Alright, now that I’ve left Paris, I’ll get to explaining this whole off-the-grid donkey farm adventure, as well as the rest of my post-tour time in France. As I mentioned before, the sound guy from Berlin made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. He took off work, borrowed his mother’s new little car, and scooped me up on the last night of tour. We flip-flopped all evening about how far we would make it that night. The band was driving towards Frankfurt and staying at a hotel near the airport, so either of us sleeping at the venue was out of the question, but getting a hotel seemed like a waste of money. We alternated between sleeping in a car right there in the parking lot and driving all the way to the farm that night. No amount of treats from the green room were able to keep me awake once the car started moving, so I slept for the first bit of driving. We finally settled on the idea of making it as far as possible and finding somewhere historically interesting to park. I had never been to Saarbrucken, a city near the border which was once French, so we finally aimed for that. We picked a place near the river in an empty cobblestone lot beside a very old cathedral. We awoke to a beautiful view, as well as a lot full of cars and a construction worker going about his business. We rolled out of our respective sides of the car and headed to the nearby museum to find the bathroom. We explored the town a bit and soon got on the road in search of a bakery; I got tuna quiche in honor of our drive through Lorraine. We had decided to take the scenic (and free!) rural highway and somehow found nowhere to buy coffee until we were quite close to our destination. We stopped for typical French lunch in a small village, gladly realizing that we both spoke French equally well.
Indeed, it was good thinking to eat before we arrived at the donkey farm, as it took a while to sort out the keys for our cabin. My companion’s friend was out of town, so it was a family project to get us checked in. We had a nice long chat with the owner’s sister over coffee, almost entirely in French. Despite all of our running around in flash storms after the cafe and upon arrival at the farm, once we were in the cabin, the sun came out and it was a beautiful day – one which I immediately tried to sleep through. While I was quite opposed to the idea at the time, my friend thankfully woke me up within the hour and insisted I head up the hill and enjoy the view over cups of coffee. There would be time to sleep when the rain returned. Eventually, we realized that we needed to start looking for a supermarket before they all closed. We eased back into the technologically advanced VW, in which we had woken up only twelve hours ago, and I put on the Boban/Marko Markovich CD I had bought for next-to-nothing at a Serbian gas station. Nothing says reckless driving in a small, fast car through the countryside quite like Balkan brass band music.
Sure enough, we had just missed the closest supermarket, or so we were told by a local, and wound up driving about a half hour to find another. It was fun to see the villages along the way, and we finally arrived at a massive grocery and whatnot superstore. It was about fifteen minutes until closing, so we divided up the items and sprinted in opposite directions. French food products, particularly after a month of only German and Eastern European options, were quite thrilling. In fact, it is rare that one even gets to perform the ritual of buying groceries while on tour, so the immense shop was overwhelming in a very fun way. Normally I can’t stand grocery shopping in chain supermarkets, but this was all so new and different, plus the time constraint made it feel like a game. Two products which I was particularly keen to find again were Bliss smoothies (which are from France, so reasonably priced there) and Orangina (which comes in far more weird, pulp-filled flavours than anyone else realizes). Our tour path had filled my annual desire for bitter lemon Schwepps, and now I was getting my juice fix. On this grocery trip, beside beverages, we did pretty well – hazelnut goat yoghurt, pumpkin soup, good lettuce, yoghurt shooters, hearty bread, decent red wine, and passable espresso – all for about ten euros. Soon enough we were back in the cabin and improvising a delicious dinner over the wood stove.
In fact, we fixed everything including coffee on that wood-burning stove, which kept the cabin blissfully warm all our entire visit. I also managed to hand wash just enough dirty clothes to last me the rest of my visit in Europe and dried them beside the fire. There is nothing I like better after tour than hiding away somewhere and leaving the bed for nothing but simple domestic tasks. It’s such a stark contrast to the exciting frenzy of tour, plus it’s awful nice to take care of myself once in a while. I even ignored my computer entirely for the first day, and I was so relaxed.
I’ve been referring to this as an “off-the-grid donkey farm” but really it was more of a hostel with pet donkeys. As I understood it, they do serve the purpose of weeding the fields, enabling the healthy growth of a variety of rare orchids. Every time I tried to explain my experience to folks in Paris, their first reaction would be “Un ferm de sange?!” While, a monkey farm would have been pretty incredible, I still couldn’t bring myself to call it an “ass farm” in order to avoid confusion. It wasn’t until the next day that I got to see the donkeys, who were hanging out near the cabin when I woke up at a respectfully late hour. I padded out onto the wet patio and could see our damp friends under a nearby tree. Eventually, after a lazy afternoon, the weather cleared and we headed to a field where we had been told we might find them hanging out. It was incredible! At first they were pretty unconcerned with our presence, but once we started feeding them apples they warmed right up. I had no idea how friendly and adorable they could be. One even took me for a playmate and lightly nipped me on the rump. This was when we decided it was time to flee. I had more fun playing with the donkeys than I could have imagined. I’ve even modified my life plan slightly. Some day, I’m going to have chickens for eggs, goats for milk… and donkeys for cuddling.
On the way back to the cabin, we picked a few vegetables from the abundant garden to add to our dinner. We then headed into the nearest town before the store closed. We got supplies for dinner and breakfast the next morning, grateful that our trip to the huge supermarket the night before had been cut so short, as the variety of French products was overwhelming. Dinner was slightly ambitious. We soaked a bunch of couscous, added muscat and golden raisins, cooked the veggies in a pan with oil from the olives and feta we had bought, threw in the couscous to heat it, then I hollowed out large figs and stuffed them. We brought one to the mother of the owner the next day so that she could try it, and she cut it into quarters, which is something I somehow had not thought of. Anyway, enough about food…
The Gite Soleole was an awesome place to rest after tour for so many reasons, including its tranquility, location, and the company of my awesome friend. I was also thrilled to be staying at an off-the-grid hostel, whose electricity came simply from small wind turbines and solar panels. On our last day there, after we had packed and said goodbye to the cabin which had been our cozy home for a few days – the longest I had stayed anywhere in a month – we headed up to the yurt to visit its resident, a Frenchman who has lived there four years. It was humble on the outside, aside from the intricately decorated door, but incredible on the inside. It was about as big as most New York studio apartments, but far better. The round walls were lined with everything from a bed to an artist work station, while the middle hosted the stove and assorted kitchen items. I felt that I could live happily in something like this some day.
We hung out in the yurt longer than expected, enjoying the company of our new friend over a glass of wine, practicing our French as well, and finally got on the road before evening. The original plan had been for him to drop me off in Metz, where I would catch the train, but we decided that it would be fun to spend a few more hours hanging out on the way to Paris. If he drove, I would pay tolls and play my saxophone for a little while in the car. On the way, though, we got to check out the city of Metz briefly, driving up to find its cathedral. The drive to Paris was actually much longer than the train, unlike what I’m used to in the US where driving is often faster, but it was far more fun this way I’m sure. We stopped along the way for espresso at a gas station and made it into the city not terribly late. We drove along the Seine past Notre Dame, which is always a pretty sight at night, and eventually found my friend’s apartment despite our lack of a GPS. It was hard to say goodbye after spending several days together, a luxury I so rarely get, and having no idea when we might see each other again. It had been an incredible little vacation and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to spend it with, we had such a lovely time.
I stopped in just to drop off my bag and have a drink with my French friend who I usually stay with, but who had to leave for work early. We met when we both stayed at a cold New Orleans squat several years ago during Mardi Gras. I then headed to stay with a friend from Berlin who was in town for work and staying at a very nice hotel, which he was going to let me hang out in the whole next day while he was working. His expense account paid for a cab, and I arrived to find him leaning against a lamp post, smoking a cigarette while he waited. As I exited the taxi, I had to laugh at the cinema-grade absurdity of my life at times like these.
I slept until well past noon the next day, then lazily tended to matters on the internet. After a couple of hours, I got up to bathe. The tub was so incredible that I took a shower, then a bath, then another shower. At the end of the bath, I laid in the immense tub and let the warm water drain off my body, feeling all of the leftover grime of a dozen distant squats melt away. I felt fresher than ever, although cleaning a month’s worth of Eastern European cigarette smoke out of my ear canals was a task in itself. I didn’t need pampering after tour, I needed an overhaul. I made myself some instant coffee and set to getting some writing done, alone and wrapped in a towel on a king sized bed. It was just as luxurious, yet a world away from the farm princess I had been just twenty-four hours earlier.
I felt a remarkable lack of remorse for spending my first day in Paris indoors. I rested myself and got some work done on the internet, taking breaks to stare out the window at the monuments of Paris – the Eiffel Tower in the rain, the Eiffel Tower in the sun, the Eiffel tower clouded in fog. I could even see Montmartre in the distance. I was content simply knowing I was in Paris. While the donkey farm had been relaxing, I was still in need of a day of alone time. I was still working on writing by the time my friend got back to the hotel. The poor guy had been working on his feet all day at a convention, and here I was lying around, all wrapped in luxury. We got ready and went to a French diner around the corner, where we shared the same sort of steak/frites/salad meal I’d split when I first arrived in France. I can’t even remember what I found to eat in France when I was still a vegetarian. We joined a couple of his friends for dinner there, then met up later at their new favourite bar in a hip part of town, taking a walk to hit up a bakery while we waited for them, then all going to another bar afterwards. I had a Kir Royal, as it seemed the thing to do in Paris, and convinced my friend to likewise drink Pastis, which he soon abandoned to my care. It was hilarious to be hanging out with a bunch of Germans so soon after tour. We encountered a group of hipsters at the bar and they bemoaned how it reminded of them of Berlin. “Do you have hipsters in New York?” … Yeah, I’m still laughing about that one.
The next day we both slept in a bit, although I still had no job to rush off to in a suit. My American friend had tipped me off about the outdoor market in the Place d’Italy, which is exactly where I went once I left the hotel. After spending most of the previous day in bed, I was glad to get out of the room. I immediately found a lady selling clothing she designed and had manufactured for her in India, all of organic cotton, and bought four items for only twenty euros. While half of them were destined for my mother, I wound up wearing all of these items before I finally reunited with my bag back at the hotel two days later. A little more cheap shopping and some fresh fruit later, I was on a quest for wifi. I finally found a sympathetic waiter outside of a cafe, got the code, and read the email I had been waiting for. My friends in Rouen indeed wanted me to come visit that day, so off I went to the train station on the Metro. The trip wound up being rather hectic, especially because of my lack of a mobile phone, and I was reminded of how spoiled I’ve gotten touring in a band where all of the details are taken care of for us. Finally, after arriving in Rouen less than a few hours after reading the email in Paris, I found a cafe with wifi; a cup of coffee and suddenly the world slows down and makes sense.
My friends from Nuage Magique, who I had gotten to play with us in the May Day parade back in NYC, picked me up from the station in a car and drove me through the winding streets towards the cathedral. They had insisted that it was a beautiful old city when they invited me to visit, and indeed it was true. We parked and walked to the cathedral, which was as beautiful as promised. I took a ton of photos and went inside for a change. One of them brought his little daughter, who was adorably loud as we wandered the church. It was funny to be hanging out with a one year old. We checked out a few more historic buildings on our short walk to their favourite bar.
I was intrigued by the threat of drinking a French bloody mary, so we all ordered them. They were pretty weak compared to the ones I’m used to, but it was still novel to be drinking one on the cobblestone streets of a sixteenth century city. I caught up with the guys for a bit before the one with the daughter had to head off with her and the baby. The drummer and I headed to an Afghani restaurant next door. He had offered to treat me to dinner and drinks if I bought train tickets to go there, and indeed he did. We had delicious appetizers and entrees and a decent bottle of wine and ate outside on the street, as the French seem to prefer. Afterwards, it was back to the bar, where the tuba player joined us again and we hung out with their hilarious friends. That night, I slept in an old building, out the window of which I could see countless old houses. In the morning, on the way to the train, we stopped at the beauty shop and record shop which his friend owns, where she made us coffee. It was quite impressive, with a split level patio waiting room. Soon, it was back on a train and off to Paris again, but this time my commute was far easier and I even made a new friend while I was buying my ticket in the station.
Next up, the rest of my visit in Paris and my 48 hours in Chicago!