When I opened the big gate of adolescence, a frightening squeak from a giant cast iron secondary school entrance welcomed and absorbed me in a solemn vacuum. Of course, and like today, there were kids who just wanted to blend in, ride those teenage years under the radar with minimum collateral damage, wanting to be acknowledged and noticed, yet having the skills to keep your cards close to your chest; not showing too much, dodging rain drops and other potential scraps or punches because you looked at, or aggravated with smart words a tougher kid with social or rather deeper personal issues than yours. Some built themselves with a strong and bold shell: Punks, Goths, Skinheads and Red Skins (the left wing ones; their Doc Martens were burgundy rather than black), right down to a couple of old fashioned black leather jacket bullies with learning difficulties, easy enough to manipulate if you knew how to; keeping them sweet by sharing candies, giving a few test wagers that would up some grades, preventing them from repeating the class… Again. I was a “bullet dodger”, or at least that is what I have been called once by that big fucker – who was actually pretty smart- as he tried to pound my face into the granite wall of the refectory. I used words, and it seemed to work.
In 1982, we left the city for an idyllic life by the shores of the “Golfe”. Building a house was a big deal then, and I guess it always kind of is, especially the first home you are going to owe, move in as a family. The wonderful adventure lasted 8 years, all the ingredients for happiness were obvious, laid magically in front of us, vocations were born there, the start of a long life as a “Blown In”, a life of never really belonging anywhere and a talent for making new friends quite easily… Yes, a lot happened under that roof in 8 years; life changing moments? Absolutely! Life shattering? Definitely! By 1990, it was all over, my parents separated and my sister and I kindly refer to our childhood and teenage years’ abode as “The House of Hell”…
I fell head first into the snow,
Exhausted by a three day hike.
Ingrid grabbed me by the elbow,
With her skinny hands wrapped in mittens.
She sat me in her Dad’s canoe,
An Iroquois from Quebec.
He had named it after her.
I held my head between my frozen knuckles,
Despair sank in,
As dark and murky as the mud stuck on my boots.
I guess the St Lawrence wouldn’t let go of me,
As much as I wanted to let go of it
This Godforsaken land
Let go, farewell, the end.
Ingrid whispered in my ear
That my time wasn’t up yet,
That an owl one night
Will call my name
Not until then,
Not until then…
September 1991, it was a beautiful morning over the Breton Capital. I had left behind the hills of Glenveagh National Park, my first real summer job, for another, scarier adventure: independence and freedom. So long mother and father, I am 18 now and your evil powers have no effect on me anymore… Cutting at last the proverbial umbilical cord, living the dream! I was meeting my olf friend “The Hero” in the Ozone Bar, two years older, kinda wiser too; he felt that it was his duty, as a big brother figure, to welcome and show me the ropes, places to hang out and other music venues to be part of. “You are staying with us until you get sorted, you hear?” His statement came as a relief, I hadn’t planned that far, and sure, I knew Rennes, very well even, but only as a child with the eyes of innocence. I was a man now see, free in the big city at last! I quickly finished my skinny glass of Maes Pils and followed my compadre toward the giant spaceship like building that was the Judiciary precinct; “Galion Street”, my new quarter, my new home… And how appropriately named for my new voyage!
Ah, summer… Cycling to the beach, sword fights with giant fennel batons, building a tree house (more like a bungalow really) in the shrubs across the house or hiking through the old salt marshes of Séné, July had just started, school was truly over and all these adventures made us all very hungry. There are three dishes that colours the memory of my blessed summers: Dad’s legendary tabbouleh, homemade tomato coulis and of course, my mother’s ratatouille. Not a week without, it has to have had an impact… Tastes and smells? Of course it has! The solid anchors of a happy childhood. Did you ever wonder why they call food comfort?