Monthly Archive for August, 2012

Orangutan

Since I came to this village, I’ve really been little more than a spectator, watching my neighbours get on with their lives and keeping to myself since the language barrier left me little alternative. I suspect they looked on me as an orangutan – generally benign, something to talk about and with some interesting ways but a different species.

My neighbour’s troubles have begun to change things and we talk in a mixture of languages at much the same level. He was a good friend of an Englishman now back in the UK and is gradually polishing the rust off the English that he thus learnt whilst I glean what I can from him. Accent can still cause difficulties. ‘I need some wine,’ he demanded yesterday, or so I heard. But he’d said vent – wind – rather than vin. So I switched on the fan.

I was recently told that this part of France holds the prettiest-sounding accent, a bit like Highland Scots to English. I have no means of judging, but it can be a brute to keep up with.

Bolter

Six weeks ago my neighbour came back home to find that his wife of nine years had disappeared along with the children. He knows the town, some 30 miles away, where she has taken up residence but hasn’t seen her or the children since. Along with everyone else, he had no idea what prompted her exit since he loved and still loves her. A few days after she went, he was informed that she had made a complaint against him, saying that he was violent, had imprisoned her and was brutal to the children. The complaint, I know, is complete balls. He is a house husband who works from home and the responsibility of looking after the children has largely fallen on his shoulders and it has always been obvious that his life revolves round their welfare.
He has laboriously gathered together testimony from doctors, teachers, friends and even an ex-wife to refute her complaint and is seeking custody of the children. The preliminaries came before a judge yesterday. It all seemed to go swimmingly; the judge was dismissive of the complaint, failed to accept that stopping loving a spouse was excuse for such arbitrary action and was astonished that he has not been given access to the children. She will make her decision on custody in a couple of weeks once she has studied the paperwork. And the children will be back here this weekend and will be taken to their maternal grandmother’s birthday party. She hadn’t been allowed to see her grandchildren for six months.
My French and my understanding of French attitudes and French law has greatly improved as I have listened to his troubles and watched him lose 18 kilos over the weeks. His distress has been shared by most of the village, many of whom are part of his family. I suspect there will be a largely happy ending for everyone – except the bolter.

Anodyne

I have learned to be circumspect in this blog. The most unexpected people read it and can take offence, which explains the anodyne nature of much of the content. A month or two back it gave me a bit of a turn to go into my neighbour’s house to see, in the corner of his living room, his computer with this blog on screen. My only consolation is that he would need to put the content through Google translate which will have turned it in Jabberwocky rather than French
There’s been a strange atmosphere in the village today. One of its prominent inhabitants has been in court this afternoon in a custody dispute and all are waiting with bated breath for the outcome. Even the yappy brutes next door have allowed people to come and go without making their usual fuss. With an outcome I shall be able to reveal more detail. In fact, rather curiously, I have been asked to do so.

Comfy

It’s raining and only 70 degs is showing on the thermometer.
I had always believed that cold was better than hot since you could always put on another pullover or some thermal undies but you couldn’t strip further than skin. A succession of drafty houses and nasty winters in Scotland disabused me of this idea and I embraced the mild winters that are customary round here and didn’t mind, too much, the extreme heat that sometimes is the price paid in summer. But the recent heat wave that seems to have now broken cooked the walls of the houses that normally keep indoors significantly cooler than outdoors and that became uncomfortable.
Perfection for me is spending the entire year in shirtsleeves. In fact not having to think of temperature at all. This is in the range 70-75 degrees, preferably without sunshine for more than three hours a day. Just like today in fact, bar the rain.
I once trawled the net trying to find a habitat that fitted such a criterion. Some do exist but the international rich and others amongst whom I do not wish to live already overpopulate them.

Etiquette

My regular supermarket is Lidl. They pile it high there and usually sell it cheap. One of its features is minimal staff. Only when there’s a serious tailback at the check out do they grudgingly haul someone from shelf stacking to open up another till. And you’ve got to be quick on your feet to catch your purchases as they’re fired through at you.
Paying by cheque is still common here and the assistants grit their teeth when these are offered as the payment process grinds to a halt while IDs are checked and signatures written. Today the old dowager in front of me not only tried to pay by cheque but also had left her chequebook in her car and paddled off towards the far reaches of the car park in search of it. Such a breach of Lidl etiquette led to a furious huddle amongst the staff, spies being posted to report on her progress and discussions over the till about whether to dump her or not. The queue, slack-jawed, just waited, leaving me to be the recipient of the babble of distressed French from the checkout assistant. I soothed her as best I could until the profusely pardonning old bat reappeared. But I was still being muttered at when she was well away without the benefit of an au’voir or bon journée.

Railings

From the terrace, one can see six prominent pine trees in the grounds of the chateau. Two are dead, once since last year, the responsibility of the pine processional moth. You’d have thought that evolution would have taught the moth that it is unwise to kill off their host. The astounding success of the cold virus depends on it never becoming more than a pain in the arse. Smallpox raised its head above the parapet and we zapped it ourselves. Many of the nasty bugs that emanate from Central Africa don’t spread because they kill too many hosts.
The Wednesday dog walk passed a chateau, said to be owned by an oligarch. Round its policies, he is building himself a mile of concrete wall in the process of being topped by 8-foot wrought iron railings. It’s not burglar-proof since a baddie could easily slip below the railings. €200,000? Its only function seems to be to impress the natives and they really don’t give a damn.

Rumpelstiltskin

The hot continues. The forecast was for a storm yesterday and four juicy raindrops plopped down on the terrace before it lost heart and disappeared. One of the neighbour’s little barking dogs bashed its way through the gate at the bottom of the garden and came into the house to plonk itself down in front of the tower fan which whirrs away at my feet. The poor little sod was panting so hard that I hadn’t the heart to kick it out, even though I don’t trust these animals as far as fleas are concerned. It rested there for 15 minutes and then paddled out from whence it came.
And another cat has seen that Cato has no clothes. This one used to be looked after by the sorciere and gratifyingly sprinted for safety whenever the dog gave chase. Today it couldn’t be arsed because of the heat and just lay there and looked at him as he Rumplestiltskinned away in front of it. The dog was mortified and tried all his best moves but the cat refused to budge. He had to get rid of his frustration by beating up the lizards in the garden which are the only kind of fauna left that reliably flee at the sight of him.

Pianos

Another concert on the last night of the music festival down the road. And another remarkable performance in a village barn turned into a concert hall in heat that cannot have been far short of 90 degrees. The musicians requested that fans should be switched off so that they would not miss their cues. The audience could sit still; they could not and suffered accordingly.
I was told by the musical director that concert halls around the world use Steinway pianos between 5 and 20 years old. All are different. His favourite is in Perth although as a son of the city he may have some bias.
Expat house can often be spotted because they keep their shutters open. The French keep them tight shut. At this time of year it’s a trade off between heat, light and mosquitoes. My neighbour’s house is a cavern lit by artificial light. When he arrives here for his 6.30am coffee, he tends to throw open all the windows on my ground floor. That’s when it’s coolest, even if 77 degrees as this morning isn’t that cool. Yesterday morning the Autan wind was blowing and the interior of the house was flushed out in five seconds but today is still and it takes time. By 9.30, he says, all the shutters must be closed to create, in effect, triple glazing which keeps the interior some 20 degrees cooler than outside. To keep the mozzies and the church bells at bay, I keep windows upstairs shut at night. The heat is obviated by a fan. Its sound is quite restful, rather like sleeping on board a ship.

Schubert

We went to a concert last night, Schubert’s quintet in C Major, in a church some three miles down the road. The players were young musicians from Switzerland, the US, Spain & the UK. I’m no expert, but a friend who was there, an ex professor of music from Brittany, told me it was the most musical and expressive rendition he had ever heard. One doesn’t expect to come to the sticks in France and be able to hear music of this quality, nor do you expect to enjoy a feast under the stars afterwards. When we left c11pm the temp was still in the 80s with the Autan wind taking off the edge.
In the sort of heat we’re having at the moment, the only things moving fast are the lizards. The French whinge and stay indoors.

Mist

It hit 100 degrees this afternoon with a hot wind. It’s not conducive to a hard day’s work, but the fields are full of southern Europeans and north Africans picking melons. The economics of the crop baffle me; it seems to be demanding of both labour and materials, requiring individual water points for each plant, frequent weeding and miles of plastic film to get the stuff growing at the beginning of the season.
‘I love this place,’ said my neighbour yesterday morning. We were on the terrace watching the sun come up on the bank of fog that had risen from the river that marks the border between the Gers and the Tarn and Garonne. The high ground on the horizon five miles away was in the clear, topped with chateaux, churches and a couple of villages. The fog was moving and individual farm houses would appear below us and then be blotted out again. It had burned away into another blue day by 7.30.
I came upon this place by chance; my neighbour has been here all his life, but I think I’ve grown to love it too.