Before reading I would recommend re-visiting parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 - if you have a few hours to spare...
Day 8 – Hell Awaits
The last thing that I remember before falling into a coma-like sleep is Joel bursting into the room at 3:00 am like a gay carnival on fire, dying to tell me all about what had happened on his way back from Hellfest.
“So I’m waiting for the shuttle busses and it’s the usual shit-show of people trying to get the fuck out of there, right? Some white trash bitch starts chatting me up, and it turns out she’s from Kentucky or Alabama or somewhere along those lines. Her dumpy, sulky boyfriend is just hanging out next to her, not saying anything. She starts complaining about people being rude and not waiting their turn for one of the wildly infrequent shuttles, just as one pulls up in the general vicinity of our group.
The girl, thinking she is somehow doing the right thing, steps aside to let someone else, who she claims has been there longer than her, get on the shuttle first, expecting to be let on shortly after. Instead, the mob begins to shove her and her dead fish boyfriend out of the way, and in a split second I saw one opening in the bus and I jumped straight in, forcing my money directly into the hands of the driver. As the shuttle door begins to slide shut, the girl catches a glimpse of me in the backseat, and just starts screaming ‘HOW COULD YOU?!?! YOU EVEN TALKED TO MEEEE!!’ Oh well bitch, have fun waiting patiently in line for the next three hours!
While telling his story, Joel has begun neatly arranging his newly acquired trinkets, consisting of another plastic Hellfest pitcher and four cups bearing the identical logo. He seems quite proud of what he has put together, and joins me for a quick glass of wine, explaining our itinerary for lineup of bands before turning the lights down.
With the eighth day of our adventure in France comes the final and most exciting leg of Hellfest, featuring such rock legends as Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne, and the reason we have travelled this distance to begin with, Opeth. It is also the final time I will have to deal with being outside all day drinking shitty beer and eating shittier food, all the while knowing that there are about a million more preferable dining options only a half hour away in Nantes.
Though I only sleep for five hours, it feels like eighteen. I feel rejuvenated, and even, dare I say, a bit hungry due to an early dinner. I allow princess Joel get the remainder of his beauty rest as I shower up, put on my increasingly beat up Cole Haans, and slip out into the streets of Nantes in search of something reasonable to eat. I am painfully aware that it is 10:30 am, so the chance of finding anything remotely satisfying to snack on is about as likely as me getting laid with my limited grasp of the French language. At least with anyone worth writing about...
As I saunter closer, it appears that this is no mirage. The only question is how the fuck am I going to get my paws on some of this yard bird? There is no way that this place could possibly be open, right? I suddenly become very self-conscious, not wanting to walk up and try the door for fear of being told in a very condescending manner that it is not lunchtime yet. I’m not sure where this fear is coming from, as I think it is readily apparent that I’m not from anywhere around here and it's not like I'll ever see any of these people again.
Regardless, I decide to slink around the corner and watch the door, waiting for someone else to go in first and give me the green light. While lurking, I scare the living shit out of some poor woman in front of a bakery window, as I bowl straight into her, knocking the baguette right out of her hands. Honestly, I don’t think I recovered well from this, after picking her bread up I stammer and mumble a few things in English before backing away while barking “Have a GREAT day!” at this poor citizen.
It has been seven minutes and no one has gone in the shop. I want to give up but the chickens smell so good that I stick around, patiently waiting for my opportunity to be inevitably disappointed. Three minutes later, a middle aged man in a tweed sport coat makes a move towards the door, and after waiting a moment to see if he is shooed right back out, I know it is time.
Inside the shop, a large elderly woman tends to several roasted chickens in the case as the tweeded-up man purchases a few whole birds to go. She seems to expect me to do the same, and appears puzzled when I ask her, in busted up Franglish, if I can have an order to eat right now. I realize that I am probably asking for the equivalent of a Bloody Mary at 9PM, but I have been very patient to try one of these goddamn beak-wearing shitheads, so I follow through with my request.
She obliges me with a reasonable portion of chicken with buttered potatoes, served in a small plastic container with flimsy plastic flatware. Her mood doesn’t improve when I turn right around and perch myself on one of her tiny stools to devour my meal right then and there. My first bite of chicken is dry and lacking flavor, so I dip the next one in the accumulated juices at the bottom of the container, with marginally better results. The potatoes are lacking any kind of seasoning, and I find myself growing increasingly upset, resisting the urge to turn around and start flinging them at this fowl-ruining harlot of a cafe owner.
When I get back, Joel is just waking up so I spare him the details of my “Rotisseratastrophe.” Instead, I pretend as if I have not eaten yet, complaining that I was waiting for him to get up before I ate because I didn’t want him to miss anything good. Though I think he believes me, I do not think, however, that he really gives a shit. Upon consulting his new Rail Europe iPhone app, he discovers with horror that because it is Sunday, there is a four-hour window with zero trains bound for Clisson, throwing his Hellfest itinerary into a discombobulated mess.
I suggest that this allows for a long lunch, which cheers him up a bit. Personally, I’m not that concerned that my outdoor festival time is being cut short, as I know all of the bands I want to see are coming on much later. It is now around 12:45, and our train leaves at 3:15, so we set out once again to scavenge for an amazing lunch experience in the city. During my solo wine drinking Internet time last night, I discovered the Vegan Black Metal Chef episode involving the creation of an awesomely satanic Pad Thai. While watching it for a second time with Joel, we had both decided that Thai food sounded perfect, setting ourselves up for predictable disappointment when all ten of the places we try to go are closed on Sunday afternoon.
As I begin to descend into Crankyland, Joel recognizes that we must get situated soon to preserve the sanity of the group. We pass by Chez Maman, remembering it as one of our reliable and pretty concierge’s recommendations. She hadn’t let us down yet, so we decide to give it a try. The hostess agrees to seat us, giving the impression that we have just made it in under the wire. She promptly illustrates her point by denying another American couple entrance two minutes later, informing them that lunch is done for the day.
Due to being quite famished, we are unfazed at first by the fact that the entire restaurant is done up head to toe in Playmobil toys of varying sizes and ethnicities. It is only when Joel points out the alarmingly large angel poised right over my head that I begin to question the sanity of whoever owns this godforsaken place, that and the fact that we are listening to the Bee Gees at a fairly loud volume over the speakers.
My appetizer strikes me as the inspiration for whatever American shithead coined the term "Chef's Salad," though instead of the way Amato's does it with turkey, ham, cheese and hard-boiled egg, they have substituted creamy chicken livers, smoky bacon, soft house made croutons, and a perfectly poached, runny egg. Joel, still not over his fetish with meat spread, hungrily tears into his chicken liver terrine, smearing it on the warm, crusty bread provided for the table.
Dessert menus have been rested on the table, in the form of small, leather bound novels with the first page replaced by pastry offerings. It is refreshing to see that no one uses the Copperplate Gothic Bold font on menus here in France, as I more than get my fill of it in Portland. Both Joel and I agree that the Le Kouing Amann sounds like the most appealing dessert, plus it is marked as a house specialty, so we pull the trigger on one for each of us. This proves to be the most satisfying and perfect confection of the entire trip. It is like a perfect sticky bun, served with butter ice cream and tart cherry puree, a wonderful combination of textures and flavors that actually leaves us wanting another.
The time for departure to Clisson is drawing near, so we change into our festival attire, enjoy a large shot of absinthe, and make our way to the neighboring train station. The usual array of Vikings and marauders, disgruntled with the Sunday train schedule chicanery, are packed into the lobby. Again, I enjoy the views of Muscadet vines on the countryside as we speed towards the village, where, this time, there are no police with drug-sniffing dogs awaiting our arrival. It is actually quite peaceful and the boarding of shuttles takes place in an organized and civil manner. When we reach the festival grounds, I notice the mood to be equally subdued, especially amongst those who have been camping out for four straight days, without sleep, no doubt. Hellfest has finally begun to wear people down, and I am thankful for my break from day 2.
While getting settled in, I decide to try the local wine emblazoned with the Hellfest logo, testing it to find out if it is, at best, drinkable. It is not, and reminds me of eating particularly old green grapes from the supermarket. Discouraged, but with that mistake safely behind me, I choose Guinness as my poison for the duration of the evening. I order three at a time, shotgunning one immediately and quickly gulping down the other two, to reduce risk of spillage when I am inevitably and repeatedly bumped into. Joel devises his own system of delivery, involving two cups at once, which, to me, has too much potential to end up all over the used-condom and cigarette butt laden grounds.
The first main stage act we witness is Mr. Big, an American rock supergroup popular in the late eighties and early nineties. Though I was quick to trash on them when I first saw that they were in the lineup, I noticed that all of my guitar-geek friends were swift to come to their defense.
“You just wait, you wait until you hear Paul Gilbert on guitar and Billy Sheehan on bass. You’re going to shit yourself. Trust me” are my pal Jeff’s words of warning in response to my statement that “Mr. Big sucks ass.”
And proven wrong I was. With Joel as my witness, we watched these guys, clearly seasoned concert veterans, tear through a ridiculous set that actually left me wishing I knew the words to any of their songs. This image is from a face-melting duel between bass and guitar, complete with bass-shredding and all.
For Doro, Germany’s crazy cougar bombshell answer to Lita Ford, Joel insists that we make our way towards the front of the crowd, for what I assume is an enhanced view of the former Warlock vocalists impressive rack. Three minutes into the first song, I look up to see a man in a wheelchair being passed over the crowd, towards the stage. Miraculously, he makes it all the way, and the crowd goes berserk as he is grabbed and wheeled away by security, wildly flailing his arms in an effort to get Doro to notice him.
It doesn’t take long for this show to get a bit repetitive for me, so I signal to Joel that we are in desperate need of more beer. He seems to share my sentiment, and we begin the long journey through a sea of bodies to reach the Guinness kiosk. Judas Priest is due up in 45 minutes, just long enough for me to drain five beers and join thousands of others for a good piss in the woods/vineyards.
The sea of bodies has now shifted back to Maine Stage 1, so we are forced to watch Judas Priest from afar, aided by the massive centrally located jumbotron. As Rob Halford tears through all of the classics, not to mention about 9 wardrobe changes – including an outfit made entirely of sequins that he wears while revving a motorcycle on stage like some kind of Metal Liberace – we notice a group of boys starting to make a scene about ten feet away.
At first glance they might be mistaken for the band “Silverchair,” three of them probably in their late-teens/early twenties, the two more normal looking ones accompanied by fairly cute, metal-poser chicks. The girlfriend-less boy, who by the looks of him is probably named “Gideon” or “Yancy,” has long, dirty blond hair, light blue bug eyes, and is wearing skin-tight leopard print jeggings. They are flailing and thrashing about, like assholes, bumping into and spilling beer on several increasingly angry Vikings. At one point, Gideon, in a feeble attempt to impress the girls and at the same time demonstrate that he is comfortable with his sexuality, mounts the shoulders of one of his friends. While he is up there, he yells and screams, spilling yet more beer, before we all watch him get dropped, from about 6 feet up, directly onto the side of his ugly face. He gets up, in a daze, and tries to laugh and act like his entire world isn’t throbbing and ringing in his ears. This makes the Alphas of Silverchair laugh, setting them into a fist pumping, singing frenzy during “Breaking the Law.”
Throughout all of this, I have been observing a stout but clearly rugged character standing in front of me, as he grows more and more visibly angry about the beer that has been spilled on his denim vest covered in Judas Priest patches by this group of wankers and poofters. Finally, after being bumped for a third time, he has had enough. He winds up and shoves one of the boys in the back, sending him flying about 10 feet, causing them all to, without even looking back, quickly relocate about 100 feet away. We all pat Judas Priest Berserker, who seems quite satisfied with himself, on the back.
Joel goes on to explain, “When someone shoves you like that, you either turn around expecting to fight or just move on without looking.” At least these kids knew the rules, I guess...
I am finally hungry again, and I opt to seek out the Argentinean Sausage stand, as it was my favorite amongst all of the disgusting shit that I consumed on day one. To remedy the problem I experienced the last time, that there was too much subpar bun for one sausage, I order two, throwing one of the buns away and jamming two sausages at once right into the other, while slathering it with chimmichurri and mayo. It is just as delicious as it sounds, until about 4 bites in when I am covered head to toe in sand by a gust of wind. I take one look at the sandwich, start to nibble, and then whip it onto the ground before marching over the beer kiosk.
Ozzy Osbourne takes the stage, and I am happy to see that he deviates from the whole “Randy Rhodes Tribute” set that I’ve witnessed him perform over and over. Instead, he plays “Shot in the Dark,” “Road to Nowhere,” and a few others that I know and love but aren’t completely fucking tired of. As is his usual practice, Ozzy complains between every song that “He can’t fucking hear us!” or that we are not going ‘Extra, Extra, Extra Crazy!” for him, threatening to not play anymore if these demands are not met. I would like to remind Ozzy that the reason he cannot fucking hear us is that he is 113 years old, and his ears are no doubt failing him.
At this point I’m completely running on empty, beer is doing very little to alter my mood, and my feet feel like they are going to fall off. I know that I must press on because Opeth is slated to begin at 1:30AM, the last show of the festival, so I press on back to the beer kiosk. Some goofy-looking French asshole, upon hearing me order, “Three Guinness, please,” corrects me by saying “Don’t you mean, Si Vous Plait?” I pretend that I don’t hear him, and after collecting my drinks I turn and throw an elbow into the beer he is holding, knocking it to the ground. He looks angry, but does nothing as I look him straight in the eye and say “Merci.”
As Joel and I wander about, we notice what appears to be a dead hippie collecting dust while the crowd walks around him. Upon further examination, it appears to be a sleeping hippie, passed out in to the kind of deep sleep that can only result from being up for three straight days blowing meth, when you start to hallucinate and your body simply can take no more. In my exhausted state I find this quite amusing, and kick a bit of extra dirt on him, for good measure.
When Opeth finally takes the stage, I forget everything about my surroundings and physical condition. The set list is exactly as I hoped it would be, and at one point, during “The Drapery Falls,” I notice I’ve actually got a tear streaming down my cheek. Both Joel and I are completely mesmerized, until I snap out of it and observe that the show is drawing to a close. I suggest we get a head start walking towards the shuttles and taxis, about ¾ of a mile away, to hopefully shave an hour off of our long journey home.
The mass exodus from Hellfest begins, but thankfully a large percentage of the festivalgoers are campers heading back to the site. When we finally reach the taxi and shuttle area, there is the usual frustration beginning to occur. A single cab driver, clearly waiting for someone specific, fends off countless attempts for hire. We start chatting with two wispy British college students, who offer to split a cab back to Nantes with us, which seems like a fine idea to us. Joel and I get our money ready in our hands, and as two taxis pull around we immediately rush to the door of one, completely ignoring the police officer yelling for us to get out of the road. We shove money into the hands of the cab driver, which welcomes us in, and we beckon to our new British friends to get the fuck moving. One of them feels it is a good idea to haggle over the price with the driver, a move that costs him dearly as two women push by them and into the car with us.
I really, really wish those kids had pulled it together as I find myself wedged in the back seat with two awful French women, both reeking of terrible perfume and each closely resembling Ursula from The Little Mermaid. While Joel enjoys the comforts of the front seat, I am forced to listen to these two wildebeests whisper and giggle in French for about 35 minutes, all the while searching around for some kind of “eject” button to send them both crashing into the roof of the vehicle, before we are mercifully dropped off at our hotel.
It is now 3:30 AM, and with a 7:45 wake up call to catch our train to Paris at 9:15, we should be heading off to bed, after draining a quick bottle of Vouvray, of course. I feel completely wired with nervous energy that is both keeping me awake and muddling my thoughts at the same time, leaving me with no choice but to absently stare off into the distance while sipping my glass of wine. My last memory is trying to focus my thoughts by drunkenly playing Angry Birds before finally surrendering to sleep.
Day 9 – The Voyage Home
The morning arrives swiftly and painfully, and I am at least thankful for the quality of the showers at the Mercure as I let the hot water run over my head for a solid 35 minutes. As we begin packing, I take one look at my sneakers, filthy from the festival, and toss them into the trashcan. In the name of travelling light, we have emptied all but 3 bottles of Champagne, the remaining of which being reserved for consumption with privileged company back home. I am also sure to leave the anorexic yet astonishingly attractive maid a bit of absinthe, assuming that for her it probably won’ t take much to have her bouncing off of walls and fucking random sailors.
The mass exodus from Hellfest is underway when we arrive at the train station, but due to purchasing first class tickets we are able to avoid the crowded sections of the train. Instead, we find ourselves seated directly across from friendly old couple with a dog. Joel’s über gay side is always at it’s most pronounced when he is exposed to cute little doggies, prompting him to use his special “dog voice,” which sounds a little bit like a high pitched Stewie from Family Guy. At one point, when I point this out to him, he defends his behavior by claiming that his dog is like his child, and I respond that I strongly dislike children, officially rendering this comparison ineffective.
The elderly man yammers at length, in French, about the Hellfest festivities he is currently reading about in the newspaper. Apparently, attendance of the show reached 80,000, a figure that doubles our original hypothesis. The man seems surprised that Joel and I were among the attendees, and after listening to him for about four more minutes I signal that I am “taking a break” by donning my headphones for the duration of the three hour ride to Paris.
Upon arrival at Charles De Gaulle Airport, the plan is to check our bags first before we try to scare up some lunch. This is going smoothly, until the electronic check-in machine prompts me with an option to upgrade my seat for 50 Euro, which I eagerly accept. When it asks for me to insert my credit card, it becomes apparent, once again, that without the gold euro-chip on the face of the card, this isn’t going to work. Because I am unable to proceed, my transaction is cancelled. When I attempt to restart, it shows that I am already checked in but not upgraded, and after repeating this process several times with no success, I begin to descend into mental overload, becoming a tad bit enraged. When I attempt to ask for help, I am rudely directed to a very long line forming twenty feet away.
By now Joel has been through checkout for about ten minutes, and as I wait in line, growing increasingly “stormy” due to dehydration and hunger, he sits on a bench mapping out the easiest method to calm me down when I finally make it through. He is successful in this endeavor, as the first thing out of his mouth before I can start a tirade is “Let’s get you some lunch.”
Our flight is slated to depart in three hours, so we decide that a leisurely lunch is most certainly in order. Because I am pushing towards the state of emergency, we settle on the first sit-down restaurant that we see, a chain called “Paul.” The Maitre’d seems a bit out of place, with a sleek, well-fitting black suit amidst the stewardess-style uniforms sported by the wait staff. He leads us to our table, where we are abandoned for a solid 10 minutes until we are finally able to track down a server and order a bottle of Riesling from Alsace. As we peruse the menu we debate whether “Paul” is in reference to Bocuse, Prudhomme, or Newman, before deciding that it doesn’t really matter as long as the burgers we are about to order do not suck.
About halfway through our bottle of wine, my excessive use of the word “fuck” begins bothering two elderly women seated next to us. One of them makes little noises to signal displeasure, which only serves to elevate the volume of my profanity. Luckily, before things get too heated, our food arrives. The burger, surprisingly, is fantastic, cooked to a perfect medium and topped with creamy béarnaise sauce and tangy cornichon. Coupled with the salty, delicious frites, it is exactly what I required to quiet down my rage, and tensions ease between the neighboring tables.
Joel picks up the lunch tab, claiming that he is officially “Done spending money, babe.” We split up for a bit, and when I run into him in the terminal twenty minutes later he has purchased a pair of Prada sunglasses. “Well, NOW I’m done spending money,” he lies.
I seem to be developing a severe cold at an alarmingly rapid speed, so to combat this I purchase two splits of Piper Heidsick Monopole champagne and a bottle of orange juice from one of the cafes in the terminal. As I quickly dispatch all three, I inform Joel that it is “Just what the doctor ordered.”
“Which doctor? Doctor Feelgood?” is his typically bitchy response.
Unfazed, I manhandle two more splits before we are informed that our flight is being delayed by two hours. At this point we are both getting pretty desperate to get our asses home, so we try to stay cheerful. I go to the newsstand and purchase ten magazines; most importantly Star because I want to be caught up on what has been happening in the States since I’ve been gone.
After an hour and three cans of Moretti lager, I check the schedule to find out that we are now facing an additional two-hour delay, due to Air France experiencing a strike. Now, getting a tad bent out of shape, I chug three more Morettis, desperately trying to fend off a cold that is getting worse and worse.
Tired of the options in the cafe, I suddenly become aware that if I am allowed to drink anywhere in the terminal, what is to stop me from going to the duty free shop and buying really good Champagne and just opening it on the spot? To test my theory, I chat up the store clerk, who not only directs me to a cooler with cold bottles ready to drink, but also supplies me with plastic cups!
I purchase two half bottles of Ruinart Rose, and hurry back to tell Joel about my brilliant plan.
“Yeah, that’s just what you need. Great job!” He mumbles while happily accepting a glass of the Ruinart. I can barely feel my body as we finally receive word, four and a half hours late, that our plane is ready to board. I tip up the last of bottle number two, hoping to pass out the minute I reach my seat. Unfortunately my “upgrade” with “more legroom” has actually just landed us right in front of the boarding door, in seats that actually feel more narrow and uncomfortable than the regular ones.
Though ready to blow a fuse in my head, I sit calmly, smiling at one of the stewardesses during takeoff. Once we are in the air, I approach her, politely explaining that I am, in so many words, much too wide for the seats we have paid to upgrade to, requesting, if at all possible and no big deal if it isn’t, that we may move to a more comfortable arrangement. She looks around, and whispers to me that if we remain quiet about it, she will move us to the second floor of the plane, the “business elite” section, if that is ok. Yes, I played the “fat card.” So what.
After we are re-situated, Joel genuinely compliments me on my handling of the situation. Because of my now severe cold, I am unable to sleep even after three more mini-bottles of red wine, and am subjected to several gag-reflex inducing movies, including one particular pile of shit involving Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman.
After what feels like three days but is actually only 7 hours, we arrive back in Boston, where it is a bit surreal to freely communicate in English again. All I can think about is making it home to my own bed. In my crippled state, I make the usual “on the wagon for a month after this” kind of bullshit plans, knowing that all I really need is a good night’s sleep and a bowl of pho before I’m back after it all over again.
Looking back, I can safely say we accomplished what we set out to do in France. Though our French could use a lot of work, we managed to get by speaking the universal language of drinking and eating. A lot.