Continental Drifters (Part Two)

Pete & I woke up in the truck at the side of the “Autoroute du Soleil”, on the way to Lyon. our 2nd full day in France. It’s 754 miles from London to Florence  if you are a crow, longer if you’re taking the pretty way. A run for the sun, a long day in the saddle, remember to turn left before Spain & we should be eating our evening meal in Italy. This morning, a Friday, our Tour de France took us along the Rhone Valley…lovely. We put the miles in before breakfast, best to get some work done now because anything could happen today & that’s the way I like it…ah-ha, ah-ha !

We were making good time & having a good time too. It felt like we were heading for the weekend. Things got more interesting when we picked up 2 German women who were hitch-hiking to Avignon (of course we did). Our new friends were happy to get a long lift in the right direction, happy to talk. The one scrunched against me was attractive when she entered the cab & getting lovelier by the mile. We chatted, flirted, gave it the Cockney big potatoes charm. I was passing our contact details across for when they visited London. This was fun. Then Pete made a schoolboy error. He reached into a compartment above the windscreen, located our lump of hash, asked if they would like to smoke a doobie. That was that then…I do not want to stereotype anyone but… I had met German Green Party members before. “Atomkraft, Nein Danke !” serious types. These women were not impressed that they were travelling in (too) close proximity to a couple of wide boy pot smokers. The bonhomie suffered for the final part of their journey. We dropped them off, wished them luck &, ah well, pass the Rizla, on to the next.

That left turn, north of Marseilles, brought us to the coast road in the late afternoon, the sun behind us, Les Alpes Maritimes ahead. What an impressive road this is, bridges across the valleys, tunnels through the mountains. This is the E80, the Trans-European Motorway from Portugal to Turkey. We were part of  international trade here, moving stuff from one place to somewhere then some other stuff to somewhere else. In Turkey you can hook up with the AH1 & drive to Japan. Right now that seems like a plan. I’m feeling a good connection with my friend Pete the driver & with our mobile home from home.”Sal, we gotta go & never stop going ’till we get there”.

A-hem !

To the right the the land sloped steeply away to the blue Mediterranean. Signs directed us to the Cote d’Azur, Cannes, Antibes, Nice, Monte flipping Carlo…”La Belle Vie”… Nah man, I’m more riff-raff than “rififi”. On our left the Alpine foothills were just as cool as. I was like a little dog, head out of the window, tongue hanging out, smelling the air, loving life on the road as we headed for the Italian border.

These days border controls between EU countries have largely disappeared. I feel oddly comforted when the Swiss (non-EU) customs keep you waiting for 5 days because your paperwork covering works of art worth £2 million is a bit dodgy. (This happened on another trip, an unexpected holiday on the Rhine…cracking). That’s the world I grew up in, love a stamp in my passport. Back then customs checks were more rigorous. We would not be cleared to enter Italy until the morning. It was Friday night, we showered, changed & successfully found the pasta & beer we were looking for. On later trips we developed a liking for a digestivo of espresso & grappa. It made the walk home more interesting. I’m sure that Ventimiglia is a choice spot but we seemed to be hanging around the armpit district. The exotic even bizarre arrangement of bottles at the restaurant was a product of the graft extracted from the passing freight. No matter, we sat outside in the warm night air listening to our music of choice for when the work of the day is done.

All the 5 members of the Band had virtuoso talent, 3 were outstanding vocalists. My preference is for Rick Danko’s lovely whine & this aching song of lost love (another one). The clip is the version from “The Last Waltz”, Martin Scorsese’s film of their last concert. Find a better sax break in a song & send it over.

Saturday started without me. This bottom bunk was getting more comfortable. Pete was out early, doing the necessary to clear us across the border. He woke me to get a pack of 200 cigarettes we had bought at the ferry’s duty-free shop. He was obviously having to sweeten the deal. I roused myself, considered getting upright. I could be of little assistance but I was awake & I was his wingman. Pete knew the score, which way the wind was blowing, he raised his voice, switched into a full Bob Hoskins (Jah rest his soul). .”Look ! You have had my fucking cigarettes. You are not having the fucking whisky! Now stop fucking me about and let’s get this done”. I jumped out of the cab, but Pete was away with the  blackmailing bandit. I thought that if these customs clippers reacted badly to that Cockney combustion we could still be here on Wednesday. When Pete returned he winked, said a word that I believe is banned on the Internet & we were ready to roll.

It was understood that part of the cash given to the driver by his employer was to be used to bribe the various customs extortionists we encountered. No grift and the driver was ahead. Pete was a bottle of whisky ahead. OK, it’s a sunny Saturday morning, it’s my first day in Italy & we are legal. I have a 3 o’clock appointment in Florence. Are we having fun yet ?