Travelling in France | No Mad's Land
No Mad's Land

Travelling in France

Sans domicile fixe

For the first post of my website, what’s better than to talk about my country and my nomad’s condition ? In search of sun and warmth before winter’s coming, I head to Spain. I’m lucky, while summer was very rainy, that this winter 2014 was so slow to arrive, we could almost speak of « Indian Autumn », summer seems extend infinitely.
It was not rare in November to be oblige to cycling in shorts … It’s a big advantage for me of course because it’s more pleasant to ride under the sun and dry, furthermore without reaching excessive warm temperatures, but mainly because this avoids having to put poncho or other rain clothes, to be flooded and then scare people with a filthy and dripping …

Despite this, I discovered with amazement that spend winter on the Road in his own country has a major drawback that I had neglected so far.
As the summer, people aren’t surprised to meet travelers, probably because it’s the period of paid leave, it seems more abnormal for them to find a French guy travelling in winter in his own country.

Here is a typical discussion in which I found myself confronted daily during my North / South crossing during winter in France:

« - Hello Sir, excuse me for disturbing you, I was just wondering if it would be possible to have some water please. Could you fill me my canteen ?

Moment of hesitation, I am be observed from head to feet and left to write all the bags of my bike … and the person answering:

- But you are … (hesitating, searching for words ) … homeless ?
– Well, it depends on which perspective one takes. If we stick to the definition, yes I’m homeless, but the tone of your voice suggests to me that the word homeless seems rather pejorative for you, then I would say rather that I travel, I’m nomad …
– Ah … but uh, are you looking for a job in the region ?
– No no, I travelling to meet people …
– Ah … so you touch the minimum salary, or unemployment salary, or the help for disabled people may be …
– I had access to unemployment salary before, but not yet. You know, by principle (some people think I’m too stupid …) when I travel and left France, I think it’s not the taxes of other who have to pay my travels … you know, sleep in my tent , wtih no car, no screen, … with a little resourcefulness and a lot of courage, it doesn’t really cost much to live …
– Ah … (silence)
– Can I have some water ?
– Ah yes … (and the door slams shut sometimes closed with double turn of the key …)

The door opens again and they give me fast the canteen:
– Thank you very much. Have a nice day.

I leave then gently trying not to frighten the dogs howling to me, and turning my head, I see the person watching me hidden behind the curtain …

One day a man who had confidence in me and my eyes, let me put the tent in his garden. At breakfast the next day, he told me that, once, a young cyclist seeking to fill his canteen, emptied it after each discussion and gonna knock on another door to look inside each house. At the end of his short tour of district, she probably imagined possibly rob then she was pick up by a car …

I take the road along water … Jacques Sirat, a famous nomad, worked at the post office of Moissac. I’m almost arrived on this town by the side channel of the Garonne. One of his former colleague fishing with her husband. She directly recognizes the overcharge characteristic of a nomad bike … The discussion begins, and I told him the reaction of people since I left North of France, she says to me:

« No one is a prophet in his own country »

Tourists from everywhere in the World flock with a romantic vision of France …
African people, they, in search of « Happiness », shifty mainly unemployment and poverty continue to believe in the dream and the mirage of Occidental’s Eldorado.

The French people, them, know the problems of their country and are well aware of the ever growing emergence of an alternative population of the street.
In big cities, they face it everyday, and wrongly stigmatize homeless as a drunk, panhandling around supermarkets and in the firelight … waste of society.
In their questions, they send me in the face the vision of what they think about the ” alcoholic vermin ” that strew their streets. They mistrusted like the plague … They have only one image of the homeless. Yet, along the roads outside of major cities, in the countryside or in the smaller cities, there are others, which I like to go meet, trying not to scare the world around them, clean on them, moving from help center to help center in searching some jobs underpaid, few meals that could full their stomach, or a comforting shower. .. and it’s actually people like you and me who haven’t our chance …

A homeless man wearing a leather jacket with a hiking backpack in perfect condition he calls me away looking at me  intrigued. Well haired, well dressed, he was there in a public park on a bench smoking a cigarette, listening radio while waiting for his bus that was to take him to places where he had an appointment for the night. Old business chief, he had lost everything and lived on the streets since 10 years … well-known by police for his calm and kindness, when police arrived somewhere, called by a frightened neighbor by his presence, the police went away directly and talking him some nice words. Familiar with the area, he gave me some addresses where I could find a place to sleep without too much trouble … and that’s how I landed at the Abbey of La Trappe in Soligny , where monks welcomed me without judgment.
There, I met another homeless, naturally excited, he need to jump and tells me so jerky his epic of the month, from Bretagne to the Ardèche, where he plans to go … put at the door by his father 25 years ago, he has only known the street since the age of 20 years and his family never wanted to hear more about him … the subject bothers him and he prefers to cut short the discussion, a tear to the eye. After a huge meal offered by the Monks, he prefers to sleep under a shelter behind the building in which we have a bed, as insomniac so used to listening to the radio all night, he prefers to sleep outside rather than keep me awake … I will never succeed to make him sleep warm in bed offered inside … that night, on the radio after a few gypsy jazz tunes, we learn together that Roger Federer, the Swiss tennisman has finally win the only trophy missing from his palmares …

There are many others who walk the streets and trails of our country, but one latter particularly marked my mind … I haven’t been able to talk with him.
From La Flèche to Baugé in Anjou, a railroad track converted as a greenway, as there are more and more now in France and Belgium, took me into the woods. Without a motor vehicle on a straight path of 20 kilometers, it was paradise. I see , hidden against bottom in the woods, a tent …
I stop and I call far the person who could be inside … that’s moves, the 4 dogs have long been spotted me and barking loudly.
A head out of the tent, give a quick look in my direction and silenced the dogs … I emphatically waving his arms to show him my interest peaceful, dogs barking over again in a bewildering din. .. minutes are shelled and I doesn’t seem want to meet me … he’s terrier in his tent and trying to make silencing his dogs who are excited like crazy … I give up because I feel that the situation isn’t unlock and I discomfort him.
I conclude by reflex that by fear of being attacked verbally, to feel humiliated under the gaze of another, or be expelled from his makeshift hiding place, he prefers to hole … this is the World upside down. Why people are all them scare by each other ?

I learned by doing hitchhiking in their countries, than Spanish people aren’t the most reassured people of the world when it comes to meet a stranger. But I have the feeling, while it remains to me to down the Canal du Midi to arrive in Spain, I’ll become a traveler rather a homeless by crossing the border … it’s like when I landed by chance on the Way of Saint Jacques de Compostela, as it happened to me sometimes, I became a pilgrim rather a traveler …

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