On the train to Antibes we drank a bottle of wine (or three) and a bottle of gin (just one). We played eight million hands of hearts. We met an Italian guy who accepted a glass of wine because “an Italian never says no to wine.” We met a guy who didn’t speak a lick of English but successfully explained that he was a bridge engineer. We peed through a hole right onto the tracks. Landscapes blurred: green fields, dark hills, blue ocean, pink sun, starry sky. No one ever checked the tickets we paid over 150 euro for, not once, not even when we crossed the border into France and changed trains.
It was a dream journey, one that ended with us hustling our giant packs and drunken bodies out of the train at the wrong station. We were following a pack of cute American girls who wanted nothing to do with us because they were in Europe to find cute European boys not sloshed American tourists.
“Okay,” I thought, staring at the black screen of my dead phone, “I can make this work.”
I navigated by the stars, with moss, a makeshift compass, the lode stone in my forehead. Basically, I felt which way was right and followed it. I was mostly correct. The problem, though, was that my earnest strides led us nowhere near a place selling food.
We hadn’t eaten since the day’s journey had started nearly twelve hours before in Cinque Terre. And that hadn’t been a real meal, just a power bar apiece. Gin and wine had satiated us in a purely caloric sense, but after a while the body demands solid foods like it demands oxygen. My companions grew restless.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs dictates that man craves food, shelter, and sex above all other things. In that small category, though, certain individuals prioritize differently. I, for example, prioritize shelter. Having abandoned the train at the wrong station, I first and foremost needed to arrive at our hotel before the reservation “went bad,” or did whatever hotel reservations do when you arrive past midnight. Because, obviously, if we couldn’t get into our hotel, we would die on the cold streets of France. Obviously.
My friends thought differently. They prioritized food because, you know, starvation is a pretty terrible way to go. And twelve hours running on power bar and alcohol makes the body experience symptoms very similar to starvation. So they mutinied.
We ducked off the main drag, a straight, storeless expanse leading directly to the ocean, onto a side street that at the very least promised a small Russian convenience store. Yes, Russian. Every damn thing was in Russian. But we bought meat and bread and a brick of cheese because those things don’t require translation.
Blocks later we discovered a large, wave-tossed bay filled with dead fish and sewage. Here, in the darkness, we used a Swiss Army knife to brutally carve the meat and cheese. These thick chunks we slathered across ragged hunks of baguette. The air was ripe with the dense scent of rotting fishflesh. The waves smashed the black shore like syrup tsunamis. We devoured the meal like hyenas in a downed water buffalo. Ripping and tearing and chorgling as we attempted to laugh at ourselves and swallow more food at the same time.
It was the best meal we had in Europe.
Meanwhile, I was still fretting about that damn hotel room. “At least we’ll be full when we die from exposure,” I reassured myself.