SOS

A postcard from an ongoing saga about a Eurotrip

By Apurba Jahangir

How do you react when your hotel receptionist advises you to lock your windows and keep valuables near your bed and if you have cash, to lock it in your suitcase? How would you react to this statement? Shocked? Surprised? Some might even find it funny. 

It is, if you’re the reader. Heck, if I was the reader and found out that the writer, despite his Google Maps navigation prowess, had managed to book himself a stay at a hotel in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a forest and facing a highway, I would sure as hell be laughing at that misery. I am laughing now as I write this! The dumbassery! I certainly wasn’t laughing at the time, though. 

The look of the gentleman that was sitting and smoking in front of me convinced me he was talking from experience. His voice was deep, he was black and he was listening to Miles Davis; there was no way I wasn’t going to take him seriously.

You think of Paris, you think of sophistication, a sort of sexy arrogance, black and grey jackets, beautiful men and women, beautiful men and women taking about art, food, cinema. Each soothing, melodic sentence they are dropping has references to Godard, Cezanne, Camus; as if the energy represents a young man in his 20s successful in his attempts to woo an older woman. That is Paris, but I was far from it. 

Where I was at best can be described as a truck resting spot. On my left was a very questionable pizzeria where even in the middle of the day you could hear drunken yells (compliments of older French men), on my right a Scientology church, in front the highway and then a forest. I almost forgot about the needles on the entrance of my hotel. 

Is this what happens on an unplanned trip? It looks so good in the movies or in the books, right? Aren’t we supposed to be carefree in these things? Isn’t that what literature, cinema, and all kinds of noncompulsory but necessary aspects of life tell you? Bull! I have been through enough to tell, nay, insist that you plan your trips like six months in advance, minimum! Don’t do it in four days, over the phone with your travel agent while you’re trying to explain to your mother why this trip is necessary. Don’t do it while you have a million things going through your head, a trillion going through your heart. Actually no, scratch all of that. Life’s too short, do whatever you feel like.

I was now down to my last two cigarettes, and it is then I had to make a decision. I could obviously take a taxi every day to the “city” but my wallet had its limits. I could have the courage to cross that forest and highway on foot but it’s a foreign land; I didn’t even know if I would be allowed to walk on a highway, and third I could take some drastic action. I picked the third option

Now I know my way in Paris from certain locations, especially around the Louvre area. I knew there’s a Novotel a few blocks from the Louvre. If I could find a room or some arrangement around there, I knew I could still save this trip. But that was big if! I was in the middle of the tourist season. I saw the line of people and their huge backpacks at the airport. But life’s a gamble, and I had to play dice. But first priorities needed to be met, fuels needed to be pumped, smokes needed to be lit. Escargots can wait!

I am going be honest, now that I look back, it wasn’t a big deal. Even then it wasn’t. So you’re changing hotels, whooptiedooo! I am pretty sure if you’re well-travelled, of the many things that could go wrong on a trip, this would be a minor, but common one. I am writing about this after years, because I had always heard these stories. The one where the luggage got lost, the plane landed in a different city cause of weather or something, the one where you lost your wallet, your passport, the one where you got mugged etc etc. Most of these stories I heard were from my Dad, or brothers, or uncles. Men of my family, telling their tales of how they navigated through the winds and whistles of foreign lands. A six- or seven-year-old me was astonished by these stories, waiting to one day go on my own adventure where I too would have to sail through turbulence. 

I used to wait for these stories, about a time of no wifi, of phone cards and postcards. I remember my dad was in Germany for almost a month and he would write me postcards every week where he would tell me how the food was, how he almost forgot where his hotel was, if he bought the toy I told him to get for me … you know that kind of stuff. That postcard was my window to experience other countries, those postcards are the reasons why I am writing this right now.

I told you my dad would sneak in from time to time. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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