Caught In A Maelstrom

The taxi pulled over in front of number 66: our destination. Clearly something was awry. This was not the charming old house, with its windows thrown open to catch the sea breeze and the French doors leading to the terrace, which we’d seen on the AirBnB website. Instead, it was a multi-story apartment block. Thankfully our driver beetled off down a laneway and found the original number 66.
Our tall and wiry hostess exuded chaotic energy from the moment we saw her. Full of warmth and eagerness, she steered us to her front door at the side of the house. We seemed to be entering a fortress; a bomb-proof door, at least thirty centimetres thick, with a pin code for entry. Peculiar, considering the glass French doors at the front of the house were completely unfortified. Our lodgings were not on the ground floor, as anticipated, but up three flights of stone stairs and it was quite a feat to get our twenty kilo suitcases to the top. Obscuring our way were unwashed sheets and towels that had been hurled from the top bannister, and were strewn down the entire stairwell.

Humbly apologetic for the musty smell of the apartment: the previous guests had smoked, she was upset because they had complained about the shower, which she assured us worked perfectly. She spoke excellent English but continually apologised for her poor command of our language. She kindly wrote out directions for using the bus, and instructed us on landmarks and the location of the superb local bakery. Lastly, she meticulously explained: the importance of the codes for the double gates and fortress door—that jammed into the floor when opened and needed a hefty shove with your shoulder to close once inside; the use of various keys; and our expected diligence to adhere to all security measures. However, she said, there was in fact no way to close or lock the door to our apartment on the third floor. We took our valuables with us.

Comedic Schedules

As directed, we walked to the nearby Roman amphitheatre. Our third mediaeval city on our French trip, however, this was the first time we encountered grounds littered with soft drink cans and grubby debris. We grounded ourselves in a beautiful garden surrounding a Franciscan monastery with spectacular views over the city of Nice. We caught the bus to the promenade in order to catch the small tourist road train. With ten minutes to departure time we ambled to the meeting point, delighted to see two trains waiting: both were pre-booked with wedding parties. “Come back in one hour!” the conductor told us. An hour later we returned. We were told we should have been fifteen minutes earlier as the train was already full and promptly left—without us. “Come back in one hour!” the conductor told us. We laughed. This was extraordinary.

The Mediterranean Sea looked inviting. Sunbathers were packed on the pebbled beach, lying as if they were on sand. We hobbled over the fat pebbles to the water, our wide-brimmed hats and long sleeves shielding us from the sun; in stark contrast to the almost naked French people, who clearly had a different view of the sun to Australians. We waded in to knee high and must have looked a sight, quite out of place in our rolled up trousers, I certainly felt uncomfortable. We were different, all human, but our cultures, there on the beach, were strikingly different. It’s an unusual, unsettling feeling being viewed by a contrasting tribe. Briefly, I understood the security of the familiar and why conflict, the fight for the tribe, has been so prevalent.

We left the water’s edge and saw, further down the road that the little tourist train was returning. Our persistence paid off.  The departure time, we had been told, would be in forty minutes, did we really want to sit and wait? Yes. We bought our tickets, settled in our seats, and discovered the train left every half hour, and so finally, off we went: historical commentary played through the headphones as we rattled through little cobbled laneways, along the harbour filled with beautiful yachts and cruisers, and up the long windy road flanked with majestic trees to the Castle on the Hill. Here we explored for a while and could see over Nice to the Franciscan monastery we had visited earlier.

Should have. Didn’t.

Feeling pleased with ourselves for persevering, we took ourselves to Cours Saleya in the Old Town of Nice for dinner. The restaurant was bustling and an overly friendly waiter ushered us to our table. The signs started early. Smokers lit up on the table beside us, we moved tables. Three of the salads were unavailable and it was early on in the Saturday evening service. We ordered rosé, they brought us white wine. We should have left. We had a hunch we were in the wrong place. We shared a dodgy plate of fish fritters, were we bold enough to cancel the rest of our order? No. They brought us a second basket of bread and an eyebrow was raised. Apparently in the trade, more bread equals a problem in the kitchen. Our meals arrived in increments. Each of our four dishes was either missing elements or was cold. I had ordered tagliatelle with eggplant and zucchini, and luxurious truffle oil. What I had in front of me was mashed broccoli and carrot with zucchini, unseasoned, and definitely no truffle oil. Another round of drinks was muddled. We struggled on.

The plucky lawyer in our group, usually reserved, took action. The excuses were marvellous: we should have mentioned our dissatisfaction as soon as we had received our meals; and didn’t we know that nowhere in Nice would we find a decent vegetarian meal. Our drinks bill was removed and a round of lemoncello served to appease us. We, four women friends, had travelled together for two and a half weeks. We had eaten in many wonderful restaurants. Between us, we had eaten in many places around the globe, but nothing compared to this woeful dining experience.

Haunting Influences

We found our way through the laneways, remembering the landmarks and found the bus stop to take us back to our third floor apartment in the fortress. Wearily we got through the security and up the long flights of stairs. It had been a long day but our chaotic experiences were to continue. It was a hot night in May, and the windows in the apartment were all open letting in the night air. The strewn sheets were now washed and back on our beds. An interesting novelty: the quilt covers lay on our beds bereft of their filling. We found quilts, of sorts, at the top of tall cupboards. Expecting our rooms to cool we draped the quilts over our beds.

One of my friends, who wears contact lenses, went to collect her glasses and lens cleaning kit from her suitcase. The combination lock would not release. She is almost blind without her glasses or lenses and understandably feels vulnerable. Also, we were flying home to Australia the following day, and my friend was flying business class, so shorts were not going to be acceptable. There was a flurry of activity to see if we could find suitable clothing, all of us much larger than our petite friend. As we settled down to sleep there was a realisation: the rooms had become stiflingly hot. All the radiators throughout the apartment were on and there seemed to be underfloor heating too. By now we were confused as to what was happening to us.

A new day, our last in France, surely it wouldn’t be signatured with the chaos of the day before. The promised bakery around the corner could not be found; it possibly disappeared over night but we doubted it, so we made do with what we had for breakfast. My friend managed to prise open her suitcase with a knife, and we enjoyed a few hours of normality before the maelstrom swept us up again. I had chosen to get a feel for the residential area of Nice on a Sunday morning rather than go to an art gallery with my friends. Savouring my final hours of my month-long trip, admiring the architecture and winding my way back up the hill to our fortress, I found myself outside a patisserie. Our taxi to the airport was due to collect us in an hour and a half so I allowed myself to be seduced by an apricot tart knowing I had plenty of time to enjoy it once I returned to the apartment.

Having returned to the apartment and showered, I was sitting in the window admiring the view and just about to bring the tart to my mouth when my friends, hot and sweaty, burst through the door. We needed to pack, clean the apartment, and get into the taxi our hostess had ordered to arrive in twenty minutes. Communication had got lost in translation, and forty minutes, as well as the peace to enjoy the apricot tart, had disappeared. Within moments—­­­I was still wrapped in a towel—our hostess bustled in the door, looked around the apartment and at us, and began to internally combust. Did we not realise that it takes two hours to clean an apartment? Her ramblings and mutterings gained traction as she scolded us: never again will she have people in her house. She counted all the crockery and cutlery while, at lightning speed, we vacuumed and cleaned the bathrooms that we had hardly used. The place was now cleaner than it was twenty four hours before.

Exiting The Twilight Zone

Certain the taxi had come to the gate and left without us, she called the taxi company and sternly ordered a new taxi to come immediately and take “the Australians” to the airport. Our sketchy French was enough to make us glad that we were not at the end of the phone. Jostled, weeping, exhausted our hostess apologised, saying she had to go back inside her house. She opened the gates and gestured for us to take our wheelie suitcases down the little laneway. We were unsure whether a taxi had been ordered or not, but we were happy to take our chances and leave the chaos behind us.

The moment we returned to the gate with 66 on it, everything returned to normal. We returned to our usual flow, and all felt a release of the subtle, twisted energy. For confirmation I found I was the only occupant in the row of four seats on the fourteen hour flight home.

Are you asking why I’ve shared this story with you? There are times when you encounter someone whose energy is so strong that it has quite an effect on you. I’ve frequently read and heard about people projecting energy onto others, and I frequently write about the importance of recognising the role of reflection. The clearer we become in understanding who we are, the easier it is to perceive what is happening during an interaction: what is impeding the usual flow. It is important to become aware and vigilant about your own energy hygiene because you will find it easier to deduce the source of what you are experiencing. When you are conscious that your energy is limited or shaky, be responsible and contain it; when you feel vital and aligned, be willing to share and lighten the energy of another.

I have noticed the negative impact of another person’s energy: but to leave me feeling shaky, nauseous, or achy is rare. I am usually responsible at acknowledging the reflection of myself in another. But, never before have I been caught up in a maelstrom of energy that was so strong it disrupted every experience of four people. I have asked myself whether it was the placement of the house, the owner, or the energy within the house but I have no answer. But we have noted that this house is no longer available as an Air BnB!


  1. Megan

    ‘When you are conscious that your energy is limited or shaky, be responsible and contain it; when you feel vital and aligned, be willing to share and lighten the energy of another’ – great advice!

    • Jessica

      Thanks Megan, I too will try and remember it!