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why I’m particularly glad to be in France today.

IMG_4507Here in France, there always seems to be one service or another that’s shutting down in protest of something.   The trains.   The buses.   The airlines.  And then every time you turn around everything is closed for some holiday you’ve never heard of, that usually has something to do with some holy person ascending to heaven.

You can say a lot of things about the French and their work ethic, their politics, their bureaucracy,  but I can honestly say, I’ve never seen their government shut down.

So let me get this straight, America…

The goddamn idiots in the House are shutting down the government over a small point in a puny bit of legislation that they spent countless hours whittling down to nothing?   On our dime?

If they were working for me, I’d fire their lazy, pompous, self-righteous, entitled asses.   Oh wait….they do work for me.   Supposedly.  Can I fire them?   At the very least, don’t Americans have the right to stop paying their goddamn salary?

I’m going to avoid blaming parties and just say that I’ve seen our elected officials on both sides of the aisle take the exact opposite positions they’re taking now, all depending on which party proposed what.   They both sicken me equally (okay, maybe right now I hate the Republicans a wee bit more).   I can’t look at any of them without getting a huge churning knot of rage in my stomach.

Today in France, stores are open, and services are running.  Medical care is about 1/10th the price it is in America.  I’m happy and relieved to be in a country where the news and politicians don’t make my blood boil. Of course, that could be because I don’t understand them.

is this august or have I died and gone to hell?

beach antibes august

August is the month where everyone flocks to holiday on the glamorous French Riviera.   Who can blame them?  It’s oppressively hot.  It’s crowded.   Huge vicious mosquitoes are on the prowl and basically an air of rudeness permeates the entire Cote d’Azur.

For example, as I was waiting for an appointment in Juan Les Pins the other day, instead of French muzak, I heard honking horns.   Continually.   I’m not saying the horns were worse than the muzak, mind you, but it it was insistent, repetitive and brain piercing — more like really bad techno (is that redundant?).

Virginie, the assistant told me it happens every August when the people on vacation invade.   She said that it’s just non-stop honking in August.   Even in the middle of the night.  She wondered why they would become more impatient while on holiday “relaxing.”

A lot of people blame the Parisians (the only French people who don’t hate Parisians are Parisians) but the truth is, I’m not sure who to blame for this sorry state of affairs, I’d like to blame Americans, but in all honesty, I can’t.   There just aren’t enough of them in Antibes.   To hate Americans I’d have to go to Cannes or Monaco.    Perish the thought.

Recently, a friend who lives in Paris complained about how the entire city shuts down in August.  So maybe it is the Parisians.  I mean, you’d have to be from a major city to think that lying greased up and semi-naked on a small patch of beach crushed up amongst other people lying on a small patch of beach is vacation material (now that I think about it, it sounds more like the beginning of a porn flick or some harrowing Heironymous Bosch painting).   I insist on a clear two mile person-free zone when I’m wearing a bathing suit.   Three miles, when the visibility is particularly good.

Hell-Bosch

Getting around the rest of the year is a breeze but in August it’s unbearable.   The roads become like rush hour in California all day long (which pretty much is rush hour in California, come to think of it).   Additionally, the trains are ALWAYS late in August.  I assume it’s because they’re waiting for a group of sweaty, luggage-laden tourists to drag their asses aboard the train.    The stations are hot, muggy and packed with confused people of various nationalities lugging three times their bulk (and getting in MY way).  They are usually wearing too little and their skin is covered in large red oozing welts.  While my rational self assumes it must be mosquito bites, my paranoid, germaphobic self fears it’s something highly contagious.   Maybe that’s why the Asians are all wearing masks.

Here’s some advice if you happen to be here during the month of August: Don’t take public transportation.  Don’t drive.   Don’t go outside.  Bring a gun to protect yourself against the mosquitoes.

If you must go to the beach for a little sun, go after 9:00PM (21:00).

And if you’re considering a trip to the Riviera next August, I don’t recommend it.   Unless you’d like to rent my apartment.   I’ll be in Paris.

the soiree of terror

The day I’ve been dreading has finally arrived.    I received the above invitation a few weeks ago.

Every year at this time, French people try to get to know/reconnect with their neighbors in what is called “Fete de Voisins.”   The idea is to form bonds that will counteract the isolation of city living and build stronger communities.  So this little fete will include everyone in my small apartment building.   I’m pretty sure all the tenants here are French, except one family.   I’m also pretty sure their English is no better than my French.  In most cases worse (gasp!).   Naturally, I’m terrified.

I walk s-l-o-w-l-y down the three flights to the party.   On the way I bump into my only English-as-a-first-language speaking neighbor (Denise) and her four year old son (William).   Denise is very thoughtfully locking her door, and staring at it as if trying to remember something.  Turns out, she’s trying to remember a reason she can’t go to the party.   She’s as nervous as I am.  But she’s lived here for seven years, so she clearly has an advantage.   William, who is fairly fluent in both French and English and fearless because he’s 4 and there promises to be cake, he’s ready to partay.   At least now, I have a suitable escort.

We enter the apartment together, doing the whole introduction and kissing both cheeks thing.   Damn, these people talk fast!   I still don’t know what anyone’s name is because I can’t distinguish the words from the names.

The table overflows with food like some decadent still life.   I wish I brought my camera. There are about 11 guests ages ranging from 4-75.  The host and hostess are a 70-ish couple and live on the ground floor with an amazing garden with a small koi pond.   The husband speaks a petite peux of English (not as much as he thinks).

Representing the 1st floor a 60-ish couple ( think the man was a bit older).   They both only speak french, although the husband’s rapid-fire french is punctuated with seemingly random “OH MY GODs” (in English—maybe he’s trying to make me feel at home).

From the second floor we have Denise and William.   I’m the third floor.

From the top floor brings two female college students who are renting the apartment.   Also in attendance, the attractive 40-ish man who owns the apartment.  There’s also a woman I can’t place, but for some reason I think she has something to do with the top floor.

As much as Denise and I would prefer to sit in a corner and talk to each other in English, we know it would be cowardly and we must mingle.  I watch her dive bravely into the fray.   I’m intimidated by her ability to understand questions and answer them. I feel better when she tells one of the neighbors that her son, William is 40.

In the following three hours, I learn as much as I can about my neighbors and bond with them given my limited French skills.   Here’s what I managed to pick up:

The hostess quit smoking after 52 years and she said something about cocaine and morphine in the same sentence.   I’m assuming she said it was harder to quit cigarettes than cocaine or morphine.   Either that, or she used cocaine and morphine to kick nicotine.   Will have to delve deeper into that when my French improves.   In response, I tell her that she must have started smoking when she was two.   Well, I hope that’s what I told her.   She kind of clutched her hand to her heart, in what I hope was a gesture of gratitude or pleasure.

The man on the second floor feels very strongly (OH MY GOD!) that The painter Nicolas Stahl was very something.   So was Picasso.   He also said something about Collioures, which is a small fishermens village near the Spanish border where a lot of famous painters spent time.   I’ve always wanted to go there, so I nod enthusiastically.

First floor’s son got married in Santa Barbara.   He may also live there.   It’s very beautiful there.

The students on the fourth floor are studying at some school on Jules Grec Blvd .  I know where it is, so I nod enthusiastically.   They’re majoring in either agriculture, horticulture or quantum physics.  They are originally from somewhere in the north of France.  I know where the north of France is so I nod in knowingly.

The recipe for Gateau du thon (tuna cake, think meatloaf made with tuna instead of meat):   Tuna, lemon juice, capers, egg, salt pepper and a touch of mayo with Dijon mustard.   Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

The proprietor of “Le sex shop” (a few doors up the street) is very charming.

David and his wife, Nikki  (the couple who own the apartment I live in) are lovely, and Nikki is both smart, beautiful and a bunch of other stuff that is said in a very positive manner.   Great.   I will always be compared to her.   I bet her French is perfect, too.   Bitch.

The crowing I hear from the building next door at about 10AM every morning is actually a chicken (I figured it was a lazy rooster)   They used to have three but two of them died.   Not sure if they ate them.

William wants his bubbles (as in to blow bubbles).   Bubbles in French ar “bulles de savon”.   I initially thought they said bulles de savant (bubbles of knowledge).   It took about 15 minutes to clear this up.

The tarte is delicious.   The hostess didn’t make it, she bought it at the bakery on the Rue de Republique

The rest of the evening, I’m pretty sure they were just saying bad things about me.

I used the phrase “lentment s’il vous plait” approximately 14 times.

I guess some would say this is a pretty lame example of my French skills if this is all I got from three hours of continual conversation.

On the other hand, a year ago here’s the sum total of what I would have picked up:

Cocaine.   Morphine.   Cigarettes.  Picasso.  Collioures.   OH MY GOD!   Santa Barbara.  North of France.    Tuna cake.   Salt and pepper.   They like Nikki better than me.   Chicken.   Dead.  The Sex Shoppe.  Knowledge.   The tarte is delicious.

I’m making progress!

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.

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