I've never been scared of snakes in the way that I am of spiders. I remember a brother and sister whose parents kept an anaconda in a vivarium in their bedroom. I think the father was a zoologist. The parents were away often, and we would take over the house, often camping upstairs, by the snake tank, sometimes downstairs in the cellar, where other, smaller snakes were kept, as well as a variety of rodents to feed them. Sometimes we would take the snake out of its prison, allowing it to roam the room, slide over our lap, never thinking the poor thing might be indisposed by the smoke of the cigarettes we constantly lit. Once my friends' parents had found the snake in their bed, so we had to be careful always to put it back when we left the room. It took three or four of us to carry him on our shoulders - teenagers between 13 and 15. I wasn't often enough at the house to witness its meal times, but the son and daughter recounted with glee and horror how it would swallow a whole live baby goat.
I have other memories of this house. I remember playing manhunt, escaping with a friend out of the tiny bathroom window to climb onto the roof, then having to jump down from an uncomfortable height because I couldn't get back to the window and didn't want grown ups to find me up there. I remember another frequent guest, a slightly older boy who would boast of his frequent sexual conquests, and talk of the praise he got from women for his 'fairy fingers'. We called him a 'mythomane' - a pathological liar. In retrospect he was probably just struggling with his sexual identity. French teenagers of the eighties were not the most accepting of sexual difference (or anything else, for that matter).
This morning, on my way to work, I had an unwelcome flashback of the biggest spider I ever saw. It had been in the sink in my mother's kitchen one night, and just outside in the grass the next. I can't remember if I ever saw it, or if I was just around when others did. But my senses didn't seem to care. Within seconds I was walking faster, arching my back in case someone had put the spider there as a joke. Some joke.