Bonjour, Toulouse (and Munki)

I was barely there for three days but somehow it seemed like much longer. Sometimes you're lucky enough to get weekends like that. When time is for once on your side and it slows down when you want it to.

Usually when I'm off to a new place I research it like a loon, making lists of places to go and things to do. But this time I decided not to type 'What to see in Toulouse' into google. I wanted everything to be completely new and unexpected.

There was so much I liked about that part of France. Everything was so green, the fields full of citrus yellow sunflowers. And everything was so old, Even the graffiti. I found a communist party symbol scratched into the side of a dam with the date chiseled underneath - 1945.

But the best thing of all was spending time with my mate Munki - after all, she was the reason I'd gone out there.

We had so many years tearing up London together. We even lived in the same room for a few months when times were hard. Now our moments together are few and far between, but definitely cherished more than ever.

I guess the picture of her I still have in my head is from circa 2000. Riding her BMX with her grey MAMBO backpack slung over her shoulders, her home-made jewelry and of course, the funky Mohican. I thought she was coolest girl I'd ever met - I still do, really.

But as I walk through arrivals at Toulouse I can't see her anywhere. Then suddenly this tall elegant creature with a golden tan and long brunette hair walks towards me, arms outstretched. Wow, we all grow up in the end, don't we?

Munki's been going through tough times lately. Making big life changes, sorting her shit out. And I'm so proud of her, as I tell her several times over the course of the weekend, which we spend at the old refectory her parents have renovated and turned into guest houses.

But it isn't all soul searching and deep conversations. On the first day we do something so out of character it's comical - we go on a 13km canoe ride. After I've slapped on factor 60 and we've set off down the river I find that I'm really enjoying myself. By the end I've vowed to buy my own canoe and take it out on el pantano back in Spain. but finally we both work out that it won't be as much fun without a current propelling the boat downstream.

Later I marvel at the fact that I've managed to completely burn the back of my hands and my left ankle somehow.

It's so weird being in France. Strange and uncomfortable to not be able to speak the lingo. Does it make it worse somehow already having a second language? Though I do understand little bits, drifting back from my GCSE class all those many years ago, it's not good enough.

I'm frustrated when the good-looking boy who's sorting out all the canoe rental stuff seems to be flirting with Munki and I can't understand what he's saying. I'm annoyed when I try to ask where the toilets are in a restaurant and Ou est el baño comes out.

I'm so used to looking after the non-Spanish speakers who come to visit, but now Munki is the one translating for me, pointing out the little local details.

On the way to Albi she tells me about Toulouse Lautrec - whose paintings I know, but whose story I do not. How he was only five foot tall because of health problems which affected his growth, and though he was born in Albi he went to Paris to hang out with other people who were different. And he painted the black people and prostitutes he encountered there.

She also points out the black silhouettes of people at the side of the road and asks me if I know what they are for. "They're dead people," she tells me. "Every time someone dies they put one up."

We also pass a sign that warns of the road: "Three dead in five years." But we ponder that it's actually quite a good statistic, especially compared to Spain's horrendous traffic accident fatality record.

The only bad thing about the weekend is the saying goodbye. But we end up being distracted by all of that when we arrive at the airport to find my flight has been cancelled. They're putting on a coach though - a nice 12 hour journey through the night. Concentrating on the horrors that lie ahead on the bus make me able not to tear up as we say goodbye, with promises to see each other soon.

A little while later I get on the coach, leaving France behind. The stupid air hostess tells me: "Enjoy your flight," as she takes my ticked and I get on the bus. I want to tell her her she's an idiot, but I don't bother. I make a mental note to tell Munki about it a some point though. I'm sure she'll find it funny.


  1. What a beautiful post. I have a friend like that too who I see far too rarely these days.

    Also thank you so much for your comment on my How I came to be in England - story. Your words warmed my heart.

    Helena xx

  2. Wonderful stuff. That is what life is all about. A weekend like that. I am happy you got to see your friend.

  3. Lovely story.We keep talking about getting canoes! Worried though when you mention school and the year 2000...I feel sooooo old.

  4. Thanks all for you lovely comments.

    Mr EW - you are not old! We were long out of school in the year 2000! Munki rode her BMX around London and certainly not to school! xxx