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the rock stars of auvers

vWhere I come from, people stand in line for celebrities and iPhones.

Here in Auvers, it appears the most wanted men are the butchers.   On Sunday mornings before they close for their weekend, the line stretches down the main drag.

J.Y. Gicquel Boucherie  comes highly recommended by the Ladoux family.   I’ve been a little hesitant to venture in there because it will require speaking French and I shudder to think what adorable forest creature I might wind up taking home for dinner.   I’m also not sure whether those numbers before the decimal point in their prices, are ones or sevens and whether we’re talking francs or euros and I’m afraid I can’t afford it if I have to ask.

I’m feeling a little lazy tonight and have decided that my lack of energy is due to a protein deficiency and I need a good piece of red meat.   Preferably something someone who’s lived on takeout for the past 20 years can cook.

butcher window

I’m a little nervous entering, the vibe here is a lot friendlier than the boulanger down the street, where I feel I must apologize when I enter, again when I order and one more time when I pay.   Sometimes I apologize when I leave for good measure.

It’s not like I’m a total stranger here.  I wave to them every time I walk by and they wave back.  There are usually two butchers; a younger one with a roundish face and receeding hairline and an older guy with salt and pepper hair and a nice northern european face.  They may be wearing bloody aprons, but here, they’re captains of industry.   A woman mans the prepared foods counter (quiche, Frenchy salads, things en croute and terrines with hardboiled eggs in them) and cash register.

A couple of people are ahead of me which gives me time to get my bearings and look at all the meats behind the counter and try to figure out what they are so I can point knowledgably.   There are about 7 different kinds of chicken shaped items in various sizes.  Lots of fillets of chicken colored objects of various sizes,  slabs of red unrecognizable red meats.   Lots of unrecognizable parts.   Sausage galore.   Chops.   Ribs.   Rabbits.   Geese.   I’m getting a little sad and consider fleeing or at least turning to the deli counter, but it’s my turn.Meat Question

Here are the french words for meats I know I’ll eat:   poulet (chicken), agneau (lamb), boeuf (beef), dinde (turkey), porc.   But then we get into cuts and I’m lost.   Is an onglet a steak or some organ I don’t want to know about?   And is it an onglet de boeuf, ou cheval?   And what the heck is french for goat?   Je ne voudrais pas goat.   Or lapin (rabbit).   I’m now in a cold sweat and probably look guilty.

The younger guy greets me in French.    I try to say something in French, but all I can do is look behind the the glass and point desperately at a kebab and ask ‘qu’est ce que c’est.’   He doesn’t understand me.   Shit (merde).   He’s one of those French people who doesn’t understand English OR really bad French.   This could be a problem.

I point again at the kebab and ask “c’est l’agneau?”

He looks at me blankly.   I repeat myself slowly.   Nothing.   By now everyone in the store has stopped and watches curiously.   I really want to flee now, but I might want to come back here sometime, so I blunder on.

I point at the kebab and “baaaaah” loudly like a lamb.   His face brightens and he nods vigorously.   I point to my leg.   He nods again.

I shout excitedly, ca!   Un de ca s’il vous plait.  He doesn’t understand what I’m saying, but we’re on the same wavelength.

He wraps it up and I hold my hand out to take it.   He gives me a slip of paper and points to the cash register while babbling something in French.  And I totally get it.   They give me the meat after I pay.   I say merci beaucoup, he says something and the transaction is completed.    We’re both very pleased with ourselves.

Next stop, cash register.   Grand total about E4.92 which is about 9 dollars, so, pretty pricey.   It also presents the problem of whether I pay with the pocketful of coins in my pocket or just hand her the E10 bill I have and get even more coins.   If I pay in coins it could take hours for me to figure out the right amount.   But if I get my change in coins, I’ll just have to face the problem down the road.   I do the only logical thing and dump the contents of my pocket on the counter and let the very nice cashier pick out the coins she needs.

rock stars of AuversI leave the store with my package, calling out “merci, bon soir!” feeling very French.

I broil the kebab, which is all seasoned lamb cubes with a chunk of some sort of sausage at each end and make a salad.

All I can say is that kebab brought me more pleasure than Springstein, Jagger or an iPhone ever could.   Hours later, I’m still fantasizing the subtle seasoning and the tender juicy lamb cubes.   And the sausage!   OMG!  A veritable medley of spices in perfect pork harmony that I can’t get out of my head.

Tomorrow is Sunday, so I’m going to get in line first thing in the morning.   Maybe I should camp out front over night.   I’ll just die if they’re sold out when I get there.

Consult this meat translation guide before venturing into a boucherie.

marketing Auvers

souvenir shop

As I explore the charming flower-lined, uncrowded streets of Auvers, I wonder why aren’t there more tourists here? Sure there’s the occasional tour bus (usually Japanese).   And French families who take their kids to see the famous landscapes they’ve probably unwillingly seen in museums. But certainly none of the multinational crowds and tourism enhanced wealth of a Les Baux, Nice, Arles or Avignon. There’s only one tiny souvenir shop in Auvers (more like a shack) and it’s only open on Saturday. That’s just wrong.

Most of the people I know have never heard of Auvers, let alone its history as an enclave of Impressionist painters. If they knew that some of their favorite paintings were created here, and that it remains virtually unchanged for the past 200 years, wouldn’t they come in droves?   The question gnaws at my marketing mind.   Here are a few ads I’ve come up with to sell Auvers as a destination.

see the originals light blue

see the original

vangogh crazy

van gogh grave

van g slept here

great impressionists

But the appeal of Auvers is not limited to its history. It’s very close to Paris, but serene and beautiful.   So maybe…

million miles from disney land

One thing that constantly amazes me about Auvers is the scent of flowers in the air. It changes from week to week. Two weeks ago it was lilacs. Now, it’s roses. Maybe I can appeal to the new age crowd.


Maybe a “Find Van Gogh’s ear” promotion…I’m just thinking out loud here.

Obviously, I’ve only scratched the surface here and will have to put some real thinking into marketing Auvers. But I won’t rest until I’ve come up with a way to turn this peaceful town I love into a hideous, overcrowded tourist trap I can’t wait to leave.

Il pleut

il pleur

It’s raining again and I decide the wisest course of action is to turn on the TV to the French news and take a nap..

I haven’t been so quick to pick up French. Every time someone speaks to me and I understand I become too excited and flustered to answer. Almost every question or statement I respond to by blushing, stammering and then retorting “oui, merci.”  Even if I meant to say “ca va bien, merci, et tous?” Soon I will be known as the town retard. My new plan for learning French is to fall asleep with the TV on and just let it sink it by osmosis. So my nap is really in the interest of educating myself, not laziness.

But during my nap something happened that reminded me of the good old days in New York. No, it wasn’t my recurring  nightmare of not being able to find matching shoes for the outfit I’m wearing to a life-altering event.

I was awakened by a call from the French phone company offering me a better plan. I said “non, merci, au revoir” and she yelled, “pourquoi?”. I said “par ce que” she yelled “pourquoi again, I yelled “par ce que” again and hung up. Just like home. The only difference was the language. And the fact that I didn’t detect an Indian accent from the caller.

the village ass

I’ve been here for more than a week and not once have I been startled by the blast of a car alarm or siren.   I’m starting to get used to the only ambient noise being the din of twittering birds.

So while taking a stroll on the narrow side streets of Auvers, a shocking sound blasted me from my reveries.   At first it sounded like a loud impact, and then horrible wailing  sounds unlike anything I’ve heard.

There’s a man down the street who doesn’t appear to notice and I wonder if he citizens of Auvers are as jaded as New Yorkers.

I run towards the source of the awful sounds and there he is.  What a pleasant surprise!

I’m accustomed to braying asses disturbing the peace in my old neighborhood, but they were of the two legged variety.

first impressions

street in AuversAuvers is the perfect little town. It’s really close to Paris, but seems like a million years away. There’s a grocery store where you can buy a loaf of bread that’s still warm, a butcher, a baker and several restaurants, along with a drugstore, post office, train station, a tiny hair salon…everything a girl could possibly need. There’s a market with all kinds of fresh fish, produce, cheeses, killer roast chickens and other wares on Sundays and Thursday. The town pretty much shuts down on Monday, which is important to know if you must have like van goghmilk in your coffee. The narrow roads are lined with villas and greenery. Something about it reminds me of lake Como, without the lake and George Clooney, that is.

But there is the river. L’Oise. It’s at least as wide as the Hudson, but much more picturesque. It winds through trees and villages, looking almost exactly as it’s depicted in countless impressionist landscapes (if you ignore the modern blue building on the Mery sur oise side of the bridge).

I’ve been here over a week and I still haven’t felt the urge to venture into the city—even one as beautiful as Paris.

f_0790hotel du ville deckedTechnically, this region is the Val D’Oise, but also falls under the category Il de France, which also includes Paris. The area is pretty flat with a few gentle hills and lovely outlooks. Even when it’s overcast, you get a lot of light. And when it’s not overcast, it’s amazing. I can understand why so many painters flocked here. In fact, the scenery probably looks so familiar to me because I’ve seen it over and over in so many books and museums. My previous theory was more romantic—that the familiarity is due to the fact that I lived here in a previous life. Maybe I AM (was?) Van Gogh. We both have red hair. Well, at least for the next couple of weeks I do.

Anyhow, Auvers has an eclectic mix of people. There are old people interspersed with Rasta dudes and musicians and artists and yuppies in from the city. And of course, the people who live and earn their livings here. (or maybe the butcher commutes in from Paris?)

The weekend gets pretty crowded with lots of French tourists here to see the Ville de Peintures. I think I’ve heard one American voice since I’ve been here (and I tried to act French and shunned them). At night it’s quiet.

Apparently, there is a thriving Iranian community. Well, I’m not sure if it’s a community or just a family. But a very famous Iranian Muslim moderate woman (considered an evil Mujahadeen by the Iranian government) lives here. I think I saw her at the grocery store buying bacon (okay, I’m kidding about the bacon.) She smiled and seemed friendly.

It’s been kind of rainy and cold,  so I haven’t done the sort of in depth exploring I’d like to yet. I want to walk the painters route both to Pontoise and North. I’ve done a bit during sunny patches and so far I haven’t heard the brisk footsteps of Pisarro and Daubigny behind me, as one book promised. But it is beautiful, and some of the scenery, the subtle changes of color, especially in certain light, IS art. It’s also cool seeing the prints posted beside the sites of the paintings that depicted them over a hundred years ago.

I’ve been reading up on Van Gogh and the Impressionists since they’re such a major part of the town’s history and mystique. Unfortunately, I’ve been trying to read in French, so my learning curve is a little slow. But rumor has it, Van Gogh didn’t cut off his whole ear, only a lobe (or knuckle– as I said, I’m reading it in French) And it wasn’t out of some unrequited love for a woman. He was actually stalking Gaugin at the time (consider the implications!). But he did give the lobe to a prostitute. He “dated” a lot of prostitutes. I imagine they looked like Courtney Love.

f_0754Also, I’m starting to think that this Dr. Gachet who was Van Gogh’s (along with several other impressionist painters’) “shrink” plays a shadowy role. He lived and had a “clinic” in Auvers. Up the street in fact. He didn’t really cure anyone, but he sure got a lot of great free paintings. Now that I think about it, he just sounds like a normal shrink. To read more about the curious case of Dr. Gachet, click here.

Also, contrary to what I’d always thought, Van Gogh did not die entirely unrecognized as an artist. In fact, he was starting to receive a great deal of acclaim and couldn’t handle the success, among other things. Sounds like a Kurt Cobain thing.

If it rains again, I’ll go to the Musee d’Absinthe tomorrow. I hope they have samples.

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