• Follow real france on WordPress.com
  • Archives

  • Auvers sur Oise

  • antibes

  • Paris

  • chantilly

damn you, snooty antique dealers!

Every April there’s a big antiques fair in at Port Vauban (about a 5 minute walk from my apartment).   Over 120 antiques dealers are here from all over Europe and you’ve got to pay 9E just to look at some of their stuff.

It’s one of those changeable weather days, threatening to rain, so I wander on down to the port after a flower run at the Marche Provencal.   I pay my 9E, enter and immediately feel intimidated.   I may be under a big tent, but it feels like a museum in here.   Instead of the locals selling their wares, chatting with the regulars and having their breakfast at the weekly Saturday market in the old town square, these guys are in suits (black) and they’re all on their cellphone or texting very important things.  I’d say it’s the antique/art version of the Cannes Film Festival.

Despite the fact that a lot of the items shown here are a little fussy for my tastes, many are beautiful and I want them.   Like the Asian portraits of the man and woman (see extremely blurry photo on right).   The man in this picture –the human, not the painting–yelled at me for not asking to take the picture.  Since he was scolding me in French and I understood every word, I was inappropriately cheerful (but desole) which seemed to make him want to scold me more.  But why should he give a crap if I take a picture?   Maybe his wares have actually been stolen from some museum and he’s afraid of being exposed.  He’ll be pleased to know the picture turned out like crap.    However,  I won’t be buying his awesome Asian art (which I was totally going to do, sir) because he’s a total dill weed (that would be “connard” in French).

I also want this book with butterflies coming out of it.

And one of the garden gnomes (below right) for my balcony would amuse and please me every time I looked at it.    But I’m afraid to ask how much anything costs.

One woman who has some of the most beautiful Asian art and antiques I’ve ever seen glances at my 3E posies from the marche provencal and says something rude.    Well, I’m pretty sure it’s rude, she’s talking pretty fast.   I storm off in a huff.

My synapses are starting to go crazy.   I don’t know where to look. Too much stuff.  Things that would look amazing in the living room of my new apartment.  Things that would look good in the dining room.   Things that would look good in the bedroom.    Things that make me gasp in awe at their beauty in much the same way I do when I see the alps on a clear day.   I’m starting to get lightheaded from all this gasping and the horrible realization that my life won’t be complete until I can afford to buy these items, which I’m pretty sure will be never.

Must.  Get.  Out.    If I can find the exit.   I’ve tried two doors with little running person icons pointing towards them only to be stopped by security.   I’m lost in a maze of really expensive stuff and clearly, the only way out is to buy everything in my way.   I feel like I’m back in NYC.   Dear lord help me!   I find the exit right before I’m forced to ask the price of the inlaid desk, credit card clutched in my hand at the ready.

I walk home quickly, trying to shake off the tentacles of consumer desire tightening in my gut.  When I get there, I step on the balcony and gasp again.

While I was out, the wind blew off the cloud cover and I can see the alps clearly.   I know there’s a message in this.   Something like:   “Ha, you rude purveyors of gross materialism!   Who needs all your probably ridiculously expensive, too awesome to be photographed stuff?   I’ve got my view of the alps,the blue sky and the Mediterranean practically  at my doorstep.    What the hell more could I want?”

Damn, one of those garden gnomes sure would be great up here.

the village where donkeys fly

After spending a day in Cannes, it only seems appropriate that I visit a place known as “the village where donkeys fly”.

The name of the village is Gonfaron.  It’s a stop on the local TER rail line.    I’ve seen it on the train ride between Vidauban and Toulon — a pile of houses piled atop a hill with a small pink chapel at the top and a sprawling church on the bottom.  It’s two train stops from Vidauban (15 minutes).   The village spreads out from the hill, fanning out a around the church at the bottom of the hill, melting into vineyards, hills and green, green countryside.

After countless times passing the village and wondering about it, I finally Googled it.   The population of Gonfaron is around 4,000.  It’s been a village for at least, 1100 years.    It’s nestled at the foot of the Maures mountain range (you know, the mountain range where Johnny Depp lives).   Its main “industry” is cork (probably not a great business now with wine in boxes and screw tops and technology replacing bulletin boards).    It has the world’s only reserve for the endangered Herman Tortoise but also houses other tortoises as well.    Its patron saint is St. Quinis, who as far as I can tell didn’t do anything amazing, except he was a really nice guy and took a special interest in children (which these days sounds like grounds for imprisonment rather than Sainthood, but maybe that’s just me.)   The pink Chapel at the top of the hill is named after him.     But what really makes me want to finally get off the train in Gonfaron and pay the village a visit is the town legend.As lore has it, back in 1645 the community was instructed to clean up their yards for the annual Gonfaron festival to honor St. Quinis, .   One lazy, ill-tempered Gonfaronnois refused.   Years later, St. Quinis exacted his revenge.   The Gonfaronnois of “mauvais caractiere” was out riding his donkey and the donkey (l’ane) stumbled.   The donkey “glissant” (slid) down the hill with the errant Gonfaronois tumbling after.   That’s it.   It seems pretty vague.   Did they survive?   That’s a pretty long tumble.

It might be my translation, but it sounds like the donkey didn’t fly as much as it fell.   And you can read the legend several different ways.   Maybe the flying/falling donkey (ass) they’re referring to is  the Gonfaronnois who didn’t clean his yard for the festival?   Maybe the legend is really “the village where asses fall”?   Of course there are two interpretations for that too.  It could mean where human asses (I’m thinking Donald Trump here, but chose your own ass) inevitably plunge to a humiliating and painful destruction. Or maybe it’s more literal…it’s a village where my ass will actually fall…sag, drop, whatever (good, now I can blame it on the village).   Whatever, I like the flying donkey version, because it’s magical and gives me the feeling that anything is possible.

I get off at the train station and the first thing I see is a cave cooperative — a big old shed where they they sell local wines, preserves, products.    I decide not to go in because I’m saving myself for the little shops that will surely be in the village.   I walk through the “suburbs” of Gonfaron, towards the village (a two minute walk).

Downtown Gonfaron consists of an astonishingly beautiful square.   It’s huge for such a little town, with the Church at one end.    The trees make a perfect ceiling over the entire square.   It’s blistering hot today, which makes the leafy canopy that much more appealing (and the square that much more difficult to photograph).

There are really no shops to speak of…a bakery that’s closed.   A butcher that’s closed.   There’s a tiny grocery store that’s closed.   A tiny real estate office that’s closed.   Sure, there are three cafes, but woman doesn’t live on food alone.     I check the train schedule for the next train back to Vidauban.   Three and a half hours.   How on earth will I pass the time?    Dear Lord, I’m trapped in a village with no shops!   Maybe if I climb to the top to the hill and bray like a donkey, I can fly home?

I tour the village, which is lovely.   I climb to St. Quinis to admire the view, which is also really lovely.  Which leaves me another 3 hours and 27 minutes to kill.   I’ll definitely have lunch in the square, but that’s good for 2 hours tops, and only if I drink waaaaay too much coffee.

I decide to visit the tortoises and follow the signs that lead me out of the village and into the aforementioned vineyards and green rolling hills.   Have I mentioned it’s hot?   Or that I don’t have a hat?   J’ai besoin de chapeau.   Without one, I’ll dehydrate and die.   And get a headache!   In order to preserve my health, I turn back to the village, wishing desperately a little shop will have opened in the village where I can buy a hat.   And some macarons.   And maybe a nice pair of shoes.No such luck.   But I do manage to kill a half hour trying to decide between the three cafes.   One looks a little sandwichy.   One has a curry special, which doesn’t seem very french or cafe-like.   So I pick the other one and spend another half hour anguishing over what to order.   I decide on the grilled entrecote (pas trop rouge s’il vous plait) fries and a salad.   It’s pretty damn good.

I linger over a cafe creme and watch the people having lunch here.   I’m the only English speaking person here, so I make up what they’re saying and little stories about their relationships.   A very young French couple have brought their dog, who is clearly a substitute for the baby they’re unable to conceive.  He eats a bowl of kibble by their table while they dine.   She practically burps him when he’s finished (the dog, not her significant other).   A German family is trying to reconnect, but the teenaged daughter is having none of it.    A pack of bike riders all decked out in spandex and helmets, thankfully decide to lunch elsewhere.   I spend a good 15 minutes hating them from across the square.

As I’m paying the bill and noting I have another hour until the train arrives, I hear the clattering of steel shutter doors..   It’s the tiny grocery store opening!!!!   I practically skip across the square.   I spend the next 45 minutes really studying the different kind of cookies that are available in France.  Even in a tiny grocery store like this, you get a good representative sample.    I’ll save my conclusions for another blog.

All in all, I’ve had a lovely afternoon even without the benefit of one shop (tiny grocery stores don’t count and I didn’t even buy the Bon Maman Citron Tartes I wanted).   There were no miraculous donkey flights, nothing amazing happened.

When I get to the train station at the correct time and the little monitor tells me “train retarde 20 minutes” I don’t even get mad.   Not even when it’s retarde another 15 minutes after that.  While you may not consider that a miracle on the order of a donkey taking flight, I’d say it’s pretty darn close.

diner avec les voisins (fete de moi part deux)

Ooooo, I’m going to French peoples’ house for dinner. People I didn’t know four months ago. People who speak French. And it’s Fete de moi. But I’m pretty sure they don’t know that. I may have mentioned my birthday weeks ago to Carole in one our French/English sessions when we were doing dates and birthdays and times. I have friends who don’t remember my birthday even if I tell them the day before (which I choose to interpret as an act of kindness rather than that they don’t give a damn). No way will she remember. That’s cool. I come from the ignore it and it will go away school of thinking.

I really like Carole. We have a great time during our French/English sessions. I don’t know Jerome as well, but he seems fun too. But that doesn’t mean I’m not afraid of having dinner with them. What if it’s three courses of uncomfortable silence? What if I make a faux pas and start an international incident? Or worse, make a faux pas and get kicked out of Auvers?

It’s not the fact that the conversation flows easily, even with the language barrier that relaxes me. Or even that Carole remembers it’s my birthday –there’s champagne, and they sing happy birthday to me in French and English when they bring out a home made birthday tart with candles (another interesting fact: the French often sing “happy birthday” in English, but they’re not sure why). What clinches it for me is Jerome announcing that the best thing about America besides rock and roll is “The Simpsons” and that he feels a great bond with Homer. This is when I know for sure we’ll be great friends.

But I’m not here to get smooshy about the neighbors. I’m here as an ambassador and to gather intelligence.

Jerome and Carole are both divorced (from other people) and have been seeing each other for five years. (interesting statistic: the divorce rate in the Ile de France area is 75% which I find oddly comforting) They’re in their mid-forties. They both have two kids from the previous marriages. He lives in St Ouen, just outside of Paris and she lives here. He works in software and she works in sales.

For the most part, they’re together on the weekends and live their lives sort of separately during the week. It seems to suit both of them. Carole seems quite independent and likes having her alone time.

Carole is from Auvers originally. Her mother still lives here. Her daughter just moved out and is living in an apartment here in Auvers. Her 11 year old son is spending August in Normany with his father. Jerome is also from the Il de France area. People here seem to stay closer to their roots than we do in America. Of course, we have more room to spread out.

Jerome has been to Dallas, San Francisco, Baltimore and Atlanta on business. Carole hasn’t been to the US and doesn’t deal with Americans in her work, which is why she needs help improving her English. Jerome has obviously spent time with Americans. His English is quite good and even uses expressions like “you guys.” He’s especially keen to pick up our more colloquial phrases like: “that’s crap!” which he can’t wait to use on his Dallas associates.

Their favorite phrase is “shit-faced”. They think it’s hilariously ugly. At first, it’s a totally foreign concept to them. They say French people don’t get “shit-faced”. Which may sound elitist, but I really have noticed that you don’t see as many drunken people stumbling (and driving) about here as one does in the US. Carole and Jerome think it’s because Europeans have been drinking since they were children, so they don’t get falling down drunk (don’t we call that having a “hollow leg” or something?). At any rate, every time Carole refills her glass, she says “I wish to experience this shit-faced”. I feel proud to have contributed to their knowledge of American culture.

We theorize about why so many Japanese tourists come to Auvers. Whenever I see a Japanse person or group at a train station, I know they’re on their way to Auvers and I’m always right. It’s almost like a pilgrimage site. Maybe the Japanese have some mysterious affinity to Van Gogh. He did do those fabulous copies of Japanese prints, did that have something to do with it? There was the Japanese industrialist who bought a portrait of Dr. Gachet and wanted to be buried with it. Everyone protested, the guy died and the painting is missing. Maybe the Japanese have some strange Van Gogh cult…Or maybe the Japanese industrialist and the painting are buried here and it’s some sort of secret Japanese treasure hunt. If we find a Japanese tourist who speaks either French or English (not good odds on that), we resolve to ask.

After a few drinks, I blurt out that I think that the French are more like Americans than any other nationality. Then I hold my breathe and prepare to run. I hasten to add that I mean it in a good way, explaining they are like “le quarante neuf pour cent qui n’ont vote pas pour Palin” (which is essentially French for “the people in the blue states”). Considering that they didn’t poison my food, I assume no grave offense was taken.

But while there are similarities, the French seem to be more in touch with…life, humanity. history, a world beyond theirs. They seem less caught in the machinery. They don’t have a lot of fast food because they don’t eat fast. They stroll.

We mostly converse in French (and pantomime, at which I’m becoming fluent). Carole corrects my grammar where necessary, kind of like my mother does in English and about as often. It’s surprising how many words I find hard to explain in English, let alone French.

Every now and then I astonish all of us by remembering a difficult word and using it correctly in a sentence. “ Enfante gate” (spoiled child), shocked the heck out Jerome. As did “grouiller” (swarming crowd). They cheer me, probably the same way they cheered their kids when they first said “maman” or “chat”. I obligingly puff up with childish pride.

On my way home (all four meters) I savor the moment. I made it! It was fun. I don’t think they hate me! I hit the French neighbor jackpot! I can’t believe how sweet it was for those rude, anti-American French people to do that for me. They sure aren’t doing much to further the French snob stereotype. I also note that this is the first time I’ve seen a drunk person staggering around Auvers. Sure, it’s me, but a statistic is a statistic.


More on my international relations:

bridging cultural chasms

international political summit

a day of concern

It’s my birthday. I won’t mention which one, because once the number crosses my lips (in any language), I’m sure I’ll go into some sort of emotional/spiritual decline that will end with me wandering the streets of some city (I hope in Europe) with long unkempt grey hair talking about the royal paradox and why all white possums must be destroyed or we will suffer the wrath of Tutankhamun who will rise from…you get the picture.

My point is, I’m approaching this day as a “Fete de moi”, rather than a birthday to avoid any unnecessary introspection, self-reflection or taking stock of my life. That must be avoided at all cost.

I have important things that must get done today. Especially since yesterday one news source informed its readers in bold red type that today is “a day of concern.” I read the article and the concern wasn’t for my creeping age. Yes, some experts were predicting something really, really terrible happening on this day. It’s got to do with the Islamic calendar and we should all be vigilant. I guess Armageddon could be considered the birthday celebration to end all birthday celebrations. All I know is I better get my derriere to the Musee Marmottan and see all those Monets before it closes permanently, so to speak.

I’m atwitter because I’ve discovered there’s a train from St. Ouen Aumone/Pontoise that takes me straight to the Musee Marmottan neighborhood which is in the 16th arrondisement. That means no time consuming stop at Gare du Nord and transferring to the metro. One hour from door to door. And what a relief to avoid a major train station on this day of ill portent.

I’m not at all familiar with the 16th arrondissement, but when I get above ground at the Boullanvilliers stop, I can see the tip of the Eiffel tower looming above the first tree topped roof. I walk towards where the action appears to be and wind up on Rue de Passy. The streets are lined with wonderful boutiques of both the material and edible kind. I’m pulled in different directions…do I find the point where I can see all of the Eiffel tower right across the Seine. Or go into the shoe store. Or the Asian traiture. I’m not sure whether it’s the wisdom of old age or poverty that propels me to find the view.

palais de chaillot from place du mars

There’s a huge palatial building at the bottom of the small hill and I head towards it. Turns out it’s the Musee/Palais Chaillot. Its terrace has one of Paris’ most spectacular views. The plaza is literally across the river from the Place du Mars, where the Eiffel tower is. But the terrace is on a higher plane, than the base of the Eiffel tower, so I get to look down on about 1/4 of it and up at the rest. I also get to look over Paris. I’m particularly enamored with the gold dome of the Invalides building glistening in the sunlight. I curse my stupidity in rushing out of the house without the camera. We’ll see if Monet can top this.

I spend a few hours with Monet at the Musee Marmottan and emerge culturally sated.   Now I must indulge my shallower urges (it’s my birthday and the world is about to end, dammit!!!).

I find Paris curiously tourist free except on the Champs Elysees, at the Louvre and Galleries Lafayette. The 16th is no exception. But from here, it appears every tourist in the world has assembled on the huge manicured Plaza of the Eiffel tower and is waiting in line to go up. Either that or it’s the armies of good and evil assembling for the final battle. Which reminds me, I’ve got to get my derriere going.

It’s getting late and I’ve got to get back to Auvers because I’m having dinner next door with Carole and Jerome later so I should really try to catch a train before the world ends so I can catch a quick nap (hey, I’m old). But before I go back, I check out the shoe store I’d forsaken earlier for the view. It’s fete de moi, after all. I should be able to indulge myself with a little peek. And heck, if I happen to love something, the world is gonna end later today, so it probably won’t even show up on the credit card bill. But of course, now that I have all the money in the world (as long as the world ends), there’s nothing here I really want.

I return to the Asian traiture and fulfill my earlier desire for a shrimp summer roll and eat it in the park. Then I get a beautiful pink pamplemouse/rose sorbet on the sidewalk on the way back to the metro (how could I resist?). I have now indulged my every whim of the day. I am fulfilled. Armageddon, come and get me.

a few hours with monet

To get to the Marmottan, I walk through yet another one of Paris’s beautifully kept parks. This one even has pony rides. The museum itself is an elegant mansion on the edge of the greenery. It has three floors, each featuring a different collection. There’s the illuminations from middle age religious manuscripts, the collection of art and artifacts collected over centuries from the Marmottan family and the Monet stuff.

The place is practically deserted. I begin to wonder if the end of the world happened and I missed it.   I squelch the urge to find the nearest satellite television and tune into CNN. Instead, I head for the Monets, which just happen to be in the relative safety of the basement, which has been rebuilt into a grand museum space.

This collection was donated by Monet’s son and is quite impressive. Tons of Monet paintings, sketches and even an old palette of his. Also displayed is Monet’s collection of work by his friends and peers, among them, Renoir, Morisot, Rodin, my buddy Pisarro…

Monet as painted by Renoir

I like Monet, but find a lot of his work spotty. There are periods where his work soared and then other periods, not so much. I guess that’s the curse of living a long life.

Monet lived to the ripe old age of 87. He did not die impoverished and unappreciated. I guess that’s the benefit of living a long life, if you happen to have any talent. He was making a good living which enabled him to live his final couple of decades in a gorgeous environment of his own creation—his house and gardens at Giverny (add Givererny to my “to go” list). He apparently died bitter and cranky despite the fact that he lived what seemed like a pretty idyllic existence. Of course, he did have advanced cataracts and had been legally blind for at least 10 years, which had to be a real bummer. You can actually see the effect of his cataracts on his later paintings.–they’re practically unrecognizable and there’s a reddish/mauvy cast, which is apparently how cataract sufferers see things.


Japanese footbridge, painted 1899

Japanese footbridge, painted 1919

Like Van Gogh, Monet tried to kill himself in his early years. But only once (Van Gogh tried all the time). In Monet’s case, at the time, his girlfriend was pregnant, he was broke and unappreciated and it seemed to be an isolated crisis rather than a way of life or being a drama queen.  He married in 1870, his first wife died in 1879 and he remarried a family friend (Alice Hoschede) who was helping him raise his sons in 1892, a year after her husband died (she died in 1911).   One cool, slightly perverse fact:   Monet’s son from his first marriage married Alice’s daughter from her first marriage.

Judging by the photographs, In his younger years, Monet appears to have been a real hottie. And now he’s single (dead, but single)!   I know all I need to know about Monet.  I must visit Giverny.

Address, hours and reviews of the Musee Marmottan

a short respite from tyranny

by Claude Monet


Today is Bastille day. But if you call it Bastille day (or jour de bastille) in France, they’ll blink at you blankly for a few moments until a flash of recognition comes over their faces and they say “ahhhhhh, La Fete Nationale! Or “ahhh, Juillet 14th!

The French do that a lot…blink blankly when you attempt to speak to them in their native tongue. Personally, I think it’s is a passive aggressive thing (come on, Frenchy, you couldn’t make the mental leap from Bastille day to Fete Nationale? Donnez moi un break. –Or is that une break?) but I’ll let that slide for the moment.

La Fete Nationale commemorates the anniversary of the French taking a stand against the monarchy (Louis, Louis and Louis) and storming the Bastille to free the political prisoners put there by the King. There were only seven prisoners in the Bastille when they stormed it (sounds more like a drizzle than a storm). But I guess it’s the thought that counts.

Afterwards, some guy named Bernard Raspail (I believe he was named after a good shopping street on the Rive Gauche) got together with some other guys, Thomas Jefferson among them, and wrote a lovely document about the rights of man which is very similar to our Declaration of Independence. This lead to the French revolution. Which lead to Napoleon who was worse than what they revolted against. Now that I think about it, what the hell are they celebrating?

Like our Fourth of July, Juillet 14 has parades, fireworks (feu d’artifice), flag waving and general nationalist fervor…everything I hate.

My deep and abiding terror of fireworks (with the possible exception of sparklers is the result of reading a book about a kid who went blind from a firecracker when I was five. I think it was supposed to be some uplifting tale about rising above difficulties, but all I got out of it was a 40 year plus fear of fireworks. I usually need to be sedated on firework related holidays. Especially after 9/11.

But even if I LIKED fireworks, it seems a little excessive for freeing seven prisoners.  I kind of get the fireworks for our Independence day– we had a war and there really were the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air.

Wouldn’t a more appropriate celebration be locking some people in a closet or small room and then freeing them? Maybe followed by a drunken fistfight? Think of the money they’d save on fireworks.

I’m hoping here in Auvers, at least the festivities will be on a smaller scale than what I’m used to in New York. I’m also hoping that every time I hear a firecracker pop I won’t react the same way I did in New York, which was to shield my eyes, cower in a corner and contemplate how best to flee the city.

by Eduoard Manet

Here, the fireworks actually begin on the 13th. I discover this on the 13th, when at twilight a series of explosions rouse me from my pot au creme induced stupor. I rouse myself long enough to figure out the sounds are Fete Nationale related and return to my stupor.

Then I smell smoke. Once I’ve determined I haven’t set the house on fire I figure that someone is burning leaves again. Until the sirens sound. Yes, the first sirens I’ve heard in Auvers in almost three months.

I take it as a sign of emotional health that the thought of terrorism doesn’t cross my mind. The possibility that the sirens are a dragnet is coming to take me back and try me for crimes I’ve forgotten or for saying something bad about the US government flickers, but doesn’t take hold. Nor does the “Diary of Anne Frank” movie flashback that makes me want to hide in the attic at the sound of European sirens.

Nonetheless, I rush to the window to see what’s going on. To my relief, firetrucks race past Rue du Pois and line up in front of the empty building used for the Thursday/Sunday market. The roof is burning. And I just know it’s some stray spark from one of those nationalist firecrackers that has caused the damage. When will these people learn?

A fire I can deal with. And looking out the window, it seems the people of Auvers take it as opportunity to socialize. I go outside and join the crowd watching the fire as if it were on wide screen tv. It’s almost as though the fire is part of the festivities. I look for a keg. I check out the firemem (Like every woman in the world, I have fireman fantasies). Maybe I should find myself a nice French Fireman. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate? I guess this probably isn’t a good time to flirt with them, though. But they are doing a mighty fine job. The fire is almost out. And that guy on the ladder sure seems to know what to do with his hose.

My neighbors Jerome and Carole interrupt my reveries. They introduce me to some other neighbors. We chat. Well, they chat and I pick out words I understand and nod accordingly.

I also make my first French joke: le jour independence en France est meilleux que notre le jour independence en par ce que Les Francais a les feu d’artifice ET les feu vraiment. It’s not very funny in English and only mildly funny in French, but they seem to appreciate the effort.

Now that it’s dark enough, The fireworks by the river start to go off, and I nervously look back towards the house. I notice the front window is open. Good lord, is history repeating itself? Has the prison been breached?  Have my kitties escaped?

When I get to the house, my worst fears are confirmed: Desdemona is in the center of the lawn chewing some grass. God knows where Denzel is. I pick up Desdemona and carry her back to the house. She serenades me with some of the most horrifying sounds I’ve ever heard from a cute little cat. They could definitely use her for Exorcist 4 (or whatever number they’re on).

Denzel is the real problem. If he’s out there, he might as well be invisible because it’s dark and he’s black. My only hope of finding him is the bell on his collar.

I search the house and he’s nowhere to be found. I go outside and I start to call him frantically. Silence.

I could sure use some of those wartime night vision goggles right now. The light from the fireworks (which I’m sure are lovely) aren’t quite enough to light the yard. I finally hear the tinkle of his bell and see him sitting calmly among the bushes. But as I walk towards him, he dashes off in the other direction. He stops when he gets a good distance and rolls on the grass as the rockets red glare and bombs burst in air overhead. But as soon as I get close, he takes off in another direction and once again, when he gets a good distance, he rolls luxuriantly, taunting me. Dogdamnsonofabitch!

This goes on for a half hour, me chasing him from the bushes, to the lawn to the bushes to the lawn to the bushes… until a neighbor kid yells something to his mom, which freaks Denzel out and he runs to the front door and paws desperately at it until I let him back in the house. I’m sure there are some who would say that his hasty retreat only proves that Denzel has some French in his blood.

The fireworks have stopped now. Denzel and Desdemona are locked safely in their room (being punished) and now I feel ready to celebrate the true meaning of the holiday. I crack open another pot au crème. The cats scratch at the door and make complaining noises. Denzel occasionally yowls in dissent.

Poor kitties, I think to myself as I savor the rich creamy dessert. Let them eat cake.

the true meaning of fete de la cocagne

Today’s the big day. The last day of the Fete de la  Cocagne. Maybe today I’ll figure out what it is.

The main drag is closed and booths are set up for about a quarter of a mile. Booths selling stuff—yes, little make due shops! Joy to the world. I celebrate with a glace (ice cream cone) for breakfast.

There are Savoie cheese vendors, sausage and jambon vendors, vendors selling a variety of juices made in the region, arts and crafts booths, a booth selling beer made in the region, wine booths, a booth selling Auvers posters with Van Gogh paintings he painted while he was here, a bakery booth, and my personal favorite, a booth selling framed bugs and butterflies for a mere 10% of the price I’ve seen them sold elsewhere in the states or Paris.

An ooompapa band plays in the background as the tourists and natives wander the streets. Fortunately, only a few are in period costume so I don’t feel out of place or like a party poop.

I ask a few people qu’est ce que c’est cocagnes and most people shrug their shoulders. A few people answer, but I don’t understand a word they’re saying. Where is the French lesson booth when you need it?

My economic contribution is to buy two Auvers Van Gogh posters which I figure will be a nice memory of my time here and will look lovely on my refrigerator box wall when I return to the states. I also get a bottle of cherry/apple juice, a bottle of award winning Biere du Vexin (which is quite good, I must say), a delicious cheese and a small salami. There goes my grocery money for the week. But when I think about it, I’ve got all four food groups covered: dairy with the cheese, meat with the salami, fruit with the juice and grain with the beer. I’m set.

Everyone is jolly and friendly, although I don’t recognize any of them from Auvers.

All in all, it’s a lovely fete. And I think I’ve figured out what cocagne means: tourist trap.

fete de la cocagne — the mystery continues

Today is the first day of the Auvers”Fete de la Cocagne,” a two day event full of something in recognition of something.

I ask Carole et Jerome what this whole cocagnes thing is all about.   They bicker good-naturedly in French for a moment before admitting they’re not sure..   It’s just  a big nuisance as far as they’re concerned.   Kind of like a parade to a New Yorker, I guess.

According to my good friend, Google, Cocagne either has something to do with an ideal life of indulgence  or being cockney.     A commenter on my previous post (thanks, Sirius),  did some research and found that it has something to do with a life of pleasure.    Or climbing  a greased pole.  I’m going to go with ideal life of indulgent pleasure.

The festivities start with some sort of presentation on the stage in front of the Hotel de Ville.      Women with parasols, long dresses and Miss America type sashes that read “Cocagne”. The men on stage are wearing bow ties and hats, I assume from the same time period. They seem to be giving each other awards.  Perhaps for winning the greased pole climbing contest?

A series of rock bands perform–really bad ones that are only slightly better than Courtney Love.    Sausages, pommes frites and beer are sold in the parking lot and the construction site has become a lovely street bistro serving grilled meat, veggies, beer wine and ice cream. The carousel is moving and the children on it screech with excitement.

Knowing that the real fete doesn’t start until tomorrow, I go inside. But soon, I’m drawn back out by a band that’s actually quite good for a French band (no offense to the French, but they suck at Rock and Roll, and Jerome will back me up on this).  Oncle Oedipe, is the name, and I can only assume the reason I’ve never heard of them before is either because they’re French or because none of the members are particularly “hot” looking.

Young girls are dancing and screaming like groupies with clothes on,    I’m mesmerized by a little blond boy about four or five who is totally rocking out as his mother feeds him cotton candy like a Roman slave feeding a fidgety Roman Emperor grapes.    Seriously, this kid has moves.   Even the way he grabs at the cotton candy as his mother lowers it towards his mouth is completely in time with the music done done with a rhythmic flourish.   No doubt about it, the kid is  a rock star.

After Oncle Oedipe finishes their set, I take a stroll and discover that Van Gogh Park has been transformed into a petting zoo with rabbits, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, donkeys and two huge unpenned bulls standing by the far wall. Children make animal sounds (I assume they’re animal sounds, they bear no resemblance to the sound American livestock makes), trying to draw the smaller creatures out from their tiny pens.

The goats are petrified, the donkey is accommodating and the pig obliviously snuffles in the dirt for imaginary truffles.   The bulls recline like Odalisque in a shady corner.

Judging by the pamphlets, fliers and posters, the real action doesn’t start until tomorrow. Perhaps then I’ll figure out what this cocagnes thing is all about. I fall asleep with visions of glaces et boissons dancing in my head.


la “fete de la cocagne” is coming!

The question is, what is it?

I’ve been seeing these posters around town.

The preparations are massive. Flags all over the streets and Hotel de Ville. A carousel is in the parking lot. Stages are being set up in the Hotel de Ville parking lot as well as the Van Gogh park.

A construction site on the Rue du Pois is now filled with kegs of beer, glasses, tables and chairs. Is it a party for construction workers? Flower boxes are everywhere, brimming with brightly colored flowers.

Cocagnes is not listed in the French to English dictionary, and I’m pretty sure it’s not cocaine, so maybe it has something to do with chickens?

My biggest fear is that it involves wearing a costume.

van gogh’s room

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve been here several months and I still haven’t been to the Auberge Ravoux  to visit the room where Van Gogh lived and died.  It’s practically across the street.

The only real excuse I have is I didn’t want to spend the 5 Euro to get in (his grave is free.)   I guess I just figured, his room will always be here, unlike that tarte myrtille in the patisserie window.

But time is running out and I’d be mad at myself if I didn’t do more than peer into the courtyard and dining room.

auberge ravoux dining room

I read somewhere that just being in Vincent’s room brought someone to tears, the connection was so powerful.

Once when I was visiting one of the Virgin Mary’s supposed death sites near Ephesus, Turkey, a woman who was obviously religious or insane went into convulsions, wept, has weird spasms, and spoke in tongues (of course, it could have been Turkish). Maybe I’ll feel a similar…whatever the hell that was…when I visit Vincent’s chambre du mort.   Maybe then I’ll understand why he shot himself in that field.   Better yet, maybe I’ll start babbling in fluent French.

I make the long journey across the street without mishap and pay the 5 euros to go into a dead guy’s bedroom.   Well, it’s not just his bedroom, it’s a courtyard with plaques with pictures and facts about Van Gogh.   A side door leads to a dark stairwell to tiny, tiny dark rooms.   Van Gogh’s is the worst because there’s no window, only a skylight.

vincent's room

Suddenly, it all becomes very clear to me. This room is tiny. It must be 5×5 ft. with a really low ceiling that slants in certain parts of the room so  you have to hunch over or whack your head. The room he painted in Arles was huge by comparison…hell, the painting of his room in Arles was probably bigger than this room.   I thought NYC apartments were bad! I’d go insane in here. I wonder if poor Vincent was tall. That would just make matters worse. Sure, the fetal position is fine every now and then, but I wouldn’t want to make a lifestyle of it.

I’m beginning to have an inkling of what might have induced Vincent to kill himself. I can totally relate to looking up at my pathetic life after slaving all day on something that nobody may ever see or appreciate and wondering dear God, is this all there is?  I can see how that might cause a more compulsive personality to trudge to up the hill to the field and put a bullet in his stomach ( I probably would have forgotten where I was going about half way up the hill).

It still doesn’t explain why he shot himself in the stomach (not the place I’d aim for if I wanted to die).   Some theorize that the force of the shot made the gun move from the heart to the stomach.   My favorite explanation is Carole and Jerome’s:   “he was very creative”

Is it possible he wasn’t trying to end his life?    Maybe He just wanted to go to a hospital where he’d have a bigger room.


Auberge Ravoux website

%d bloggers like this: