The night was like velvet, purple and soft. I watched the sun slowly setting, the perfect summer evening. Magic hour lasted long past sixty minutes, until at last the sun dipped behind the hazy mountains and left me riding through darkening twilight, a full moon rising above mountainous peaks. The air coming through the corn fields was so fresh, bringing back memories of growing up near the farms of Illinois, when I used to lay upon the grassy lawns of childhood dampened by sprinklers while fireflies glowed past me.

Gradually the road wound tighter, higher, and Rob and I could smell France in the distance. The towns we passed looked less and less like the Italy we had come to know, the one of crowds, unsavory bathrooms, sweaty nights, and ancient monuments, or even the tourist populated gorgeousness of Lake Garda. Nestled in the western mountians of the country lies little villages, quaint and simple amidst towering summits with rivers flowing beneath them. It is quieter here, and I had the sense that the people who inhabit these towns chose to live in them with private deliberation. Everything was fresher here, more pure somehow. It might seem incongruous, but the soundtrack that played against this romantic and mysterious drive was “Recovery”, Eminem’s new album. What a roller coaster of emotions. As always, he made me vent the anger I’d forgotten I had, but he also made me pine for lost love, regret the mistakes I’ll make toward the children I don’t even have, and empathize with domestic violence though I’ve never abused or been abused. It is a very mature album, not in the cuss word parental sticker way, but in a way that made me feel older as I realized I’ve been listening to Eminem since I was thirteen. I’ve grown, so obviously has he, and this album shows it in a way that should not have been unexpected, yet was. I highly recommend listening to it cover to cover, nonstop, while taking a night drive up PCH.

Although Rob was tired, he was determined to get us past the French border. Oddly enough, there was no border patrol stop we had to pass through; suddenly our phones just vibrated with a text notification saying we were now in the cellular network of Orange. I expected to round a mountain bend to see a line of cars with people waiting to get their passports checked, and was even looking forward to the stamp, but it never came. We entered another small village and found the perfect place to camp for the night. Along the riverside was a stretch of pavement with other RVs parked side by side facing the water. It was no official campground, there were no forms to fill out or even a box to place money in. It was as if this little lot was made just for late night passers-through such as ourselves. We pulled into a spot away from the brightness of the lamps and the first thing I did was walk down to the water’s edge and…

… I don’t like using the word meditate. It sounds so hackneyed and pretentious, so unattainable and forced, which I believe it shouldn’t be. But I don’t like the word pray, either, as that sounds equally misinterpretable with connocations I don’t subscribe to anymore. So instead I will say, I walked down to the water’s edge to center myself. The river that ran past my perch on a rock was black and rapid, the waves mesmerizing me as they seemed to dance with one another before dipping down into nothingness. The reflection of a faraway streetlamp made the water look like it was an irridescent liquid of black gold, reminding me of spilled oil. I gazed into it, thinking of absolutely nothing and reconnecting to the Me within me, feeling entirely at peace. Being near water does that for me when I am in solitude. Rob had wandered to explore the town, and I savored the silence and unfamiliarity of everything around me.

By the time Rob came back, telling me of the outdoor restaurant that was just next to the bridge above us where people were having a jolly good time communing and drinking wine, I was ready to leave my perch. The nights were a lot colder at whatever elevation we were at by then, and it made our trailer all the cozier.

Since we were in France, and since Rob and I are mushes, we watched “Beauty and the Beast” until we fell asleep somewhere during the chorus of “Be Our Guest”. I’ve intended for a couple years now to rewatch all the Disney classics from my childhood, with a fresher perspective that includes the knowing of what Dumbo’s dreams were really inspired by, what the animators of “The Little Mermaid” were really telling us. As I lay curled up amongst my pillows listening to the tale of the Beast’s curse in the beginning of the movie, I was reminded of “The Secret History of the World”, the book that I had finally finished read out loud to Rob as he drove. It deciphers the hidden codes found in artwork, literature, legend and science, placed there by members of secret societies and Mystery schools such as the Rosicrucians and Freemasons. As I watched the stain glass old beggar woman morph into the beautiful enchantress, I thought of the book’s mention that Walt Disney had been an initiate of a Mystery school of sorts, and how he’d hidden esoteric messages into his animated children’s films that go right over the heads of most of us. Now I observed the Beast’s rose timer with fresh eyes, the gargoyles of his castle having deeper implications. Perhaps it’s silly and vague of me, but you’d have to read the book I just finished to understand my newfound fascination. Symbols are hidden everywhere with meanings far unlike what we would assume.

In the morning, I awoke to the squat chatter of ducks outside my window. There were three of them, two male mallards and a brown female one, all quacking beneath me as if they’d come to wish me good morning. When Rob and I left the trailer to search for some breakfast, the ducks were right outside our door, our French greeting committee. It was so funny. They were talking to me, staring right at me, and I had no idea what they wanted. We hadn’t any food on us, hence the breakfast quest, and Rob wondered if maybe we were over their nest. I checked under the trailer and saw only pavement, so I remained amusedly puzzled over the ducks’ affinity towards us.

Walking through this small Provintial town, like the one Belle sings of if you recall, was as quaint a mini-journey you could hope to have. Quainter even than the Disneyland rooftops of Hofheim, where Rob and I had eaten the best pancakes in all of Germany. We approached an open place where people were sitting at tables outside. As we got closer, I noticed the grizzled expressions they wore, the cigarettes they were smoking and the hard look in their eyes. Maybe the people weren’t as quaint as the rest of the town seemed to suggest. I went up to a man behind the counter indoors and made the gesture with my hands for eating, as he didn’t understand my English. He knew what I meant though, and shook his head and pointed Rob and I to make a U-turn. Turns out we had walked into a bar at 8:30 in the morning, and not only was that possible, but there were patrons in it. It explained the grizzled faces outside.

Soon enough we found a charming patisserie and I excitedly picked out my first pain au chocolat of the year. I’d eaten them every day in Paris last December and hoped these would be as buttery and flakey. They were. I told Rob that this is what chocolate croissants should taste like, far from the Croatian impostors we’d settled for a couple weeks ago. The ducks were still waiting for us back at camp, but we couldn’t visit with them very long. Cannes was only an hour and a half away, and I could hardly wait to lay out on its famous beaches.

We opted to stay at the four star-rated campground west of Cannes in a town called Mandelieu-la-Napoule instead of the two star-rated one nearer to the city center. We’ve had varying luck with our campgrounds, so we stay at the highest rated ones we can find when our need for showers overtakes our desire for free camping on the side of the road. Unfortunately–actually, very disappointingly–the public French toilettes don’t like you to sit on them, either, and neither do they encourage you to wipe by providing toilet paper. Berndt, our German friend we went canyoning with, explained that this is common in the southern countries of Europe, and is not regulated by federal law or other sort. It’s just a southern thing. Hmph. Cannes might be perfect if it weren’t for this major inconvenience. The seatless toilettes and paper holder-less stalls weren’t limited to just our campground, either.

Did you know that if you type into Google “gynecologist Cannes, France”, Angelina Jolie’s picture comes up? Long story short, today I had the unpleasure of visiting a southern French hospital (even in the hospitals, there are no seats on the toilettes–this will never cease to horrify me, I’m sorry to keep bringing it up). Although I wasn’t having an emergency, a doctor’s visit was in order, let’s just say, and led me to the Pierre Nouveau Hopital, as I couldn’t find any outpatient gynecologists on the weekend. I learned a lot about Angelina’s personal one, though, and thought it might amuse you all to know the above Google fact. Go ahead, you know you want to type it in for yourself. Why Ms. Jolie is associated with gynecology in Cannes, I don’t know. I wonder if even she knows.

Our first afternoon here, still tired from the drive the night before, Rob and I opted not to brave the beach traffic and instead watch “Perfume: Story of a Murderer”. It’s a lot darker than the sing-songy Disney films we’ve been watching, a horror film of the most exquisite kind. It’s one of the most bizzare and heartbreaking stories of a sociopath I’ve ever seen. I wanted Rob to watch it with me to get excited about our visit to Grasse the next day, the town where the murders in the movie take place, famous for its history of perfume production. Ever since I saw it, I’ve had it in my mind to visit the International Perfume Museum in Grasse, and now I was so close to checking that off of my bucket list!