When my Aunt Dolores asked me as a 10-year-old boy what I wanted to be when I grew up, I was as certain of my answer as I am today. Even then, the word was pregnant with passion. It still is.
The first time someone called me a journalist, it didn't even matter that the word was preceded by the adjective "poor." "They called me a journalist!," I thought.
I don't know what my experience will be. I don't know if I'll struggle. I might make an impact, I might not. The industry might collapse, it might not. I might give up. But I won't. I'm doing it.
This past week marked another kylestone: exactly ten years since I left for Nice.
Aside from the actual date, I'll never forget a thing about my first day in Nice. It was sometime in the first week of September, 2006, and the only thing that mattered to me that day, was that day.
I noticed right away how everything was slower. No movement contained any urgency. There were no crushing deadlines, no rushing through the day to reach some rewarding end. There was no end. The day was the reward.
I won't bother trying to capture the beauty and decadence of the Côte d'Azur — forests have fallen in an attempt to do that. There's no describing the first bite of a kebab from Pera. Or the wonder of bobbing your ahead above water to see the buildings on the Promenade for the first time. Or how it feels to watch the sun go down over the lazy, hazy mediterranean, night after night, knowing it is sure to come up, day after day, because you're young, and you're free, and you're in the South of France.
We are all searching for utopia and not even 300 days of sunshine can render the dismissive "Nowhere's perfect!" a worthy retort. Nice has as many strikes as it does, well, strikes: sluggish service, exorbitant prices, unapologetic racism to name a few. But the beautiful thing about travel is that we get to take what we want from the places we visit, and leave the rest.
What I took from Nice was that life is not to be rushed, time is not to be killed. At no point in my ten months on the Côte d'Azur did I feel the constant compulsion to plan. I didn't feel I needed to know what the coming weeks and months would entail. It didn't matter so much where I would be that same time the following year. What mattered was that I was living in this house:
...in this city:
...and that these were my friends:
And speaking of friends, I love having ones like these:
And I especially love being with them in places like this:
And going back to planning, why do we even bother trying to do it? My plans for August didn't unfold as I had envisioned. This time last month, The Black Sheep didn't even have a piano. I've played there twice since.
They say once you make a statement, the universe contrives to make it a reality. They say what you think about, you bring about. They say, "watch what you ask for."
I've been stating for a while now that I want to be a professional piano vocalist. To be able to play anything an audience asks for, on command.
I got called to play for a small group of drunken naval officers recently at The Inn of Olde. The piano was badly out of tune. My first song choice elicited a stern "Do you know anything more recent?" from the only female officer.
"I do," I responded.
"Play it, now," she said before I had even finished responding.
Panicked, I played "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues." I heard her eyes roll.
They asked for "Piano Man." I played it. They asked for "Bennie and the Jets". Played it. They asked for "These Eyes." I didn't know it. They really wanted it. I looked it up on YouTube. No internet connection in Quidi Vidi. I told them.
"Go outside," they said.
"How bad do I need this $200?" I thought.
I went outside, listened to "These Eyes" and came back and played it. The First Commanding Officer for St. John's, the guest of honour, said it was his favourite song. "Know any Stone Temple Pilots," he said?
I never liked Nirvana or Alice in Chains. In general, I didn't dig the a lot of the music my friends loved in Junior High until much later. I liked R&B, Soul, Hip Hop. The grunge-alternative-indie-rock wave didn't catch me at all.
But I liked Stone Temple Pilots.
I played "Interstate Love Song." I played "Big Empty." I played "Plush." Silence.
They asked for Elton John. "Your Song." "Rocket man." "Tiny Dancer." I played them all.
Still convinced I'd failed utterly, I wasn't surprised when one of the officers told me he didn't have the money to pay me. Hesitant to let him leave, his superior assured me he was "good for it."
I left a few minutes after they did. Already I had a missed call. The officer was waiting, money in hand.
"You were absolutely fantastic," he told me, handing me a wad of 20s - $50 more than the amount we'd agreed on.
I got called to play another night this past month at the Fifth Ticket. The table in front of the piano was awash in expensive bottles of wine and booze. Around it sat the staff from a yacht that was docked in the harbour. The requests didn't stop.
"L.O.V.E" by Nat King Cole. "Suspicious Minds" by Elvis. "Unchained Melody." Between each song, I'd pretend I was leafing through my sheet music while I was on YouTube. I spent about 30 minutes in the washroom on my break with my phone to my ear.
I played for five hours, petrified I'd butchered the songs they loved. At the end, the group came up and placed $50 in the tip jar. One of them said something about me being some kind of "monkey." I think it was a good thing.
I can feel the forces of fate shifting in my favour. I can feel the impact of the magnetic energy that is emitted when one does the very thing they came here to do. I can see the universe responding. And I'm reminded of something I've heard from everyone from Oprah to Maya Angelou (okay, that's not much of a range):
I took 40 French-speaking tourists around St. John's on Saturday. I was terrified. It was like exam time. "I don't have enough material," I thought. "I'm not what they're expecting," I thought. I got a total of three hours sleep.
I spent 10 hours with them. I took them to Cape Spear, Petty Harbour, Quidi Vidi, Signal Hill, the Basilica, The Rooms. I told them about our 46 national historic sites and four UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I told them about the Queen's Battery and Quidi Vidi Battery and Fort Cape Spear and Fort Pepperell and Fort Townshend.
I told them about our flora and fauna, about our rich aviation history and our quirky place names. I pointed out the War Memorial where Newfoundland became the first British colony, effectively giving birth to the Commonwealth. I pointed out Lester's Farm, where Alcock & Brown took off on what would be the first transatlantic flight. I pointed out Cabot Tower where Marconi received the first transatlantic radio communication.
I told them about our French history, about Placentia, site of the very first French colony. I told them about the old French Shore, and why so many place and family names in Newfoundland are French.
I told them about the quarrel between Bishop Fleming and the British Government over the land upon which the Basilica was built. I told them about the land upon which the Basilica was built.
At the end, I performed French songs for them, as well as Newfoundland songs. All of the women hugged me. Some of them kissed me. The tour operator thanked me profusely both that evening and the next morning.
I thought to myself, like I did after that night at the Inn of Olde and that other night at The Fifth Ticket and all of those nights I walked out of extremely stressful exams: "After all that stress, all that fear, all that terror, I never got to the scary part."