August 26th, 2012. There I was. After a week on the road arrived in Antibes, the hidden jewel of the Côte d’Azur, standing there, a little lost, next to my tons of luggage, waiting for the key to my room to reappear. I looked around. So that was it, “my” residence – Castel Arabel. A name that didn’t mean anything to me at that point, but that would almost describe some sort of life philosophy later on.
A nice, big house with several balconies, a pool, a community kitchen, whose horrible condition I didn’t notice at first sight, a couple of palm and two orange trees, temperatures one can only bear combined with being aware that the sea is closeby and therefore that special air that comes along with that fact. A few adjoining buildings, multiple plastic tables with small groups of happy looking, excitedly chatting youngsters gathered around them, and a receptionist, who explained in despite his undeniable German accent impressively good French that my room mate might have taken the second key with her.
Room mate – right, somewhere in the loads of documents that had been sent to me before my departure I had read something about a twin room in one of the residences or a host family and that I would receive further information – which I hardly did.
Excitement, curiosity, farewell – these had been the buzzwords of the last days and weeks. Well, it was only for four months, which really isn’t that long, and I have had itchy feet for all my life, so it hadn’t been very difficult for me to leave. And now I had finally arrived. The waiting had come to an end. And yet here I was, standing there, a little lost, next to my tons of luggage, waiting again – for the key to my room to reappear.
Finally my room mate came through the gate. Thank God – she did have the key. We shook hands and spluttered a couple of words in French before discovering that it was way easier for both of us to speak English. She told me her name. I didn’t catch it. She skeptically looked at my tons of luggage. I eyeballed her from head to toe, then the friend that had shown up with her. Both of them were blond, blue-eyed and sun-tanned. I didn’t know what to think about that.
We passed the nice, big house with several balconies and went to one of the adjoining buildings. There were stairs leading us to a terrace with doors to three rooms. The one in the middle was ours. The first sight of this extremely basic housing filled me with unease. It was a longish room of around 15m². There was a bed in each back corner and a little cabinet in between. There was a tiny wardrobe to the right side next to the door and the “bathroom” – a shower behind a random wall and a sink next to it – to the left. No door, no shower curtain. My room mate said she would buy the latter on the next day. I didn’t want to ask for her name again. She was from Iceland, as I found out, her friend from South Africa. I felt unspectacular. Austria. No, not Germany.
I tried to store my stuff as good as possible. Most of it stayed in one of the suitcases that I pushed under my bed.
Thinking back of these first impressions makes me smile. “Oh, that messy, shitty, tiny, little room of ours back in Antibes…”, Eyrún says, shaking her head and sounding a little nostalgic while taking a look around in my apartment in Vienna. Eyrún – that’s the name of my dear Icelandic friend.
Yes, that room, that for some reason turned out to be the community room of the residence. How often I came back home from school or work, already having a visitor, just sitting there at the table we brought in from the terrace some day and never put back, using my laptop. The initially missing key turned out to be quite useless after all. A jerky pull would open our door at any time and the other people in the residence knew and didn’t hesitate to make use of that. But all of that was somehow okay. Every time I wanted to take a nap after an exhausting day at work or tried to go to sleep early for once, because as always I had to wake up before anyone else, and suddenly there were people whose only aim seemed to be to keep me from doing just that – of course I cursed them half-asleep, but then despite my fatigue failed to suppress a smile while getting up and going outside to have a beer with my friends. How I love to think back at those mild summer evenings on our terrace, where we simply enjoyed each other’s company, talked about our home countries and laughed until we thought to have exerted our abs as if we had worked out for hours.
There was this priceless feeling of unlimited freedom and youth and the discovery that this whole “time of my life”-thing wasn’t just some abstract idea that might never turn into reality, but simply right here, right now – simply Castel Arabel.
And then one morning I woke up and it was December.
Yes, just as the first ones, I will forever remember my last days in beloved Antibes, that is often forgotten, lying right there between the world-famous cities Nice and Cannes. It had become quiet in the residence. All my close friends had already left and I myself had already started to prepare for my departure. I decided to revisit all the places that had meant something to me during my stay here. I started out for a city tour to relive my four months in this beautiful city.
I walked down the small hill and instantly found myself in the touristy part of town. Expensive seaside restaurants I had never dared to eat at, souvenir shops I had never bought anything in, street vendors that I had always just walked by – after all I hadn’t been a tourist, but lived here – a surreally beautiful, lighthearted and exciting life.
I strolled along the cape that I had been to for cycling or running in sporty phases and melancholically enjoyed its beauty for one last time, before arriving to the city center.
I passed the café with the “world-best croissant” that I had discovered on my first weekend here. I had bought and enjoyed it on my way home after a long night out, for the simple reason that I couldn’t have gone one more minute without peeing, but would have felt bad to use their bathroom without consuming anything. It had taken me weeks to find the place and try the indeed extremely delicious croissant again. It was one of those places you just immediately fall in love with – small, calm, cosy. One of those places that makes you forget the hectic hustle of the street it’s located on as soon as you step inside. It was little stories like this one that made these four months so unforgettable. And it’s little facts like that it had been in this very café where I wrote down the happenings of the first weekend I had discovered it, that made me smile on my good-bye walk and continue to do so today.
I stopped in front of the Picasso museum and thought about how unwillingly I followed my mom inside it for the first time. “This is one of Antibes’ must-sees”, she had said when she came to visit me. That was the day that made me realize that I seriously liked Picasso. I had even bought a postcard with one of his paintings printed on it in the souvenir shop across the street. The name of the picture was “Ronde de la jeunesse” – circle of youth, how suitable.
Then I sat down at one of the tables of the Irish pub that we would always start a Friday night at. I ordered the burger we had always praised and realized: Being sober it was quite disgusting. One more time, I had to smile. I walked on through the old town, passed one of the ports, strolled through small, lovely streets with Provencal flair and once again enjoyed the masterpiece of my favorite ice cream parlor.
On my way back I passed the library that I had come to appreciate so much, and finally found out where the club was that we had regularly gone to even though our first visit already had made us realize that it was a shithole. Bad music, cheap alcohol at high prices and corresponding customers. But still it somehow turned out to be our favorite club. Regarding our budget, we didn’t really have much of a choice. I thought about all these nights out and the hangover days that followed them, all those people dancing in the flashlight, being repulsive and amiable at the same time and the liberating lightheartedness of the meaningless that was symbolized by all of this.
December, 24th, 2012. There I was again, four wonderful months later, in “my” residence, beloved Castel Arabel – a name that didn’t mean anything to me at first, but that almost described some sort of life philosophy by now. When I left to go to the airport, together with my tons of luggage I brought along countless memories and precious friendships. What I left there, though, was a tiny little piece of my heart.