Falling Off the Face of the Earth
In 1993, while traveling in France, I split up with my friends to take a jaunt on my own. Someone had told me about a lovely island off the coast of France called Ile de Ré, and it sounded nice. After two trains and a bus ride over the bridge and onto the island, the remoteness of the place started to remind me of Nantucket 20 years ago, when no one really went there except those families who'd been going for 100 years. Ile de Ré had one inn—20 rooms—and it was full. Where was I going to stay? No one spoke English.
Eventually, I met a nice woman who told me she knew someone with extra rooms. She showed me where this person lived and called her to say a young man was coming. When I got there, an old woman came to the door in her bra and a big skirt. Not at all friendly. The first thing she said was the price of the room. The second was "No women." The house was old, musty, and a bit freaky.
So I'm in my room. It feels more like a cell, very small, with a very small window. Who is this woman? Is there anyone else in the house? No one on earth knows where I am. I'm totally alone. I try to tell myself what an adventure this is. It's not working. I could die here. I decide that I want to live and I want to sleep, so I write a note, in broken French and in English: "If something happens to me here, please call, in the United States, 001-212-737-xxxx." As I drift off to sleep, I peer at the note to be sure it hasn't blown off the table. I wake up, and I'm alive. The note is right where I left it. I dress. I walk downstairs. The old woman is in her bra—does she even own a shirt? I say merci and hightail it to the bus. I still have that note.