Juanito’s Trables 50-Yr-Backpacker – 1995 Vipassana in Le Boise Planté Pt17

I’ve left this post in draft for a few months now. My wife and I have moved from Canberra to the Gold Coast – where I grew up. We went to my Palm Beach Currumbin high school this morning to buy fruit and veggies at the Farmer’s Market there. It was where I went to year 11 and 12 in 88 & 89, where I met Christophe on my first day – my best friend featured in earlier blog posts – and hung out with Billy, the born-again Christian with an Egyptian background. I think he might have been born in Egypt perhaps, but his family had to flee when his dad read the bible, something frowned upon in the Egyptian Christian tradition he was from. There were arguments in the family and a knife was pulled by his brother, Billy’s uncle. The things people get upset about. Billy’s mum made awesome Egyptian sweets and other food, we were always treated to some nice things when we went over there. I first dislocated my shoulder at Billy’s house when we were playing handball with him, Christophe and I think our Lebanese friend Pascal. I once did a short scene in drama class with Pascal about racism. I managed to be racist against Pascal. Not the first time I was racist. I was a shit in that respect, and not just to Pascal. Hopefully I have learnt my lesson in that respect and certainly try and avoid passing on any lingering racist attitudes.

I was shocked the other day when my ageing aunt came out with some racist musings about how she was a ‘True Blue Aussie’ like Bryan Brown and that my cousin’s child, her grandchild was not, as his mum, her daughter-in-law is Filipino. I was shocked, but can’t say I didn’t hold such attitudes in the past. My love of history has led me to realise though that there are no ‘True Blue Aussies’ (which is a thinly veiled way of saying ‘pure white’ dare I say Ayran Aussies), and that we are  all  multi-cultural. Like my racist Aunt who had a mother who was Irish – who themselves were considered inferior by the English for centuries, and a great grandfather who was Chinese – a fact that only materialised when a few of our family did some DNA testing. Looking back I could see my great uncle Cyril looked a lot like a Chinese front the Guangzhou region. Sadly our family were so racist nobody ever admitted that we had that Chinese ancestry. Anyway, I own my own historical racism and I’m trying my best to rectify it. I realise now I don’t think any of us are born racist, we’re taught to be racist as we go. Not that I want to pick on Bryan Brown, but I’m guessing his connection to Australia doesn’t date back 60-80,000 years like the First Nation’s people who were dispossessed by the racist, and anything but benign British Empire.

Moving on though.

Planning for my 50th year backpacker trip continues. I bought an actual backpack at Pacific Fair a few weekends ago, it’s yellow, not blue like the original I had from 1995. I’ve booked a train trip from Vienna to Venice and paid for a train ticket between Salerno and Palermo, Sicily which we’re going to do in a day, around eight hours or sleeping, playing cards and watching the Italian and Sicilian landscape from the window. I know they’re both in Italy but I like the sound of keeping Sicily separately.

Back in 1995, I was still in France at the Vipassana meditation centre.

What more can I say about Vipassana Meditation?  It changed my life and led to deeper insight into the nature of my existence, and of all existence which is no mean feat. Vipassana in the ancient Pali language literally means ‘insight’, or close enough to use the word ‘literally’ literally (not sure where to put the quotation marks on that one – could have gone for the 2nd literally actually). I don’t meditate anymore. I’m sure I’d benefit from it. I feel the next sentence I write should contain the words ‘I should get back into meditating’. Let’s see.

It’s been many years since I last did a Vipassana meditation course. I did it in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. I’ve also written of my 10-day course in Herefordshire, England, which I did at the start of my trip in 1995, in a previous 50-Yr-Backpacker blog post, and another time when I went to meditate with Kosio and my RMIT uni friend Evan Karayanidis, gets itself a chapter of my ‘book’ The Adventures of Kosio and Juanito (and Corinne). So you can get details from there if you like.

There are different Vipassana traditions though, the one I did was in the tradition of Goenka, which draws on Burmese traditions. The Vipassana centres around the world are set up in very much the same way. Men and women have separate sleeping, dining and exercise areas. The meditation hall is also divided between men and women. I’m not sure how they deal with people who don’t identify with either sexes or are fluent. I guess they have to pick the side they’re most comfortable with and keep with that for the 10 days. There’s a spot at the back where they could perhaps sit in the middle.

In France, in around October/ November (I’m still not completely sure) 1995, I had agreed to serve on courses rather than sit one. That is, I helped support the running of the courses, by cooking, cleaning etc, rather than sitting silently for 10 days. Serving on a course at some point was part of the meditation technique, putting others before oneself, selfless service. Selflessness does benefit oneself anyway so in some ways it’s a good way to be selfish and benefit others, which is better than selfishness that doesn’t better others I guess.

It was the first time I’d served on a course.

There were a few differences with service on a Vipassana course as opposed to sitting a course. For one, you could talk. You could also mingle with the opposite sex in the kitchen area – you still had separate facilities and sleeping quarters for females and the males, and you couldn’t have sex.

Instead of meditating all day, you meditate 3 hours a day during the whole group meditation sessions where everyone meditated in the meditation hall. You would think nothing much could go wrong with those few little differences, but I managed to get in trouble. More on that in a bit.

They were a cool bunch at the meditation centre. Most had been to India, where Goenka first expanded the Vipassana centres and which was the historical home of the Buddha. Having travelled to India most could also speak quite good English. Good, as my French was bordering on non-existent, but I did end up learning the French names for most vegetables, or des légumes.

There were a couple of guys I’d met at the English centre who showed up in France. Beth, this English tapestry expert and some Polish Woman with a very round, cute face. There were also about 7 French, mostly guys but there was maybe one woman, and a German guy, who complained that the French would always speak French rather than English, and perhaps 1 other person from some other country.

The first few days I was at the centre, before the start of the first course I was to serve on. We mostly did gardening and cleaning, which is also service. We’d meditate at least 3 times a day, in the morning, around midday and in the evening. We all helped prepare our meals. Unlike when you were doing a course as a server you got three meals a day. We had a decent breakfast and lunch that we all ate together and then we had a light evening meal which we often prepared ad hoc.

Des légumes were delivered to the centre, they were amazingly fresh and tasty, completely unlike the veggies we got in Australia. There was a small vegetable garden a bit away from the centre, which was still part of the centre’s property,  but out of bounds to those taking courses who were restricted to the meditation hall, their quarters and a small outdoor area where they could get a little bit of exercise a few times a time. The veggie patch was just a short walk up the road from the main centre, it still had a few courgettes, potatoes and tomatoes going from the summer which we collected and took back to add to dinner, which makes me think I probably arrived some time in October, as by the time November came about there was too much frost about for these type of things to survive.

As it was a fully vegetarian place there was also a large assortment of dry beans, lentils and chickpeas to add some protein to the meals. The milk, le lait, from la vache, was collected in big metal milk containers from a farm down the road. I drove the van down once with one of the French guys who I liked, as he was a very hippy type. I didn’t have a licence and didn’t really know how to drive too well, but I managed. I kept asking the French guy to remind me to drive on the right, rather than the left, as it didn’t come natural to me. We saw a huge owl on the way that night, it swooped down from the trees over the van.

A day or two after I arrived a meditation course started. Our chores were then focussed almost entirely on feeding the 60 or so students and cleaning up after them. So a lot of food prep and dishwashing. I made bread a few times for them and also a kind of mozzarella style cheese I learnt to make in Ireland which I prepared using lemons to curdle the milk and then adding salt and hanging in a cheese cloth overnight to get rid of some of the moisture. I only  did that once as the centre manager said it was too expensive.

As servers, we all had to watch a VHS video of Goenka explaining to us the importance of service and reminding us to also keep the 5 precepts of buddhism. Got to love VHS with its Ring-like magnetic lines running through it, kind of like a link to the Other Side.

Everyone helped prepare the breakfasts, lunch and a light supper. There was this English guy, who showed up to serve on the course who kind of took charge of the meal cooking. He obsessively tried to sort through lentils to find little rocks, which seemed, well, obsessive. The French guy who collected me from the village was the head boss. He did the food ordering and stuff. He used to be some maître d at a hotel. He was nice and well organised.

We had a bit of free time after lunch so we could just walk around and hang out a bit.

During the first course I served on I was pretty chilled and relaxed. I chatted a fair bit with Beth and the Polish girl as we peeled and chopped vegetables and the like. The meditation teacher was this American guy. He came up to me one day and said I had to stop talking so much and so loudly as it was disturbing the silent meditators. My voice does carry. He seemed stressed. He should meditate more I thought. I’ve been waiting 27 years to express that come back. Perhaps I should meditate more which may mean I wouldn’t hold on to such pettiness so strongly. I also remember a time some kid stole my clutch-pencil for me in class in like year 6 or 7. It was one of those pencils with a plastic casing and a ‘clutch’ to hold in a lead (really graphite) which you didn’t have to sharpen as you just pressed up more lead (graphite) and voila (another French word) you have some more lead. Anyway some little prick stole it and even though I don’t need or want my clutch pencil anymore – it was green by the way – I still wish all sorts of misfortune and unluckiness on the person who did it.

Meditation supposedly helps you deal with such deep down attachments that are making you miserable. I bet the person doesn’t even remember taking the pencil – though I suspect the person knew exactly what the fuck they were doing.

Just focus on your breath. Watch it go in and out. Watch the rage rise and pass away. Rise and pass away. Fucking prick, in, let it go, out. You don’t actually say anything like that when you meditate, or at least the technique doesn’t teach you to do that. It teaches you to just observe.

Soon the first course had finished and a new one was due to begin in a couple of days. Us servers went back to doing gardening and the like. We all took a walk to a nearby village one day and had a look around. I had the best apple I’d ever tasted in my life on the way. It was on a tree hanging over the fence on the road we were walking on. It was so good that I tried to find the actual tree on Google maps years later. Just like in that movie Lion, where the guy tries to find the village where he was born using Google maps and then one day he finally finds it and goes and finds his mum who he was separated from when he was a young kid and fell asleep on a train. I think I actually did find that apple tree, I swear!

The first course had taken its toll, I realised it was time for me to go back to Australia and, as I had done at the start of the journey, I had miscalculated and had now run out of money. I did a calculation and it seemed after staying in Paris a few nights and buying that avocado, I probably didn’t have enough to even get back to London to get my flight back. I certainly wasn’t going to Barcelona to try and find Agatha, who had pretty much ghosted me, just as Corinne had.

I rang up my mum – who my wife and I live with at the moment as we’re trying to save money to buy a house, and well, she has 5 bedrooms and only uses one and we can use the whole top level, and she lives 800 metres from the beach so it’s a great set-up in its own right – crying and asking if she could lend me a little money so I could make it back, she said leave it with her and she’d see what she could do. I said I was ok for now, I would serve another course where I’d be fed, and have a bed and showers and all so it was all fine.

I think that day I walked into the forest that bordered the mediation centre and just sat under a tree for a few hours being one with nature.

Beth sat the next course so I didn’t have anyone to chat to in the kitchen really. She was a chatterbox as well to be fair, just my voice is deeper.

A Romanian woman called Elina came to serve on the next course. We did chat a little but I did the ‘right’ thing and didn’t gossip excessively with her. I did find out a little bit about her though. She said she was an actress. I joked and said, does that mean she was a waitress? She said no, she was a working actress. As we didn’t talk a lot towards the end of the course I asked for her address and started writing to her. I still write to her on occasions after nearly 27 years. I tried to catch up with her in Paris last time I was there a few years ago. But she was off filming. She does some weird stuff, which I like. She’s often semi-naked.

It turned out she really was a working actress. She was in Schinlder’s List and an episode of Seinfeld. However, she was discovered by a film director in the USA called Hal Hartley when she was a waitress, so I wasn’t far off the mark.

The American guy was replaced by a Swiss guy on the second course I served on. He was much more chilled and brought Swiss chocolate with him for the servers to eat. I ate too much one night and my body wasn’t used to it. Since I’d been obtaining from sexual activity it had all been pent up and the chocolate seemed a catalyst for my libido to go into overdrive. My Skin also got itchy. I tried going to have a shower to regain some balance, but afterwards I just had to have a wank and let it all out. There were a few stains on the sheet.

The second course also finished. As everything does. I’d managed to book myself a seat on a plane leaving from London in a few days so as soon as the course ended I said goodbye to Elina and hitched a ride with Beth, who was also heading back towards England, and some French girl who had done the two courses back to back, so she’d been meditating for like 20 something days in a row. We visited the French girl’s flat in Paris, it was just a little thing with a shared toilet in between her floor and the one below. She also lived with her mum, as my wife and I now do. We walked around Paris a bit and then Beth and I had to turn our attention to where we were staying for the night.

Beth said we could get a bed at Shakespeare bookshop. It turned out we couldn’t, we ended up getting a place at the California Hotel, or some name like that. We had contemplated sharing a room but I stipulated we definitely wanted separate beds. I don’t know if it was ever even remotely on the cards, but that was perhaps the last chance to have actual sex on my European tour and I was too Buddhist to even give it a go. Like I said though, not sure even if it was remotely ever on the cards!

The next day Beth and I hitchhiked from London to Paris. I won’t write about that again here, just click on the link above to check it out.

After Paris and London, the next leg of my journey was India.


Juanito’s Travoles 50-Yr-Backpucker – Dublin to Paris on a bus blogger de blog Pt16

13 December 2022

You know I should be ‘working’. But I turn 50 on Friday and I work for the government, so I’m instead I’ve got SBS world movies on and my rose gold coloured (not sure if that should be hyphenated to rose-gold-coloured – I don’t think they taught me that at school) MacBook Air in front of my shitty work laptop where I just move the mouse every so often to stay online (and answer the occasional query). I just walked up to Supabarn and bought a Three Mills bakery baguette, some turkey ham, some rocket and mixed lettuce, and made myself a sandwich with some cranberry sauce that’s been in the fridge since last Christmas (or perhaps the one before). I got regular pork ham for my son.

Back in 1995 (not literally this is not Back to the Future)

I wish I could write more about Tubbercurry, Sligo. It was the birthplace of my grandmother Bee, in 1899. We called her Bee. She was Bridget, which is also my Daughter’s middle name. After 27 years Tubbercurry is just another place, just a few memories. It’s also called Tobercurry. It’s confusing. One end of the town there’s a sign Tubbercurry and at the other end there’s Tobercurry. It could be an Irish thing. Not like one of those stupid Irish joke things. I’ve worked out they racist. More an Irish spelling thing.

On a side note, in recent years I found out I had a great, or great-great, grandfather from Guangzhou in China. No one told us when we were young. Also a racist thing. But my great-uncle Cyril did look very Chinese.

So Tubbercurry. I remember a poly-tunnel (a big plastic dome-shaped tunnel) where they grew their gherkins and tomatoes.  A pen for the pig who ate the whey that was leftover from the cheesemaking process. The homemade cheese with organically grown poly-tunnel gherkins, and little organic tomatoes on the homemade bread. Perhaps a cow. I don’t think a cow, I think they just bought in their milk. Cows are a hassle, you have to milk them everyday. At Inisglas Stuart used to get frustrated with them and kick them on occasions. Pigs are easier, they don’t care. They eat buckets of food scraps and wallow in the mud. They don’t care. They’re pigs. We took some acid at a ConFest hippy festival in Victoria in the 1990s and ended up sitting in a mud puddle like a pig. I can see the appeal.

There were also the rows of kale, spinach, onions, scallions, potatoes – you’re never far from a potato in Ireland – homemade cordials, digging, planting, harvesting. We’d go pick wild blackberries a couple of times, which formed the basis of those cordials and also homemade jams. Mostly the German organic gardeners’ son and I just shoved them in our mouths while we were out walking in the countryside, which is literally everywhere when you work on an organic farm. We had early morning starts, long days, fairly early to bed, nothing much in the way of TV, but there was a TV somewhere, I remember the kids on the farm asking about Home & Away, an Australian TV soap. It wasn’t a very exciting time. I didn’t mind because I was busy, and I liked the soil on my hands and connection with the earth. It was nice. But that was it. Nice. And kind of relaxing, uncomplicated, just honest manual labour to produce food for people to eat. Not whatever I do for the government, in my current job, which is much more abstract than pulling out a scallion, digging up a spud or picking a capsicum or eggplant in a poly-tunnel. Those are the memories I have of that time. Perhaps around 3 months of nice, relaxing, uncomplicated, life.

I’d saved a few hundred pounds during my time on the farm. I was still on the dole and getting around 40 pounds a week – or maybe a fortnight, in those days 40 pounds seemed to get a fair amount – from the government. Volkmar and Claudia paid me another 20 pounds a week for helping out.

Apart from the one trip to Dublin, I didn’t have any expenses. We had food, lodging, I just ended up buying a little bit of tobacco for entertainment once we smoked the whole tin Volkmar had shared with me, and a few stamps to write postcards and letters to family, Agatha in Dublin, and even one to Corrine in Switzerland.

I farewelled Sligo and headed to Dublin one last time. At the time it was one last time, I may make it back there again. I’m thinking 2025 could be good, a 30 year anniversary trip.

I booked a bus ticket from Dublin to Paris. It was going to take like the best part of two days and one night or something, but it was only around 25 pounds.

When I got to Dublin there was no-one to see in Dublin. Agatha had left to go back to Barcelona. I had her address there and I wrote that I may try and visit her after I went to France. It was late October I think, or perhaps even early November. The streets of Dublin were grey and drizzly like some atmospheric detective drama, which drizzly days in Dublin seem perfectly suited. There was even some thick fog hanging about the lampposts.

It was not a happy day. I didn’t have much time between arriving from Sligo and leaving on the bus. I just walked around a little to stretch my legs, and smoked a cigarette in my green Melbourne tram conductor’s coat, in the fog under a lamppost, just like and fuckin’ Irish spy. Standing under a lamppost, in the dark, the smoke drifting into the air mixing with the fog. I felt pretty tough at the time. Working on farms is a good work out. Even a skinny young man like me develops a few muscles and tone after a couple of months on a farm. Some broad shoulders and the start of a six pack. Maybe 2 cans’ worth.

The bus left close to midnight, I got on and then we headed to some port where the bus was put on a ferry and then the ferry went over to Holyhead in the UK. We didn’t have to stay on the bus on the ferry and I got out and had a cigarette on deck as I watched Ireland drift away and the UK approach. It was a good feeling to have arrived and left Ireland by sea. It’d been around six months. Some of the best and most interesting of my life.

We got back on the bus and down through Birmingham (I don’t know if that was the place, Google maps suggests it as a route from Dublin to Paris so perhaps), sleeping a little, looking out the window a little.

We arrived in London in the morning and had to wait to swap buses. The sun was warm. We had about 2 hours to wait.

I needed to go for a pee but had no pounds to pay for the turnstile to get in.

‘I don’t have any pounds’, I said to the cleaning guy.

‘Just jump over’, he said in what may have been a Jamaican accent.

And in that way, due to the kindness of strangers, I was able to pee. I’d been on the bus around 12 hours, though Google Maps reckons you can do the trip in around 8 hours and 28 minutes, I guess you stop a few places along the way. It was at least the best part of the night and most of the morning. After the pee, and a bit of standing around at the bus stop, we set off again for France.

The bus went down to Dover, then the bus got on a train and across the Chunnel. We were on a bus on a train under the English Channel to Calais.

I’m sure we passed the Somme at some point.

In the late afternoon, we reached Paris. I was knackered. Some guy was at the train station spruiking a hotel. There were three American girls there. He convinced them to go with him to the hotel. I was super tired, and I had some notion I might as well follow the girls, so I just went. We stopped for pizza along the way.

It wasn’t cheap. The hotel, not the pizza. $100 for a night or two. A quarter of my savings. I always seem to get a bit ripped off on the first days in a new country – but nothing compared to the sapphire scam of Thailand a few months earlier. It was in Francs though so I didn’t work out that immediately. It was a decent hotel though, nice clean sheets. Actually super nice, white and crisp sheets, with nice fluffy pillows. I had a shower. It felt like I was washing away months of country soil. It was fucking amazing. I used all the little soaps and shampoos and the soft towels, then got into a nice fluffy bathrobe. I masturbated, then slept like a baby.

The next morning I woke up and watched Scooby-doo in French, masturbated, and then decided I’d head into the centre of Paris on the train. I laid in bed a few minutes – the sheets felt so good – before heading down to breakfast.

I met someone at breakfast who’d bought a cheap airfare from Dublin for around 40 pounds. About 15 pounds more than I’d spent on my bus ticket, though I would have saved 15-16 hours travel time, and perhaps gotten a cheaper place to stay. But I liked my clean crisp white sheets and fluffy white towels, and little soaps and little containers of shampoo and conditioner. And being able to watch Scooby-doo in French. It was more value for money than a rip off. Plus they had croissants and things for breaky so I could fill up for most of the day.

It was a struggle buying a train ticket. I had zero French. My French teacher in year 8 had said I was so bad at French that I should have to go back to year 7. They didn’t even teach French in year 7. I think she was just a cow and it was more of a reflection on her that I didn’t know jack shit French.

After struggling to try and find the words related to tickets – it was like pulling marshmallow shaped unicorns out of the air – the young ticket woman asked, ‘where you want to go?’ she was low-level grumpy but not overly impolite, just sounding tired of foreigners who go to France and can’t speak any French. And hell, she knew English and I knew not French, so I got to appreciate that fact.

‘The Louvre’, I said, shrugging my shoulders struggling to figure out where I should be going in Paris, but somehow everyone knows the Louvre, even uncultured guys who grew up on the Gold Coast with shitty French teachers.

She gave me a ticket which lasted a few days so I could get on and off a few times while I was in Paris. It may have been a 10-trip ticket. The dude clipped a little hole in it every time I entered the station. Apart from the long trips back and forth from the hotel, I mostly walked around though.

I went into the centre of Paris and found a cafe close to a metro station. It wasn’t near the Louvre exactly, I just got off at some random spot. It had a nice little roundabout with a few restaurants, bars and cafes about.

I had a coffee with cream. I didn’t realise I’d ordered one with cream. I asked the waiter why the coffee cost more than the price they’d written on their blackboard. I didn’t realise that the cream would cost me a few extra francs. The water was nice, it wasn’t his fault I couldn’t speak French. The coffee was nice though.

I found my way to the Louvre. It had some cool stairs that kind of floated down in a spiral. They probably still have them there. I didn’t visit the Louvre last time I was in Paris, I went to the Musée d’Orsay instead.  I saw the Mona Lisa and some Egyptian stuff. Just like today there were signs pointing to the little painting by Leonardo, La Joconde in French, so you could make a v-line for it and get a photo with it. La Joconde wasn’t as impressive as the other Italian Renaissance paintings in the room. It’s just very little. And really, it’s only kind of super famous because some dudes stole it. I’m no Italian Renaissance expert, but it’s more of a nice little portrait than something you go ‘wow’ over. The Egyptian stuff was in the basement. That was pretty cool. I also saw the Venus de Milo. The armless beauty. Even before the internet I knew that was super famous. How did we figure such things out before the internet, perhaps in books, TV shows and popular culture absorption.

For lunch I found a supermarket, where I wouldn’t have to speak to anyone. I got some bread and an avocado, and an Asterix & Obelix jar of Nutella, which had a collectable glass which held the Nutella as a gift for my niece and nephew. The avocado was like $5. My money was quickly evaporating.  It was starting to dawn on me that I would never get to Barcelona with the money I had. I got some Gauloise blonde cigarettes (they were much cheaper than the avocado) from a bar and something to drink from a little shop, some orange juice and water, and then some nice nuts from a nice lady from the nut shop, and I went down to the Seine to have a little picnic. It was glorious. Being in Paris with an avocado, French nuts and a very strong cigarette.

The guy from the hotel taught me to say ‘ou se trouve‘ which, ‘where is [insert place]’. I asked some paramilitary ou se trouve le toilette when I was in some fancy looking building. They laughed and one of them pointed me in the right direction. There were paramilitaries all over the city. There had been some bombings by an Algerian group in the months earlier. I wasn’t able to find a rubbish bin as they’d sealed them all to stop people putting bombs in them. And on the way not he bus when we got to France the police got all the African looking people off the bus for interrogation. I never saw so many police and paramilitary in a city. They had serious weapons too. Proper machine guns and all. But still they laughed when I asked them in bad French how to get to the toilet.

Later in the afternoon I walked around some more. I decided while in Paris I should  catch a movie. I asked some guys who were walking along chatting to each other ou se trouve le cinéma, they interrupted their conversation and with a roll of the eyes one of them broke off and showed me the way to  the nearest cinemas. It was a bit out of the way so the guy was super nice to help me out. Actually all the French were nice to me. The cinema was some arty one and showing some English language independent film. I was the only one to laugh at any of the jokes. I think everyone else was French, and maybe the jokes weren’t that funny. But I thought they were. It was a nice film.

I spent one more night at the hotel, it was all I could afford. I visited the Eiffel Tower the next day. I asked someone ou se trouve le Eiffel Tower, and they rolled their eyes and pointed to the big pointy steel thing pointing up into the sky. In those days you could walk right under it. Nowadays it’s fenced off like some zombie enclosure. I didn’t go up the tower. It cost too much. Sitting underneath it was enough. I’d contacted the Vipassana meditation centre at Le Boise Planté and they said I could come down and help serve other doing courses the next day. I’d also written to them when I was in Ireland, so they were kind of expecting me. It was in the direction of Auxerre, about 2 hours south of Paris.

I just walked around Paris some more, I didn’t go to any more museums or anything. I just soaked up the Parisian atmosphere, the seine, the cigarettes and so forth. In the evening I went back to the hotel asking another person, ou se trouve le métro. I guess that was a bit like asking, where is the railway system?

I had just enough money to get on the bus down to the meditation centre, but that was about it. How to get back to London, to Australia? That was another story for another day. I wasn’t even sure exactly how much money I had left at the time. Working out the francs took a little bit to sink in. I think I may have had $50-60 left. Merde.

I wasn’t going to have to think about that for a month or so though while I was at the meditation centre. At that point I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay. A month in France sounded nice. A nice round number.

I worked out what bus I needed to get from Paris to Le Boise Planté, paid some more of my precious francs and then headed off. I left the rest of my Gauloise Blondes on the bus on the seat just before I got off. You couldn’t smoke at meditation centres. They didn’t even have coffee.

While waiting for a lift from the bus stop to the meditation centre I struck up a conversation with an old guy. He spoke no English and me no French. I tried a few words in German. I don’t know what he was saying but he had a good old chat. Perhaps about a cat, or village life, maybe some story about the days of nazi occupation, or perhaps something about a nice courgette he once had. The French did have very nice vegetables as I would find out during my stay at the meditation centre.

The guy from the meditation centre picked me up in a minibus after I’d been chatting for half an hour or so with the old man from the village.

It was dark. We drove to Dhamma Mahi. We didn’t talk a lot.

They found me a bed in the servers quarters. They gave me something to drink and eat and then I joined in the evening meditation and went to bed. The sheets were much more rustic than the fancy hotel ones.

I was back in the sanga, the buddhist community, my family.

I was calm. It was going to be my last adventure in Europe for a while.