Farewell, Fitou

The time came for me to go home. After 85 nights in the so-called Yellow Apartment that I had found on Roomorama I was ready to return to real life, to my new normal, to Calvin.

My gracious hosts Hagen and Christine are German, they are business consultants, they are avid remodelers and real estate impresarios. They moved to Fitou seven or eight years ago and, after renovating the four-story house in which they now live, bought the building where I spent so much time and turned it into two apartments and an office. They performed all design and construction work themselves, including roof repairs, beam installation, masonry, carpentry, plumbing and tilework. These two are DIY dynamos.

Hagen and Christine did far more for me than hand me the keys and replenish toilet paper. They took care of me. More than once they gave me wine or dinner. More than once they collected me at the train station, when that was by no means part of their landlord service. They offered me the use of their sassy Smart car for errands and sightseeing.

Considering all that these two had done for me, I wanted to return a little hospitality on my last night in town. The pizza place is about twenty feet from their front door so it made sense to have a little party there. I’d bought some good local wine for the occasion (no corkage fee) and we made a night of it. Ham-and-mushroom pizza, anchovy-and-caper pizza, and another one with chorizo and merguez were top-notch. Stephane the pizza man has his diplome from the pizza institute of somewhere prominently displayed.

The three pizzas and two bottles of wine would have made for a swell enough evening, but events then took some surprising twists. Hagen asked if, during my time in Fitou, I’d tried a particular wine. (I hadn’t.) He said something about getting a bottle and taking it to the bar tabac. Christine said ok, and since it was clearly an activity about which they felt so strongly, who was I to stand in the way of their amusement?

So we picked up and walked the hundred meters to the bar tabac. The Grande Rue was quiet for a Saturday, thus adding to our surprise when we turned the corner onto the Place de la République and found ourselves with ringside seats for a brawl. There seemed to be two contenders, each with his team of handlers engaged primarily in holding their man back. Blood was visible on multiple foreheads and noses.

Place de la République, Fitou

It might have made very good sense at that moment to turn around and call it a night. But Hagen had the wine, and I for one didn’t want to cause these nice people any disappointment, so I took up the gauntlet and set out through the battlefield and into the sanctuary of the bar tabac. Once inside we saw at the end of the bar what appeared to be a third combatant, also bloodied and also being restrained by a team of advisers. A truce seemed to be in effect among the concerned parties.

I do not know if it’s customarily permitted to bring one’s own alcohol into the bar tabac but the bartendress was happy on this night to provide us with glasses and leave us alone. She was more concerned with preventing the carnage from staining her faded tile floors.

Calm had just settled upon the place when the front door opened and through it swept a figure of demonic possession. In a blur, one of the pugilists we had passed outside made a quick and straight path to the rear of the bar. Without slowing down he picked up a chair and swung it mightily in the direction of that third fighter. Momentary commotion ensued while staffs of the various teams tried to separate their players from each other. We three bystanders reflexively lifted our wine from our table in case it were drawn into the fray. Chairs were raised again but no one got any good throws in.

The regular bartender, who this evening had no time for Guitar Hero, scowled back and forth wielding a lug wrench, and eventually a truce was reestablished.

Hagen, Christine and I enjoyed our wine. In a gesture of amity I sent a round of drinks to the cluster of townsfolk at the bar. They raised their glasses to me, and after a while some more wine appeared at our own table. My Germans could not have choreographed a better sendoff for me.

It would be a sweet end to my stay in Fitou if the story ended there. Alas, in the excitement and wine-induced haze glow I neglected to set my alarm for the next morning. Hagen had offered to take me to the train station and we were to depart at seven o’clock.

I awoke to the sound of pounding on my front door. Looking at my watch and discovering that it was 7:12am, I leapt up, shuffled groggily to the front window and called out, “Un moment! Un moment!” In hindsight it made little sense that I’d use French since Hagen spoke very good English; maybe it’s a sign of the degree to which I had assimilated.

I had spent the better part of two days applying precise mathematical reasoning to my packing effort. I strove to distribute the heavy items (wine and books) evenly, padding them with clothes. I took into account which of the five bags would fall over a shoulder and which I’d carry in my hands. It was a masterful undertaking, if I do say so. Unfortunately, that last morning’s frenzy undid much of my work. In fewer than five minutes I stuffed and crammed clothes, toiletries, the computer and its accessories into the nearest zippered pocket or compartment. Luggage went tumbling down the staircase toward the front door.

After a farewell hug with Christine, Hagen and I set off for Narbonne. I made my train.