My own little slice of hell.
It’s the morning business rush; the 9am-ers position themselves along the platform, discreetly eyeing the competition.
The train wheezes into the station, and all order is lost. Herding themselves in front of the door, they commit the cardinal sin of train travel: Never impede passengers trying to exit. Those poor saps barely escape before the herd lumbers on, in search of fulfilling their primal need to sit down. The tense scuffling of feet, exasperated sighs, desperately roving eyes and sudden acrobatic manoeuvres at the sight of an empty seat… I have to admire the organized chaos.
In summertime, add in oafish commoners with ill-fitting cheap sunglasses who lug too much baggage onboard, along with their cross-eyed hyperactive children. Solo travellers scurry on to find an empty pair of seats, plop down, then protectively seat their hardside luggage next to them. I walk by, and they avoid eye contact.
It’s a 15-minute ride. I think I’ll survive if I stand.
I try to read, but I’m distracted by the flutter of conversation around me. Banal conversation, rehashed. Kids, weather, job. I burrow deeper into my book.
Suddenly I catch a whiff that offends my senses, emanating from the miserable latrine. My nostrils are burning. Good God, have these people no shame? Passive-aggressive territoriality at its lowest. How dare they subject the rest of us to the injustice of smelling their beastly morning constitution? Is this what freedom looks like? Forcing others to suffer the indignity of inhaling their ungodly coffee-fueled evacuation…
We approach our destination, and these bovines elbow discreetly toward the door. Self-important squares need to be the first off the train. Underlying message: “I’m more important than everyone else here.”
Indeed, we are at the center of our respective universes. Every morning at 8:24am, there are a hundred supremely-important universes fighting an imaginary battle for a prime position on the livestock transport line.
The herd shuffles forward, hooves clacking in the urgent rush. A self-herding mass, headed straight for the abattoir.
My heart bays: I don’t belong here.
It’s that time of the year again, and I’ve been looking forward to it. Silver lights suspended all around town from the beautiful Haussmanian balconies, and neat rows of red and blue cabins erected in the town center. The Christmas Market is the embodiment of the spirit of the season. I love the glow of the lights, the smell of cinnamon and mulled wine, and the glorious explosion of rich colors. The holiday season is a beautiful time to be alive.
With this lovely image in mind, I dance out of work, looking forward to strolling about the market on my way home. My spirit is light, and I’m surprised there aren’t twittering doves lifting my coattails on the way out.
I arrive at the market with a bounce in my step.
A young couple is swinging their bags as they stroll, and they’re unceremoniously perfect in converging into my path, cutting me right off. No matter, they must be so lost in their loving reverie that they didn’t see me.
Then my heart starts to sink as I pass by each little cabin.
Vendors are selling snake oil and toe socks, ugly overpriced jewelry and cured saucisson that smell like feet. Waffles and churros are made from boxed mixes and dredged with off-brand imitation Nutella. Sacrilege.
Warped speakers vomit out “Last Christmas,” and the tinny sound of George Michael narrates my walk through town. The song echoes and distorts off the storefronts, intercut with snippets of banal dialogue.
A vendor is displaying huge slabs of chocolate, filled with nuts and dried fruit. There is no plastic barrier, and I imagine passersby inadvertently touching the chocolate with their putrid hands, and germy children sneezing all over it. Merry Christmas, Grandma; here’s a taste of gastroenteritis.
A group of sour-smelling, salty-looking homeless dudes play patty cake while their dogs gnaw at their rope collars. One dog is spreading his own Christmas cheer all over the sidewalk; something tells me he hasn’t been eating enough kibbles.
All the while, George Michael’s buttery voice indulges the word “special,” and it’s following me at every turn. His sensual whispers are giving me douche chills. I try to keep my spirits up as he flirtatiously caresses each word, but it’s starting to wear on my soul.
Just ahead, a fat homeless guy shuffles along, muttering to himself. At once, like a backfiring jalopy, he fires out of both ends. He releases a massive wet fart, then coughs up onto the cobblestone.
A crescendo of wails starts up from the other side; a kid has just evacuated his churro all over the front of his jacket. Mom looks beyond exasperated, and she herself is fighting the urge to gag as she wipes up her kid with cheap disintegrating napkins.
I don’t have time to wish them a Merry Christmas because I’m dancing around the pavement now, swerving and side-stepping the well-trodden doggie piles. Like an unholy mandala, the traces of shit radiate outward from the foul nucleus. Animals.
This is no Christmas market. This is criminal. This is a farce.
On a human level, this is offensive. They’ve taken the spirit of Christmas, dolled it up with rouge and cheap perfume, and sold her off to the highest bidder. They’ve turned her out, and for what? As Seen On TV gimmicks and radio-controlled planes that the vendor insists on dive-bombing in front of you, expecting you to be impressed. Where are the homemade crepes with real fucking Nutella? Where’s the hippie selling handmade hemp bracelets and artisanal soap? This is sordid business.
Tim Curry is laughing diabolically somewhere, as “Time of My Life” starts to ooze out of the speakers. I gotta get outta here, man.
The holiday season is a beautiful time to be alive? Humbug.
[Warning: Nothing but poop-talk here.]
As a reasonably well-seasoned traveler, I think my sensitivity to shit has diminished exponentially. They don’t tell you that in the guidebooks, but it comes with the territory. Having to use questionable toilets (if you’ve got the luxury of calling it a toilet, so much the better), with or without anything for post-action cleanup, open bins for paper disposal, and other such experiences have helped build me into the iron-clad stomached woman I am today.
In Japan, there was Shair (shit + air = Shair). A lovely breeze while walking through the streets of Osaka would occasionally slap you into reality with a dose of rank, thick Shair. This was almost palpable on the tongue, and it would immediately strip away the joy from the moment.
Then I went to South Korea, where toilet paper wasn’t meant to be disposed of in the toilet. The horrors that I witnessed in those ladies’ restrooms… It was astounding sometimes, to see such put-together-looking women entering the bathroom, and leaving such carnage in their wake. Open wastebins seemed to be a general suggestion: “Aim somewhere in this vicinity.” Not everyone was an accurate shot, nor were they particularly worried about concealing the nature of their excretions. Not to mention the wretched Shair that I caught in the mouth on a bus ride to Siheung one day…
Now, I’m in France: land of baguettes, cheese, stripey shirts and not picking up after your shitty dog. People on a stroll with their dogs in the countryside, in small towns, in the city: no matter where, you’ll be sure to find a steaming pile of go-fuck-yourself left by some lazy dog owner. And depending on when it was deposited, you’ll be dismayed to find that several unsuspecting pedestrians, bike-riders, or even other dogs have stepped in it. And then, realizing their mistake, apparently decided to smear it all over the sidewalk. You could piece together the entire history of an ill-placed dog turd by analyzing the surrounding area. In front of restaurants, in busy pedestrian areas, on stairs: you’re never safe from danger.
Perhaps the best-placed turd I ever witnessed was in a busy pedestrian walkway in the center of Angers. On a corner in front of a store was a gold-painted living statue, who apparently wanted to make a few bucks on a nice, sunny day. He was positioned near a huge, already well-trodded dogpile, in the perfect spot where anyone that caught a glimpse of the living statue while walking past were taken off-guard and distracted by him, thus placed in a direct path to make contact with the turd. It was so perfect that I had to ask myself whether he didn’t pick that spot on purpose. I imagined how great it would be if instead of changing poses when he received a coin, he’d change everytime someone stepped in that monstrous shit. And so this scene made my day.
Unfortunately, this arguably charming type of poop story comes up far too infrequently. I’m just glad my stomach is strong enough to see the humor before the disgust sets in.