The Other 5%
I travel alone quite a bit. I say that it's for business, when in fact, it's because there's a certain confidence-restoring, peace-inducing power in being totally surrounded by people, yet completely alone with one's thoughts. For someone who's guarded against the rest of the world, learning how to operate in a new place in a new language forces you to open up and trust in others, moreover, to trust in your own abilities. Being in a less capable way of life forces you to realize how capable you truly are.
95% of the time, traveling alone is life-affirming and does nothing more than make you realize how truly beautiful and diverse our big blue/green marble really is. Beautiful people, beautiful places, beautiful food (oooooh the beautiful, beautiful food), seeing a new part of the world is like discovering an ability you never knew you had...but then there's the other 5%. This is a story about the other 5%.
Toulouse is famous for three things, college students (4 universities in town), satellites (that's where they make them), and a tiny statue dedicated to the bond between mothers and children. My mom's a pretty nice lady, so I thought I'd take a photo of this sweet-ass statue and send it to her as a kind of "thanks for letting me slither out of your genitals" thing. It was 10:30PM and Toulouse was rockin and rollin (I mean, as rockin and rollin as the French get, which is kind of like saying "Grandma's home is really rockin and rollin"), so I didn't think it would be a bad idea to go into a tiny, tiny public park where there were lots of people to photograph the mama statue. I went in, sized up el statue (that's Spanish for 'the statue,' pretty much that's all the Spanish I learned) and started photographing the reflection of the moon against the black marble. A few minutes in, three big-ish, college-age men on bicycles rode into the park and stopped pretty close to me. Never having been afraid of boys on two-wheelers before, I didn't really think anything of it until they started inching closer to me. The first time it happened, I took note, but kept taking pictures. The second time, I started packing up the camera, and the third time, I was walking towards the nearest exit.
Let me say here that I'm a small woman. I'm not a small and strong woman or even a small and brave woman, I strive to be a small and cute in that nerdy next door kind of way, but at the end of the day, I really only qualify as small. If approached by anyone over the age of, say, eight, I'm basically out-muscled and often times outwitted as well....crap.
One guy rode past me and parked his bike, blocking my exit. The other two got really close to me on either side. One guy said, "take my picture," and me, being both incredibly intelligent AND fluent in French said, "uhhh....ummm...I don't knows the words....no." (Nice one Couch, that'll show them that Americans aren't complete morons). "Take my picture" the guy said again and taking a step back, I simply said 'No' this time. "Take my picture you stupid bitch," he said and I took off running at full speed to the exit at the other side of the park. In my wake, I could hear a string of curse words in French, then a pause, then out of nowhere, the man yelled in English "uum...uh....you is...uhh...crazy lady!"
When I reached the exit, I turned and couldn't help but double over in pitiful laughter. To be without a wallet or camera or passport is one thing, but to be without the ability to communicate your feelings (even if they're gross and uncalled for) to another human being is a totally different affair, one I can readily identify with (see here, here, or here if you haven't been keeping up). I walked out of the park and into a café, somehow feeling a bit closer to the rest of the world.