Dressed Right For A Beach Fight: Or, I Just Can’t Explain Why That Uncertain Feeling Is Still Here In My Brain

travel & adventure

If I had the creative capacity or sheer willpower to write a novel, it would surely be set in Brighton on a summer’s day in June, early in the month of course. It would be set amongst the tourists and tramps, the students and hipsters and hipster students, the former hippies and contemporary pacifists, the tattooed gentlemen and body-pierced ladies of distinction, and the soon-to-be married manchild dressed as a parrot from the waist up.

What better feast for the senses than a stroll through such an environ? Commonplace shops share the street space with the most idiosyncratic and delightful storefronts as undulating waves of the most colourful cast of characters reality has to offer meander on by. Some walk with purpose, others seem lost and in a dream. One and all have come to see and be seen, to slake their thirst with a pint of local ale or a whiff of the sea breeze, or to simply to let their freak flag fly.

That all sorts find themselves drawn to this jewel of the South Coast is a gift from far, far above. God has a stoner side – a simple fact, and I dare you to proffer an objective objection. The gift given is a vibe, an essence difficult to define, even harder to tear oneself away from, and nearly impossible to find elsewhere – in Toronto, to wit, but also in the rest of Josef Camerin’s United Nationalist Kingdom.

The origin of this ineffable aura surely has its roots in the alternative history of the place, but it maintains itself through a hitherto aversion to and evasion of development in the way a major city tends to understand the word. Most buildings in Brighton are two- to four-storey constructs, be they venerable pubs, historic houses of correction, or simple places of residence. The hotels rise taller along the beachfront but are no monstrosities – rather their whitewashed facades give the coastal walk that distinctly British seaside appearance. Pure Quadrophenia, you see.

Be it the bustling Lanes or the modern-day 1920’s bar (complete with its midnight burlesque shows) this town is surely a backdrop for debauchery, adventure, and the most eccentric of encounters.

However, being located within the aforementioned United Nationalist Kingdom in the first quarter of this god-forsaken 21st century, the place is resplendent with the apparatus of conspicuous surveillance. Cameras, and perhaps drones posing as humans, are fortunate enough to have eyes on this whole scene – and from multiple angles! No doubt one need only splice together the highlights of these recordings to have footage far superior to and more entertaining than the majority of our “popular” television programs. But I digress; soon after what could very well be my final chance to ensconce myself in Brighton’s unpredictable splendour I received a most fitting sendoff.

Parallel to my most favourite stretch of the Lanes is a street I had inexplicably never stumbled upon until now. Rather than storefronts and pub patios this street seemed mostly residential, though these homefronts gave way to myriad vendors displaying their wares on collapsable tables or blankets spread over the pavement in a most inviting fashion. New and used books sat displayed, using the latter strategy, piquing my interest and – to my delighted surprise – that of more than a couple of other passers-by.

Rachel had progressed southward by now, but I made sure to peruse with a finer tooth comb the spot where I had found both an early copy of The Rum Diary and a rare Jim Morrison biography. This reassessment was interrupted by the words: “Sir, I have to show you my passport.” A tall, well-set gentleman in his late forties, with bearded chin and short-sleeve buttoned blue shirt had taken notice of my Zeppelin shirt. Here he had caught me by surprise, but it was only the beginning. Much to my astonishment, his passport  – from a country I took no note of, featuring first and last names I equally paid little attention to – proved this man’s legal middle name to be ‘Led Zeppelin.’

He went on to explain that he was on a motorcycle trip across Europe – for what else could this man possibly have been doing? He told me that before he set off he had resolved to show his passport and his back to the first individual he saw wearing a Zeppelin shirt – and now here I was, lucky Number One (apparently there are either no Zeppelin fans in Spain, or a handful of surreptitious ones.) He proceeded to unbutton his shirt and turned so that his back faced me, radiant with the Swan Song Records logo that matched my shirt – though far more detailed and permanent – and the logos of all the band members, also masterfully imprinted. This work of great detail covered his entire back. The magnitude of the work and the chance encounter through which it was revealed to me left me astonished, able to only eek out the words “Pretty impressive” as I stood marvelling at such megafandom.

The proprietor of the table next to the book blanket commented that this was just a standard Brighton event, confirming my exact thoughts. It was a scene that might look out of place anywhere but here, where the locale and surrounding instead provided the most appropriate setting for it to unfold. Based on the backstory given by the megafan this could all have unfolded anywhere our paths might have crossed. The truth is that it had to happen at this exact time and place, in the heart of Brighton.

Help, Help, I’m Being Repressed

revolution

‘Learn the rules so you know how to break them.’

These words, in this order adorn innumerable college dorm room walls, are plastered on myriad articles of adolescent clothing. The phrase constitutes the ethos of many a high-school student possessing little interest in their studies, though this type more often than not has their focus squarely on the “break the rules” segment.

Aimless defiance of societal norms and all sorts of authority, saying ‘no’ as a reflex natural as blinking dust away from the eyes is acceptable and expected – to a point. It is the default setting of most young men and likely just as many young girls, manifest in as many varieties as hairs on a Beatle’s head. 

There is nothing wrong with said behaviour, but eventually one must leave this aimless brand of defiance to the petulant children and identity-seeking teens whose domain it truly is, lest one be mistaken for either of those. At some point, ‘Learn the rules so you know how to break them’ must transform, must evolve. Indeed inexorably morph into: ‘Learn the rules so you know how to challenge them, to undermine them, to reshape them.’ Such transformation ideally takes place for all those who have embraced the original credo, though I would urge that a similar – but necessarily different – alteration in disposition take place for those rule-abiding golden children one sometimes encounters.

I place myself squarely in the Chomsky camp, in that I believe authority in each and every one of its forms bears the burden of justifying itself, rather than those under the coercion of that authority bearing the burden of demonstrably negating the legitimacy of that authority. Continuing to borrow from Chomsky, control by humans over human action and autonomy is almost always an unnatural phenomenon; therefore anyone – individual, group, or institution – claiming the right to exercise such extraordinary control must do so if and only if can be shown that here be a valid reason for doing so. If no such reason is forthcoming, that authority structure should as a matter of course crumble or be toppled and replaced.

Undoubtedly this opens up a Pandora’s Box, a debate over issues of indefinite perspectives and disagreements vis-a-vis what constitutes a “valid reason.” My only response, however inadequate, is that hashing out these varying perspectives and disagreements is far superior to not raising questions in the first place. That questioning of social arrangements is the responsibility of anyone who lives, or wishes to live, in an (ostensibly) democratic arrangement. To abdicate this responsibility is to accept existence as a follower, a sycophant, a robot.

The willingness to instigate such discussions and insistences on launching open challenges to power form the sine qua non of a truly free society. The possibility for such discussions only arises when we learn the rules so we know how to challenge them – for any legitimate challenge must be robust, convincing, and effective, and this is only possible when one starts from a point of knowledge of that which they are confronting. Far from being the purview of the mindless contrarian, proffering challenges to authority, in a learned manner, is the duty of every member of any putative democracy as well as every individual desiring a more fair and just society.

You need not ask where and when it is appropriate to speak truth to power as the answer is invariably as follows: HERE and NOW

Great Unexpectedations

travel & adventure

We arrived at the upstairs patio, a relatively anti-climatic scene. After all, this was the bar they call Hemingway’s – nevermind that Ernest had never nor would he ever would look favourably upon Toronto, nevermind that this bar’s patrons would balk at the invocation of his works. This bar, as I knew it, was the one that employed understatedly attractive waitresses and that, coincidentally or not, constituted a focal point in Yorkville – may its radical history rest in unattainable peace. Thus the anticipatory favourable first impression was overridden by jejune disappointment. A paltry ground-level patio gave way to a narrow staircase leading to the most standard of bars and another midsize outdoor space. The clientele would have to animate the place, steal the show, impress upon the observant’s mind. It did so in short order.

We took four-person table, awaiting one more, in the front right corner of the patio. A table of four and a proximate one of two occupied our left flank and they were deep in foreign conversation. I had been told more than once that this area was the Russian expat’s nighttime playground; earlier Rachel had casually noted that presence of many Russians near the previous bar. As I tried to eavesdrop on the nearby conversation I realized I had unwittingly wandered into the heart of the Third Plenum of the People’s Organized Crime Committee in Exile, but I pretended not to notice.

Directly in front of us a man was acting erratically. He haltingly found his way back to what had to have been his table, furtively downed some of his beer, and made off. He returned in the same unorthodox manner – seemingly on the run yet unexpectedly comfortable. He looked a man out of place here: anxious and uncertain and wiping off sweat, possibly the victim of one too many uppers. It was only a matter of time before he approached our table.

He led with a singular focus: my polo shirt. As per his introduction, he owned many of the finest designer shirts that contemporary slave labour could produce, but my plain white shirt with the denim collar piqued his interest. In an unwitting exchange I told him where he might find a similar one and he told us his life story, mercifully abbreviated. He was Serbian by birth – not surprising given we were in a shadow Soviet sphere – but came from a diplomatic family, thus speaking several languages while annually severing his ties with his friends, their names and faces lost to inexorable time. Against all preconceptions he was one of the most pleasant and interesting individuals I have spent less than five minutes in one-sided conversation with.

Our much-awaited charge then arrived, the volume of his arrival beguiling me, for surely he was a man drunk. That he was stone-cold sober confused me, but his prompt order of a pint of Steam Whistle –  in addition to the one we had waiting for him – coupled with his coy advocacy of tequila endeared him to me immediately. A lawyer by trade but a drinker at heart, there was no question that he was my people. We discussed the merits of a civil dispute over a parrot, and I promised to buy him a beer after he was released from the contempt of court in which he assured us he would soon find himself held. We quoted obscure sports coach’s tirades, swapped stories of rule-breaking conducted under the radar, bonded over our appreciation of strong beer in excessive quantities. He even procured for himself and me a couple of drinks a mere fifteen seconds before last call – though the accommodating nature of this inconspicuous bar likely played a role.

We kicked around some interesting topics, and some surely anathema to the Cause-No-Offence Universities we were familiar with. He regaled us with stories of his conservative Catholic bullshit-believing Serbian friend (“That wasn’t even a country twenty years ago!”) and that man’s inherent disagreement with homosexuals. I was assured he wouldn’t beat them up, he just didn’t agree with them, because he was an indoctrinated Yugo fuckwit – in the best way possible. I laughed uncomfortably, but not for the topic: the bar Rachel and I had previously sat at featured at least one heavily-accented Serbian, but probably two, at the next table over, and the bar we currently sat at featured several Soviets in close proximity, whose country also ceased to exist two decades ago but whose Orthodox Catholicism surly persisted. We were in what could quickly reveal itself to be hostile territory. These throwaway comments were fighting words if they passed through the right set of ears, to wit, those that sent all sounds received through a vodka filter en route to the brain.

I would – and still will – parlay the sense of impending doom these sorts of conversations created into something more interesting in short order. But for now we left the bar without incident and with bellies full of booze. About to part ways, our departure was delayed by our alcoholic litigator’s  insistence on hiring a taxi of questionable legality (we agreed they operated flawlessly in a gray area that shouldn’t and couldn’t exist much longer.) For the second night in a row I waited over ten minutes as an Uber cab was painstakingly ordered. Such is the state of my generation’s narcissism and technological idolatry, where ten or more minutes spent idling on a downtown street corner is preferable to thirty seconds on the phone with a human voice on the other end. To pass the time I watched at least fifteen licensed taxis pass us by. Surely I could have been home in the time I waited for this car. But then, the Uber shills on all the popular news sites had proactively assured me that I had passed up dirty, unsafe vehicles operated by insolent immigrants obsessed with talking on their phones, manifestations of an unseen taxi union-cartel monster bent on charging me an exorbitant price for the privilege of such a ride. I knew better. Conversely, the night previously I had had a flawless cab ride home and implored my driver, “Don’t take any shit from these Uber swine.” He laughed and appreciated the sentiment. However I chose not to force the issue this night, for after all I was being offered a free ride at the expense of the drunken embodiment of the people’s law.

I find myself sat with two major takeaways from this unexpectedly intoxicated evening: don’t take any shit from the Rede-und-Gedanken control crowd and don’t take any more from the Uber crowd; that is to say, don’t ever be swayed by the mob. Feed your head with your own ideas and never accept even the shiniest of substitutes.

Wind-Up

travel & adventure

I was somewhere around Bellville, on the edge of the city, when the drugs began to take hold.

I take artistic license, for Kingston isn’t actually a city, and alcohol is barely a drug. But I channel Hunter S. when I can and I certainly felt like doing a bit of that now.

The arrival at the train station was vaguely familiar. I had made the same approach as a naive student, a self-aware student, and once or twice as an intoxicated student on the cusp of insansity. I took a cab into the heart of the student ghetto; the driver was polite and chronically reticent. We did not share more than a polite hello, pay this, and have a good one – my kind of ride. This sort of right speech has always appealed to my inner Buddha, swim as he may upstream against a tide of liquid wrong action.

A wave of nostalgia flooded over me as I made this anodyne arrival. Thoughts careened between all the things I had done and seen here, and all of those that I hadn’t. Between the faces I’ll never remember and those I can’t (or won’t let myself) forget.

My accomadtion was a typical student house – both relatively shitty and reasonably livable – as any one that borders campus ought to be. I dropped my bags and settled atop the front steps of leprous bluegrey. Shielded by my Ray Bans and Red Sox cap I pulled out my half-read copy of The Rum Diary, settling firmly into this very distinctive and potentially destructive idiom that I had chosen.

During the school year this street – the aptly named University Avenue – bustles with a healthy mix of naive, aloof, ambitious, indifferent, narcissistic, and alcoholic individuals, each traversing his or her own bizarre path forward, maybe sideways, but rarely backwards. How else to describe those grasping at an undegratudate degree? To my anticapatory delight this July day provided me a retroactive respite from the stresses such a scene can make manifest, an imagined foil against my three years of lived reality near this same spot – the same, but not really, for no space is truly the same after three years of intervention by man or nature.

The occasional passerby, be they an attractive blonde or a shirtless bearded jogger, gave me comfort in the fact that some brave souls were keeping this space energized with illusions of its own purported usefulness all year round. Indeed doing so this time of year seemed to make more sense than the same act carried out by trekking over an ice-covered sidewalk with snow blowing and sticking to your facial hair. Who are these people? Those who gravitate to campus after the rest of us have unceremoniously fled, to home, to Europe, to the furthest ends of the earth, so long as it’s not here? Brave souls indeed.

After a delicious meal of brisket, a Root Beer Old Fashioned, and two pints of beer, I saw my favourite girl off and went to get drunk. I met up with a good friend, one of a group of brave souls residing here for the summer’s duration. He and I discussed life, copyright law, the absurdity of academia, the ineptitude of local law enforcement, and our fondly held collective memories. He assured me he was not (yet) working for CSIS, so I spared him my customary censure; his American lady friend also escaped that fate, narrowly avoiding a scathing critique about her country’s democracy and the lack thereof. Perhaps the right time to speak the truth is all the time, but occasionally it behooves you to maintain the drunkenly joyous equilibrium you have happened upon.

Satisfactorily drunk, my friend and I said our goodnights, and I proceeded on a loose retracing of some of my undergraduate (mis)steps. It struck me that as a student I had walked these paths in search of an awkward conformity, despising and yet adopting many elements of the ethos of the mob; the campus buildings represented that moral failing and all of its counterreactions. They were and continue to be the backdrop against which the paradox of trying to blend in and yet stand out as one goes along is played out over and over again. Revisiting this existence revealed its true, absurdly comical nature – for the vacuous scions and ingénues that often dominate this backdrop are irrelevant at best. Their impressions have no bearing on anything of value, especially all that is intangible in life, which is to say all that matters most to the soul.

In the stillness of the early morning these campus buildings appeared stoic, majestic, yet somehow circumspect. I realized these grey stone buildings were emitting something different now,  something more imposing, more unsettling, and yet somehow liberating. Under the cresent moonlight and draped flawless by ivy, these buildings were just that: stone structures sitting quietly along deserted streets, free from the chaos that usually animates them, full of limitless potential. They were a testament to the many ways in which humans can choose to animate the world, its manmade structures and natural constructs alike, and the repeated ways in which they fail to do so compassionately and with benefit to the species as a whole. Yet the mere fact that how the world is animated is above all a choice, not a stricture imposed from beyond our reach and before our birth, gave me faith in the potential for change, in the myriad possibilities that lay in front of me to drive this change.

Despite that glimmer of hope, this line of inquiry then led me to a most harrowing realization: these buildings, this whole place is ostensibly set up solely to foster the departure of the adolescent intellect along infinite productive tangents. In actuality it is a tacit bubble, an enclosure in which groupthink trumps all. An enclosure in which you must censor what you say, what you do, what you think – lest you get hauled in front of some committee of unthinking student bureaucrats bent on correcting you, or worse, dragged unknowingly into the unseen court of public opinion that will brand you with all sorts of unsavoury titles. Kafka could write a book a day in such an environemnt.

On closer inspection these putative cathedrals of education and the grounds surrounding them amount to nothing more than redoubts of totalitarian thought control, be it coerced or self-imposed. But still I manage to snatch victory from the jaws of a crushing morale defeat, finding comfort in my aforementioned idiom as I sit atop the balcony of this most central student house, shirtless and with pen in my ear, drinking a stolen beer, at peace as the sun began to colour the sky.

No radical thinker has ever had much use for the university as elite institution anyway.

In Defense of Alcohol(ism)

travel & adventure

One drink to ameliorate torpor. Two to eradicate it. Three to make everything awesome. Four plus to keep it all that way.

Undoubtedly alcohol is the vice most accepted by polite society. Fitzgerald wrote that “Often people display a curious respect for a man drunk….There is something awe-inspiring in one who has lost all inhibitions, who will do anything.” One needs not venture far into the local tavern to validate both of these statements.

The truth os these statements is undeniable, especially that of the the former. I may get exceedingly intoxicated and proceed to insult a close friend or a complete stranger with relative impunity. Indeed I could catch it on the chin, but any resulting wounds will heal nearly as fast as the apology delivered the next day, buoyed by that familiar opening line: “Sorry, I was so drunk…” If I had a nickel. Conversely, if I get jacked on cocaine or crystal meth I have a much better chance carrying out this process of making amends in a courtroom. This is but one (somewhat) hypothetical situation in which the drunkard holds a decided advantage.

That turning to drink is such a common occurrence both historically and presently – it is the fuel of every great written work and oral story alike – is unsurprising. Perhaps it is this very fact that perpetuates our own instinctive predisposition to drink. But it makes perfect sense, for at any given time the drinker has found himself in a preferable position relative to his progenitors yet in absolute terms he still occupies a cruel existence in a merciless world beset on all sides by abhorrent ills.

What is a man to do? If three drinks make everything awesome – perception is reality, after all – one might as well drink. And if four plus drinks can help keep things that way, one might as well drink excessively, exuberantly, and in an unrelenting manner.

The prohibitionist and the moralist will decry anyone who drinks to escape reality. My riposte is, “Why? What about reality is not worth escaping from?” Even these individuals surely escape reality several times a day through their wandering thoughts. The drinker simply takes this a step further and lives an altered reality.

He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”

— Dr. Johnson

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy

revolution

If you are going to put a modicum of faith in any mainstream Canadian media outlet then The Globe and Mail is a sound choice. It skews centre-right but has plenty of insightful pieces from both sides of the spectrum written by erudite professionals of rich and varied experience.Then there is Margaret Wente: American-born defender of the bourgeoisie and resident plagiarizing polemicist.

Her latest piece is ostensibly an anecdotal tale about how society has strayed from optimal world of “back in my day.” It is almost primordial in its characterization of a younger generation ill-suited to and unprepared for the modern world. This particular manifestation is a lament for an uber-coddled millennial generation that lacks direction and any ability to confront the world beyond (and including) school. She cites the celebration and rewarding of a child’s every achievement as a cause for concern; a generation of “precious little snowflakes” is being conditioned for nothing more than a “hard landing” in the adult world.

But making her putative concern for this state of affairs known is not actually the point of this piece. The idea that children should be given adequate preparation for adulthood – the so-called real world – rather than an unrealistic sense of their attributes that all but guarantees an unpleasant transition into the adult world is not one many would argue against. But Ms. Wente merely trots out this over-publicized platitude, intentionally leads with the beating of this dead horse to belie the actual point of the article: to launch a scathing attack not on overprotective parents but rather on individuals who might aim to work in a field they are passionate about, and who will challenge the status quo by doing so.

The author’s discussion of overbearing parents and the harm they may very well be doing to millennials transitions unconvincingly to the aforementioned realm as she attempts to diagnose why coddled children might have trouble finding work. The culprit, naturally, is being told to “do what you love.” In Wente’s view, to offer this career advice is beyond the pale, for it “implants the notion that doing what you love can produce a sustainable livelihood – which isn’t always the case.” She of course offers nothing to support the claim that such notions are being implanted.

However, the lack of supporting evidence is not at issue here. The major problem with this article is the assumptions that underpin its writing. Here Wente refers to a sustainable livelihood, but does not probe what she means by that. She of course is referring to a livelihood that supports an existence akin to hers, to wit, one defined by cottages and luxury sedans and endless consumerist trumpery. Hers is an existence focused on maximizing one’s own comfort while disregarding the more important issues of the day, except perhaps to throw money at a feel-good cause every so often. To her and the class she speaks for, this is the only existence worth striving for. There is no consideration of potentially different conceptions of what a sustainable livelihood might look like or what one needs to live comfortably, nor will such a consideration ever so much as creep into this sort of piece.

The sustainable livelihood assertion leads into the nadir of the article – the segment that lays bare the focus of the piece to anyone reading between the lines. At this point the author decries the purported surfeit of recent university graduates that have set their sights on “work in development/save the world/find a career in environmental sustainability.” She follows this up with the sophistic claim that she sees nothing wrong with these “noble aspirations” but is perturbed, nay bewildered that no responsible adults have “levelled” with those students that dare to dream such outlandish dreams. It is no coincidence that Wente reaches for these examples, as such aims are anathema to a bourgeoisie reliant on the continued subjugation of far-off abjects and the concomitant burning of fossil fuels required to sustain the whole iniquitous system.

Then there is the coup de grâce: “The idea that your job should be your passion is a misguided romantic notion that only the upper-middle-class can afford to entertain.” Here the author proffers an assertion that is at present undeniable, but the issue again is a lack of questioning; here one would ideally question why this is, why it persists, and what societal shifts might break this mould. Instead the author is concerned only with impressing this on us as an inalterable, natural occurrence that does not deserve further examination. Surely a world in which more people could work in a field they are legitimately passionate about would be a more efficient, positively-minded society. However achieving such a society is not the goal of Wente and her class. Instead theirs is to propagate the message: “I’ve got mine Jack, and you should either get yours too if privilege allows it, or put your head down and be a good little wage slave like everyone else has resigned themselves to be.”

Wente then goes on to define the rigours of the world this generation is allegedly unprepared for as “obnoxious colleagues, pointless meetings, promotions that don’t come their way,” reinforcing the notion that casting a shadow tinged with lassitude on an office wall is the only respectable future there is to be sought. That there are potentially more fulfilling prospects out there – ones that could both provide a livable income and contribute to positive societal shifts – is a subject not worth entertaining.

There are myriad issues with 21st century media. Although this is one innocuous article unlikely to move hearts or minds, or to even be taken seriously, it is emblematic of one of the most major problems. In a world of constant connectivity and the nonstop news cycle one is wont to overlook implicit bias and subtle propaganda. To combat this one must be vigilant in taking notice of the types of words used and not used, the substance of questions asked and not asked; one needs to have more than a cursory awareness of who the author is and what interests they represent or speak for. With the amount of corporate money that presently flows into the media, and the amount of column space allotted to those promoting their own interests (often without explicit disclosure), it behooves all citizens to conduct their own due diligence when receiving information – a tall order in the first quarter of the twenty-first century but a responsibility we cannot afford to abdicate.

Original article: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/our-precious-little-snowflakes/article25141779/

Villefranche: or, a stopover in the Twilight Zone

travel & adventure

Our arrival across the Saône and into the town was no more unusual than any other. That ceased to be true in short order, as we ruminated on the fact the town centre had not sprang up nearer the river as many others had; rather this area of town was comprised entirely of big box stores, and our Bates Motel was nestled amongst them. The new building of the Hotel Newport was a motel that would not have been out of place sitting off the highway of rural Anytown, USA. Clearly it flew the flags of the EU, France, and the rest of Western Europe to distract from this as well as the fact that the entire town belonged on the other side of the ocean.

At its front desk was a cheerful girl scarcely older than us. The first hint that this was the commencement of a distinctly unusual experience was when we asked her to direct us to nearby necessities. She pulled out a map and puzzled over it as she tried to locate the hotel she worked at. Phil eventually did this for her.

We ventured out past the big box stores to find the first necessity – wine. The wine store dealt in quantities unheard of elsewhere in the world. You could buy five litres if you arrived with your own container, otherwise you would have to settle for either a 30- or 60-litre purchase. We chose two bottles of, as per Phil’s request, “Something cheap that we can drink withouut it being too cold.” We carried it back using the smallest method available given by the aloof and visibly disinterested proprietor of this odd little store, a box designed for six bottles.

The second neccessity, snack food, led us to a store at least a decade or two behind reality with sparse shelves stocked with items we did not want. To the tune of some brand of generic electric music ill-suited to grocery shopping we bought two bags of chips and three oversized bags of frozen green beans to chill our wine, ice being implausibly difficult to acquire in this country.

We also scoped out our restaurant for the night, as this was Saturday night and the hotel restaurant and all others nearby were naturally closed. Jen made it known that the one  beside the wine store was open and had burgers. What she didn’t tell us was that the specialty of this restaurant was all things potatoes. The name of the place – Le Pataterie – betrayed this fact. Its wooden interior and walls lined with trumpery, most notably a doll that was without a doubt full of murderous intent, would have made more sense had this place been north of Boise rather than north of Lyon. Nevertheless we ordered burgers with rosti for buns and asked that the chef cook the hell out of them, having seen the mostly raw burger being consumed at the next table over.

Returning to the Bates Motel and looking south we spied a massive storm quickly approaching us. The southern horizon was occupied by a Black Cloud of the Apocalypse that seemed to move nearer to us at an increasing rate while lighting flashed in all directions except to the north. We stood watching it all in the veritable calm before the storm. It was at this point that I knew we had entered the Twilight Zone and that all roads would lead us back to this spot when we attempted to leave. We moved inside and hunkered down, but the storm that moments ago had the town surrounded and dead to rights chose to give it a pass. Not a drop of rain from these most ominous clouds touched down outside our hotel windows.

The strangeness of this was not lost on us, but we wrote it off to the mysterious nature of Mother Nature. We soon realized what this electrical disturbance had wrought. As we played cards we spilt a few on the floor in the corner of the room. We collected what we thought was all of them but soon realized the nine of clubs was still on the loose. It is still on the loose, although where or when is unclear to us. We searched the corner of the room with a fine tooth comb – shaking out curtains, pulling up cushions – to no avail. The card had vanished, obviously into some kind of irregularity or rupture in spacetime. We all found this rather unsettling, and soon small details of our lodging began to exacerbate this feeling: the numerous horses on the curtains and bedsheets, the stark simplicty of the room, the woman cleaning the unused kitchen at midnignt, the complete absurdity that was Villefranche.

We resolved to make an unceremoniously rapid exit the next morning and never look back.