The following post is a combination of six posts that I wrote during a work trip to Iceland and France. I was unhappy with the site I used while traveling so instead of continuing to use it the new posts and this one will be on here. Enjoy!
#1. The Adventure Begins!
“My idea is to go interview football (soccer) supporters during the Euros and make a documentary about it. I need someone to do the video work. Interested?”
That’s how I got wrangled into this crazy idea. Tom Conquergood, GorillaFC (SoundersFC supporters group) president, friend and all around good guy had made up his mind. He would quit his job, start a production company (Pickup Bear Productions) and this documentary would be his initial salvo into the stratosphere.
You heard me right… He quit his stable job to chase his dreams. Luckily for him I was dealing with what would graciously be called a very “flexible” schedule and could carve out the 5 weeks required to travel and work.
So the plan and anxiety started to make itself known. “Are we doing this? Shit, we are really doing this!” were both thrown around often between the two of us.
A little background. Tom has experience overseas. I however have never been out of the USA except the occasional trips to Vancouver and Victoria, BC. In fact, Tom has lived overseas and has skills essential for surviving abroad. I have never flexed those muscles in a brand new cultural environment.
To put it bluntly, as we boarded the plane to Iceland I was totally freaking out. Just the idea of what was to come as we flew over the eastern coast of Canada to our first stop in Iceland had all of my senses on edge. “This is really happening,” I thought. “Right now, shit.”
As Tom and I left the plane we had few things in mind. Food, luggage, naps and calling home were the priorities. Unfortunately IcelandAir had different plans for our luggage and we were told our bags of clean clothes (and some GoPro accessories) had been sent on to Paris. “I feel bad for whoever has to sit next to us on our next flight,” Tom said while we looked for a Taxi. Agreed.
Upon arrival to our room we ditched our stuff, tried to shower off some of the flight stench and set an alarm for a nap. We rested, but neither of us got to sleep. Instead we got up, grabbed cameras and headed to downtown Keflavik.
We were met by a member of Tolfan, Iceland National Football team’s supporters group. After a few minutes of eating and chatting we hopped into his car and got a tour of the city. This included their local club’s stadium, a giant troll near the water and the local liquor store.
Next up? Free chicken of course. At a spot called BK Kjuklingur. Why is it free you ask? The story goes something like this. A while back one of the owner’s relatives was at a match. It was her birthday. When Tolfan members heard this they made up a chant, just for her, and sang it during the match. The owner was so appreciative that he offered free chicken wings before the next match. It’s remained that way since.
After meeting most of the crew and getting our fill of food (did I mention the supporters group is sponsored by Carlsberg beer and had it free for the chugging?) we headed to the main rallying point at a bar a few blocks away from the stadium. What came next was unexpected. Within minutes Tolfan had gathered, set up and started drumming like crazy. With chants and screams intended to show pride for their nation’s first ever Euro 2016 qualifying football team these descendants of Vikings really lit up the atmosphere.
Just as we were getting going, like an emergency brake being pulled on a muscle car, everything immediately stopped. We were told that Coach was here, time to go inside the bar. I figured “Coach” was some old dude who’s been around forever that’s going to give a little talk and get everyone in the matchday spirit. Boy was I wrong.
Coach turned out to be Iceland’s Head Coach who in the lead up to the Euros had begun attending this pre-match event to briefly talk strategy, the tournament and to thank everyone for their continued and passionate support. The room was silent while he spoke and erupted each time a clip of a player was shown. After the presentation everyone grabbed a few more beers, warmed up the drums and started unrolling flags. It was time to march.
#2. A WeeK OF WORK
Flying into Paris was exhausting. After almost 40 hours without sleep or seeing darkness (too far north for the sun to go down) we had another handful of hours before our airbnb would be open to us. So we grabbed our luggage, pointed ourselves toward the trains and sat for a peaceful ride.
“Peaceful ride” included some very strong smells that were foreign to me, people forcing their way around our gear and what seemed like constant stares from those who wondered what the heck we were doing there. Eventually we made it to a stop and were told our original transfer spot was closed due to labor protests, or rain, or something. I was so tired the only amount of brain power left was consumed by making sure my bags stayed on their wheels.
We had to ask multiple information officers (they are all over the major stops, extremely helpful) and ended up on the subway not realizing that we were in morning commuter traffic. Packed in like sardines and trying to not sweat on anyone next to me, we transferred again and finally made it to our neighborhood for the next 8 days the 13th Arrondissement.
The bagel shop next to the station was my first attempt at ordering food in a different land. Luckily for me the woman behind the counter was sweet and understanding, choosing to use english when she heard my clearly American version of “Bonjour!” It wasn’t as bad as Brad Pitt’s attempt in Inglorious Bastards but it was probably pretty close.
Sitting for hours, waiting and listening to the sounds of French in the air kept me slightly awake. It was relaxing to have no idea what was being said, almost like a white noise machine. Nothing to pick out, no conversations to try to comprehend then feel the guilt of being an in-passing conversational peeping Tom. Just the noises of a world brand new to me.
The apartment was a relief. An open space for the living room, dining room and kitchen with a single bedroom, shower and toilet there was tons of natural light and air flowing around. Tom took pity on my clearly aching body and said he’d take the fold out couch bed. I dropped my luggage, layed down in the apartment owner’s unborn daughter’s bedroom (pink and blue everywhere) and immediately passed out.
Our first outing took us deep into paris where we interviewed a few fans on the street while we tried to find the Euro trophy that was on display. Of course, because of protests, we weren’t able to get all the way to it so instead we played “stereotypical american” and went to a McDonald’s. Fast food joints are easy to get comfortable with because most have automated kiosks that provide the menu and instructions in multiple languages. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all we have eaten but when the French part of my brain doesn’t care to start-up and I don’t feel like getting stared at for my poor language skills these restaurants are a god-send.
The next morning we set out for Père Lachaise Cemetery. I was going in the hopes of seeing Jim Morrison’s grave and we found it along with many other beautiful and intricate graves. The most powerful was a recent grave of a 21-year-old woman with many photos and trinkets on it. I took the photo, not realizing until I returned and looked closer that she was a victim of the shooter at the metal concert. Just as we were getting comfortable with the place and finding different graves on our list a security guard came speeding out of nowhere at us. They had just closed, we needed to get out! It was 6pm and we had no clue but we began to leave and she stared, wanting us to move faster. As we left the gate guard gave us a look and closed it behind us.
We woke up the next day to find it was finally time for the tournament to start! I grabbed what I believed to be a modest amount of gear so we could get into the highly secured fan zone where people would be watching matches on huge screens and we boarded the metro. Upon arriving at the zone the guard quickly told me the 10in mini tripod in my bag was a no go. Cameras are ok we were told, but not the tripod. So instead we walked around the Eiffel Tower and took photos/video of fans.
After an hour or so we decided to take our gear home, repack, and attempt a different fan zone on the other side of Paris. Opting for a ZipCar instead of the metro again had some interesting difficulties, mainly the fact that parking was packed at the other zone. Our first spot ended up being somewhere we shouldn’t have been and 5 people came out to yell at us. Even after we said we were moving they continued to yell at us and throw up their hands in anger. I still have a deep urge to light a bag of dog poop and place it in their driveway…
Finding a spot kind of happened by parking on the sidewalk next to another car that had. We walked around looking for the fan zone and taking pictures. Doing so brought the attention of a passing by Paris police cruiser with 5 officers inside. The female officer sitting in the passenger side told us to put the camera in my bag. I thought it was because they didn’t want us filming their entry point for security reasons. Nope… she said if we didn’t put it away “they” would steal it from me. We had been walking by a predominately minority filled park (in honesty I didn’t see a single white Parisian there, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t!).
Eventually we made it to the fan zone and once again, no access. This time my camera, microphone and light were too much gear and they decided I could only enter with a press pass. I tried to explain my way out of it but it was no use, we were booted for the second time in one day… so we went home to lick our wounds and hope for a better day to come.
#3. eNTER THE BEAR'S DEN
Tom looked over at me and asked, “Hey Joe, David Guetta is going to be at the Eiffel Tower tonight. Wanna Go?”
I had been avoiding everything French for the first few dozen of hours we had been in Paris. The language barrier was immediately frightening to me and my anxiety around not knowing what would happen around the next corner of this foreign country had continuously been rising. Tom, however, had been out every moment he could be and was basking in the lives of the Parisians. I was getting a little jealous.
Even worse, I was getting cabin fever like woah. So I said, “Sure, let me get ready.” We left the camera gear at home because we didn’t know what would be allowed at the fan zone and I was afraid I’d have to find a place to secure it. On the way Tom said, “I wanna stop and the Bear’s Den first. It’s on the way and we can walk to Eiffel from there.”
The Bear’s Den, I had been educated on, is a Gay Bar in Paris for Bears (A term used by gay men to describe husky, large men with a lot of body hair) where they mainly drink outside and just chill. “Hmmmm,” I thought quietly to myself. “Gay bar in a foriegn country… not in my comfort zone.” Tom immediately noticed my comfort level tank and reassured me, “If you feel uncomfortable at any time just tell me and we will leave.” Since I had trusted him enough to go on a 37 day euro-business venture I figured this would be safe too but I was still on edge.
The Uber dropped us off about 2 blocks away and for a brief second I considered telling the driving to hit the gas with me still inside. I figured it’d be more comfortable to explain why when Tom got back to the apartment later that night. But then reality kicked in. Let’s do this.
Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself an Ally and have for about 25 years. But I don’t spend time in gay bars or clubs. I don’t know how to appropriately negotiate this world, let alone on a different continent. Will I look at someone the wrong way and get a stalker for the night? Will I say something and insult half of the bar? Will the last thing I see before a hospital bed be a pissed off gay man’s fist flying at my face? All were unknowns. All were freaking me out.
I did have the forethought to keep all my bandanas at home. Usually bandanas are my go-to head covering device and I keep multiple on me but if pop culture has taught me anything it’s that bandanas hanging out of pockets mean different sexual desires that you are open to or looking for. So they stayed at home.
What I didn’t know was that wearing your hat backwards meant something as well. Tom gave me a heads up and I pulled the bill of my Sounders hat as low as it could go. Only slightly joking about it…
Upon entering the bar I could feel dozens of eyes looking at me. Two thoughts occurred, the first being “Is this how women feel when they enter a straight bar?” and “My wife always says I have a nice ass.” Not comforting thoughts.
Tom asked if I wanted a beer and I quickly said yes. We walked up to the bar and a rather tall, bulky bartender started to pour. As he did he caught my eye, smiled and winked. “This is it… I’ve got a gay stalker in Paris now… why the hell did I agree to this?”
We walked back out, eyes examining us once again and found Tom’s friends against a brick wall. Each time he introduced me to another man I wanted to tell them my name was Joe and I’m straight. Instead I just said hi and shook hands. Tom was the one informing his friends that I was indeed happily straight with a wife at home. That was until the bartender walked outside.
I didn’t see him but I soon felt his arm around my shoulders. “Hi,” He said. I involuntarily shook his arm off and moved to the side. His response to this was, “Don’t be scared. I don’t bite!” Then Tom’s friends came to my rescue. One of them, in french, told the Keeper of Alcohol that I didn’t swing the same way they did. Never has someone so quickly apologized to me in my life. This guy who freaked me out said he was so sorry. My only reaction was one of apology myself. “You didn’t know and I hadn’t said anything. No worries sir,” I said with all sincerity. From that point my mood and actions changed. We all laughed and the absolutely crazy night of fun and bullshiting began.
We eventually made it to Eiffel. We were late and didn’t see Guetta but the Tower was lit up and blinking. I always thought landmarks were overrated and none to that point had ever seemed special. Eiffel is on another level. I just wanted to stay and stare at this marvel of a building. Finally, a man-made structure that lives up to the hype.
Then… Orlando happened.
When we heard the news I knew it was going to be a rough day… or two… or 365. The LGBT community had once again been attacked in America and we were in France away from everyone and everything. But there was work to be done, fans to get on camera. As we sat across from each other on the bus to another part of France Tom read updates about the horrors and tried to hold back tears. I wanted so much to help… in that moment all I could really do is place my hand on his knee and give him a look of condolence for what had happened to the community he is apart of and loves so dearly. He looked up, said thanks, and went back to the updates.
After working through the day we returned home to download footage and drop off gear. Tom told me he was going back to The Bear’s Den for support and to support others. I wanted to show my support as well but didn’t want to intrude. I didn’t want to be the straight white guy taking attention away from a difficult time. Tom gave me the ok and once again I was headed towards the Den. This time our arrival was much different. No fear, no silly concerns about my actions. Just a heartfelt need to show these amazing people I had been accepted by so openly and joyously that they were loved by the world from outside their own community.
There were tears, hugs and caring words the entire night. We debated how things should change, what could be done and how to do it. And I listened… so much listening to the heartbreak each and every man felt. I wanted to cry at some of the stories and emotions that were expressed but I held back, it was their time to cry. I’d find mine later.
I’m glad I didn’t stay in the car that first trip. I’m glad I talked to everyone. I’m glad to be able to call these guys friend now.
#4. IN BED: A FIBRO DAY
After a full day of driving from Saint Etienne and experiencing some of the most erratic traffic I’d ever seen we arrived at our second place in Paris. Hauling our bags up the street and a flight of stairs was annoying and due to the humidity a sweat-inducing feat but nothing completely exhausting. Then it was off to an English pub on the other side of the river Seine for a viewing of the England match with a gaggle of gorgeous giants (Islanders).
Running around getting video and as many photos as I could (I have been feeling like I’ve been missing out on so many photos…) was certainly taxing not to mention coping with the amount of people running around and drinking. It was a great party but work for this artist.
So as someone who suffers with fibromyalgia I have to admit it wasn’t the biggest surprise when I woke up, fell asleep, woke up, fell asleep, woke up, fell asleep and so on the entire day today. It was more of a surprise that I made it 16 days into this business trip before it happened.
Fibro (for me) isn’t a disorder that suddenly hits and then goes away until the next episode. It’s constantly present in one way or another with “ok” days and “bad.” Sometimes the middle, not so bad days can be fought against, mentally put to the side for the sake of whatever needs to be done and other days it cannot. Today it could not. Luckily it wasn’t a make or break filming day and we will be just fine but I’m missing out on Paris… again. Missing out on the sights to photograph, the sounds to take in and the dog poop on the sidewalk to dodge. Not so sad about the third one.
This trip is becoming a test of many things including my ability to endure pain, stay focused on days that my mind just isn’t functioning at 50% and my awareness of when self-care will be more important for future dates than the chance of a filming opportunity.
Not much else to say in this post. As the rest of the day I am once again feeling exhausted just typing out these less that 500 words so I’ll leave you with this photo. What gets me moving on the days I can. The beauty and innocence of great football support.
#5. LEARNING TO DRIVE ALL OVER AGAIN
“Move B-tch, get out the way. Get out the way B-tch, get out the way.” -Ludacris
The plan was I would drive in the country side. The extended stretches of time is like an ultimate meditation session for me and a calming factor for days after. Coming into Paris we would have stopped to switch and let Tom drive (he thrives on the chaos of city driving) but the traffic was horrific that day. Some of the worst the city has seen in years is what we were told.
Not wanting to slow us down and needing to just get in for a nap I made the decision to stay in the driver’s seat. For the most part it wasn’t a problem. The heavy traffic made for slow-moving everywhere. The lack of lines on most of the roads didn’t matter cause we were only moving a few feet at a time until our apartment. Safe for now.
My next driving session wasn’t supposed to be until leaving for Nice… or so I thought. The day started out all right. We had time off; figured it would be good to do some laundry (luckily you can’t smell blog posts) and get jerseys clean. Tom hopped in, turned the key and off we went to a laundromat in the middle of Paris. Upon arrival it was clear that we would find no parking. The fix? I would sit in the driver’s seat in a temporary parking spot while he took clothes over and if anyone bugged me I’d just move the car a bit. Then the realization set it… this temporary parking was over 1.5km away from the laundromat. That is how far we had to drive to find a spot.
Tom put our clothes back in the car and asked if I wanted him to drive. “Screw it, I’m already sitting here. Let’s just roll,” I said, not thinking of the ramifications. I’m so used to driving everywhere and everything. My small Scion xD, my parents GMC Truck, Saint Martin’s University Shuttle Buses, automatic, manual, I’m always driving. Clutch in, first gear found, peddle to the metal.
I have found that in Paris and Marseille the attitude is less “laissez-faire” and more “Screw you, you are in my way and I’m more important.” If there is an opening you take it no matter who has the right of way. Three lanes merging into one? Lay on your horn and give no space. If you let one person in they will all go and you’ll be stuck.
And pedestrians? They care even less. Most times, without looking, they will cross right in front of you. I know we have this in America but that can usually be explained by headphones and some more than decent tunes. Not here. My solution has become simple. I put the Opel Astra Sports Tourer into neutral while still rolling and rev the engine to about 5000 rpm. For any visitors planning to drive in Paris I swear this has become the most effective driving weapon in my arsenal. I leave time (of course) to be able to break and not hit anyone but the sight of a car coming with the sound of the engine revving… pedestrians quickly stop in their tracks.
Like I mentioned before many of the streets have no lines so lanes are more or less determined by how many vehicles will fit side by side. Traffic cops? Not visible anywhere in the city until they are called for an accident. I’ve seen many on the toll roads but not a single one watching traffic in the cities.
Oh, don’t forget the scooters. The psychotic scooters are everywhere and they take daredevil driving to an all new level. Weaving between buses and cars alike, nearly destroying side mirrors and they group together so it might be one coming by or seven. For the most part they pass on the left which is nice until you realize on your right are the bicycles. Not joke… rolling traffic has two-wheeled vehicles flying by on both sides. I have grabbed for my Saint Christopher medal more than once when seeing this happen.
After experiencing all of this, dealing with the anxiety, worrying about the safety of myself and my passengers you might be wondering what I think of Parisian driving. I say, “Bring It On.” Once you accept that it is just what you have to do the motions feel like one giant game of Grand Theft Auto… with less police on your tail. There is a rush when you drop down to second gear for more power, hit the gas pedal, yell at the car next to you (with the window up!) and swing into a recently opened space that you usually can’t experience in the States without the fear of prosecution.
It will still be nice to get back to Countryside driving for nine hours tonight. Any more city driving and they might draft me to race in Le Mans.
#6. THE UPS AND DOWNS OF NICE
“Joe, you’re the craziest f-cking driver I’ve ever met.” -Various Islanders
After bottoming out while trying to park near the stadium on the side of a busy road we finally found a spot. To be honest it was just getting in line with a ton of other cars pointed uphill. All together we turned about a kilometer of two way road into a one way. Such is France… just find something that works.
With Tom and Arni behind me I led the way back down the hill towards Nice’s beautiful stadium. From the outside it is stunning and the inside is just as sweet. With wavy lines all the way around and a center opening to let sunshine down I was quickly in awe.
Island was up against the English team and everyone thought Island had little to no chance… except for the Islanders themselves. For days they had been talking about ruining England’s dreams and sending them home. After 93min of play and two fantastic goals they did just that with a final score of 2-1.
I was on cloud 9. Yes, I was happy because we were on the ground floor of this tournament while other press didn’t pickup on it till later. Yes, I was excited because I now had awesome footage from the stands for our project. However, the real joy was that these men and women of Tolfan who graciously accepted us into their world and became friends with two mildly out-of-their-minds Americans were ecstatic for a national team that is always overlooked. They gave all the support they could to their boys on the field and it showed. Hugging, crying, singing, dancing… they had sent a powerhouse nation packing and were moving on to fight again in Paris.
We picked up three more Islanders, all drummers, and packed their gear into the car. My driving was “safe-ish” up the crazy hill to Tom and mine’s AirBnB.
Then I did something I knew better to. I did something I’ve told others never to do in similar situations. I did something every land and every culture understands is a horrible idea… I checked my email. I had been waiting to hear about a job I applied for right before leaving for France. It was so last-minute that my interview was set early to make sure it happened.
“Dear Joe, blah blah blah thanks for applying blah blah blah regret to inform you blah blah blah all positions have been filled.”
It was actually a very professionally worded email but I forgot most of what I read after getting to “Regret.” For weeks I had been glued to my computer stressing about this job opportunity, thinking of what I could do with the needed funds in the family bank account and how it could help further my career with college work. The validation I would feel to finally be offered full-time work at a place that till now has only had opportunities for me when an emergency arises or the usual person can’t do it (summer work, large events, last-minute “shit we forgot to get someone” moments).
Now though, once again, I feel like it’s all lip service. “You help us so much Joe, Everyone loves working with you Joe, You should really be hired for more Joe.” Well, I’m still broke. I’m still expected to pick up the scraps. I’m still wondering day-to-day what my future work will be.
Tom came into my room to ask me a question and I let him know about the job. I’ve been open about anything that has stressed me out over here because we have so much to worry about, I didn’t want him ever wondering why I was in a mood over something. He even knew about the pregnancy before most people. Tom said he was sorry, that there would be better and without me knowing it hatched a plan to improve the night.
Out on the balcony Arni was having a smoke and had already heard from Tom about my situation. “Sorry man. That’s rough. Want a hug?” Yeah, I did. These guys remind me of my Italian grandfather. No shame in the show of emotion and love.
I messaged my mom who, of course, was ridiculously supportive. There are days I fear for those who cross me because of her reactions. Don’t mess with my mom.
Then it was time to get ready to take the Men with Viking Blood back to their hotel to pack and catch a plane home. “Alright everyone, we’re gonna let Joe do his thing,” Tom said. Even I didn’t know what that meant.
After getting google maps going on one phone Tom demanded mine. He’s been DJing most of this trip so it wasn’t really surprising. As we left the parking garage Tom hit play… Warren G’s 1994 classic Regulate. As the beat dropped so did my foot and we started sailing onto the highway. Then something magical happened. Did you know that Islanders know pretty much every word to Baby Got Back? I sure didn’t. Rapping along with Sir Mix-a-lot made staying between the lines pretty difficult but I managed to get us all the way back to their hotel. Then Tom told me to drive into the overnight parking.
“We will take a cab back. You need to have fun tonight,” Tom told me. Well, when your business partner tells you to slow down and have fun you take him at his word. This night would end in a cab ride.
A short walk from the hotel delivered us to our first destination. Food, beer and tobac were acquired and we ran into some unexpected new friends, England fans. We have been careful about other fans, especially right after Island has dished out a butt-kicking like that night. In classic English style they were ragging on their own and we had little need to say much of anything. Tom gave two of them beers because they were “having a bad night” and we were fast friends. There is a possibility that both English fans were already blackout drunk but who knows.
When we got into the Ellington Hotel most of the Islanders were relaxing in the lobby and drinking. They had a 6am flight back to Keflavik (the main Island airport) and were exhausted. For an hour we talked about some random topics, some not so random. We talked about everything and nothing. We tried to keep each other awake and drink at the same time. When the taxis arrived the hugs and kisses began. “Travel safe. If we don’t see you in France again we will see you in Reykjavik soon!”
Hugs turned into embraces. Goodbyes morphed into thank yous. Everyone became family.