The weekend after the Californian assistant was in town, the Canadian assistant in Bastia was intending to hitch hike here. He sent me a message at 11pm on the Saturday, saying he was trying to catch his first lift and expected to be here at 4pm latest. Then at midday he sent me a message saying that he still hadn’t got his first lift and his hand was beginning to fall off.
I ate lunch and cleaned the house. At 3pm I descended the killer hill to buy some groceries from the mini Utile. In the queue to pay I checked my phone. He said he had got his third lift, but was now stuck in a layby next to a road along which cars were going at 60mph.
I ascended the killer hill and finished some lesson planning. When I popped into the kitchen to make myself a mug of green tea, I saw I had four short messages from him. He was now in a bar. Getting drunk. He was taking the bus. It came at 5pm. My phone said it was just gone 4.
At 5:15pm I sent him a message asking if he had got the bus. He told me it hadn’t come. “Lol, what are you going to do?” I asked him. He didn’t reply. He was less than half way to Porto-Vecchio.
At 6:30pm I began to prepare my tuna pasta bake for dinner. I poured myself a glass of red wine and read that he was now getting a lift directly to Porto-Vecchio. He would arrive just before 8, he expected.
Between 6:30pm and 8pm I got a number of messages that I didn’t see until later including: “At Lecci, almost there I think”, “My driver likes English guys with blonde hair and blue eyes” and “At the carpark.” I left the house and walked in the dark to the carpark in front of the empty newly built apartment block. As I approached the edge of the carpark, I could see a black four wheeled drive and outside it the silhouette of my friend.
“You made it” I said. He greeted me and introduced me to his “friend,” who was tall, mid-thirties and wearing a black jacket. Another younger guy was sat in the front passenger seat. I shook hands with his “friend” and nodded at the guy in the car. The Canadian said goodbye to his “friend” and the car drove off towards the centre of Porto-Vecchio.
“Who were they” I asked.
The Canadian put a hand on his forehead and opened his mouth wide, giving a pained expression.
“Don’t ask” he said.” “I can’t believe I just did that.”
I looked at him inquisitively and asked how the journey was. He recounted everything that happened until the bus not arriving. “So who was the guy in the car?” I asked again.
He spoke some more about waiting in a layby, then he said: “he was a guy I met on Grindr just before Christmas.”
“So he was just passing? That’s crazy” I added.
“No – I went on Grindr and asked him to pick me up.” he said.
“Oh my god. And he did” I grinned.
He asked me if that was bad. I said I wasn’t sure. “Who was the other guy?” I asked.
“I think it was his date” he said. Then he opened his mouth again in a pained expression. “Oh my god” he said.
“So he travelled all the way with his date to Porto-Vecchio from Bastia to drop you off?” I asked.
He grinned. “I think they were already going for dinner.”
“They were going for dinner in Porto-Vecchio?”
He put his head in his hands, and then shook his head.
“So he travelled 3 hours to go for dinner and has to travel back? What the fuck”
He asked me if it was bad again.
“It’s outrageous. Hilarious though.” I laughed, looking up into the dark sky with starry patterns.
“I think I owe him” said the Canadian. “I’ve not seen a single house” he added.
“Welcome to my life” I said.
Later, we walked to the Pizza shop and he ordered a pizza. The guy who worked there recognised me from the time before when I went with his daughter. He handed us a riddle, torn from a newspaper. We couldn’t work it out, so he explained it. I still didn’t understand but the Canadian did and he clarified it to me in English after we left.
The day after I was woken up by the Canadian dragging me in my sleeping bag from my bed. “Wake up, wake up wake up” he said. It was 11am. I had never slept past 9 so I quickly showered and we headed into town. In town I fell over a large bollard onto the floor and we had to sit down and have coffee so that I could recover. Later, we walked by the sea and he put his feet in it.
In the evening we ate the rest of the tuna pasta bake and he asked me what I thought of the Israel and Palestine situation. I said I thought things would be a lot better if a different government was in power in Israel and that I didn’t know enough to give an informed view really.
“That’s such a bland opinion” he said. He started to speak but I interrupted him.
“Bland I said. What the hell. All I’m..” but he interrupted me and told me to stop interrupting him and that I’d done that multiple times today.
He spoke for a bit but I only half listened. Then we sat in silence.
“Have I upset you? he asked.
“ Yeah you have actually.” I bent down and picked up my laptop. “But oh well, it doesn’t matter.”
“I’m not saying sorry” he said.
In hindsight, I realised we basically shared the same opinion but had just expressed ourselves differently. It was his rudeness I really objected to. I guess I’ll have to just continue sharing my “bland” words and disappear into the blandness of my erasure.
Anyway, we slept.
On the Monday, we planned to hitchhike to Bonifacio. Out first lift to the centre of Porto-Vecchio was with a guy who said he worked as a teacher in a training centre. He dropped us off at the marina and we said goodbye to him and his dog, sat in the trailer. The next lift was from a bedraggled looking woman whose car resembled a crèche and used to live in Lyon. She dropped us off on the road to Bonifacio. After about ten minutes a woman in a posh four wheel drive pulled over. On entering the car, I was almost knocked out by the smell of perfume. She told us she was originally from the Ivory Coast but now worked in marketing in Corsica. The car’s interior was customised and a CD of gospel music was playing out loudly from the speakers. About 25 minutes later she dropped us off outside the cemetery on the cliffs above the old centre of Bonifacio.
We walked along the cliffs and the Canadian assistant left his rucksack behind a bush near the cliff edge because it was heavy. It was overcast and there was only me, the Canadian and a family of four in sight. The Canadian had just snapped at me because I asked him if he was saying he approved of Trump. “I’ve come here to enjoy the view. Shut up” he said and then walked off. Seconds later I fell over a large stone on the ground and landed with a smack on my left leg. “Help me” I called out to him and he turned around and looked down at me dismayed. He walked over to me “Are you okay?” he asked. “What did you do?”
“My leg hurts” I said, trying to get up and make my way to a wall to sit on.
“Take your time” he said. “You need to learn how to defy gravity.”
After I had recovered, we returned to the bush by the cliff to pick up the Canadian’s bag, but it was gone. “It might have blown off the cliff edge” I said, peering down into the water far below. He said he wanted to go to the police station to check if someone had handed it in. We walked through the empty streets of the tiny old town and stopped at the walls to peer into the sea. I looked behind me and saw a woman in white trousers and a navy jacket walking down some steps behind. A man was stood next to her, holding her hand.
“That woman looks like the head of the IMF” I said.
The Canadian turned around and agreed with me for the first time that weekend.
We wandered around some more and eventually reached the police station, but it was closed for lunch. I said I was hungry so we went to the single restaurant at the Marina that was open. We sat down and ordered. I was pouring myself some water when the woman in the blue jacket and white trousers sat on the table next to us with the man. An old woman came over from another table and handed her a piece of paper and the woman in the blue jacket signed it. A few minutes later a man with long hair walked past and gave her a look of death.
“Lol that is the head of the IMF” I said to the Canadian.
“Is it?” he asked, studying his phone.
I sipped my glass of water.
“Oh my god it actually is her” said the Canadian, showing me a picture of her on his phone.
“Shall I ask for an autograph?” I said.
After lunch, I said goodbye to the Canadian. “I hope you’ve enjoyed your stay with me” I said.
“I have, I have, I just… your just too much, like you don’t shut up” he said.
“Well sorry but I don’t get many people to speak to” I said. We hugged and I set off towards the entrance to town, to catch a lift back to Porto-Vecchio.
When I arrived at the roundabout with the sign reading “Bonifacio” there weren’t any cars passing, but the second car that came by stopped for me. Inside the car, he asked where I was from and I said England and he gestured at his car CD player. “You can understand that then” he said in French. I smiled and nodded. He was playing the latest Adele album.
After that weekend three weeks ago it became hot. Nearly every day is like a good day in England in August. Tourists in shorts have started to crowd Leclerc. Each one I saw yesterday was having an argument. It is too warm to go running after 9am and before 6pm. My nose burnt so I try and remember to put on sun cream. On Monday, I was in Ajaccio and took my first swim of the year. When I told one of the teachers, she said “Already!?” and told me I was brave. Then she said she guessed I was from England though.
At the weekend I went to the village of Piana. The cousin of the lady who owned the apartment I was staying in was wearing a camouflage fleece, despite it being 22 degrees and sunny. I wear black jeans to fit in.
Piana was the most beautiful place I have visited in my life. I spent a lot of time hiking. When I wasn’t hiking I sat on ledges overlooking red speckled mountains, the colour of dried cranberries and drank beer, whispering “I am in paradise. Man this paradise,” ritualistically. I took lots of photos and posted them on Instagram. I hoped to get regrammed by my university’s residence abroad Instagram account, but they only share the photos of people in Anglophone destinations and Paris. I can’t help that they’re so basic. Brexit Britain Basic Bitches.
On the Sunday, after I returned from hiking, I ate pizza on the road side in the burning sun. A man on the table in front had fallen asleep and was a yawning red tomato. A family behind me were drunk and joking that somebody needed to bring him a parasol.
On the minibus back to Ajaccio on Monday, the driver spoke to me and the Flemish couple behind about our trips. An old woman got on in the next village and started to speak to the Flemish woman about the French elections. Jean Luc Melanchon was a “communist” and she would have voted for Fillon but paying hundreds of thousands of euros to your wife and children from the public purse “wasn’t normal” so now she wasn’t sure. “What about Macron?” the woman asked her.
“Too young” she said.
My bus back to Porto-Vecchio left at 4pm so I had most of the day in Ajaccio. I drank coffee and read L’Obs at my favourite corner seafront posers’ café, before dropping in at my favourite bakery for a sandwich. Later, I went to the beach. A P&O cruise with a stretched Union Jack on its bow was docked in town and and the promenade was thronging with pasty red British tourists in shorts and T-shirts, frantically applying sun cream to each other.
When I arrived back in Porto-Vecchio in the evening, I walked back to my house. It took more than an hour and thirty minutes but I always feel sick after the three hour journey through the mountains and the ten minute ride back with the kind but scary head of English always pushes me to the edge.
Today was my last day at the Collège. I sat eating buns in the staff room, baked by one of the teachers to celebrate my last day. Only two more lessons at the Lycée and one more tutor session remain. Yesterday at the Lycée we had a party in one class to to celebrate my departure and the teacher took Snapchat selfies with students and threw M&Ms at them.
I have less than two weeks left on the isle. Four days ago a new supermarket opened a ten minute walk from my house. It is transformational. I will no longer have to daily cycle 25 minutes into town and back again up the killer hill, supermarket supplies digging in me through my backpack, in order to stay alive.
These little things matter.
Yesterday was my last ever day at the Lycée. I wasn’t working till the afternoon but I went in the morning to say goodbye to the scary but kind head of English. As I walked towards the school, a girl’s voice called from behind. “When you go back to London Robert?” I turned around and began to tell her that I would not be going back to London, but she hurried off, calling over her shoulder “I’ll catch you on Facebook, goodbye.” I continued towards the school gates.
The head of English gave me a card with multicoloured cars on it and a comic book history of Corsica. “It’s only the first. It’s a series” she said. Since I was expecting nothing or something ubiquitous and deadly like branded chocolate, I was pretty impressed with it.
In the afternoon I had my last two classes and was given another gift of Corsican themed chocolate and conserves as well as a piece of A3 paper signed by the two classes I have that afternoon. I said goodbye to the teacher and cycled to one of the inlets by the sea. Here, I read the messages, whilst drinking a can of Desperados and watching two men wearing overalls wade around in the water with fishing nets like ice cream scoops.
Messages included: “J’aime ton style,” “You were the sun of my Friday afternoons” and “When you arrived you were white, but now you’re brown” as well as a few requests to visit the UK and “xoxo Gossip girl.”
After twenty months, my “year “abroad is finally almost over. Today I went to the doctors. The doctor examined my neck, asked for twenty five euros and gave me a prescription for sore throat medication. I shook his hand, sighed and walked out.
I hadn’t gone to the doctors about a sore throat. I walked over to where my bike was locked up, scrunched up the prescription and threw it in the bin attached to the lamppost. I probably need to do another year in France I thought to myself as I began the long cycle home.
*In other news, I also learnt this week that a teacher at the Collège is one of the most famous Corsican singers and has thousands of views on his YouTube videos. Here he is in action. I’m going to miss this beautiful, crazy isle. x