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Monpellier & Perpignan, 13 - 14 of December 2019.

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 Montpellier and departure

...I drank a shot of whiskey again before going to bed, only this time I was charged for it.  I smoked a cigarette  or two and fell asleep, feeling the complete absence of the passionate female sighs from the next room that had helped me to fall sleep the night before...

In the morning I decided to visit the center of Montpellier and play somewhere in the streets. I didn’t know where yet, but I decided to scout the situation so I was hoping to find the right place. By then I was already using a French SIM card, so I was guided by a real digital GPS. I found a parking lot in the center and met a beautiful Frenchwoman with dreadlocks who explained me how to pay for parking. I put my djembe on my shoulder and walked closer to the center, to the Place de la Comedie, according to the GPS. There were crowds of people on the streets and in the square. A Romani band was playing gypsy swing in the middle of the square. I gave them 1 €  (you’ll understand why I’m pointing this out later on...).

I was still looking for a place suitable for street music and soon found it - there was a small square where the pedestrian zone met the road in the form of a roundabout, with a lot of people walking by, but with no noise from motor vehicles. This narrow city center reminded me of many other European cities, but somehow especially of Rijeka. It had a similar construction style. It's just that there aren't as many bums-drunks-drug addicts in Rijeka like there are in Montpellier. Thank God! A large number of them were sitting or standing and asking for money in front of the supermarket across the tram station, right there in the Comedy Square, in the very center of the town. Other, supposedly "normal" people hurriedly passed emotionless and ignored everything that was happening. Even the Romani band, that played extremely well, failed to gain the attention of passers-by, but it seemed to me that they didn't really care too much about it either.

A gypsy band that played at the Comedy Square in Montpellier.
A gypsy band that played at the Comedy Square in Montpellier.

I finally settled in and started playing - it was my first street performance on this trip. I didn’t feel very confident, but I still played. There were still a lot of people of different profiles passing in front of me - some stopped, some even danced, others winked and nodded approvingly, but no one put any money in my bag - that was really weird to me. In the end, a lady came very close and stood next to me, praised me and gave me € 1 - the “same" one that I gave to the band. What I had "invested" returned to me! I found that to be interesting. I soon picked up my stuff, and headed back to the car. On the way back I stopped for falafel at a nearby Arabic fast food restaurant. I love falafel! Soon after finishing the falafel I sat in my red dragon and rode on towards Perpignan and Barcelona...

On the road to Perpignan I passed through several towns and quite a few villages. I also picked up my first  BlaBlaCar passenger - a young Moroccan - and that’s one interesting detail, since my final destination was exactly Morocco. Unfortunately, we were unable to establish any communication because he only spoke French and didn’t know any English, while the opposite applied to me. I picked him up in Beziers or Narbonne and drove him to Perpignan where he just got out of the car without paying me - and it was a very awkward gesture that just kind of hit me. Here I am again, doing a good deed and being taken advantage of, but what I didn't know then that in a "developed"  country like France, even BlaBlaCar payments are made digitally via the app! So I felt like I was tricked, and yet I wasn’t because the money appeared on my account 2-3 days later. Still, I was overwhelmed by that negative feeling - the feeling of a deceived man.

Perpignan and Rivesaltes

There was also traffic chaos in Perpignan and I felt stressed. I could hardly wait to get to the accommodation and rest. I was hosted by a family through AirBNB in Rivesaltes. At first glance, they seemed like very pleasant hosts, but the house and yard were quite a mess. The yard was covered in various junk, and other tenants lived there as well. The kitchen was messy and smelled bad. The room I slept in had a distinct smell as well, but it could be solved easily by opening the window. The room and the bed were clean, as was the bathroom that I shared with the other tenants. I was hoping for a good Wi-Fi connection, because France is a "first world Western European country", however, it was far from that, even though the ad said it was a given! In the evening I tried to find a bar with a good internet connection where I could work on this project and fulfill my commitment to my sponsors, but I couldn’t even find that! The town-village of Rivesaltes was about the size of Lovran, Croatia, and the old town was very beautiful - it reminded me of one of our coastal towns, but I found our towns to be more beautiful! (When I write "our", it means Croatian - cause I was born, raised & still living in Croatia.)

And just when I wanted to start cursing the French and all those supposedly "developed countries", I came across two young people - native French, who spoke English. They were standing on the street in front of their office, drinking wine and smoking cigarettes. It was Friday. I approached them and said something like, "Excuse me, do you know if there's a bar where I can use Wi-Fi?", And they responded unanimously with a clear "No!" . I asked them if I could join them for a cigarette and at least chat a bit. The cigarette was  just an excuse to hang out, but it turned out it was interesting and exotic for them to meet a Croat on such a "suicidal" mission - an expedition.

Why suicidal ?! Well, I was 33 years old - Jesus' age - and if I survive this "pilgrimage", I will rise from the ashes, to be reborn like a Phoenix!

And here, at that moment, the positive started to seep into the negative. Just when I thought that everything was shit and how the French are total idiots, something wonderful happened: two young Frenchmen in the middle of nowhere pouring me a glass of wine and accepting my invitation to stay with them. In fact, I rudely invite myself to places and to women’s beds quite often - and lo and behold: they accept, like they have to... But I am immensely grateful for that!

But we must also not forget that the negative also penetrates the positive: just when you think that everything is fine, God slaps you in the face! Life is dynamic in this dimension. It has its amplitudes. It's going up and then down again. However, I still believe that you can stay higher or lower, depending on what you like, but there is no straight line - because a straight line means you are dead. If you are going up - you can always go higher; if you are going down - you can always go lower!

It was Friday the 13th. I asked them if anything was going on in this godforsaken place, and they burst out laughing, "Certainly not here, but in Perpignan, maybe." There was a full Moon that night too, but also some kind of eclipse, and the Frenchwoman gave me her phone to talk to some guy because there was a Full Moon Party nearby, but it was cloudy and a storm was brewing so you couldn’t quite see the moon. Still, I was glad to hear that the French care about Natural Celestial Phenomena like I do. I didn’t quite understand what the guy was telling me over the phone. I decided to go to bed. We said goodbye, I thanked them for the hospitality and went home.

My GPS didn't work again. Leaving my room, I was convinced  that I would easily find my Airbnb again. But that didn’t happen. To my general astonishment, I wandered through the streets of that modern suburb for another 45 minutes. There was some kind of Olympic stadium near my address and I knew I was close all the time, but I couldn't find my address. I drove back and forth, like a maniac. The rain was pouring, thunder crashing, a strong wind blowing, there was no one in the streets. I’m feeling mad and unnerved - I’m cursing the pro-American style of architecture where everything looks the same - all the houses are identical, like clones... and then they tell you an individual should stand out in that capitalist shit?! Are you fucking kidding me?! In socialism and planned economy, which some call "communism", the individual wasn’t given any importance and identical suburbs were built as well, only stylistically a little different, but we stupid Croats don’t know how to appreciate Tito's Yugoslavian legacy which is also the legacy of our grandparents & parents, with its style being almost identical to the American style in appearance, while its quality is probably much better! If nothing else, it manages to withstand earthquakes and storms unlike the American architecture. That is how stupid Croats are. We always think foreign is better - even if it really isn't!

 Professor Zdenko Cerović taught me a very important thing at my university: "If you don't appreciate yourself, no one else will appreciate you!" So you are free to choose: to be stupid poor people who feel sorry for themselves or to be proud of the legacy of your parents and grandparents who did all that for us because they thought and believed they were doing the best they could, and they did do the best they could in the given time and space!

I could hardly wait to leave that house and that godforsaken place which was Rivesaltes in the so-called "developed" France, but still, that little town gave me refuge in the storm, its inhabitants showed me hospitality and I at least got some rest and gathered strength to be able to continue driving. I decided to arrive to Barcelona that day.

Something wasn't right in that house. I felt something weird, but I couldn't figure out what it was... I was preparing dinner in that smelly, dirty kitchen and chatting with the hostess - a nice, older, plump woman -  I could barely understand her because of course she didn’t speak any other language apart from French. She told me that she had a sick mother to take care of, and I could only understand something like "cerebral..." while she was preparing dinner for her. After a few moments she introduced her mother to the kitchen while I was still chewing the last bites of my dinner. The moment the old woman entered the kitchen, I felt a horrible, stale, blinding stench of urine and almost vomited everything I had eaten until then, but since I had witnessed all sorts of nasty perversions in my life, and this was one of the worst, I still managed to remain calm and composed, and above all - polite - the way "my" parents and grandparents raised me or, I could say - programmed me - maybe just according to the same French "etiquette" ?! Or was it a Slavic tradition after all -  enduring adversity?!  Is it French "etiquette" to keep a sick mother soiled for days or weeks and still collect a nice fat disability check from the state, and not really care at all?! I have never seen something like this anywhere in the Balkans!!! This bordered on abuse! But who cares if it’s an old woman who is mentally ill anyway, so she doesn't care that she stinks of urine, or maybe even enjoys it?! We will most probably never find out.

Along with the fragrant stimuli, the old woman's visual appearance was horrible: her remaining teeth were parted and protruded out of her mouth almost horizontally, and the look from her crystal blue eyes unveiled a tortured Soul, bound by a decrepit Body and a damaged Mind. She was grabbing everything she saw frantically and stuffed her mouth trying to chew on anything in her way. Her gaze was insane, but at the same time seemingly painful, like she wanted to end her agony, somehow in a semi-conscious manner... I soon fled to my room that didn’t smell any more, thank God, but unfortunately I had forgotten something in the kitchen so I had to come back to witness the old woman eating some risotto with her hands. Rice was everywhere, on her hands and elbows, and it fell out of her mouth and of course, stayed there scattered on the table.

I didn't comment on anything, I didn't turn my thoughts into words, even though they rushed to my brain and they needed to be heard out loud. I was just watching. I thought that it didn't concern me, that it wasn't "my" cross to bear... I climbed the stairs back to my room and soon went to the town center  where I met the two young Frenchmen from the other night. When I returned home after a pleasant time in the center of Rivesaltes and getting lost in the suburbs, I was so tired I could barely muster the strength to brush my teeth. I  went to bed and immediately fell asleep. I moved on in the morning, but I will tell you more about that in the next episode, when I finally arrive in Barcelona and my trip finally starts to look like I hoped it would!

”Barcelona in the palm of your hand” - a view of Barcelona from one of the nearby hills. I will tell you more about Barcelona in the following sequels.
"Barcelona in the palm of your hand" - a view of Barcelona from one of the nearby hills. I will tell you more about Barcelona in the following sequels.

During my stay in Perpignan and Rivesaltes I didn’t take any photos at all. I was stressed out because of everything that was happening so I didn’t feel like taking any photos at all. That’s why this episode doesn’t have many suitable photos. That will change for the better in the following sequels.

Until next time! Follow me and thanks for reading!

Yours sincerely,

Nikica Karas

Translated from Croatian to English by: Jasna Legović

Silver sponsor – Gole Sport

Bronze sponsor – Čisto Čišće d.o.o.

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