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keeping up avec les jones

I knew my good old American consumerism would take effect in one form or another. It was just a matter of when, what and how much.

In NYC, every time I went out in public, I was subjected to a barrage of ridiculously expensive things that my life would be incomplete without. Life was a constant bombardment of I need a pedicure, double mochafrappucino, boob job, hepa air purifier, krispy kreme and brown purse. And that was just in one block. As my income spiraled downward, I managed to maintain the rampant desires, but scale them down to size. A one block stroll became I need nail polish, a candy bar, a lightbulb, lipbalm, allergy pills and ant traps or my life won’t be complete. I believe that’s called adaptation.

Since I’ve been in Auvers, that looming hole in my soul that could only be filled with something I have to buy, has been surprisingly unobtrusive.

Sure, there’s the occasional deep yearning for a lamb brochette tempting me in the boucherie window. There’s the tarte frambois beckoning from the boulangerie. Since I haven’t read any magazines telling me what to covet, I wouldn’t know what will make my life complete if it slapped me in the face.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I do find myself coveting gardens (I believe Freud called it ‘Garden Envy’).

The flowers here in Auvers are spectacular. From week to week, a new batch of flowers crops up just as another one dies. And every week I think this week can’t possibly top last week’s, but it usually does.

I even covet the weeds.

It’s obvious people put a lot of care and expense into their yards. Some are overwrought, some are painstakingly wild, others look more English and overgrown and sometimes just the part spilling out into the street looks like I wouldn’t mind spending time, breathing the air and enjoying the view with a nice tall cool glass of something.

Every house is a statement. From the shutters, to the window boxes to the outer walls. So it’s been bothering me a little that my yard isn’t saying it with flowers as eloquently as I see everywhere else.

I mean, when the parking lot nearby has more flowers and greenery than your yard, you start to get a complex. Even if you don’t own the yard.

What to do? Obviously, I’m broke. I came here to cut down on expenses, not spend it on something as temporary as annuals.  Isn’t that more foolish than spending it on fashion? On the other hand, a few plants are cheap compared to fashion. . I briefly consider stealing a few plants that appear to be wild. Scratch that, they probably belong to the town and I’ll be arrested or something. On the other hand, jail would be rent free and I could stay in the region when my time here is up. But when I imagine my prison cell, I definitely think it needs flowers, which brings me back to my original problem.

Maybe if I gave myself a $30 limit? When you think about $30 to spruce up a house, even for only six months, is a bargain! An opportunity that can’t be missed!

I’ve been quietly pricing plants in my journeys. (I also covet the bloomenmarket in Amsterdam, by the way). Little boutiquey plant stores are out of the question, especially if they have the FTD logo in front—a sure sign they’re overpriced. The Thursday/Saturday market is okay, price-wise, but I should be able to do better. The Isle Adam market is on par with Auvers. So for the time being, I focus my energies on buying food.

But while on a trip to Epluches, St. Ouen to survey Le Clerc, a French hypermarket (a big huge supermarket with everything from booze, to cereal, to garden furniture to underwear to travel agent at cheaper prices—sort of a French Costco, I imagine.), the pangs of crass consumerism start to rumble. So many different cookies, cheeses, desserts…of course, I must try them all. In the spirit of discovery, of course. This is an integral part of French culture afterall. Shall I start with the Bon Maman citron madelines or the Laiterie Pots au crème chocolat? Or both? But my musings are interrupted by a feeling–something powerful and impossible to disregard. Like a hunter dog getting a whiff of prey, my every nerve is on alert. My inner paws are pointing frantically. Then I realize what they’re pointing at– the leclerc also has a centre de jardin

Culinary exploration be damned! I’m off and running.

A flat of petunias for E 6. 10 trailing geraniums for E 7. Now we’re talking. I contemplate the flowers like I used to consider a blazer at Barneys: After what seems like hours of mixing, matching and trying out every conceivable combination, I load up on pinks, cream, yellow and purple accents, keeping in mind the allotted funds available to me.

The woman at the cash register speaks to me. I nod and smile and say “oui” or “non, merci” depending on the tone of her questions. She rings them up. I almost have a heart attack when I see the number—196.000. Mon dieu…I can’t afford this and there’s no way I’mn proficient enough in French to explain it, especially since this seems to becoming a my little goat moment. I’m either having a hot flash or some sort of panic attack (I’m not sure which would be worse) and any moment a drop of sweat from my forehead will fall on the counter, compounding my humiliation. Maybe if I act like I’ve forgotten something (I’m good at that hit my forehead and emitting a sigh of exasperation thing). Then I can pretend like I’m going back to get whatever it is I forgot and skulk off like the loser I am. But the cashier says “vingt six, and I realize that the first number was in Francs. I giggle with relief as I pay her.

I load my new possessions into my bags and make it to the train station just as my train is arriving (surely a sign that buying these plants was the right thing to do).

When I get home I immediately put the flowers in the windowboxes. I wind up with a total of five. The problem is, I don’t have enough dirt to fill the boxes. I figure I can go back for that later. In the meantime, I put the lovely window boxes in the windows. It looks much better. I can almost hold my head up high. I’m very proud that I’ve been able to satisfy my crass consumer cravings for under 30 dollars.

But now that I really look at the gestalt of it, the window boxes just make the lawn and the rest of the yard seem…well, lacking. there are a couple of spots in the garden bed that could use an nice annual or two. I guess when I go back for dirt I can pick them up.

And why does the neighbor’s lawn seem so much greener than mine? I wonder if there’s something wrong with my lawn. I’m sure there’s something I can get for that. And those little red bugs are a real problem, What sort of spray do I need to get rid of them?

I start to write a shopping list. Sure, it’ll cost some money. Sure, I can’t afford it. But if this yard doesn’t fulfill its potential, I’ll feel as though I’ve missed an opportunity. This is about experience, not a gross desire to acquire stuff. And I’m pretty certain that there will always be something incomplete about my experience here in Auvers, if I don’t make this yard the best yard it can be. At the very least, I’ve got to make it better than the yard next door.

One Response

  1. Your blog looks wonderful. It was nice going through your blog. Keep it up the good work.

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