An Epic Night in Toulouse
We failed to hitch a lift out of Toulouse. An hour spent next to the junction out of town was enough for us, taking turns to stand holding up a hopeful 'Carcasonne ou L'Est' sign and watching the sun go down while dozens of commuters passed by, studiously ignoring us.
We headed back to the station with a faint air of dismay, and I bought a ticket for the late train - 37 minutes past midnight, leaving Nick behind and arriving in Lausanne at 9:40. Then we met two nice Parisian backpackers, who said they planned on staying in Toulouse overnight; they didn't know where, but they were pretty sure it would be fine. That sounded good to Nick - probably better than the dubious, overpriced hostels we'd had in mind.
So we sat down and drank some bad wine - a bottle of the celebrated Pelure d'Oignon, whose name really does mean 'onion peel' - which is a pretty fair reflection of its quality, as is its €1.30 price tag. Soon a very, very drunk man with long hair wandered up and joined us. He said he had thought I was a girl, and crossed himself when I told him my name. We made our excuses and left for La Garonne.
La Garonne is the same river (mais pas une rivière - seulement un fleuve) that I stopped by in Bordeaux, a month back. Everyone we asked said that it was nearby, but as we walked I got increasingly anxious about getting back to the station in time. Still, in the end we got to the buzzing riverside with enough time for me to sit down, have a quick drink, and leave with half an hour to spare for a 1-mile walk - so that's what I did.
On a good day I can walk a mile in half that time, but this wasn't a good day. This was a brain-meltingly hot night in a foreign city and I was slightly drunk, with no glasses, a dead phone and a map which turned out not to have names for any but the biggest roads. When I stopped to ask for directions and the time I was reminded that I hadn't actually received any directions in French for about fifteen years. I gathered that it was a ten minute walk away, straight on or possibly to the right, and that I had one minute to get there.
That was still enough time if the train happened to be late, so I sprinted on, trying not to let dehydration slow me down as I barrelled down roads I still wasn't sure were right. I finally arrived at the station a few minutes too late.
I tried all the station doors, just in case, and then stopped to swear loudly and cool down. I asked a cabbie to take me back to La Garonne to find the others, but he refused. He said he only did the centre of town, but I thought it was more likely that he either heard me swearing, hated the English, or felt that the riverside in particular was too disreputable for him to go near.
I started walking back, now semi-delirious with nothing but dregs of bad wine left to drink. I found a bar to sell me juice and let me plug my phone in, so I could tell my would-be host that I wouldn't be getting to Switzerland that morning, and see if I could catch Nick. Nick's phone was off, so I just went on wending my way myopically to the river. When I finally reached it I chose slightly the wrong entrance, and sat down heavily by the water to see if I could get my bearings.
That was when another intoxicated Frenchman sat down and said bonjour, and asked if I wanted to buy some drugs. No drugs for me, thanks. Acid? Ecstasy? Cocaine? Heroin? No, thanks. What, not even heroin? Are you sure? No, really, thanks but no.
I explained that I was English and didn't understand half of what he said, but I spoke to him mainly in French. 'Do you smile on me?' he asked - a pleasing expression, but I one had no idea how to interpret. Was he asking if I liked him? If I was having a good time? Was it a sexual thing? I told him I didn't understand, and he explained that he would smash his vodka bottle into my face if I was false with him. All he wanted to know was, do I smile on him? And do I understand what he's saying?
With the help of his friend I finally understood that he was asking if I was taking the piss - he thought I was secretly French, and just pretending to be English to fuck with him, or avoid talking, or something. Apparently I was somehow speaking French well enough to confuse this messed-up local nutter, but not understanding enough to have a clue what was getting him so wound up in the first place.
His friend thought he should give me the benefit of the doubt about being English, but he was still pretty agitated, so a slight girl who had been standing nearby twirling a staff stepped in and talked him down. He almost apologised as he left, and I chatted to the girl with the staff a bit before heading on.
I left to find Nick and the Parisians, not very easy with my short sight, but at last I found them where I left them. I shouted out BONJOUR NIC! and slapped him on the back as I sat down to explain what had happened.
After that we sat around for hours, listening to people playing music, chatting with whoever came along in dodgy French and often terrible English. It was nice for the first couple of hours or so, but the scene got ever sketchier as the night went on. Some guy started hurling bottles up into the street far above, pissed and fucked-up French folk got into random rowdy arguments, by 4am the vibe was pretty sour all round. Finally we upped sticks and - with the help of someone who knew his way around - found a quiet triangle of woods jutting out into La Garonne, and settled down for the night.