Monthly Archive for August, 2013

Race

I talked politics with a native a day or two ago. He despairs because he sees the inexorable rise of the Front National. Here in the sticks, life is very peaceful but the great French cities – Paris, Marseilles, Lille, Bordeaux, Lyon, Toulouse etc. – all have their no-go areas in the banlieus where no white man, not even the police, dare go. It’s most unfortunate, he said, that what is no more than gangsterism whereby young men terrorise their elders and anyone who tries to run a business in such neighbourhoods, is mixed up with race, but it is an undeniable truth that such suburbs have become ghettoes for immigrants, black and brown, and it is their young who create the problem. The politicians from the main parties have no solutions and consequently rarely discuss the crisis, but it is the top concern of the average Frenchman and only the Front National is capitalising on it, stoking up racial prejudice that is not far below the surface anyway. In my head I always compare such complaints with the situation in Britain and, while is undoubtedly true a similar problem exists in parts of the UK, it is not on the same scale as it is here. Money, vast sums of it, to create jobs and improve the living conditions in such places is the only remedy that comes to mind, but there’s no money around, certainly not for such a purpose, so the situation deteriorates, resentments rise and the chances of happy ending seem more and more remote.

Dominica

A wet day, so I tried to understand what was going on in this document this morning, and failed. Who owned whom and how did the relationships work? I have found an expert and hope to get a clue to the answer. ‘Certificate of Registration, Treasury Office, Roseau, Dominica, June 12th 1823. I do hereby certify to all whom it may concern that the following Slave, viz. Francoise, female, black, 46 years old, an African, hath been duly recorded in my Office as the property of Veronique, a Slave on the Geneva Estate, the property of the Hon’ble J.P. Lockhart and purchased by herself conformably to Law, and that the foresaid is a true and accurate description of the said Slave, faithfully extracted from the original Slave Registry of the Island.’
The sorciere’s grandson must be about 30. He gets up some time after midday if the weather’s nice, rather later if it isn’t. He has some annoying habits when he potters at his garage. He has the French propensity for machines that whizz and roar and he does play thumping music loudly from the window of his house so that he can be entertained at work on the opposite side of the square. He ignores everyone else in the village and they, generally, ignore him. He has a good relationship with his cat. Money, thanks to a late grandfather, is no problem. Down the street is a lavish bungalow lived in by the family of a man who labours for the council. He inherited and sold a large farm. He is due for another when an elderly uncle dies. A woman behind the till in a local supermarket has a granny in the village. She owns two of the largest houses here. I believe the French countryside suffered a catastrophic fall in population after the last war and this has left the wealth spread more thickly.

Pit

Guy runs the local post office and he tries to exercise his English when he sees a UK address. He’s not very good at it but I indulge him. This morning the local pharmacist, a route to great wealth here, was ahead of me in the queue. He and Guy settled down to a long chat while people built up behind me. Patience is a virtue that needs to be cultivated here, particularly in supermarkets. It is an immutable law that the older and battier the customer, the more likely he/she will be to pay by cheque and the system will grind to a halt while fumbling goes on, or even a return to the car since that is where the cheque book will have been left.
Over the hedge the plot within the block wall built by the sorciere’s grandson is like No man’s land, pocked by pits and wrecked vehicles disappearing beneath thorny vegetation. Work has started. He began nibbling at the wall to bring it down to the permitted height but has lost heart. He didn’t move on to level and clear the ground for the concrete floor, but has instead spent a couple of days fighting his way through the brambles with blocks and mortar to install steps down into his inspection pit. ‘He is stupid,’ said my neighbour. We all know that. But I am concerned about the frogs that, thanks to my measures to cut the number of mosquitoes in the vicinity, have been living in the pit. He drained it of three of the four feet of water and its inhabitants seem to have no way of escape. I am waiting him to go off in one of his cars before I try to fish them out.

Mantis

I spent yesterday evening collecting praying mantises from the grass beyond the hedge with a small visitor. They are very patient insects, willing to crawl onto a carefully proffered hand to pass the time of day.
We also took advantage of the neighbour’s pool, which is the meeting place for most people under the age of 12 in the village at 4pm each afternoon. He has a fancy, child-proof cover that rolls back at the touch of a button and beneath which one can swim on windy days. It also meant that the water temperature was over 30 and that makes it a bit like warm soup.
And yesterday we did the tourist thing at the Chateau de Lareole, a very impressive 16th century brick pile a 50-minute meander south through the fields of sunflowers. I had been there before but had forgotten to what extent the chateau here has copied its style and many of the architectural details. But Lareole is five times the size and has had the necessary tens of millions of euros spent on its restorations rather than being the haunt of pigeons, bats and dry rot.

Bugs

Ba-doom went the thunder three days ago, the lightning flashed and the lights flickered. The village street lamps went out for 48 hours, but the internet has still not been re-connected. The whole sector – what is a sector? – is out, I was told by my neighbour, and it’s still bust. It’s just Orange but Orange is the official France Telecom brand and is supposed to send vans scurrying about the countryside to repair breakdowns as soon as they take place. Otherwise there’s no point is using the service since it’s far from being the cheapest. Phone up their whinge line, for which they charge the standard rate, and the machine says the call will be answered in 8 minutes. It took 25. At the moment I have to go and sit outside a front door half a dozen kilometres away once a day to pull down my emails, which, if you’re as dependent on the web as I am, is not satisfactory.
I bought a new monitor for the computer the other day and it wasn’t long before the tiny thunder bugs had crawled inside and croaked. Depending on the angle at which they turn up their toes they can look like misplaced commas, full stops or accents and I hammer away at them with the delete button reckoning that the computer is on the blink until the penny drops.

Little Pop

There was a spate of thefts the other day in a nearby town. A house was torched, the uninhabited property of someone I know was trashed and there was even a drive-by shooting. Gypsies, said the natives confidently. I met the friend yesterday and he said he had declined to go to court to confront the perpetrator and presumably have his sentence increased by describing the trauma that he had caused. The baddie was a gypsy and had confessed. It is said the rest of his family have decamped to Spain. Gypsies in this part of the world have a really shitty stereotype to live up to. The only ones I’ve come across were all attending a special service in the abbey in Moissac.
I organise my finances by importing money from my UK bank account into France. I can place an order to buy Euros in London and the sum will be on its way within a couple of hours. But then it hits my French bank. There it will sit for what they claim is three working days before it is credited to my account. And in this country working days are not that common. They’ve either nicked the latest instalment or have taken two days rather than one to celebrate Ascension Day, which was yesterday. You can’t properly service a French bank account through a computer. They confiscate strange sums from one’s account for services one takes for granted as being free in the UK. In fact I’ve just tried to interpret their deductions from my account and failed to find the relevant code amongst the couple of hundred events for which they issue charges. And the bank manager is still an important figure in the community. I think the financial system here is due a Little Pop, if not a Big Bang.

Red-letter day

A red-letter day. The sorcière’s grandson has finally taken hammer, chisel and very noisy grinder to begun the task of chopping up his illegal garage the other side of the hedge. The intended outcome is not clear. Ideally it would be razed to the ground and he could build something on the other side of the square to house his rusting collection of vehicles, but I believe he has permission to keep his block walls to a height of two metres rather than the three that they are currently. All should be revealed. The matriarch has shifted her base to another of the family properties and this one is directly opposite the garage and she will be keeping a very beady eye on the proceedings.
We were summoned into her house for a drink last night. On offer was an aperitif that I failed to identify. It turned out to be Andorran port that came in a five-litre plastic bottle for €6. I found it most acceptable. It lived in a locked cupboard. I was pressed again to join the bus that travels to Andorra each month so that its passengers can stock up on duty-free booze and fags. Since my presence in the village has become familiar, the natives assume that I have perfect French of the local variety. It means that they have upped their speed and gabbledom when they communicate with me. So I am little nearer understanding them that I was when I came here.

Trug

‘I do envy your lifestyle here,’ said one of our recent visitors. You don’t explain that daily life does not always mean a morning poncing round some market with a trug to select the most juicy item for dinner, then having a fat lunch on the terrace or in some village square washed down with far more wine than is healthy. Visitors are on holiday and one tries to give them some sort of holiday experience. But they don’t necessarily know about the tussles with the bureaucracy, or that the washing machine breaks down, or that half a roll of loo paper each crap clogs up the shit pit, or that one still has to put in time to earn the euros that pay the bills. Everything may look idyllic on the surface but there’s lots of paddling below water to keep the show on the road.
It is well known that just because something is for sale in Lidl, it certainly doesn’t mean it’ll still be on offer next time you’re there. Likely as not it’ll be gone for a year and then pop up again just when you least expect it. All shopping in France is a bit like that. I wanted a fan and the shops were bulging with them, but I failed to seize the moment and the following week not a fan was to be had. So I ordered one on Amazon and they send me a message a week later telling me they had none in stock. So I’ll just make do without.

Crayfish

I sat and shivered beneath a towel and a plastic mack last night watching Shakespeare – in English – in a town square an hour north of here. It was more fun than it sounds.
The first run of thunderstorms for a while chuntered through last night. Rather sadly none of them did their stuff overhead but the horizon gave a spectacular light show that lasted for several hours.
The path round the lake was in possession of a very pissed-off crayfish. ‘Be careful! That’s a stag beetle,’ said one of my companions. The unfortunate creature was last seen surrounded by people all pointing their telephones at it.
I’ve the feeling that the slippery slope has been hit in regards to the next-door puppies. As far as I can fag end the plotting going on, it seems that the current scheme is that one of the two up for grabs will come here and the other will go to Scotland.

Lights

Scots make good visitors. What is normal life – shorts, drinks on the terrace till after dark, miles and miles of France and sunflowers – is wonderful to them as they arrive, pale and blinking, and dare remove their jumpers. It reminds you that moving to this country was really not a bad idea.
We avoided the village repas in the salle de fetes, which is 20 steps from my front gate yesterday, as I was collecting from the airport. I abased myself in front of the maire this morning whom I met clearing up for being unable to make this most important of occasions. I also found out how to register myself as a voter for his successor in the mayoral election next year. Sod president or prime minister, this election matters. We late lunched facing the chateau on the other side of the house and one would not have known that 60 people were socialising a few yards away. The disco did start thumping a bit at 10pm, but double-glazing, shutters and a whirring fan allowed for a peaceful night. A cherry picker was round at 8am removing the lights and faux-Xmas arches and took them on to the next commune’s fete. There’s a hook at the front of the house so that the lights for the fete and at Xmas can be strung across the street.