiet. Even the cathedral gate was still firmly closed. I walked three streets and saw two people. I felt Poitiers at 7 AM belonged to me and me alone. Some birds were chirping along the river and the smell of flowers teased my nostril with fresh morning air. I felt that moment was the most precious treasure of my life. All the things in this world, no matter how difficult, suddenly seemed all possible at that moment.

When I was done with grocery on the farmers’ market and finished visiting the cathedral, it was already 9 AM. I walked across the city to find a better location for hitchhiking.

There was a statue of liberty in the town center, much smaller than the one in New York. The narrow streets lined with cute houses were charming as icecreams, sweetly melting under the warm sun.

No one would mind walking in such a fascinating place. Along the road there were parks, rivers, cute cabins with unlocked gates and thriving shrubs. If the whole road to Paris looked like this, I would stop hitchhiking and just walk to Paris.

I noticed in the shrubs down a cliff there were some red dots shinning. I ran across the motorway and found those lovely wild red fruits. It seemed clear to me that they were brutally neglected! What a crime! So I gave them full attention and ate as many as possible. And took some. And took more. Until I could not carry anymore.

The first driver offered to drive me to the highway entrance and said that would be the best spot. According to my experience he was totally right.

I stood at the best spot near the highway entrance and waited for hours. Yes, hours…… By then I already realized that hitchhiking in France was not easy so I did not go mad. I was prepared. It soon became hot. I knew that I had waited too long when my fruits were so heated that they tasted cooked. I had the impulse to put a pan on the ground and start frying eggs, but I did not have eggs, so I did not do that.

The driver who finally took me was a rough road worker. When I entered his small pickup truck, his smelly foot was hanging on the windshield, pretending to be a windshield wiper. He did not say a word and simply with his chin signed me to sit down.

I thought he was going to remain silent the whole way. No, soon he started to be very talkative, especially when I asked him about his family. This simple guy loved his wife. They lived together happily. A few days ago he just came back from a holiday. He and his girlfriend, his boss and his girlfriend went to Italy together, staying in the summer house of his boss.

He: ‘Could you tell me how to say “you are so beautiful” in Chinese?’
I laughed and told him and he said that on his phone to his girlfriend.
He: ‘Could you tell me how to say “you are so sexy” in Chinese?’
I did and again he said that on his phone to his girlfriend. His pronunciation was terrible so I offered to say it to her girlfriend myself.

Have you ever been involved in phone pranks? In Europe I did not encounter that much but in Near East and Middle East many of my drivers would conspire with me to make fun of their friends. One time in Turkey, two guys picked me up on the way to Van. They were in a happy mood. They had a friend Ahmed who was in the business of import & export. They asked me to call this friend and tell him that I was interested in buying some construction material from him and I would give a very favorable price. They taught me a swearing Turkish word — bok which meant shit and tell me in the end of the phone call I should say happily that ‘Thanks for your cooperation Ahmed! I know a word in Turkish to say people are smart. You are such a bok!’ So I did and they could not stop laughing.

When we were waiting in front of a roadwork, he recognized the car of his boss in front and jumped out of his pickup truck to say hi and then quickly jumped back into his own vehicle.

He took a road normally he would not take so I could get nearer to my destination. I was dropped at a crossroad in the edge of a small town. The moment we got there we saw another hitchhiker already waiting there, in a different direction and the driver took him along. Smooth!

I looked around. This place were essentially farm lands, with some irrigating fountains spreading water everywhere. It was high time to cool down my fruits with it.

To be continued





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