Monday, 15 December 2008

The jungle, and the final completion of the Odyssey!

Fucking hell. Took me ages to update. I've been busy like the devil in London, since I've been moving houses all over the place and trying to buy presents for Christmas. Apologies for the delay. I just wanted to throw down a post before the festivities because I've been building up this whole thing about me finding a house for so long that to leave you without the actual event would have been criminal. So! Here's the conclusion of the epic saga.

In my experience, finding housemates is not an easy task at the best of times, but that night in Martinique the charge looked remarkably daunting. Our group started moving early and we walked down the university's hill, left off the road, and in the middle of some tropical trees. This is surprising to me. I knew a night out in the city would have been inconvenient, but I didn't expect us to go ambling in the fucking jungle as a way of compensating.

We walk through the moonlit leaves. You'd think you could meet up with dinosaurs, in here. Eventually we cross a bridge and get to the house of a local, some weirdo who lives in a dump full of tractor wrecks with nothing but a hut, crates of beer and good deals of Marijuana. Talk about picturesque. Not that I was expecting an office with photocopiers and coffee-machines, but as far as exotic goes, I would have been less taken aback if we had ended up in a hut with Tarzan and Chita.

I was hoping to use the night to scout the group for housemates, but serious conversations were rather impeded by the fact that within twenty minutes they were all as high as a kite. I didn't particularly contribute to my cause by getting stoned like Babel myself. By the time we had also given the beer enough space for it to yield its effects, I had lost my house-keys, ripped my best shirt and was performing godawful improvised rap solos with the German students in the hopes that they would interpret my nonsensical slurring as an elaborate form of 'ghetto' English.

Stunningly, it worked.

Waking up the next day, I intended to look for an occasion of greater tranquillity during which to tender unto some kind soul my suggestions for domesticity. Unfortunately, an 'occasion of greater tranquillity' was about as liable to occur as a snowstorm down there. I spent the entire first week wading in bureaucracy, sorting out my module-choices and permissions until the sun went down, at which point all the Erasmus students got together like hounds at the sound of a whistle and partied every night. And I do mean every night: it took around three weeks before something took place like an evening in which the words 'nothing happened' could be registered in my diaries. After the fifth consequential three-hour sleep night I was beginning to feel like a reincarnation of Lot walking hungover out of the desert after he's shagged his two daughters.

Even in the rare times when peace was held, though, there seemed little opportunity for household symbiosis. It appeared that all of the students (almost exclusively English or German) had come in closed groups of threes or fours, so most of them were looking for (or had already found) a house for their own specific number, and they seemed generally restive to accepting outsiders in the bunch. The only exception to this rule was Jack, some kind of a smurf from Wales who happened to find himself in my exact same situation. Jack was a rather nice thirty-odd fellow who immediately drew attention to himself because he possessed the longest fingernails that any mortal was yet blessed with seeing on a man. They were particularly conspicuous since we were only ever wearing flip-flops and, in combination with his height, the toe-nails gave him the pronounced air of a rabbit.

At any rate, we were in the same boat at the time and we decided to undergo the difficult process together, looking for places in which to share the year without sacrificing the family jewels. I mean, family treasures. Treasures, not jewels. Whatever.

The buildings we visited were not impressive. Most of them were refurbished pig-sties and ruins of some kind of Polish prison left over from the colonial wars, furthermore they costed like you were spending the nights at a brothel for bank managers, so we were forced to look for something closer to our range.

Eventually here comes the day in which we find something seemingly more tolerable, at least on paper, and we call the land-lady, who sounds very jazzed up and even offers to drive us over to see the house. We accept, and she comes and picks us up. We are initially very happy because it does save us an ungodly trek up yet another perpendicular cliff (the topography of the Martinique island goes up and down more often than an Australian surfer who has just downed two bottles of Jack Daniels), but as the landscape passes us by, something slightly intimidating begins to come to our attention: we are entering the neighbourhood of the rich people. The houses here are enormous, with gardens and swimming pools. What the deuce? How can a place in these areas correspond to the prices she has given us? We were just whispering such things to each other when the lady drives us through a gate and, lo, the miracle! The house is a gorgeous, beaming villa, with a garden stuffed with palmtrees surrounding colossal white walls and a beautiful terrace. I am so awestruck I barely even manage to open my mouth.

We walk out into the garage. It is colossal: she can fit both her cars in there. 'What do you think?,' she asks. I tell her the frank truth: it is amazing! Then I ask her if we can see the rest of the house. She seems confused for a moment, so I repeat the question: 'Can we go upstairs and see the rest of our apartments?' After an instant, as though she is disbelieving my question, she throws her head back and starts laughing. It takes her fifteen minutes to calm down, after which she informs us that we're not going to live in the house of course, what a ridiculous idea, that's where she lives herself with her husband, parbleu. Rather, we can stay in the garage.

Oh, ah.

When we recover from the disappointment (and a bitter one it was), she opens a small side-door and reveals some kind of a trench basement, with a fridge, a tiny bathroom and a double bed.

'Wait a second,' I tell her, 'I'm not sleeping side by side with Bilbo here.' Jack is equally vocal in his resistance to sharing the sweat-pit (as we later came to call the beds, given what the nocturnal temperatures did to us) with me, so she concedes to bringing down a camp-bed from upstairs. I decide to take the camp-bed for myself in exchange for a lower share of the rent. So we go back to uni, stuff our things into our suitcases and bring them over. Then we sign the contract, settle our belongings, share a dinner and, happy but exhausted, go to sleep.

I close my eyes. I am feeling so tired that even the usual symphonic ensemble of insects outside my window seems to pass me by. But just as I feel myself sweetly drift into sleep, I am startled by an ungodly scream by my housemate, who yells 'Shit! Shit!' at the top of his lungs like the house was falling down or something. I leap out of my camp-bed, yelling 'What is it? What's going on? Where is the fire?'

In the moonlight filtering through the window, I see that he is still asleep. What the hell? Then his profile slowly rises from his bed. He looks at me sheepishly for a moment, like a particularly retarded brachiosaurus, then he grumbles something and turns back to his bed.

Thus am I introduced to the fact that my housemate shouts in his sleep (not even talks in his sleep, which would be annoying but tolerable, no, he shouts in it, as if every night he dreamt he were a coach in the NHL). Goddamn it.

This is going to be an interesting year.

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