I am currently in Cagnes-sur-mer, which is located just west of Nice in the south of France, right on the Cote d'Azur. I am here because my job as a professional racehorse rider has given me the opportunity to travel here, receive a decent salary, free lodging, and a 25 euro/day stipend for food. For reals. There is a winter racing "meeting" here that lasts for 6 weeks, with races almost every day in the afternoon and in the mornings we train on the racetrack. Something my boss told me before we got here was that "whatever happens in Cagnes, stays in Cagnes". For better or for worse. I had no idea what this could possibly mean, but the longer I am here, the more I understand.
First off, I sometimes forget I am in France because of the sheer diversity just within the tiny world of the racecourse. The backstretch of the track, where all the horses are housed, is like international student housing. If you go to the west corner or up close to the track, you have the majority population, the French. In the east end, the Germans. Then there are the Dutch and the Czech spread out in the middle, and next to them a large chunk of English and Irish. We are next to the French, and I am not sure what you could consider us to be since we live in France but my boss is American, as am I, although the rest of my colleagues are French other than our one Senegalese employee. Some people here do not speak French, but they speak English. Some do not speak English, but they speak French. Because I speak both I am able to communicate with everyone, which is a rare commodity. Not only is everyone speaking their own languages (see: yelling) in the morning, but everyone also has their own very unique style of training racehorses which does not always mesh. People yell at each other, people don't understand each other, people get frustrated, the works. And then the sun comes out and everyone seems to forgive each other in time to drink a beer or two or six with the Greek and Austrians you just got done bitching about.
Second, the characters you encounter here are people you would never be able to make up and sometimes it's hard to believe they actually exist. This has nothing to do with a difference of cultures, but rather has the largest amount to due with the type of people you encounter in this business. The ones that are riding the racehorses are often quite uneducated as they began apprenticeships sometimes as young as 13 years old and probably don't even have their high school diploma. They are skinny, frequently alcoholic or who-knows-what-else-ic, and put their life at risk everyday to sit on these animals that can and will try to kill you if you are not paying attention. So often times their fuse is quite short. I have grown several layers of skin since I've been here, and have also unfortunately had to be careful with who I interact with because the men are hungry for female attention, especially from a young blonde. The conversations I have with my colleagues and the other riders that I cross often consist purely of swear words, explicitly suggestive humor, and recounts of various stupidities we have each committed. The phrase "don't kiss and tell" means nothing here. I like to think I am the exception to the, ahem, "unique" people I have met here but I am admittedly susceptible to the influence of Cagnes-sur-mer. But remember, what happens here, stays here.
And then there are the people that own the horses. They are the ones who have the money and can range from being well-spoken business men to as interesting as cooked spaghetti, but they'll make up for their lack of personality in money. I am lucky enough that the ones that own the horses I ride are of the generous and interesting breed, as they frequently buy me food and drinks and provide me with stimulating conversation. Additionally, they are essentially the ones that pay my salary and allow me to live this life that I love so much, so I have a huge amount of gratitude and respect for them. They do like to drink copiously, but since we all become day drinkers here and don't really stop until the next morning, we all let any drunkness slide.
And forget privacy here. That was a concept lost on whoever designed the living quarters for the staff. I am shoved in a room between my male colleagues whom I frequently hear singing along to their music or getting back at 2am in the morning, sometimes not alone. Or other times, they are drunk and think they are being funny when they scratch at my door in the middle of the night and make haunting noises to try to scare me out of sleep. Thankfully I don't scare easily, and lucky for them I like them enough to not kick their ass when they rouse me from my precious slumber. Some of the employees here don't even have their own bathroom and shower. Even though my bed is essentially a piece of plywood that smells like feet and is covered in stains that I dare not ask about, I at least don't have to share my bathroom anyone.
I know I've already mentioned it, but let me just give a special shoutout to the amount of gambling and alcohol consumption that takes place here. "La cantine", which is where the majority of us congregate for the above activities, including eating, is either one of the best parts of Cagnes or the worst, I have not decided yet. People are either drinking to forget their recent bad luck or drinking to celebrate a win, either way a substantial amount of booze is drunk. People also like to watch the races happening across the country on the TV's placed generously throughout the restaurant and use the betting stations to place their bets on horses with whatever little money they have left. Then they shout at the TV because it will most certainly help their gambled horse payout. Have I ever done any of the above, you ask? Why yes, but we won't be speaking of it outside of Cagnes.
We don't just party and behave promiscuously here however, we also work our butts off. The job is also quite dangerous and quite physically demanding, which makes drinking alcohol and staying up late the night before even worse. But, as we all tell each other when someone had a little too much fun last night, just don't get any vomit on the horse. Anyway, my body has taken quite a beating since its been here considering my sleep has decreased and my eating habits have gone in the toilet. I have been eating pastries every morning and I can't remember the last time I consumed anything green. But somehow, I have been able to ride in the mornings quite well and survive the daily heart attacks the horses give us. Just the other day, my team had a group of trotters pass behind us and the noise of their sulkies spooked our horses, so both my horse and my foot took a double-barrel (a kick using both hind hooves) from the horse in front of me. Everyday there is a new reason to question why I am doing this with my life. I see people falling off or getting run away with, or a trotter is about to run over me or I am about to gallop into a trotter. No shortage of adrenaline here! But I wouldn't have it any other way.