Thursday, September 11, 2008

"Harpsichord music sounds like skeletons copulating on an old tin roof.."

harsh... Pic = copyright Alex Moore, illustrator extraordinaire. (

The night of Kir = White wine and a town called Cassis

We take a train to Cassis and search for a hostel for three hours, having walked sweaty from the station. We ask a boy about our youth hostel; he leads us to the town square and confidently points out a block of light atop a dark and depressing concrete building.
"C'est la." He disappears down a narrow medieval alley, and we climb the rusting iron railings that form a skeleton staircase in the darkness and walk towards the bright light at the top. There's golden music coming from the doorway, it feels like we're hallucinating heaven...

Then we peer in and it's not a hostel at all; there are a load of old people sitting on school chairs in a circle, singing in harmony. Oh fuck. This is intensely strange... an old lady comes out to tell us that we have reached the Cultural Centre of Cassis. So this is not our youth hostel. We quaff cheap wine until the situation doesn't seem so bad. Everywhere is full, apart from a hotel offering one room for three people at 96 euros... three people take it, the rest of us agree to sleep on the beach.

At the beach we watch the gendarmerie (armed police) patrol the sand, bored and curious about the three guys and a girl perched on the steps, chattering in English and playing cards. Our night is peculiarly peopled: some pretty French women donate us a bottle of wine they don't want, a curious old guy asks us if we are cold while his wife urges him away, muttering "don't talk to those tramps," and the strange boy with a light strapped to his head slopes along the coast for hours in the dark, combing the beach for some long forgotten relic.

4AM: We migrate to the town square. Neils is asleep astride a low wall, Henry is insomniac and wide-eyed, Ipod tucked into his ears. Tom is asleep on the bench, curled up under a couple of towels. It never gets dark exactly, the streetlamps sweat out silver light all night as we sit and make small talk and slip into sleep for one brief hour...
Then morning comes and we have done it: we have slept rough. We slowly evolve from vagrants into civilised tourists, transformed by coffee and pain au chocolat, ready to face the day.