Two Inch Heels Part 10 – Magic Bus

So Sunday morning October 21, Steve and I hoisted our packs and walked from the Rue Titon hostel to the main highway that headed out of Paris south towards Lyon, and stuck out our thumbs. I was a bit wistful to leave Giselle and her striking daughter Laurence behind, but was happy to have my new travel partner at my side. He seemed a good companion, a bit more extroverted than me, smart, funny and even-keeled, and all with low ego. I hadn’t seen him have the bouts of moodiness and withdrawal that had overtaken my last travel partner Jack.

Standing on the side of a big Paris thoroughfare packed with cars zipping past and lots of pedestrians as well briskly walking by us on the wide sidewalk, I wasn’t sure anyone would pull over and give us a ride. But someone finally did. A young guy, one of our cohort with his own long hair and bell bottom pants, driving one of the funkiest beat up runty little cars I had had the occasion to see in either Europe or the States. Later when I asked him, he told me with a dose of hippie pride that it was a Citroen “deux chevaux”. I knew enough French to figure out that that meant “two horses”, and I was ready to believe that the little engine, sounding more like a lawnmower under the front hood, might only be two horsepower (it was actually just nine). It was the cutest little ugly duckling of a car, his with a canvass rollback sunroof a lot worse for wear, which was closed on that crisp October day. Steve sat in the front passenger seat next to our host and driver while I sat in the semblance of a backseat squeezed next to our two backpacks taking up most of the space.

Our host immediately connected with us and we with him, like we were all part of some ubiquitous underground insurgency that had agents everywhere, ready to come to the aid of identified co-conspirators. His English was as spotty as Steve’s French, but mine didn’t even qualify as spotty. We had a cobbled together conversation about where we were from and where we were going. After that initial exchange, maybe him confirming that we were true to our hippieish looks, he reached into the ashtray and pulled out what looked like a joint and lit it with the car’s functioning cigarette lighter. It smelled more like tobacco than the burning weed smell I was used to. As he continued to keep his eyes on the road and negotiate his way through traffic he took a puff, held it in for what seemed like an eternity, then exhaled a big puff of smoke with a little cough at the end.

Still eyes on the road, he passed the thing to Steve without a second thought, figuring based on our hair, clothing and general situation that this was standard operating procedure for us fellow freaks as well. Steve hesitated for just a moment and shot a glance back at me. Then he expertly took it from our host using the technique all us tokers had learned where the passer holds the joint loosely between thumb and forefinger and the receiver puts his thumb against the passer’s and gently pushes it away and replaces it on the joint, followed by the same with the other finger. He jauntily took a puff himself and tried to hold it in, only to have it explode out of his mouth in a fit of coughing and smoke. Our driver chuckled and said, “Tabac et haschisch… tres bien”. Steve laughing and still coughing, coughed out a “Tres bien” as well and handed the thing back to me with a shit eating grin on his face and eyes widened for effect as if to say to me, “Let’s see how well YOU do!”

Not to be thought a rookie toker by my older peers in the front seat, I executed my half of the choreographed finger roll joint pass with Steve, put the thing jauntily to my lips, and then carefully inhaled. I had had tobacco and hash several times before, including most recently with the army brats in Munich, and recalled how powerful a high it had been, that added tobacco buzz something I was not used to at all having never smoked regular cigarettes. The resiny smoke burned my throat, but having mobilized all my faculties not to cough, I held it in and then slowly released, with just a little putt putt of a cough at the end, passing it back to our host as I exhaled. Steve shot a look at me again which I knew was saying something like “Show off!” After several more go rounds it was just a tiny roach which our driver gingerly sucked at, burning his lips with a grimace, but then touching the barely lit remnant to his wet tongue and swallowing the remaining evidence.

As we continued to attempt our makeshift conversation, it was a good fifteen or twenty minutes before the buzz crept up on and mugged the rational left side of my brain, liberating the anarchic and creative right side from its overseer. Our driver, obviously more used to negotiating the buzz than us because he could actually continue to drive, was still losing his ability to put semi coherent sentences together. Half the time now we’d reply to his stumbling question with a giggle rather than actual words, as his incomprehensible French mixed with pidgin English now seemed wildly humorous.

Though our driver was not headed to Lyon or very far south at all, thankfully given our now intoxicated state he at least got us out of town, and even drove a little out of his way to let us out at what he thought was a good spot to catch a ride further south on the highway. We stumbled out of his funky little jalopy with an excessive chorus of “Merci”s and “Bon voyage”s, grabbed our backpacks, and did our best to reorient ourselves to the real world on the highway, including sticking out our thumbs. A second ride came quickly. A much more taciturn older French man, not part of our underground insurgency. He was much quieter, with Steve in the front passenger seat doing his best, though stoned, to respond sufficiently and semi-coherently to his few standard questions in his minimal English, so as to not appear rude.

He let us off at his turnoff from the highway and showed us on my map where we were, about 100 kilometers south of Paris, with still another 500 to Lyon. It was way past lunchtime, or at least seemed like it ought to be, and the salami, cheese and crackers we had squirreled away in our packs we consumed greedily. We were still sitting under a tree by the side of the road chowing down, not even with our thumbs out yet soliciting a ride, when a beat up old Volkswagen van pulled over.

The driver, probably between Steve and I in age, his long straight blonde hair in a long rubber banded ponytail disappearing somewhere down behind his back, grinned and waved at us. “You dudes going south?”

In our generation’s culture, the old, often colorfully repainted VW “Microbus” was already an iconic hippie chariot, along with its bigger cousins that were actual repurposed school buses, as celebrated in The Who’s rockabilly hit about the acquisition of a “Magic Bus”.

Every day I get in the queue
To get on the bus that takes me to you
I’m so nervous, I just sit and smile
Your house is only another mile

Thank you, driver, for getting me here
You’ll be an inspector, have no fear
I don’t want to cause no fuss
But can I buy your Magic Bus?

I don’t care how much I pay
I want to drive my bus to my baby each day

I had already learned from other backpacking members of my cohort about this alternative approach to hitching or train travel to see the Continent. You come over to Europe in September and apparently there are hundreds of vans for sale in London or Amsterdam or other major cities. You could get one for about $500, with insurance costing you another $200 for a year, plus gas at about $15 a day. Between four people that would be an initial investment of $125 each and then $4 a day, which covered all your transport and a place to sleep when needed.

Dragging my easily led on a tangent stoned brain back to the here and now, both Steve and I, as if on cue, nodded vigorously to his query, neither of us quite able to awake the speech centers of our brain so quickly. Steve finally managed to fashion the words, “Spain dude… Barcelona!”

“Dude”, the driver responded in kind but with emphasis. Then, “If you can chip in for gas we’ll be happy to take you there!”.

“Sure”, I replied enthusiastically, but that was one “dude” too many for my THC juiced mind not to get a major kick out of, and to fly off on another tangent. That word had been part of the hippie lexicon of the 1960s now with a dose of early 1970s post-hippie glam as called out by David Bowie in his song, “All the Young Dudes”, popularized by the band Mott the Hoople, challenging the established order’s negative take on my cohort and even challenging the Sixties musical icons which, according to Bowie, we were evolving beyond to something new that they were still trying to distill…

Television man is crazy
Saying we’re juvenile delinquent wrecks
Oh man, why do I need TV when I got T-Rex
Oh, brother, you’ve guessed, I’m a dude

And my brother’s back at home with his Beatles and his Stones
We never got it off on that revolution stuff
What a drag
Too many snags

All the young dudes
Carry the news
Boogaloo dudes
Carry the news

I was a sucker for a good anthem, and resonated with the theatrical, androgynous and sci-fi minded Bowie, who was slamming and glamming his way into the ranks of my Greek chorus. Yeah maybe the revolution was a naive hope at this point, with too too much standing in the way of its realization, which was a drag indeed! And yeah, Bowie was standing in solidarity with his peers, including Mark Bolan’s seminal British glam-rock band T-Rex. And whether I was ready or not to embrace Bowie and Bolan’s post-hippie worldview, we were indeed the dancing and prancing young males, with our hair and heels, along with our female comrades, carrying the news of a new order that we would somehow create, however the hell that was going to happen.

Again dragging my AWOL mind back, the “we” our new driving host was referring to was his travel partner riding shotgun, tipping her finger at us and grinning, with her shock of frizzy red hair bursting from above her Canadian flag headband.

She spoke and managed to refrain from the D-word.

“Hey folks, welcome aboard. I’m Zo and this is my friend Randall. You two seem to be buzzing on some good shit. Got any left?”

“Yes but sadly no”, Steve responded, somehow trying to smile and look sad at the same time, then realizing his response might not have been clear. “That is yes, you know, we are pretty fucking high.” Steve gave me a look like, “so what planet are we on again?”, and I started giggling, Zo noting everything, including him doing his best to continue.

“But no”, Steve went on, “Unfortunately, that was his stuff that he shared, you know the guy that picked us up, not that last guy, the one before.” And then going off on his own tangent, “Driving one of the FONKIEST little cars I’ve seen.” He said “funkiest” with emphasis and a short O rather than a U sound. Then pulling his own mind back. “I’m Steve by the way… and this is Coop”, and he flashed her his killer smile, which hit home.

“Good shit indeed, eh?” Zo chuckled, and got out of her seat and moved behind it to open the side door to the back of the van. “We can take you to Barcelona or points south. My comrade and I are thinking we’ll go to Morocco if there’s a ferry. Maybe score some hash there if we can afford it. We’re hoping everything’s a lot cheaper down there.” That was all our hope.

As Steve and I climbed in the thing we saw that where there normally would have been a backseat there was instead a big space filled with an old mattress covered by several blankets. We wedged our packs next to theirs in the very back behind it and both sat cross legged on the mattress. Randall fired up the engine and we were off, Zo gleefully interrogated us and expounded on the two of them as well from her shotgun perch.

It was such a rare privilege these days to have a conversation where everyone spoke lots of English, and in this case, such a charming interrogator! So Zo extracted from our hash fried brains where we were from, where we had been on our European odysseys so far and what was ahead. She was particularly interested in my relationship with Angie and how we came to part company, and was also taken by the fact that Steve and I had only first met each other a few days ago, given that we seemed so comfortable with each other. Randall would chime in with an occasional “dude” to acknowledge something positive, or a “bogue” when we shared something less so, like when I told the story of my breathalyzer encounter with the Swiss police in Chur.

“Totally bogue, dude!”

We learned that Zo and Randall had grown up in Saskatoon Saskatchewan and had known each other since elementary school. Like my childhood friend Molly and I, they had lived across the street from each other and had been best buddies from a very young age. Intrigued and looking for any signs, I could not tell based on what she said or her body language whether they were a couple now or just good friends. Steve and I didn’t ask, it certainly was a bit too forward for me, doubly so in my stoned state. Randall was tall and thin with his straight blonde hair kind of highlighting the narrowness of his nose and face. Her morphology was at the opposite extreme, short and stocky, kind of like my friend Angie, with a round freckled face, bright harlequin green eyes and that shock of curly red hair that looked like it had never been subdued by comb or brush. They had been travelling mostly north of where I’d been – in Scandinavia, Denmark, Northern Germany, and the Netherlands, now like frugal snowbirds heading south to escape the cold and the higher prices.

When we had finally gotten through Lyon, after paying for a couple fairly expensive toll roads along the way, Zo and Randall conferred and decided that we should get off the Autoroute system and take the back roads instead through the Pyrenees into Spain. My road map was actually better than theirs and I became the navigator.

Now on a winding two-lane highway through the hilly countryside, at the first town we encountered we found a grocery store and stocked up on provisions, plus a gas station, Steve and I chipping in as agreed to buy “essence” (French for gasoline). After the four of us shared a dinner mostly of delicious canned sardines and soda crackers, Zo took her turn at the wheel. Randall, who had been driving all day, moved to the mattress in back and quickly fell asleep. I was invited to ride in the front seat next to her consulting my map with my flashlight to help guide the way. Steve stretched out on the other half of the mattress with his rolled sleeping bag propping up his head.

We spent the next several hours driving through the rolling hills and little isolated valleys of the Midi-Pyrénées region of southern France. With nightfall, the picturesque farmland and countryside became just a dark winding road punctuated by the occasional mostly dark little town. Zo drove on into the night but finally pulled over in one of those small towns just before midnight. Randall was sound asleep and she asked Steve and I if we were willing to do a shift driving. Steve said he would but he had never driven a car with a standard transmission before. From my experiences that past summer driving the Briarwood Hilton’s VW van with its clutch and stick, I was happy, excited even, to volunteer.

Though pretty tired, Zo insisted on taking the passenger seat, probably to make sure I knew what I was doing in the driving department. With a fresh tank of “essence” I took the wheel and drove into the night, wending our way up and down mountain switchbacks as we got deeper into the Pyrenees mountains that divided France from Spain, doing not significantly worse with the clutch than Zo had, given that my stretch had steeper grades than hers. I drove through dark little towns with old stone buildings that came right up to the road, like England but decidedly French. We traversed lonely roads where we met a car in the other direction maybe every half hour. It seemed to take forever to get anywhere, like we had stumbled into some magical fairyland with very different laws of time and space. Zo dozed off, only rousing every so often jostled by a sharper turn, inquiring if I was still okay to drive. In the middle of the night as I drove on into the dark night I felt a tremendous sense of agency, responsible for piloting the vehicle carrying my three sleeping comrades.

About 3am, getting low on gas, I pulled over at a gas station in a little town, but though still with a light on appeared to be closed. Zo, roused from her latest snooze, suggested that we best just park the van and all get some sleep until the station opened up again in the morning. Randall and Steve were both sound asleep on either side of the mattress, leaving just two feet between them. I figured Zo would sleep between them, I couldn’t imagine she’d suggest anything otherwise.

“I’ll sleep up here on the front two seats”, I volunteered, figuring that would prevent an awkward moment of us having to sort out who would get that single open middle spot on the mattress.

“Gallant but not necessary dude”, she replied, her freckled face grinning at my offer, but with barely opened eyes. Now I was figuring she was thinking male types in the back, female in the front, for a little modicum of modesty.

She continued, “If we promise to keep it in our pants and not feel each other up too much I think we’ll both just fit between our comrades, eh?”

She looked at me. “You seem like a nice enough bed partner”, then a quick sniff of her armpit, “No gamier than I am at this point. Van’s got a place to sleep but no shower so… what can ya do.”

She lay down on the mattress on her side facing Randall and patted the remaining foot of space right behind her butt, a nice feature of her body that caught my attention at that moment. I tried to just squeeze down between her and Steve facing her without touching her, but I lost my balance slightly and my hand ended up on her rear end for a moment before I successfully slid into my slot.

“Sorry”, I said quickly, “Didn’t mean to do that!”

She chuckled under her breath, “No harm done dude. As I said we’ll just keep the feeling each other up down to a dull roar, eh?”

She stopped talking after that and in a couple minutes she was dead asleep like the others.

As I lay next to her and her sweaty salty but not unpleasant scent, and felt the calm energetic field of her body, I realized what an impressive being she was, so positive and capable. I thought about Angie and what our relationship might have become if we had continued our journey together rather than parting company early on in England as we had. Zo was like a more confident grown up version of Angie. My mind raced for a good hour, thinking about Angie and Zo and Lane, and this whole societal expectation that friends could not be physically intimate without it being sexual. Hell, “physically intimate” was assumed to mean sexual. Finally I drifted off into unconsciousness.

I awoke next to Zo, the soft light of the morning coming through the van windows above us. Her riot of red hair was tickling the tip of my nose. She lay on her side facing away from me, her jean clad rear end pressed against my hip, a fact that captured my attention, along with the elastic band of her white underwear and just the tiniest bit of butt crack showing. It felt good, exciting even, to be so close to her, and I tried not to stir so she would not move in response, and deny me her physical contact and the fantasy that she was my bed partner.

I had slept next to female peers twice before. Next to my first girlfriend Christine, in our separate sleeping bags next to two other friends, the night we met, but ironically not after that when we had become a couple of sorts. Six months or so after that I had slept in a big bed with three of my theater comrades – Natasha, Max and Maggie – all of us in t-shirts and underwear and cuddling with each other more intimately. Again there was irony, because I had a crush on Natasha, but she was at the other end of the bed next to Max while I cuddled next to Maggie. Still it was an awesome cuddle and a very fond memory.

So here in the present, somewhere in the Pyrenees of Southern France was the third time, again, like with Christine, with someone I had just met, but in this case, ironically once again, someone I would probably never see again once she and her comrade dropped Steve and I off in Barcelona. But still, it felt good, the universe showing me it was possible. Though I was shy and even timid at times, particularly with people I did not know, once I got to know someone and felt like we appreciated each other, I was generally comfortable with intimacy, though not overtly sexual intimacy, and even craved it. I could imagine having a real girlfriend someday soon, in bed and sleeping next to her, getting naked, and having sex even.

When I finally did move, Zo did as well, scooching away, rolling over on her back and opening her eyes, getting her bearings before turning her head to mine and wishing me a friendly good morning. Her freckled face and green eyes were less than a foot from mine, and with the intimacy of that proximity, I felt suddenly shy and not sure what to say in this circumstance. I figured it was way too forward to comment on how nice it had been to sleep next to her, and of course rude and inappropriate to comment on how cute her butt had looked with her underwear showing and pressed against my hip. But those were my real feelings that I had to keep to myself and hopefully not divulge nonverbally as well. So to escape some sort of inadvertent revelation of my thrall or a query from her on how I was doing, I sat up.

Remaining in her prone position, hands now behind her head, she asked casually, “So where are our comrades?” with no sense of urgency or concern, more just seeking some information that might be useful when determined. I noted to myself that I liked the word “comrade” too, it incanted us with that solidarity of fellow revolutionaries. I got to my feet and peered out the windows, but Randall and Steve were nowhere to be seen. The gas station was open but had no customers, other than us actually, since we had technically been waiting since three in the morning to essence up.

Which we finally did, me popping for half the cost, allowing me to use up most of the French francs I still had, and well worth the appreciative hand on my shoulder for the moment and a frecklie smile. And we were soon joined by our “mates” who had walked down the road to a grocery store to buy more food, including two long thin loaves of freshly baked bread that Giselle had taught me was referred to as “baguettes”. As we devoured the still warm bread, along with slivers of hard cheese and peppery salami, Randall thanked me for taking a turn driving last night and said he was good to get behind the wheel this morning. He also said that we would be crossing the border to Spain later this morning and the customs police, “Franco’s finest” he called them, might want to search us and all our stuff.

“So if you dudes are holding out on us any smoke or pills or other shit”, Zo said seriously, indulging the D-word, “We forgive you, but ya gotta use it or lose it before we cross that border. And if you need any help using it, Randall and I more than happy to help.” She winked at me and I chuckled. I felt like we were old buddies, though I’d just met her yesterday.

“I wish!” Steve noted. Zo put her gaze back on me and I shook my head and made a little sad pout.

God I wish I had some, I thought, so we could share a bowl or a jay our two comrades. I was fantasizing bigtime what intriguing facets of Zo a good THC percolation might unlock, particularly because she had mentioned the possibility several times which meant she probably really enjoyed getting high. The sharing of marijuana, or hashish here in Europe, of course served as my own cohort’s signature recreational intoxicant and social lubricant. It rose to the level of being a social glue even, bonding us to each other, and in contrast to our parents’ generation that bonded over alcohol and controlled the world. To us, to our generation, the embodiment of peer solidarity was passing the joint or the pipe around the circle and getting stoned together. Whether we could walk the walk of true societal transformation that the real hippies aspired to, we could at least talk the talk, and as it were, smoke the smoke. Unfortunately, with Randall and Zo circumstances did not allow for that bonding ritual to further cement our connections.

So at least having broken bread together, we started out again with Randall at the wheel burning a new tank of “essence”, finally approaching the border about midday. And as he and Zo had feared, the Spanish customs officers, after talking with Randall and then asking for all our passports, made us exit our vehicle and proceeded with a thorough search of all our packs and the van itself. They looked under the thing, removed the mattress and blankets from the back, and even removed several of the interior door panels. It took a couple hours, during which time all we could do was sit and watch helplessly while the two officers, with their very military looking uniforms and carrying holstered sidearms on their belts, worked away discussing the situation in Spanish. It was nerve wracking for me, recalling my own previous experience with the Swiss police speaking German and giving me the breathalyzer test. Zo seemed unfazed the whole time, which helped me stay calmer myself.

Finally they finished, put the panels back on the inside of the van and let us have access to our mattress, blankets, glove compartment contents, and the rest of our stuff. That included our packs and their unpacked contents, in jumbled piles on a couple of long wood tables.

As we four approached the tables to repack our stuff, my eyes were drawn to Zo’s pile, which was right next to mine and included a bra and several pairs of underwear. The bra and two pairs of her underwear looked like the typical white stuff I had seen women wear. On my female theater comrades when we were doing quick costume changes backstage during a play, or the ones my mom was wearing a couple times on a hot summer night when she had fallen asleep on her bed uncovered and I went in her room to turn off her TV. Zo’s other pair was very different, black and lacey and even kind of see through, something I had not seen before, but intrigued me. Zo noticed me noticing this provocative article of her clothing.

“Dude”, she said, “You like those black panties?”

I shuddered and hoped THAT at least was undetectable by her. I struggled to quickly say something nonchalant. “Yeah, they’re interesting”, is what came out of my mouth somehow, and I immediately realized I might have opened a can of worms, revealed a feeling I had in the erotic arena.

“Yeah?” she replied quietly and thoughtfully, staring down at them, which might have been okay except she phrased it as a question, delivered with what felt like an invitation to intimate sincerity.

While Randall and Steve were off at the other table chatting and wrangling the contents of their packs, there was just a moment of an intimate bubble around Zo and I. As always, craving intimacy particularly with a female peer that I liked and was comfortable with, in this case enough to sleep next to her last night, I struggled mightily not to bail, and gave a fairly honest reply, while both of us looked at the panties and not at each other.

“Wearing those you’re showing it off!” I said.

The delicious “it” was not just her vagina, or my penis, but that whole revelatory nakedness, near nakedness in this instance, that I had always craved, mostly fantasized about but occasionally had engaged in with my male and one female peer when I was much younger and not so repressed. Zo and I were both clear what that “it” was that we were talking about.

“Indeed, eh?” she replied with a little flair of shyness and modesty, which now had me totally smitten with her if I had not been so already as she continued, “I bought them in one of those special shops in Copenhagen.” SEX shops I figured, though she had not used the word.

“Not sure when I’ll ever have the occasion to wear them!” She chuckled.

It was just one of those magic moments and then it was gone, and she and I busied ourselves separately with repacking our packs. And as the four of us gathered, repacked, and restored things to our vehicle, while the customs agents stood about in view but now uninterested in us, I felt solidarity with my three comrades in the context of the hippie ethos. We had been profiled and singled out based on our age, our clothes, our hair, and our vehicle, with the concern that denizens of our cohort would be likely to be trying to smuggle drugs into the country. But in a larger sense it felt like we were agents of disruption and change, kept at arm’s length by the established society, and only occasionally controlled to some degree when we did something that mandated official attention, like crossing a national border.

And it was not lost on me that Spain was still governed by an authoritarian regime led by Generalissimo Francisco Franco (who would remain in power for another two years before his death). I had read back home about the student revolts in Spain in the last several years, infiltrated by plainclothes secret police, and then violently repressed by the conventional police. In May of the previous year, an American student had been arrested by those secret police in Barcelona, charged and imprisoned under martial law for the crime of wearing an old Spanish Army jacket.

I must confess I tend to wax hyperbolic at times, and at that moment as my three fellow travellers and I reboarded our hippie chariot, even though our invasion of Spain was only to see the sites and not to disrupt the established order, I couldn’t help but think of Jefferson Airplane’s song “Volunteers”

Look what’s happening out in the streets
Got a revolution (got to revolution)
Hey, I’m dancing down the streets
Got a revolution (got to revolution)
Oh, ain’t it amazing all the people I meet?
Got a revolution (got to revolution)
One generation got old
One generation got soul
This generation got no destination to hold
Pick up the cry

I shot a glance at Zo and she grinned and rolled her green eyes. We were kindred spirits in that moment, smoke or no. Yeah we were privileged white kids let loose in foreign lands. Wannabe hippies, flower children, disruptors, change agents, revolutionaries, feeling at least for the moment perhaps more like the real thing given the search we had just been subjected to. But Franco and all the rest of our parents’ generation HAD gotten old. And that generation sandwiched between our parents and us had gotten that soul in their music at least. And weren’t my comrades and I, wandering about this grand old continent, going any which way the mood struck us at the moment, and certainly me not knowing what the hell I was going to do next upon my return to the states, travelers with no “destination to hold”?

So we finally got to Barcelona in the mid afternoon. I got my first look at the Mediterranean. The “Middle Earth” sea around which Western civilization began its problematic developmental path. The countryside along the way was spotted with ferns and jagged rock formations with an old Moorish fortress here or there. The sun was shining, the temperature was in the 60s, and compared to the cold, gray and wet we had left to the north, and forgetting for the moment those in charge of our newly entered place, it felt like paradise.

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