Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Bois Of Summer

Jean-Luc looked at himself in the mirror. He admired his bleached blond crew cut, the way it bristled up slightly longer in the front. Smoothing his sleeveless black t-shirt, he tucked it smartly into tight black paramilitary trousers. Rubbed a little oil over his brown biceps, admiring the color, the grain - like wood. He smiled at his reflection, his short mustache catching the light. When had it started turning grey? He made a mental note - look into facial hair bleaching possibilities.

Outside the white van that served as his dressing room when he wasn't using it to haul supplies for his gardening business, the crowd was getting bigger. He cracked the door and peered out. Man, it was hot today. He surveyed the crowd - two hundred people maybe? More if you counted the children. Three hundred then.

He nodded at Scottish Brian, who was leaning against one of the P.A. speakers, talking to a lady. Brian helped him out sometimes at these things, but he tended to get distracted. Brian snapped to and strolled over to start the CD player.

The music pulsed out of the speakers: a loop of the intro to "Who Are You?". Jean-Luc jumped down from the back of the van and sauntered out. He strolled up to the first of the three chainsaws lying on the ground, grabbed the starter and pulled. It whirred into action. Over to the second bigger chainsaw. This one took a harder pull to get it going, but J-L got it just right, the mix of brawn and timing, making sure to dip his shoulder to get in a gratuitous bicep flex. Two chainsaws going and the intro music loop was about to run out - he rushed to the third and, all business, booted foot down, pull, on.

When the music changed he had to be ready, and he was. The first three chords of "Eye Of The Tiger" he planted himself in between the speakers, just to the right of a block of wood his own height. By the fourth chord, the first chainsaw was in his hand.

The audience was silent as he worked. Riveted - or maybe it was just the heat. By the end of Eye Of The Tiger he'd knocked out a curving shape from the rectangle of wood, kicking a few pieces of wood away with each slash of a guitar chord. Then he was onto the bigger, more powerful chainsaw. As "She's Like The Wind" came on, he stroked the wood and began hacking out big chunks, passionate, doing it with heart - like Swayze.

The anticipation was growing in the crowd. People began murmuring. What would it be? A voluptuous woman? The head of Johnny Hallyday? The shape of a mushroom? Those were very popular in this region.

A younger man without a shirt on strolled up and started shouting that he could do better. He gestured with a cup of beer and reached for the chainsaw. J-L pivoted it away from him, barking over his shoulder to Brian to intervene. Brian took the young man by the arm and led him back to his drunken friends.

Yngwie Malmsteen screeched through the speakers now as Jean-Luc grabbed the last chainsaw, the one with the longest, straightest blade. Sweat running down his face and arms, he pierced the wood, thrusting furiously but with absolute precision. As the music reached a crescendo he took three steps back, then ran forward, chainsaw fully extended and plunged it into the center of the piece. Hands at groin height, he rotated the saw as the guitars ground down and then, chainsaw hoisted aloft, stepped to the side and faced the audience.

The applause wasn't quite what he'd hoped for. People tilted their heads from side to side, trying to make out what the sculpture was. It might've been a woman - it had round parts and graceful parts, long bits and short ones. Did it really matter? Jean-Luc thought to himself. They'd all been there for the creation of the sculpture, collaborators in the moment. That's what it was really about.

Jean-Luc grabbed a microphone and thanked the people. He offered the sculpture for sale: 100 euros.

Brian took the mic and translated Jean-Luc's words into English. After all, there were many English people here. Probably a few Americans too. And face it, the outsiders were the ones most likely to get out their wallets.

No takers. Jean-Luc looked at his sculpture, admiring it. He felt pleased with what he'd done, but these hicks wouldn't know art if it bit them on the ass. He sighed.

He'd switched off the chainsaws but now he grabbed one and got it going again. The crowd was beginning to wander off to find shade, get cool drinks. J-L took one last loving glance at his work - then sliced the sculpture in half.

"For only 50 euros you can take home one of two spectacular artistic creations, made right here before your very eyes!" Brian's voice came through the speakers, his Glasgow accent still strong in spite of years spent in other places. "Do we have any art-lovers in the crowd?"

The two pieces of wood lay on the ground. Jean-Luc walked back to his white van. He toweled off and picked up the chainsaws. Tomorrow was Monday and there would be gardens, waiting or not waiting for him.

chainsaw man

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Morning After

morning after

Every day this summer feels like I'm recovering from the night before: first it was gigs, then jet lag, then the late nights with the band who were here recording and then the first summer visitors from America. Then it was the night of the bat.

Then it was Paris, where I trekked out to the western suburbs to stand in a broiling courtyard with people of many lands arguing with guards to be humane and let us into the (slightly cooler) building. When I finally entered what I thought would be an outpost of the British embassy, I realized it was just a company hired to take our passports and paperwork, put them in plastic bags, collect biometric information and then eject everyone back into the world without a passport, possibly having given up our identities for them to sell in another country. Maybe we were even now members of a new low-grade espionage ring to be called up at a later date - I'll let you know, or then again I won't.

Next it was the morning after my night in Paris, where I'd wandered the streets purposefully, seeing the YSL exhibit at Petit Palais, the Willy Ronis show at la Monnaie, eating at L'As du Falafel which really was as good as they say, and finally seeing "Taking Off", the Milos Forman film from 1971 which was very funny with some good musical surprises.

Where I used to have dreams of looking suitably chic in Paris, these days I've lowered my expectations to trying to at least not look completely Limousin rube, or like that American lady in the Alexander Payne segment ("14th Arrondissement") of "Paris Je T'Aime". Though in some ways she is my hero.

Today I'm recovering from our gig at the Site Corot last night. Held in an unused auberge in a lovely spot near a river, next to some old glove factories, it took five meetings and three months to organize. Many people showed up, having been told we were either a) a "rhythm & blues" group or b) country music. They stayed for about three songs and the rest of the set we played to our usual ten friends and the few assorted French people too polite to desert us. But the river made a nice sound and we still remembered how to play.

So it's a good tired.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bat, Man

I learned a new word in French last night - chauve-souris. Actually that's two words and I knew them separately as "bald" (chauve) and "mouse" (souris). Put them together - bat.

Last week we had visitors and sat outside every night, so it was no surprise that there are lots of bats around here: we watched them swooping and diving in the courtyard. And one got in the bedroom, briefly, which gave me a chance to practice my horror film scream, twice. I couldn't believe there was this cartoon-shape nightmare creature flying around the room.

My hero Eric shooed him (I don't know why I assume it was a guy) out and I figured it was an aberration - maybe we'd wailed on keyboard, guitar and wine bottle for a little too long and he/it was trying to escape and got disoriented.

But it happened again last night, and this time the thing decided to stay. Hunkered down, or up, on the wall in the front room. I hit the floor screaming, covering my head because there's some myth about bats tending to get tangled in hair. Eric tried to get it out the window while I cowered and then crawled on all fours to another room and barricaded myself in.

It wouldn't go. I tried to calm down and we did what anyone would do - went on the internet and searched "How To Get A Bat Out Of The House".

A more common problem than I thought, there were pages of advice. A lot of them mentioned rabies, and the possibility that in a state of unconsciousness, ie deep sleep, the worst could have happened to us and that is to be bitten by a bat.

Now I know we'd been watching a Neil Simon comedy from the 70's earlier but it had never been completely coma-inducing. Had we been bitten then, I guess there's the chance we would've both been infected with the unquenchable urge to speak in breezy repartee. But that wasn't happening, yet.

The American sites really pushed the fear aspect: "HAS THE SECURITY OF YOUR HOME BEEN BREACHED BY A WINGED INTRUDER?" shouted one. They all assumed the general public possesses near-expert falconry skills, directing us to "Don heavy-duty leather work gloves, preferably elbow length, and toss a towel, net or pillowcase over the bat, taking care not to disturb it, then carefully carry outside and set free. Whatever you do, you must get the bat out of your house."

I went on the French sites, thinking they'd take a more matter of fact view. But frequent mentions of la rage, rabies, didn't help.

Staring at the photos of cute, furry bats (trying to ignore the sharp, bared teeth) and reading why a wild winged mammal would leave the freedom of the great outdoors to come into a house, I calmed down a little. Amazingly, one site pinpointed a very specific time period - the middle of July to the middle of August - when young bats are learning to fly but have yet to develop navigational skills. I looked at the calendar: July 16. Ah! I began to feel more compassionate.

The bat had worked its way into a corner cupboard and was nestled in between a fake fur winter hat and a felt Stetson (or at least that's what Eric told me. I was still too terrified to look). He opened the windows, as suggested by the "Critter Catchers" site, turned out the lights and shut the door.

This morning the bat was gone.

And so was the Stetson.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hard Pruning



Three years ago, the first summer here, I was all gung ho about the prospect of having a garden. Simple, I thought - pull weeds, plant stuff. Then stand back and admire.

But gardening is insanely hard work. Time-consuming, bone-wearying. Then you go away and everything you worked on is all grown over and strangled with weeds and vines.

That's what I've learned - you can't walk away from a garden. You have to tend it carefully, be out there all the time working. Which is fine if you can pay someone else to do all your other work.

I've had such pleasure from the few roses that have managed to poke through the tangled mess. Pulling weeds gives momentary satisfaction. Aah, that looks better, that clear patch there. A real feeling of progress.

Turn around and there they are again.

In my mind, I'm wearing a floaty chiffon dress, platform espadrilles, a picture hat and soft clean gardening gloves as I snip a little here and there, and butterflies circle in the soft evening light.

In reality I'm hacking with a rusty scythe, shrieking as rose thorns pierce my arms and legs, spitting out pollen and shreds of grass.

I'd been looking at books and asking advice. Trying to cut this bush and that stem two buds down to encourage maximum growth. Our friend Mick informed us yesterday that tests done on rose bushes showed they grew exactly the same whether pruned carefully or cut with a chainsaw.


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Load Out

I must be in France because it's eleven o'clock at night and still light out. It must be the Limousin because no cars have driven past in the last few hours. Drinking red wine and sifting through piles of receipts, business cards, set lists and a couple of parking tickets.

It was a month of hard touring - long drives, late nights, reasonable turnouts in most places. Nothing went too wrong! Except for not being able to sleep it was a good time.

Should I be recapping? I just don't have the energy. We saw some friends and family, enjoyed playing, sold records and ate well everywhere. Relished the friendly service in America. Loved the audiences except for one very talkative woman in Atlanta.

Now it's time to get "back to" something here. Wish I knew what. First I'll watch this Jackson Browne video. Substitute "me and Eric" for "roadies". And feel happy.