I wasn’t working and I had no plans. My flatmate Adrien told me he was cooking and asked if I wanted some. I paced back and forth tucking into a starter of roasted chestnuts that had just come out of the oven. Adrien had been working in a small town outside of Bordeaux and had collected les petits marrons himself.
He’d also picked some mushrooms called cèpes, which are expensive to buy in a shop that he was going to cook with some garlic and parsley. But we didn’t have any fresh parsley. So Olivier my other flatmate headed out to get some. Olivier’s friend (also called Olivier) was going to be eating with us because he’d had a row with his girlfriend and been kicked out for the night. So he’d be sleeping on the couch after dinner.
When Olivier #1 returned he had a crazy looking Spaniard with him. Wild electroshock hair formed a fuzzy afro with two spindly dreadlocks hanging down from the back over his shoulders. A wide gap between his front teeth. Next to walk through the door was a Spanish girl, tall, lean and teen, wearing a red Guinness hoodie and a cigarette lighter attached to a string around her neck. The final, unexpected guest was their puppy dog, a little black mongrel.
The Spaniard spun around speaking excitable broken English, asking questions and trying to get a grip of the situation, trying to comprehend the big picture and the immediate situation all at once.
Looking around at our living room he asked “how much does this place cost ?”
“It’s not for sale” Adrien replied, but the joke was lost as the Spaniard began to ask who played / owned the guitar in the corner.
Almost immediately after leaving their three suitcases, backpack and laptop bag in a pile in the corner they left to get some food. Olivier opened a bottle of red and began to explain what was happening:
La Cave D’Augustin Florent 2012 Graves
“He asked me in the street if I knew anywhere to store the bags. He had tried at the bagagerie but it was full. He didn’t ask to stay. But after I had talked with him for maybe five minutes and heard a little about their situation I said they could stay. For one night and one night only. You know. If he’d asked I would have said no but they just wanted to leave the bags somewhere. They would have just left the bags and slept on the street.”
Adrien and I took our first sip of the wine and just looked at Olivier. The wine tasted full and silky. We said nothing and he continued his explanation.
“Its late now and there will be nowhere open where they can store their affaires. They are young and I don’t know… when I was in the UK I was sometimes using Couchsurfing and I have thought before to host Couchsurfers but I’m walking along and then they are right in front of me and need the help right now so I thought OK why not. And I was thinking ‘hey you are lucky guys because usually I would have said no but tonight I am in a strange mood.’ And they didn’t insist, it was my idea, they were just looking for somewhere for the bags that’s all.”
I finally chirp up “So I wonder what’s in these bags? … they just dropped them and left directly… Do you think they will come back for them? …maybe there is a cadavre or some sort of bomb inside, or a shit-ton of drugs?”
“No man come on, if they had a load of drugs they would just sell some and get a hotel room. Look in the bags if you want but its bad karma. I trust them, they are just young and don’t know really what they are doing. I’m sorry, it’s just one night, they didn’t even ask you know. They were just looking up at all the tall buildings. I think they must be from a little town. It just seemed right for me to invite them. Sorry.” said Olivier
“I’m just joking” I said “It’s not a problem. I stayed with strangers on Couchsurfing before, and it was fine. Well kind of…”
At that point Olivier #2 arrives and we all laugh about the fact he’d expected to sleep in the living room by himself. I tell them all the story of the time I used Couchsurfing to find a place to stay in La Linea and the events that transpired after that: Waking up from a blackout in a Spanish jail and then being forced to live in a haunted house.
“When did this happen?” Olivier #2 asks
“Almost exactly a year ago to the day. It was just before Halloween, last year. I remember because the night before I was drugged and arrested everybody had been wearing Halloween masks. Clowns. Vampires. Witches. Dolls. I’d just broken up with my girlfriend then, so maybe this year it’s your turn!”
Olivier #2 grabs his head and says “arghhh” then takes a long slug of the wine as there is a knock at the door.
The Spaniards return. His name is Hernan and hers is Serise. He is from Badajoz and she is from Mérida. Little towns in Spain near the border of Portugal.
When asked if they want a glass of wine Serise says “a little”. Hernan doesn’t speak for once but looks at Serise. Finally he says “I wants but it is not my choice it is she… because when I drink I get crazy.” They speak in Spanish. She smiles for the first time and then in a deep, deep voice she says “A little for he.”
He tells us their story. From present to past. Last night they were kicked out of the train carriage they’d been sharing with other migrants because they’d gotten drunk and had an argument late at night. The others who lived in the abandoned train in the Gare St Jean train yards had regular jobs and would wake up early in the morning, slip past the security guards and go to work like ordinary citizens. They’d been in the train since arriving in Bordeaux 10 days ago. They’d come direct from Madrid in search of jobs. In Madrid they’d walked past a cinema, there was a long queue of people waiting to see David Lynch give a talk. Hernan could hardly believe he’d almost seen David Lynch. They’d gotten to Madrid using blablacar, a car pooling website. They had 60g of marijuana back then and their driver turned out to be a policeman. He didn’t know about the drugs and was really friendly so they laughed hard about having a ‘police escort’. They left their hometown with €260, all their clothes in suitcases and the smoke. They spent the last month of the summer living on the beach at Los Caños de Meca. Total freedom. You could drink from the little waterfall. Get naked. And there was a community of vagrants who would get drunk and smoke weed all day and all night. He said it was like paradise. Serise didn’t wholeheartedly agree.
They came to France to find work. Now the economic situation is bad in Spain but neither of them speak a word of French. Surely they’d have had better luck staying in Madrid. When we put this to them Hernan told us that they wanted to travel, that their dream was to buy a camper van!
Adrien finally cooked the cèpes and we ate them with pasta cooked with ricotta, crème fraîche and raclette cheese. As we ate the Spaniards took showers. It had been four days since their last one, which was in an association and wasn’t hot and you could only take 10 minutes maximum. So they really appreciated ours. Olivier #1 said “but this shower isn’t so good, the pressure is not so powerful” we all laughed at how your situation changes your perspective on things. And it made me think of how I couldn’t stand not being able to have a hands-free, standing shower!
The mushrooms tasted fantastic and without knowing it we were already onto the second bottle of wine.
Château Pontet-Caillou 2011 Pessac-Léognan
A red with a solid foundation of fruit. Lots of punchy flavours including a medley of berries. There is something seductively autumnal about the myriad of tastes, bringing to mind bountiful harvests and a peasant richness. We finish all the mushrooms and the pasta before they have finished showering. When they return we cook a fresh batch of pasta and give them pesto. They have never tried pesto before. I try to be funny by saying that could be their job, importing pesto, popularising and selling it in the south of Spain. Hernan says it’s not such a wild idea but thinks there is more money to be made from importing ganja into France. He is seriously considering it. Serise tries to talk about the time they bought the puppy. Hernan says they got him from some hippie who had a litter of nine. I thought ‘Wow for Hernan to call someone a hippie that guy must have been far out’.
We resentfully gave Hernan the last drop of the Pessac-Léognan. There is being generous and then there is allowing some wannabe punk à chien to indulge his burgeoning alcoholism with the last of the bottle when it is already too late in the evening to buy another. I felt especially bad for Olivier #2. All he really wanted to do was get a little drunk and talk about his breakup. Not tonight my friend. Tonight you are going to bed sober. Tonight you are going to have to think long and hard about your decision… while listening to a couple of warm and happy vagabonds fucking on the floor beside you.
The morning came and the Spaniards left to approach some employment offices and associations for help. They returned in the afternoon to pick up their bags, have another shower and leave for good. Seeing them get dressed up in fresh sets of clothes from deep in one of their suitcases made me feel melancholic and a slightly fatherly. Hernan put on a shirt with a jumper over the top and looked almost smart. Serise changed into a long-sleeved AC/DC T-shirt. They looked innocent now. Cute even. They couldn’t have been much older than 18. Before, it had been hard to feel sorry for them. The economic situation in Spain might be dire but it was not bad luck that had led them to where they were, it was a series of haphazard decisions and a spirit of youthful abandon. But seeing them like this it was hard not to feel for them. They had reached the end of the line. Their money was all gone. Their chances of finding work were next to none, and summer was over.
We said our goodbyes and they thanked us from the bottom of their hearts. As Olivier was saying his final fairway to their puppy it pissed on the living room carpet in excitement.
They themselves reminded me of that puppy. Naive and excitable. Couldn’t care less to be house trained. But they wouldn’t be puppies for long, and it is always a little sad the day you realise that your puppy is now a dog and it’s still pissing on the floor.
So finally its time to rate the wines using the star system, the maximum being *****
La Cave D’Augustin Florent 2012 Graves
Taste *** smooth but easily forgettable
Value ***** free (thanks to the generosity of others)
Effects *** an interesting start to an evening
Château Pontet-Caillou 2011 Pessac-Léognan
Taste ***** full of subtle flavours, demanding every last drop be savoured
Value **** free (thanks to the generosity of others)
Effects *** a touch too soft, not enough to knock one out for a peaceful night’s sleep