Every year on the 21st of June the French celebrate music and the start of summer with La Fête de la Musique. There are musicians on every corner. People party in the streets. They drink, they smoke, they laugh. They enjoy the weather.
In 2016, en Normandie, the weather was not so good on the 21st of June. I would have gone to Rouen, maybe even Paris, but it was cold and I was working for a few hours the next morning. I celebrated the start of summer sitting alone by my window in the 19th century château, where I was a maid. I listened to the French radio station, Fip, sipped rosé and did some writing as the misty evening wrapped itself around the forests and fields of Bosgouet. The next day was bright and clear. I made the beds, vacuumed and mopped, then I walked from the château to the bus stop to catch the bus to Rouen. It was hot. The start of summer had waited a day. I stood in the shade and the bus went passed without seeing me. I put my thumb out straight away because that was the last bus that would get me to Rouen in time to catch my bus to Paris, where I needed to catch another bus to Cannes, where my short Western, Ten Thousand, was shortlisted for a Young Director Award. A guy called Olivier stopped. He looked like Cillian Murphy. He was the single father of two boys and I thought we had understood each other until he took me to the train station after I was pretty sure I’d said, in French, that I was catching the bus. I just smiled, waived goodbye and walked from the station to the Seine. I arrived in Paris about an hour later and an hour after that, I got on the bus for Cannes.
It was a twelve-hour bus ride from Paris to Cannes and I was menstruating quite heavily so it was not a comfortable journey. Mostly because the toilet wasn’t working for the last eleven hours. But the bus had wifi so I listened to Fip and checked my emails. I found out I’d actually won an award. I didn’t sleep at all after that. Excited, I watched each town come and go in the dark until the sun started rising in Marseille. By seven am we were driving through beautiful mountains of fancy mansions. Palm trees, a blue sky and a highway full of flash cars went past my window. I felt like I was in California, not France. We finally arrived at a service station at Cannes La Bocca, close to Cannes. It was eight am and very warm.
Inside the service station, the bus driver showed me how to make a coffee, then I went to the toilet to wipe the blood from my thighs with some baby wipes I was intending to pay for. I did contemplate stealing the wipes because I didn’t have a lot of money - but I decided not to. (I'm Generation Y ... Shouldn't I Have What I Want?) As I was lining up to pay, I saw that the bus had taken off without me. With my passport, my money, my phone, my clothes – tout! I stared numbly at the place where the bus had been.
A woman called Carole was lining up behind me and overheard my broken, anxious French as I asked the girl behind the counter if she could call that bus company. Carole quickly paid for her fuel and said, “On y va!” We drove into Cannes, looking for the big, green bus. We were soon in a traffic jam, so I had a lot of time to look at all the semi-naked people, the water, the umbrellas, the ice cream stands, the people wearing lanyards. Between holding my head in my hands and saying “aie, aie, aie!” I breathed and repeatedly said, “tout va bien… tout va bien…” Carole nodded, “t’as raison! Think positif!”
By nine am we got to Cannes and the police told us to go to the Tourism Office. Carole explained to some nice girls working there what had happened. Then she had to leave and bless her wherever she is. The Tourism Office Girls called the bus company. We were told I had to fill in a form online. My stomach started turning at that point. My American visa was already in that passport. Would they give me another one?
That’s when Carole number 2 arrived for work. She was an extremely handsome policewoman who was stationed at the Tourism Office during the festival. I gave her all the information and, as I was checking out her cheek bones, Carole number 2 called the bus company again. Meanwhile, the Tourism Office Girls looked at me sadly, like I’d lost a leg. They told me how strong they thought I was. That’s probably when I cried. I was bloody and tired. I didn’t cry for very long, just enough to feel better. Then I wiped my eyes, asked the girls for a tampon and decided to enjoy a bit of Cannes. I smiled at the fact that I’d won an award and that I was in Cannes! I went for a walk to buy a coffee. I still had five euro on me because I never did pay for those baby wipes at the service station.
I got a coffee across the road and bummed a cigarette from a German photographer called Seb. He listened to my story as we smoked ciggies and laughed. Eventually, he gave me thirty euro to stop talking about my period. We laughed again, then went our separate ways. With money, I gratefully bought tampons and fresh undies. I changed in a toilet somewhere, making use of the stolen baby wipes again. When I went back to the Tourism Office Carole number 2 had rung the bus company, the Australian Embassy and the money exchange place. She was concerned about where I would stay. “A woman’s refuge?” I suggested. “Bah, non!” was her reply.
I said I should probably go to the theatre. I was early but maybe someone there could help me out? So Carole number 2 escorted me through to the area for people with lanyards. They gave me lunch, water, a goody bag and a t-shirt. They were all very concerned about my situation, but at this point I had accepted it and was not upset anymore. I also knew it would all be okay. Even if I didn’t get my stuff back. Tout va bien. They couldn’t believe how calm I was. Maybe I was just exhausted. They showed me the way to the theatre. I went inside, walked down the aisle to the stage, introduced myself and said I had won some award but had lost all of my things.
That’s when I met Lali, a French-American girl who was working there. I asked her if I could possibly borrow some makeup and/or deodorant. She smiled and said, “honey, do you want a new dress?” So we went shopping in Cannes. Normally, I hate shopping but with Lali it was kinda fun. She said I needed new underwear with the dress we found so she bought me these things and organised for my makeup to be done for free. I felt good and I had my first new bra in about three years. We went to the event.
At the beginning of the ceremony I learned that there were two categories - gold and silver. The Jury President gave a speech about the quality of films that had been shortlisted. I wanted to squeeze someone’s hand. He finished his speech by saying that only the very best would be onstage to collect gold and that "when you win silver, you lose gold." I knew instantly, instinctively, that I had won silver. Which meant it didn’t matter what I looked like because I wasn't going onstage. It also meant Ten Thousand wasn't going to be screened. Next time, Bid.
After the screenings, I went out to the foyer and I saw the Jury President. I was going to introduce myself but I didn’t need to. He saw me, put his hand out and said that he loved my film. I shook his hand and joked, “I lost gold.” Then he touched my face and said it was still a good film. I felt embarrassed suddenly and decided to leave, even though the silver people were meant to hang around and get their photograph’s taken. Instead, I borrowed a phone and got the good news from Carole number 2 that she had located my bag. It was theoretically coming back to Cannes on the bus that night. I spent my last ten euro from Seb at the seafront bar of the Hotel Marriott, bummed another cigarette and, feeling quite stupid, had an expensive glass of rosé, looking out at Cannes.
I was waiting for Lali, who was taking me to the bus stop to collect my things. But I still had half an hour to wait for her. So after the wine and cigarette I got over myself and went back downstairs, where they were packing up the theatre. That’s when I met the President of the Young Director Awards, a man called François Chilot. I introduced myself and he called for an assistant to get my award, which I had run away from. It was a beautiful blue piece of cardboard with laurels on it. They also gave me a glass award, which I suspected was a leftover gold one from a no-show. (A few days later I gave the piece of cardboard to an old man at the train station in Nice and the glass award to my French friend and previous leading lady, Pauline.)
François’ wife took a photo of us that I’m not sure I’ll ever receive. She was sympathetic that I had lost all my things that day. François did not seem to care. He was, however, quite amused to find out that I was a maid in a château in Normandy. I left the Hôtel Marriott smiling, thinking to myself that I’ve got to toughen up, get some sleep, and keep making movies. This is a long distance thing, not a sprint.
Lali picked me up out the front and we drove to the bus stop. I got everything back. My passport, my clothes, my phone, my brown paper bag "wallet" with my maid's wages inside - tout! I’d missed the official after party I was invited to, so Lali asked if I’d like to come and stay with her in Nice. I accepted her invitation. We drove to Nice with the windows down and the music up. When we got there we bought some cheap rosé and I screened my Western to Lali and her housemate, Fafa.
I ended up spending a lovely weekend in Nice, celebrating the start of a hot summer with Lali and her friends. But as I went to take the makeup from my face on that first night, I realised that I couldn’t find the baby wipes. I smiled.
The only thing I lost that day was the only thing I stole.