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Saturday, March 31, 2012

PASSAGE TO AFRICA Chapter 8: Ahead to the Past

Chapter 8... Vive Le France!

It is better to travel hopefully, than to arrive.--Anonymous

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. --Junot Diaz

[Note: I'm writing this in La Linea, in Spain just outside Gibraltar. I'm proof-reading it in Tangier. I blogged 2 diversions, and now can go


So far: After sickness, panic, and beer on the plane, I finally make it to Paris. Since the airport is so big-- with a few dozen entrances and exits, I have to call my friends to tell them where I am. My cellphone doesn't work.

I try the coinfone. Put in a Euro... it doesn't work. I hang up... hear the coins drop... I don't get them back. (My guess: someone stuffed some tissue into the coin return... used a wire hanger... all that change...building up... pull out the tissue and there it is...) I try another coin phone... this one doesn't work either... no refund.

I'm about 8€ (a little more than 10 bucks) in the hole and I haven't even left the airport. That's not the worst. Flo Flo, who's going to pick me up, has to get to work. She can't wait too long, she said. She's needed by the boss.

I go to the TRAVELER'S AID section... in every airport.... they always speak English.... they know.

I explain my problem... the woman behind the window says... “I'm sorry, but how am I supposed to know how to use your telephone.”

“No,” I correct her, “can you tell me how to use the COIN telephones.”

She explains. I try again. I lose more money. I look around helplessly. I see some posters advertising airport food... some attractions in Paris... a band playing... That's it. BAND!!! My cellphone is set to the wrong band. I have to change it to make it work in Europe. Some more fiddling. Button pushing... Yes!!! Got it! Meet you there in 10 minutes!

Out of the airport! Let the adventures begin!

FloFlo is a couch-surfer who stayed with her cousin, Caroline, on my couch last year. With a mutual sardonic sense of humor, and a taste for alcohol, we became good friends. With her is Helen, my long time pal (30 years?) from New York (actually, Lubbock-->New York-->Nice). I see her once every 4 or 5 years. She's still lookin' good after all this time. I don't know how she does it... but she never taught me the trick.

Helen has set the plans for Paris... and rented an apartment for a few days with Clair, a longer-time friend from London (40 years?) and her husband Aleister. This is to be a reunion of sorts.

I thank FloFlo for picking me up at the airport. (She still has to get to work). “Je ne veux pas parler Anglais en France.” she says. She's right of course.

So I stumble through with my bad French: “Jay neigh parlay France-say bee-en.” I say.

But we limp along in the language. Helen, who's lived in France for 25 years, answers all my “Como own dee in France-say?” questions.

It turns out that I'm in Paris at a good time. There's going to be a huge demonstration on Sunday... in support of the United Front of the Left:

Is it the Front du Peuple? I don't know. I have no idea what color it is. But I'm going. Wow! A demonstration, I haven't been to one in years! (unless you count the Occupy Yom Kippur service).

Floflo drops us at Caroline's where her Panamanian artist boyfriend is waiting for us. He introduces himself, but none of us catch the name: Eduardo? Edwin? Edwah?

Eduardo-Edwin-Edwah is Mr. Nice, showing me my bed and room in the living room... offering bread and drinks around. (In New York, FloFlo and Caroline had to sleep together on the same nasty narrow couch. I didn't offer them much to eat.) Then, he walks us almost all the way to where Helen and the gang are staying.

After initial greetings Helen asks if I want some coffee before we go out.

“Huh?” I say in English. “This is France, we should go out and sit in a cafe and drink coffee out of bowls, while eating croissants and discussing Sartre.”

“This is France,” she says. “They serve French coffee here. Look!”

She pulls out her little stovetop espresso machine. She carried it along for the trip. (Later on the visit she will cook breakfast for all of us... with stuff she buys herself.... won't let anyone else pay. Amazing! Want the perfect friend (with a tiny fault where maps are concerned)? Look no further. I always feel I owe her... but she never lets me pay! One day, the debt will come due!)

We compromise on the coffee... a cup at home first, then go out for the atmosphere. Here we are, soaking it up.

We later meet up... the whole crew... in Caroline's apartment. Here are all of us... oldsters and youngsters in more than all our glory.

Brrrrr! A text message. I heard you were looking for me. I can come to Paris to meet you. Just let me know when the time is good.

It must be Xavier. I'm surprised he's going to be in Paris. Maybe he's come for the demonstration. I save his number in my phone, under Xavier.

Luc at his NYC farewell party
I know I'll see him in Strasbourg, though. It's Luc who I'll miss seeing this trip. Luc, my Drink Club pal, who we had a great farewell party for. Maybe I'll never see him again.

Right now, the plan is top go to the cemetery. I want a picture of me pissing on Jim Morison’s grave. It'll make a good New Year's card. Where's Le Metro?

“The Metro?” says Helen. “We can walk. I've got a map. It's not far.”We walk... and... walk... and ask passers-by. Then look at the map. Then walk some more. Then ask again.... retrace 
our steps. I can feel my boot heels wearing thinner with each step kilometer. Somehow we find the cemetery. Go inside. Clair and Aleister go on instead. Helen and I stop to find some other people besides Jim Morrison. Also, Helen gets a map.

We wander. She looks at the map and we wander some more. We ask a guy who seems thoroughly disgusted thatwe want Jim Morrison and not Moliere! He vaguely points the way.

We look at the map some more. It should be right here. It isn't. We see Clair and Aleister.

“Did you see him?” asks Clair.

“We can't find him,” I say. “We see his number on the map, but we can't find him.”

They take us behind some graves, into a back lot... and there... parked into a corner is Jim... cordoned off and completely non-pissible.

Here are a bunch of pictures from the cemetery. The trip is one of the highlights so far. Recommended to all Paris visitors.

I had a plan to meet a friend, fellow couch-surfer, Annie, at the Pompidou Museum at 3, but we don't get out of the cemetery until 2:45. I text Annie to say we'll be late. We'll meet at 4 at the fountain.
Helen said that's a good meeting point.

“Euuuuw eh lay Metro?” I ask.

“The Metro?” says Helen. “We can walk. I've got a map. It's not far.”

At 3:30, I text Annie again. We're running a bit late. Let's meet at 4PM

“There's a huge line,” she texts back. “Let's make it at 5PM... at the fountain.”

We walk... and walk... make it to the museum at 4. There is indeed a huge line. We duck it and go it... to the cafeteria... and the gift shop... we never make it into the actual museum. Then we go out to eat in a Torino cafe. Right around the corner from the museum.

At 4:45, I go out... to the fountain to look for Annie.

While I'm waiting, there's another text, again from Xavier. I'll meet you in Paris. At Le Pub on Rue St. Dennis 58, tomorrow at 7.

Great! I text back.

And there's Annie, right on cue! What is this about the French always being late? Changes my impression, that's for sure.

I take Annie to meet the rest of us. She can only stay a short time, but it's great to see her. If it weren't for the missing Luc, I'd be seeing everyone I need.

After Annie, we go out to dinner and head back to our apartments.

“Which train do we take to get back home,” I ask Helen.

“We don't need a train,” she says, “I have a map.”

The next day is the big demonstration in Paris. A huge march and rally in support of the United Front of the Left. It's been years since I've been at a demonstration. And it's great to be back at one! Ho ho! It's like I never left!

At the demo we met FloFlow's father. I sing the International with him. I only know two words of it... but I sing those two words very loudly.

There is even a not-so-undercover police officer here. Photographing the crowd... person-by-person no-doubt using Google face recognition software to check for terrorists and Americans in army boots. So, what do you do with an undercover police photographer? Why take a picture of him, bien sur.

The rest of the demo pictures are here.

Next day, it's evening. We go to the bar to meet Xavier. Clair and Aleister have gone on ahead. I meet Helen... we walk... of course. She has a map.

So we find Boulevard St. Dennis on the map and walk to it. And walk. And walk. When we find the Boulevard, there is no number 58. It only goes to 36, then changes to some other name. Fu... wait! I check my text message! It's not BOULEVARD, it's RUE, and that's right around the corner.

What a great street! Sex shops and whores galore! (Now that's a name for a band.) Hooey! I wish I had more time to spend here. But here we are at the bar. Inside, Clair and Aleister are waiting. We sit down and wait for Xavier. He doesn't show.

I go out to call him. $2.95 a minute... all calls routed through the US. Anyway, there's no answer. I text. No answer. I look around to see if maybe he's wandering the streets... and I find Luc!

Wow! What luck! Lucky Luc... Lucky us. “Did you know we were going to be here?” I ask him.

“Mykel,” he says. “You've been texting me for the past two days.”

“What?” I ask. “Where's Xavier? He's supposed to be here?”

“I don't think so,” says Luc. “I think he's in Strasbourg. I don't think he'll be in Paris. But I'll call to check.”

He does.

“No Mykel,” says Luc, “you've been texting me... and you thought I was Xavier.

Well, we do get to dinner together, then out to a Canadian bar for drinks.

What is a Canadian bar? Well, can you say hockey sticks for door handles? Unfortunately I didn't take a picture of that.

Hooeey! It is so great to see Luc... I hope we don't lose touch again!

Flash to the next day! My last day in Paris. As I've already written, I'm an early traveler. My train leaves at 3PM. I want to leave the apartment at noon. Make sure I can find the track. Scan the ticket the Caroline printed out for me. Something will go wrong. I'll need time to correct it.

Helen is supposed to meet me at Caroline's at 12:30. Too close to 3PM for comfort, but okay. At 12:31 I'm nervous and go downstairs to meet her. I check that I have everything. Then check again. Then close the door, locking it, saying good-bye to the apartment.

At 12:45 Helen arrives. She's carrying a bottle of wine she brought Caroline... but we can't get in to the apartment to leave it. I closed the door behind me. I have no key.

So she's carrying her large wine bottle. I'm carrying about 50 lbs of baggage, and we're heading for the train station. Caroline told me the Metro stop (I forget the name, but it's something like Obkampf) was the easiest and most direct. I ask Helen which way to the stop.

“Metro?” she says, “We don't need a Metro. We can walk. I have a map.”

FAST-FORWARD to 3/24: I type this on the kitchen table in my house here in Strasbourg. My NYC apartment has enough space for me and the mouse that crawled behind the bed and electrocuted itself on the wall socket. Here, I have three floors... only me... the guest house. Each level has a set of light switches to turn off the one's behind and turn on ahead of your journey up the stairs.

It's a house. With a kitchen, a bathroom, another room for the shower... like in California...

More on this later...

NOTE: Since I've been speaking such a multitude of languages here, my memory is getting even worse... not enough space to store everything. I was going to make a list of all the simple words I forgot, but I forget what they were. I know that today I forgot the word: Lebanon.

This is the 8th entry of my travel blog. Here are the past entries:

Episode 1 here

Episode 2 here

Episode 3 here

Episode 4 here.

Episode 5 here

Episode 6 here

Episode 7 here

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

PASSAGE TO AFRICA Chapter 7: Ryan Air

Chapter 7... Ryan Air!

I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air. I hate Ryan Air.

Oh yeah, did I mention that


I start this blog entry in the airport in Karlsrhue Germany. Xavier, a heroic figure, not only booked my flight from here to Malaga, but used his credit card to pay for it. (Yeah, I paid him back), He also got up at 3AM to take me to Germany to catch a plane. Aw, he shouldn't have... you bet your family jewels he shouldn't have.

I'd heard stories about Ryan Air before I left. Worst airline in the world. They charge you to use the toilet on the plane. Evil. Evil. Evil.

Xaviar didn't know. He thought he was helping me. He found a cheap flight and the quickest way to get close to (sort of) Gibraltar... my next port of call. The flight was only 60€, cheaper than the train... and way faster. You have to leave at 6AM, Xavier'll drive me. And what the fuck if it saves a bundle, right? Wrong.

Text from Xavier: Mykel I need to print out your ticket, I need your passport number.

I text it to him.

Text from Xavier: Mykel, I need the expiration date. And your date of birth.

I text them to him.

Text from Xavier: Mykel, I need to know how much baggage you have. They only allow 15 kilos on board.

Text from Mykel to Xavier: I don't know the weight, but it's pretty close to that. Just a backpack and a computer bag.

Text from Xavier to Mykel: I made a mistake you only get 10 kilos on the plane. You'll have to check one bag. Let's hope it's less than 15 kilos.

Back at the house, I take out some books and pack them to mail home. Then weigh my bags. They're almost equal weight.... about 9 kilos each. I'll have to check one... there goes another 15€. Price of the flight just rose from 60€ to 75€.

While at work, Xavier prints out about 10 pages of information and ticketing stuff. I look through it. Geez! Check-in starts 2 hours before departure, and closes 40 minutes before departure. That doesn't leave much of a window. Get there between 4 AM and 5:20 AM or your stuck! Normal airlines allow you to check in anytime before... up to 20 minutes. This is not a normal airline.

Since Xavier is the one going out of his way, I tell him I'll do whatever is convenient for him. He wants to go at 11PM, dump me and then go home and get some sleep. Fine with me, I only ask him to check to make sure the airport's open at night. Even LaGuardia closes for a few hours.

“Mykel,” he tells me, “the plane leaves at 6. You check in at 4. Do you think they'll close for only two or three hours?”

“Call and check,” his mother tells him, in French. He looks up the number on the internet. He calls, and checks... in English. The airport is closed from 11PM to 4AM. So the airport opens and check-in begins the same time. I can imagine people locked out-- then the rush. I wonder if you can even drive in front of the terminals before they open. Security. Security. Security. God do I hate security.

Well there's nothing to do but time it to arrive at 4. Earlier and we can't get in. Later and I risk missing the tiny Ryan Air window-of-check-in. No choice.

The doorbell rings at 3AM. There's Xavier, not exactly bright-eyed or bushy tailed... but ready to serve me. (He has to work today, but he's taking me just the same... an hour there and then he has to come back. I tell you, he's a Superman!)

We arrive at the airport at 3:45, pretty good timing. No blockades on the outer roads. He pulls up to the terminal. I pull on the door to the waiting room. It opens. Xavier opens the trunk. We take out my bags... do that French kissy here... kissy there thing. He takes off and I walk inside.

The place is empty... abandoned. I take a seat... reserved for handicapped... but it's only me... in the whole airport, I don't feel guilty. At 3:55 I get up to check the ticket counter, look around. That does it for the seat. Mom, kid, and baggage... the whole row... monopolized by a hausfrau and kind. I move my bags to be first in line for the Ryan Air check in. It's not long before there's a line behind me.

The counter is scheduled to open at 4:05AM. At 4:07AM comes the click click click of professional women's shoes. The counter opens. The woman behind the counter calls me to her. He's young, pretty in a professional way, decked out in a blue uniform. I hand her my passport and the sheaf of paper Xavier printed out. She checks my bag and sends it through the x-ray on the conveyer belt to the back. Then she shuffles the pages. Then she shuffles them again.

“Did you print out your boarding pass?” she asks me in English.

“That's everything I have,” I tell her. “My friend printed it out.”

“After the check in,” she says. “We sent you an email with a boarding pass. You have to print that out.”

“I have no printer,” I tell her. “My friend printed out what was available. He has no printer. He had to do it at work.”

“We can print a boarding pass for you,” she continues. “But you'll have to pay sixty euros.”

“SIXTY EUROS,” I say, loudly enough to turn heads. “That's how much the whole ticket cost. A normal airline prints out a boarding pass for free! How can printing a boarding pass cost the same as the entire fare?”

She shrugs, which I guess means this is not a normal airline.

I throw down my Delta-Amex card. At least I can earn some miles on a normal airline.

“We don't take Amex,” she says.

The next part should be unprintable, but I manage to keep control enough to get out of there. Times like this make me glad there is gun control in Europe. Probably saved a few lives.

“Have a nice flight,” says the agent as I leave.

I do not kill her.

Then I get to SECURITY.

In a normal airport, passengers empty their pockets, take off their shoes, fill plastic trays at their leisure, take off their coats and-- when they're read-- put their hand bags and trays through the x-ray machine. This is not a normal airport.

Here, they take passengers one at a time. Give them each three trays. Then watch-- individually... one at a time... while they take off their belts, empty their pockets, pull their laptops from their computer bags. No one else can approach the x-ray until each person is watched, and disposed of... one by one.

I keep a lot of stuff in my pockets. I tie my camera and cellphone to my belt. It takes me awhile at the trays. In a normal airport, half a dozen people pass me by while I fill the trays. At least they don't make you take your shoes off here... that'll save a bit of time...t's always a struggle with my boots.

Finally, empty pockets, empty belt buckle, empty computer bag, the trays slide through the machine. I walk through the metal detector.


A tall guy, looking a lot like LURCH in the old Adams Family TV show, stops me.

“Arme hoh!” he says.

I raise my arms. He presses his e-paddle against me. It beeps as it hits the snaps on my shirt and then something in my pocket... a coin I forgot perhaps. I reach to get it.

“Nein!” he shouts, pushing my arms back to the crucifixion position they were in. He feels around the pocket... from the outside... and satisfied... motions for me to turn around.

“Deutsch, Fransozich, oder Englisch,” he commands.

“English,” I say.

GET OUT YOUR BOOTS,” he shouts.

I do not make any cracks about “Germans.”

I take my boots off. He runs them through the x-ray. Then he runs his paddle over my stocking feet. It doesn't beep. When the boots come back negative, he hands them to me.

“Enjoy your flight,” he says in English.

I do not kill him either.

It's 5:35, I'm on the plane. No seat numbers on Ryan Air... just scramble... like musical chairs... without the music... I've got a place behind an empty seat. What luck! Yeah, this is a lucky flight all right. I just want to shut down and go to sleep. I slept 3 hours last night... less. I'm also depressed about paying full fare... twice. I could use the extra two hours sleep that this flight offers... Yeah right.

First, it's bright in here. 5 AM and the cabin is lit up like the inside of a McDonalds. The decor is bright yellow, just in case you were getting drowsy. Sleep? Fuggedaboutit! Think you can get away with a hat over your eyes. Fat chance... the loud... and I mean LOUD... speaker comes on.

First, the emergency instructions... Jeezus! Is there anyone outside of a few Mongolian yak farmers who does not know that you fasten a seat belt by inserting the tab into the buckle and pulling on the belt to tighten it. To release, flip the front of the buckle. And we all need a demonstration of dropping oxygen masks. Where are we supposed to stick that thing? And how do we keep it attached?

Ok, maybe that stuff's required by law, but in normal airlines, it comes through headphones and you can unplug it. This is not a normal airline.

But wait there's more.! Non-stop. They're trying to sell you things. First, the food, Water or coffee 3€ (about $4.50)... what is this, Starbucks?, A Marsbar for 2€. Slice of pizza 5€.

Sure, I'm gonna eat on Ryan Air. If I get sick they'll probably charge me a Euro for the barf bag.

But wait... there's more! After the food commercial comes a pitch for Ryan Air's own Scratch-off Lottery... only 2€ a ticket... 8 for 14€. What a deal! Then comes the Ryan Air Phone Cards (I shit you not.) And Ryan Air Souvenirs.

The stewardess delivers each sales pitch in really bad English. She sounds Dutch, her accent is just the other side of intelligibility... her voice as pleasant as the sound of a blowing nose. And then, each pitch is repeated, first in German, then in French. Does anyone buy this crap? Maybe if they sold Ryan Air Parachutes , they'd get some customers. I'd jump. Why can't they let me sleep?

So far I've paid 135€ to be tortured. And I don't even get an attractive girl in black leather to do it! I've got to put away the computer, now. We're landing soon. I bet they lose my luggage.


This is a continuation of Mykel's travel blog for his trip to Africa. You can read the earlier entries here:

Episode 1 here

Episode 2 here

Episode 3 here

Episode 4 here.

Episode 5 here

Episode 6 here

Pictures: France

Monday, March 26, 2012

PASSAGE TO AFRICA Chapter 6: An insertion

Chapter 6... And I think I''m Going on an Adventure Hah, this is nothing!

Men can go wrong with wine and women. Should we therefore ban women?” --Martin Luther

Time passes so fast and so much happens that it's impossible to keep up with it all. I'm writing at 6:30AM from a bed in my house in Strasbourg. You'll read about that later, I expect. So much happens and I have no chance to record it. For the last week, I haven't slept in the same bed twice in a row. So I'll skip ahead here, insert this anecdote and (I hope) go back and catch up later.

I'm lucky enough to be invited to a celebrity party. Two friends of Simon's and Xavier's are leaving by bike, tomorrow. The plan? See for yourself:

Yep, Strasbourg to Indonesia, by bike. Over the alps... through Iran... through countries I've never heard of Through Timor! Ouch!....They figure it'll take a year.... more. I think I biked to Plainview from Hicksville once... It was okay. Took me an hour... in 1963...

Jacks is one of the two bicymaniacs, I met yesterday at DRINK CLUB STRASBOURG. (More about that later, in a catch-up blog.) The other guy, Jean-Baptiste, lives where the farewell party will be hosted.

Here they are:

Do they look drunk and a bit out of focus? You have no idea... but you will.

The party isn't exactly in Strasbourg. It's in a town whose name I forget. All the towns in this area have German-looking names, but they're all pronounced with those sexy French accents.

Hoenheim, Ostwald, Neudorf, Reichstett, these are all French towns. Jawohl... er... mai oui!

The town is in the High Rhine, which is south of the Low Rhine... don't ask! Xavier drives us... Simon and me. Before the party, we visit La Maison du Fromage.... a CHEESE museum.

I've been to a torture museum, a whiskey museum, a sex museum, But leave it to the French to have a CHEESE MUSEUM. If the ventilation isn't very good, it's gonna smell like the mensroom at the old folks home.

The museum is housed in a small building, rather non-descript and non-cheesy looking. In front hangs, what I think is a huge cowbell. It hangs on a ribbon almost a foot wide. The bell itself is bigger than my head. It will turn out that this is a REAL COWBELL, and cows have to walk around with things that size strapped to their necks! Ah, here's a chance for a new walk of life: cow chiropractor. They could make a fortune.

As you can see from the sign, we are in the valley of Munster. Guess what kind of cheese they make here. And I thought it was German!

We enter and buy tickets for the display. This is the only museum so far that does not have a senior discount. What a moment of mixed emotion... getting a 10€ ticket for 3€... Yeah! But... not even being asked for ID when I buy that ticket. Ouch!! Itai! Here there are discounts only for kids.

The museum looks new, just off the rack. All the displays are fresh, no scratches, marks or signs of use. And, THERE IS NO SMELL! Nothing, not a clue of a curd or a wisp of a whey. The first part of the display is a movie about the life of cheesemakers. It starts with bringing the cows out of the barns in early spring... with snow still on the ground. It's in the mountains, and the cows will hike upwards to grasslands and open sun, after a winter of eating hay.

The movie is pretty good. There's almost no speaking... a few words in Alsacian... a nice Alsacian cheese-makers song and that's it. Otherwise it's all music, soft and appropriate. Makes it easy for visitors (like me) to understand without language.

After the movie we go on to look at the displays of cheese-making implements, descriptions of cheeses, a history of cheese. All odorless... or so I think. Then I notice some clay... I don't know what to call them... like mini-chimneys... they're in several displays, but I can't figure out what they were for.

Then it occurs to me. It's smellevision... a dainty-yet-rustic way of showing the fragrances of cheese, as it progresses from new cheese (almost without smell) to a very mature cheese (hello Grandpa).

I press my nose against each of the pots. Actually, I LIKE the smell. It reminds me of Murrays on Bleecker Street. It's a smell you can feel with your whole body.

After the displays come the cows. But first: a warning.

I get down on my hands and knees to check. It is not a bull.

“It's okay for step one,” I tell Simon.

He approaches, sticks out his hand. The cow pokes her head through the railing. She sniffs.

Simon touches the nose. Gives a pet. Nice cowy cowy... or however you say it in French. He does not, however, get THE LICK OF FRIENDSHIP! Next is my turn. Me? I get it. Wet, salivus, bovine. Yeah! Unfortunately, Simon took that picture with his phone, and as of this posting, I don't have it. So you'll have to take my word for it.

After the museum, we stop in town for a beer and then on to the BIKE PARTY... not far from the museum. It's in kind of a fancy house, set way back from the road... and tough to find. It takes a phonecall or two.

(What did people do before cellphones? They met more neighbors, that's what they did.... knocked on doors... made mistakes... introduced themselves... had some human contact... that's what they did.)

When we enter, the party is a bit sedate. Some tables set up in a buffet and several people, dressed in preppy casual, chatting about old times. I'd expected to be speaking French a bit better by now, but because of my poor grammar, whenever I try to speak French, the listener immediately switches to English. Usually with “where are you from?”

On the buffet is a plate of quasi-sushi: big rolls filled with salmon, wrapped in Nori, sliced like a sushi-roll. Next top that is cheese, some bread, lots of sweet things. I pick up a quasi-sushi... tastes like Korean deli sushi... worse... Bland rice, probably from California... no vinegar in it, just sits there... It's hard to eat.

Across from the bad sushi is a pretty oriental woman, serving slices of Alsatian Pizza aka La Tarte Flambee. It looks and tastes like pizza made with matzoh instead of bread.

And it's delicious!!! The only reason you wouldn't make it for Passover is that it's got cheese, and ham on it. The combination is not a traditional Passover one.

As is my hobby, I like to play guess-the-Asians. I know she's not Japanese because the sushi is so bad. For some reason, there are very few Koreans in France. Not one Korean restaurant in Strasbourg... they don't know what they're missing! She doesn't have that special South East Asian look... so I guess Chinese. Of course, she's probably French... one of the many things I like about France (and one of the few things I like about the U.S.) is that you can look any way... any face... and still be a native.

I mentally rehearse my opening line: Est-ce que tu es d'ici.

I open my mouth to talk to her, but she speaks first.

Do you like the tourte?” she asks me in English.

Ok,” I ask, “how'd you know?”

Your cowboy shirt,” she says. “It's a dead give-away.”

We talk. I don't mention her bad sushi. It turns out she was an English teacher... in China. English is her second language. She's learning French now.

I met my HUSBAND in China. He speaks very good Mandarin.” she waves to this youngish handsome guy with a scraggly beard.

Do I have some switch? What is it? Any time people talk to me, they always say the words: MY HUSBAND, MY WIFE, MY BOYFRIEND, MY GIRLFRIEND in vocal capital letters. Like an making an impression on melted wax... branding... just letting me know... I'm taken. Sheesh.

We talk a bit about China, Strasbourg and New York. Someone hands me a beer. It's a small bottle, so I drink it right down. It's then that the heroes make their entrance, to the applause of the attendees. They invite us outside to look at the bikes.

Jacks comes over to me (we met last night at Drink Club Strasbourg).

Hey Mykel,” he says, “how'd you like my sushi?”

Je l'ai beaucoup aimé,” I lie.

Great!” he says, handing me a glass of something much more alcoholic than beer. Then he goes on to show us the bikes.

I'm not much of a judge, but they look like pretty ordinary bikes to me... especially late at night and half drunk... me, not the bikes.

The beer and wine flow outside. The beer and wine flow inside. The music gets louder. It's about 11 o'clock and the floor is shaking.


An extremely hirsute young man discos with his t-shirt rolled up to show his belly. Another one bumps hips with him. Another one bumps the table. A beer bottle hits a wine bottle. It's like dominoes. Booze everywhere. People dancing in it, lapping it up from the table. Sponging it, wringing out the sponges and drinking the remains. The music gets louder.

Here's Jacks, the biggest disco bunny of them all. Wearing a bright green t-shirt. Looking fresh as... well... look at the photo at the beginning of this blog-entry. And he' gonna set off on a twelve thousand mile bike trip.. tomorrow.

Weeee!” he screams. “On y va!”

I can't imagine him va-ing anywhere. He knocks over a bottle of vodka. No problem, it's almost empty anyway. I look around. The Chinese girl has left. Half the party has left. I see Jean-Baptiste in a corner, swaying slightly from side to side, eyes closed... his swaying having no relation to the music playing. Jacks is nowhere to be found. I'm getting tired, but can't do a thing without Simon, who has the car... besides, I think we're staying here for the night.

Simon runs past me. Looking over his shoulder, he says: “you see....?” some name I can't understand. I shrug. He goes out the front door.

The porch door opens with a slam, I almost drop the fresh glass of wine in my hand. It's incredible the door glass doesn't break into shards. Xavier comes in from the porch with someone I don't know. Between them they drag Jacks... head lolling... feet dragging, toes making twin lines in the scum now on the floor of the party area. I'm not sure what happens after that, but Jacks does not reappear. Xavier does, however.

Did you see Simon?” Xavier asks.

Last time I saw him he went out that door,” I say, pointing.

Xavier goes out the door. In a few minutes he's back.

No sign of him,” he says. “I'm worried.”

I shrug.

What happens here I don't remember so well. I do remember getting up in the morning with the urge... not that one... but the same general area. I walk out of wherever it was that I fell asleep. I run into Jean-Baptist's brother, a nice guy, who spoke to me in English the night before. I've nick-named him Machu Pichu for some reason.

I smile at him and head for the bathroom. He grabs my wrist.

I have to introduce you,” he says.

Er...” says I pointing to the bathroom.

Oh,” he says, “sorry.”

In the house are relatives from here to Timbuktu. Lots of people from last night including the cute Chinese girl and HER HUSBAND. Simon is there safe and hung-over. The press. Everyone. Jacks and Jean-Baptiste are both on their feet. Jacks wraps an arm around my shoulder.

Mykel,” he whispers, “I have a hangover.”

Quelle surprise!” I say.

He laughs.

It's about 3PM and people are eating, drinking, and still arriving from all over. Only 12,000 miles to go, and they're starting in the afternoon? Ah well, vive la France and les francaises.

You can follow these guy's journey at You can follow mine right here:

Episode 1 here

Episode 2 here

Episode 3 here

Episode 4 here.

Episode 5 here

Pictures: France

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Chapter 5... Outta here!

It is better to travel hopefully, than to arrive.--Anonymous

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. --Junot Diaz

This blog episode will be posted after my arrival in France... I hope. The entire blog will chronicle the trip first to France, then southward to Gibraltar, then Morocco, then Senegal, The Gambia, back to Senegal and back to New York. At least that's the plan.

My travels can all be mapped digestively.... a road map through my intestines. Every trip moves with peristalsic predictability. Seated porcelain, heated washlet, squatter, ditch. My bowels don't discriminate, but invariably move from noxious vapor, to raisins, to cherries, to caterpillars, to garter snakes, to full-on kielbasas. Of course, depending on the timing and the food, like laboring in the mines-- there are occasional explosions... or complete work stoppages. Fear not, you'll get the details.

I'm trying to decide what can go wrong on my arrival. Of course, when I get there there could be no one waiting for me. I have no idea where to go... but I do have phone numbers. I'll call/text when I get in. They know the arrival time anyway. The airlines can't lose my bags. Everything is in the plane..

I can lose my bags. Forget something on plane. Duty free... ten packs of cigarettes & a bottle of Jack Daniels. I can call and find them at the wrong airport, the wrong time. Flo, the girl who's meeting me has to get to work. The plane will be late. I'll have to wait in the airport until she finishes... 8 hours later. Who knows?

I'm 5 hours early for the flight... as usual. I hate airports, but I always spend more time than I should in them. Once, I missed my flight. Too much to drink the night before. Chicken John was on the couch. Passed out like I was. I think I was going to Chicago. Chicken was going to take me to Newark airport. Flight leaft at 11:28AM.

Bang it hits. You know the feeling. Should you get up in the cold to piss? Or try to fall back asleep and pretend you don't have to piss. First, you say, naw, I'll just sleep. Then you can't and the urge gets greater. Then you decide to get up, but don't quite have the ability to do more than open your eyes. Then, the nausea hits. If you don't get to the bathroom, you'll choke on your own vomit... like Jimi Hendrix. Okay. Okay. You win, you'll get up. You just make it... pray to the porcelain goddess. I just make it.

Coming out of the bathroom I see the clock on the microwave. 11:20. It takes at least ½ an hour to get to Newark. CHICKEN!! GET UP!! NOW! Through his skilled mania, we make it by 11:31. The plane is on the ground, but the gate is closed. Sorry Charlie.

Except for that time, I've always been early to airports. Hours early. When ARTLESS toured Spain, we met at Kennedy the day before, practically. Ask Michael Evens... he'll tell ya! So today, after a bit of duty freeing (more trinkets for the natives), I go to the gate where the plane is supposed to leave. Gate 22, somewhere between the check-in desk and Trenton. At the last minute, there will be a change, and I'll have to run the entire length of the terminal to the new gate. I know it! It always happens. (It doesn't.)

God, do I hate airports. I spend so much travel time in them, but I hate them. I don't hate flying, I hate airports. I hate the expensive bad food. I hate taking my clothes off for “security.” I hate walking down long aisles to gates where the plane will be changed anyway. No matter how early I am, I'll have to run to get to the changed gate.

First world, second world, third world. I hate 'em all.

I'm in Kennedy Airport the most, so I hate it the most. Is it a FIRST WORLD airport? Yeah, it has people mover walkways... BUT THEY DON'T MOVE. Yeah it has internet menus and mounted iPads... but do they work?

And there are pigeons... walking around in the airport, right in the food court where every one eats and fails to use the Delta iPad internet kiosks. There they are, doing their pigeon thing on the carpeted floor.

America's world number may be lower than The Gambia's, but I doubt it should be. First world countries have machines that work... and don't have pigeons walking on the carpet inside airport restaurants

As usual, too many people are on cellphones with too many other people. The acned girl at the next table, on her talking on her iAnnoy while typing on her iPRODUCTPLACEMENT shouts into the smarphone.

He should fuck a train!

It's one of the more enigmatic remarks I've heard recently. Does she mean he should fuck the passengers in a train full of people? Fuck the closing doors of a train? Get fucked by a train entering the chocolate tunnel? Your guess is probably better than mine.

FLASH AHEAD I'm in the plane now. Sitting next to a friendly Italian lady who's going to Paris to change planes for Bologna... meeting her brother... Just finished dinner. Things seem to be moderate. The guy in front of me pushes his seat back... but not all the way. The lousy dinner comes with beer! Not a great choice... Bud lite, Heineken, Corona... but even a daughter is better than nothing... Yeah, the beer has ice in it. It's been frozen and thawed, but it doesn't poison me! The dinner includes saltines with Land of Lakes Fresh Buttery Taste Spread... made with 4% real cream. Wow!

I turn on my computer (acting very slow lately, especially on the porno sites). I figured it must be Norton, anti-virus, installed when I got the thing... I don't want it. I uninstall it... or try to.


It's Avast, my REAL anti-virus software, warning me against something triggered by the Norton anti-virus uninstall. Do you want to run a scan at reboot? Sounds like a good idea. I click YES and figure I'll run the test as soon as I finish uninstalling Norton. I figure wrong. As soon as I click YES the computer shuts down. POW. Restarts, testing. Testing. After ten minutes the screen flashes again


I decide to chest it. Some characters appear on the screen. The names of some programs I don't recognize. Then more names. It must be scanning. I wait ten minutes. A meter on the screen says SCAN 1 PERCENT FINISHED. It does not blink. It does not change either. Another ten minutes:


I've had enough. ESC and here I am. The clock on the bottom of the computer says 9:45. I guess that's New York time. On the screen above me and on the one in the aisle: Ben Stiller is in Toys R Us in Times Square, looking very grim. I'm not listening to it. I hate airplane movies almost as much as I hate airports. The guy in the seat in front of me just leaned further back. The woman next to me has fallen asleep and I'm gonna have to crawl over her to take a piss.

Ah, back to business.

It's midnight New York time. I haven't slept at all. Maybe shouldn't have had that cup of coffee. I've got one cough a minute coming. Just like in New York. Julien said I should eat two red apples a day. I started the regime just before I left. Mainly for my stomach. I'm taking pills for my stomach. They're supposed to help my cough. They don't. Maybe the apples are helping my stomach... but they're not helping my cough. Nothing is.

I think the guy in front of me has figured out that if he doesn't keep his seat forward, like a responsible economy airline traveler-- I'll cough in his ear. He sits up... glares at me. George Clooney is on the TV screen, or he was... now it's some generic Hollywood blonde with bright red lipstick and teary eyes. I'm glad I can't hear any of it. PRODUCT PLACEMENT: BLACKBERRY... She makes a call.

Now where was I....

The plane lands. We get out and go to customs. THAT'S it, I think. They'll stop me at customs... suspicious guy... tear everything apart. Hold me for hours while they analyze my vitamins.


Uh oh, too easy. All that's left is a simple phonecall. (The airport is huge and it's impossible to locate anyone without multiple where are you calls and texts.)

I leave customs and enter the airport. Time to text Flo Flo and tell her where I am. The airport is huge, there's no way they can find me without knowing where I am. Ah, there's exit 8. I'll text her that I'm by Exit 8.... The phone does not work. I go it a coinphone. Put in a Euro (about $1.50)... two... call the number. Some French recording tells me something. Then BEEP... BEEP... BEEP. My money does not come back.

I'm in Paris and I can't even get out of the airport. Yeah! That's the kind of trip I'm used to.

-- More from Paris later

Note, this is episode 5 of Mykel's adventures. You can read the rest here:

Episode 1 here

Episode 2 here

Episode 3 here

Episode 4 here.