Anyone who claims that I spent the last six months risking life and limb obviously hasn't witnessed Dublin pedestrians at 5.05pm on a weekday evening. God forbid that one might actually wait until the little green dude doing the robot sparks in to life, emitting that high-pitched, high-paced beeping which signals the moment to cross the street. Oh no, not in Dub-a-lin town! Here the locals have mastered a sort of Parkour-meets-Fairground-dodgems, and the result is one of the most exhilarating spectator sports on the planet. Faced with speeding coupés, rumbling articulated trucks and endless cascades of double decker buses, these fearless adrenaline junkie office workers launch themselves between car bumpers and glowing tail lights. Scuttling, shuffling, skirting, lurching, lunging, stretching and striding to avoid a free ride in an ambulance, I found myself faced daily with the sole option of standing wide-eyed, amused and bemused at the unfolding rush-hour chaos. Taliban insurgents and I.E.D.s are one thing, but nobody fucks with the Green Cross Code.
And so, finally, I get to sit back and soak up two weeks of hard earned rest following six months with the French Foreign Legion in Afghanistan. It hasn't been all plain sailing up until now. Missing my flight from Paris to Dublin, for example, was a slightly tedious development owing mainly to my ill-advised state of sheer inebriation the night before. €400 for a brand new one-way ticket contributed an additional pinch of salt to an already overwhelmingly saline situation, but crucially I made it home as planned. No matter what I do, excitement just seems to follow me everywhere I go. Would I prefer a more bland, monotonous procession through this indecipherable mess called life? See "current career" for your answer, folks.
One thing the French Foreign Legion instills in you is a sense of modesty. Hmmm, modesty, humility, discretion, I suppose I'm searching for an all-inclusive term here. But one's subordination and overall discipline doesn't delay in transferring themselves from a professional to a more personal environment. A busy Friday night out on the town offers an abundance of opportunity to put such theories in to practice. I was surprised, in fact, at how quickly cobwebbed recollections of Irish social etiquette spruced themselves up before parading back into my stream of consciousness once more.
In general, how long does it take one stranger to ask another what they do for a living?
I mean, seriously. It is startling how high-up said question ranks in the order of all things concerning social introductions. I would certainly hold my hands up as a prime culprit. Perhaps people retain a sub-conscious need for knowledge of another's profession in order to better formulate a preliminary perception of that person. In any case, being a Legionnaire presents just as many problems as opportunities in such circumstances. In Paris, the Legion is more widely known and therefore accepted as a viable employer of the person chatting away to you in a bar during the weekend. Across the Irish sea, however, eyebrows tend to receive a more rigorous workout on the forehead of the perpetually skeptical listener. Furthermore, the longer one tries to dance around the topic, the more wary the other person slowly grows concerning your intentions. "Does he have a van with blacked-out windows around the corner?" they might quietly ask themselves as I smile, shift uncomfortably, change the subject and turn the unanswered question on them.
When the truth does come tumbling out, well it can go one of two ways really. Either you're dismissed as one of the more audacious P.U.A.s on the circuit (Pick-Up Artist, do keep up.) or else the conversation shifts. It shifts like a mountain of dislodged snow come crashing down on your skull. Only it's not snow. It's an unending torrent of questions. Questions, questions, questions. None need repeating here, they're already widely known to all. They were on my tongue before I joined, some even after my acceptance into the hallowed ranks of La Légion. Some may still remain on yours too, having failed to find satisfactory answers to queries that plague you still. For no matter what I write, what I describe, what I photograph, record, whatever, it will forever remain a most difficult task to properly communicate the reality of life in the Legion to those not living it. I won't stop trying though. As long as those questions and queries remain unanswered, I for one will consider it my obligation to tackle them with as much informative and articulate gusto as I can muster. Afghanistan is over, and in little over a week the regimental life begins once again. And incase you still haven't quite gotten the gist of what the Legion's all about, THAT is where the real crazy shit goes down. Watch this space. It won't take long to fill itself up with the most bizarre and endearing of all that is human, all that is Legion.
By the way, the questions do eventually run out. Where a pretty girl is involved, it's worth riding out the inquisitive storm. After all, seeing it out until the end is what we're famous for.
Vive les Vacances!