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rage against the machine (and the jerks who drive them)


jackass on loud motorcycle

I have a terrible confession.   I entertain dark thoughts.   Violent fantasies.

It usually happens when I’m sitting on my balcony and one of those motorcycles with the cranked up mufflers comes thundering down the hill at 9 million decibels.   I imagine that, with perfect timing, I pour a bucket of water down, drenching the motorcyclist and the street.   It makes me feel good, no great, to see the shocked driver spin out of control.

The daydream continues as the driver, with the motorcycle on top of him skids out, violently ricocheting between the parked cars and buildings lining the narrow street.   He is smashed.   Bloody.   Most probably dead.   I am now a murderer and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

On one hand, the guilt is a heavy burden.  But something had to be done.   Not just for me, but for all of mankind.   Well, at least whoever falls in the audio range of the bike, which I’m fairly certain includes Northern Italy and Switzerland.  But murder…Can I live with that?

Now that I’m confessing, I might as well also cop to the fact that the other day I heard a skid and a crash followed by anguished yelps.   I ran to the balcony to see what happened and saw it was a downed motorcycle and driver.   I did a happy dance before calling emergency services.

Before you label me a terrible person (which I probably am), you have no idea how obnoxious and annoying they are until you’ve lived in a fairly popular French village.   Mere de Dieu!

I can block out a lot of noises, but that particular din pierces through everything.   It’s like a jackhammer to the head.  I don’t know what the decibel level is, but I do know it’s the worst form of noise pollution, probably qualifies as torture and offenders should be prosecuted.   No tortured.   No, executed.   No, tortured AND executed.

I mean seriously, only a dangerously insane person wants to make THAT much noise.   Who else would want to inflict that kind of suffering on innocent people who are just trying to have a thought, conversation or watch a movie?   Clearly they must be  card-carrying sociopats.   Either that or they’re recklessly overcompensating for something.   Some shame or deficiency.   Small ears, perhaps? A high squeaky voice? A complete lack of physical presence?  Whatever,  they’re a danger.

Worse, these mother effing a-holes, use their size to muscle their way through pedestrian zones and quaint ancient villages.   It’s disturbing the peace at the very least.  And illegal.   I guess the French legal system deals with loud vehicles in pedestrian zones the same way America’s deals with assault weapons (which are also very loud, I’m told).

Lets not forget that the insufferable noise itself poses a threat, and not just to eardrums   I’ve come precariously close to injury when the sound exploded through my windows, shattering my focus, which left me unable to maintain my balance during a yoga pose.

IMG_20140913_185645921_HDRI read somewhere that there are some enthusiasts who argue that the horrific noise they inflict on humanity makes their lives safer from accidents because the noise forces other drivers to notice them.   To them I say, bull hickey!   You chose to ride that infernal machine.  Don’t inflict your goddamn choice on the rest of us.   Drive defensively, wear a helmet and put a cork in your goddamn exhaust pipe, you goddamn self centered sociopath with small ears and a squeaky voice and zero physical presence!

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.   I’ve seen people shake their fists and middle fingers at them as they roar past. Some people grow red with rage when discussing them. Some peoples’ blood pressure rises precipitously at their mere mention.   We hate them with a white hot passion.

Someday, we’ll all rise up against them.   In the meantime, I’ll be sitting on my balcony.   Watching. Waiting. Dreaming.

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

you say la tomate, I say le tomate

If I’m to believe Carole and the guy I buy fruit and vegetables from at the market, my French is improving. I definitely understand more. And I’ve been able to have deep discussions with the owner of the grocery store about which cookies ont meilleux et pourquoi.

I’m learning that if you put something French sounding at the end of every English word you don’t know the French word for, 75% of the time, you’ll be right. Examples: publicity=publicite (publeeceetay); geriatric=geriatrique (geriatreek); totally=totalement (totalmon). Every now and then there’s an exception to that rule, and instead you put something French sounding in front of it. Examples: weekend=le weekend; internet=le internet.

I’ve also become better at looking like I understand. People can go on for paragraphs before realizing I don’t understand what they’re saying. And by then, I can usually pick out a few words and piece it together. Of course, when I can’t piece it together and am forced,  after someone has rambled on for two paragraphs to say “je ne comprends pas”, they look at me like I’m crazy for not stopping them sooner. Some of them walk away grumbling under their breath, but fortunately, I usually can’t understand them.

I’ve also learned the French stall word. In the US, we have “like” or “uh”. Here, it’s “errrr”, which sounds much smarter than the US versions. Especially if you do it with that subtle roll at the back of your throat and let the rrrrrs roll into your next real word.

The conjugation thing is still a problem. I can only manage the simplest tenses (okay, my repertoire is still pretty much present tense, but that’s  true for me in English too). I’m sure I sound like some stupider version of I Dream of Jeannie to the French. Is it possible to sound stupider than I Dream of Jeannie?

But here’s the thing that really trips me up: every time I think I’ve got all the nouns and adjectives right and the verbs conjugated correctly, I un when I should une or le when I should la. What is with this focus on whether a noun is masculine or feminine? Yes, I’m suffering from acute gender confusion.

Back in the good old U S of A, nouns are just nouns. We don’t care if a pastry, domesticated animal, potato, or an illegal war based on lies is a boy or a girl, to us, it’s just pastry, domesticated animal, potato, or an illegal war based on lies. I firmly believe nouns should not be discriminated against. Well, that’s what I tell Carole when I screw up (“le…la…c’est sexiste!”)

But there’s something really dodgy about labeling all nouns either masculine or feminine.

When I ask how they know whether every word is masculine of feminine, they answer cryptically that they know it en couer (by heart). The implication is that it’s some sort of innate thing. Maybe masculinizing and feminizing things is in the human DNA, a part of the common consciousness.. Maybe the French are just more in touch with it. If I just tap into the part of me that’s plugged into the pulse of mankind maybe the right words will instinctively blurt from my mouth. The problem is I’m not sure if I can still speak when I’m that drunk.

There’s no rhyme or reason to what’s designated masculine or feminine. Baguette and saucisson are both feminine, but I think the French must be mistaken. Look at them—they’re totally masculine. And tampon is masculine. Go figure. I guess I could make a case for that one if I really thought about it, but I’d rather not.

I’m starting suspect that in real life, the French don’t really gender discriminate their words. They only do it when we’re around. It’s just a passive aggressive trick they established to retain a small sense of superiority after we saved their derrieres in WW2. When we say “le baguette”, they correct us and tell us it’s “la”. When we say la baguette, they tell us it’s le. We wind up confused, frustrated and totally helpless. Just the way they want us.

When Carole informs me that chat is masculine, unless le chat est une chatte comme Desdemona, I float my theory past her (in French, of course). She seems impressed that I am able to communicate a fairly complex thought in French. She thinks about it for a moment, smiles and corrects me.

It’s LA deuxieme guerre de LE monde.

Zut! Je ce rende!


Check out my latest on the Huffington Post.


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