enterning no-surveillance zone

It was a mystery to me how Jérôme could be so positive that we were on the right track. The grafitti on the round-about signs, the lanterns: it seemed like a stretch to me that those were really clues. If they were, where was the next one? If they were not, then that meant that we really were nowhere at all. I figured it would take us at least an hour to find our way back to the motorway and only then would we be able to start from zero again, with no more of a heading than we had when we started.

The path was uneven and full of potholes so I drove very slowly and scanned the darkness in front of me for any sign of life. We emerged from the woods onto a field. There was a fork in the path, he said to go left ("How do you know?" - "I don't"), and led us into the next patch of woods. After maybe another 5 minutes of uneasy uncertainty we both saw something.

"Yes!", he cried. Ahead of us, through the branches, we saw a row of flashlights around the next corner marching our way. I slowed almost to a stop as we passed each other. There was a child among the flashlight bearers. "We're close," said Jérôme.

I was sold. Giddy, too. I lit a cigarette.

Soon the path led us out onto an open field again, on which the glow of several groups of flashlights marching in single-file, all gravitating toward another opening in the woods on the far side of the field left no doubt as to the way we had to go. Someone had put up a big cardboard sign telling us to drive at walking speed. Near the opening there stood a little shack. As we approached it, it produced a dark figure that marched over to us. I scrolled down the window.

He leaned down to the height of the car window and asked me a question a little faster than I could follow. "Oui", I said. Apparently that was the right answer because he went on to hold a little monolog, during which he frequently gestured toward the woods, every now and again he would say "droite" (right) or "gauche" (left), and as I managed to pick up all the cues to smile, nod and say "Oui" I was overcome with the satisfying feeling of actually understanding what he was saying. That is until he stopped and looked at me blankly.

Had he asked me something? It wasn't a yes or no question in any case.

Jérôme leaned over me to tell the man from the shack that I was in fact an Austrian and didn't speak French, but that he had been paying attention and understood the instructions (or whatever it was the guy had said). "Allez-y" (pronounced "ah-leh-zee"), said shack man. I felt pretty spectacularly stupid at this point, and nervously smiled what must have been the most awkward smile of all time while I scrolled my window up again.

There were a lot of people on the path now, so I drove very carefully down that last bit of woods. We took a right, we took a left, and there we were: a cardboard sign with a big P and an arrow on it indicated where we had to get off the path that had already been slightly wilder than the car felt comfortable on to enter the "parking lot" that was in fact just a marshy slab of dirt, with dangerously deep holes and trenches all over. Another cardboard sign was hanging on a tree with a crossed out camera on it: "Entering no-surveillance zone".

There must have been at least a hundred cars and vans. While we looked for a free space, my mind's eye saw the car getting stuck and me being stranded here. "Everybody's cool here?" - "Everybody. Just try, talk to anyone".

We found a free space, parked and got out of the car. I finished my cigarette and tossed it on the ground. "Careful." Jérôme took a plastic bag out of his pocket, picked up the cigarette butt and threw it inside. "We're environmentalists here, we leave nothing lying around." We packed our beers, bread, cheese and apples and headed out toward the field.

enterning no-surveillance zone .pat