Saturday, 26 April 2008

The outskirts of Le Mans look even less glamorous in the daylight, like an out of town shopping nightmare. Having no wish to hang around here any longer than is strictly necessary, we decide to order a taxi at reception, to take us to a motorway service station on the Autoroute. Our taxi driver is a amenable French lesbian whose dashboard is bespangled with 'end animal cruelty' stickers.

The meter continues to rise and there are no motorway service stations in sight. We decide to bail out in what turns out to be no more than a glorified layby. As soon as our taxi scoots off, it feels like a mistake. There are three or four lorries, and maybe three cars. I have visions of our naive hitcher corpses slumped against the public lavatories. By this time my sickliness has developed into flu, and my body swings feverishly between the extremes of hot and cold. Standing in the layby, I feel like my bones have been injected with dry ice. Isicles may soon form on my nether regions.

Fighting off the urge to lie down and die, I am seized by a Joe Simpson-esque Touching The Void moment. I go and stand on the other side of the road and aggressively work my cardboard sign at the lorries at they pass. A minute later and a lorry stops. "Tours?" he asks. Damn right. This lift is near heavenly. The driver is Turkish and his cab is luxurious, fitted out with carpet and Turkish flags and trinkets. Most important of all though, the themostat is turned up to forty-five degrees in a bid to replicate the climatic conditions of his homeland. Layers are removed, flesh is thawed, the sighs of relief are palpable.

Our Turkish benefactor drops us off in the town of Tours and, after a precursory look around, we set about getting to Bordeaux, the image of which now lingers before us like a vision of utopia. The sky is grey and moist, but we quickly procure a lift by a man who fancies some company. We are dropped on a roundabout on the industrial outskirts. We trudge through the 'mean streets', wrapped-up in our waterproofs like human condoms. My walk has now become a zombie-like shuffle - my leg dragging behind me. We board the tram and wind our way to the city centre. Sofia's friend Tom is at work, but we are met by his charming friend, Mel, who takes us back to the flat and warms our cockles with tea. Sofia's flamboyantly gay friend Tom returns, and squeals with delight as he sets eyes on Sofia. We wolf down some pasta and Tom returns to work. We agree to follow later.

The bar is incredible: romantically lit, the stone walls are festooned with paintings, the wall behind the bar lined with rows of bottles in a dizzying array of colours like an apocathery's workshop. The place feels like something conjured up from rustic French fantasies of a London-living, second home-owning bien pensant.

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