Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ma Poubelle Nouvelle

It's kind of like the woodburner. Last year, just in time for my birthday, Eric hooked up the second hand one we'd found through the classified ads. It had been a dream of mine, after seeing them in so many homes out in the country - the pile of logs in a corner, a cozy glow through the glass front, the dry warmth and crackling and popping and smoky smell. This thing was going to change me, or my image of myself - it wouldn't just be practical, but impart a new calm and wisdom that can only be achieved by staring into the flames.

The reality was different: logs that wouldn't stay lit, cold ash and charred wood in the morning, mess everywhere and, when the fire was finally going, heat that chapped your face and made half the room a no-go area. While the rest of the house stayed cold.

I'm not saying all woodburners are bad. I've seen good ones that stay lit all night long, that really do keep the whole room and even the room with the chimney running through above perfectly warm. This is a case of wrong woodburner, wrong room, bad logs.

That's how it is with France. Maybe I had a dream, a fantasy about the place. It's a common one for Americans, and the English too. You just say the words "I live in France" and people get a faraway look. They see Belmondo, think of the best meal they ever had in a tiny place they could never find again, picture Jeanne Moreau in a newsboy cap and Bardot in ballerina slippers and striped top. Or a towel, or nothing - sex. Countryside and castles, great thinkers. Wine and endless conversation. Art, intellect, sophistication. Freedom from pointless striving. A lot of people come here for that. I can't say I thought it through but knew it was something I wanted. Who wouldn't?

And all those things are real, at some point in time. But so are houses like peach-colored boxes, mountains of paperwork, websites that go nowhere, restaurants with fluorescent lighting and tiled floors and some of the worst food I've eaten in my life. Sidewalks with fences and planters and concrete balls stuck smack in the middle. Supermarkets with sullen checkout girls and food way past the sell-by date, markets with the same overpriced stuff you can buy at the supermarket. Stifling rules for everything. A general joylessness, or downright depressed feeling, almost everywhere you go. When there is somewhere to go - finding a place that's open when you want to go out is often impossible.

But honestly, I could probably take it all in stride, for the beauty, the idea, the genuinely lovely people I've met - if we could work here. If the gigs weren't so difficult.

Not just difficult - pointless.

Take Thursday night. We knew going into it that it was a pub, an ersatz Irish place run by an ex-madam and her husband, in the town of Angouleme. Last time we'd played over the din of talkers and drunks with a few actual listeners while the owner shook her estimable cleavage. Not great but not soul-destroying. It was my birthday and even though I would have liked a nice night out on the town I'd started to look forward to playing. We were hoping for a little more of a cultured crowd with the Festival de la Bande Desinee in town.

That brought a few people in, beyond the ploucs with money who make up a good part of the population (plouc is a kind of French hick). But in general it was a tough bar gig, and we made it through two sets with some enjoyment. No big deal, just a paying gig.

Hung around talking to some of those who'd been into it. Packed up and ready to start loading out at 1:00 AM or so when the ex-madam called me back behind the bar - time to get paid.

She wanted to know what our guarantee was and I told her. Then she started demanding how we could charge something like that and only play for two hours. She'd had too much too drink and kept counting out the money and shaking her head and barking at me that we had stopped playing at midnight! midnight! What kind of value was that? I asked her why she hadn't just asked us to play longer, when our stuff was still set up? I knew that it was because she'd been too busy carousing and hadn't been paying attention. Her husband was too drunk to get involved in anything that involved putting words together by now. She sort of threw the money at me and brought out their younger nephew who kept asking if I could honestly say we'd done enough work to earn the guarantee. Like he wanted to shame me into backing down.

But why were we having this discussion anyway? There is no way they would ever value what we had done and what we have to offer beyond it providing some noise and color for a corner of their lousy bar. So yeah, we got paid what we were supposed to. I'm not completely depressed now because we've already made the decision to leave.

Wrong woodburner, wrong room. Bad logs. We just don't fit here, as musicians. We're not "rock" enough, or "garage" enough, or "60's" enough, or "punk" enough. Or "musicianly" enough. We don't do enough songs everybody knows. And even if we did there's no place to play. Over the last four years the number of places willing to put on music has dwindled to almost nothing.

I'm not harboring any illusions cause we've been all over the US and UK, Spain, Ireland, Germany, and things are tough everywhere. But I'm thinking of this year's birthday treat - a new kitchen bin.

A new poubelle is nothing to get excited about. No fantasies of snuggling around the kitchen, gazing at the garbage can, taking turns putting things in it.

But a few days before my birthday this year, Eric installed one under the kitchen sink. You open the door and it swings out. I don't have to trip over the bin or look at it when I'm not using it. I had no expectations but the thing gives total satisfaction. Because it works.

That's all I want, when we move away from here. Something that works.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Best post i've ever read about any topic in this or any other blog. And not because it's slogging one country or another, but because t's about thinking "maybe the dream was very different than the reality" which is what life is about so much of the time.

Good luck with the bin, and with the next adventure.

Anonymous said...

Amy - i hate it that your birthday had to be spent like that - with a drunk ex-madam nickel and diming you. you are so correct- they have no idea of your immense worth. whenever you come to Raleigh you will always have a place to stay - with us. hope to see y'all again before too long. love to you and Eric. xox Alison O.

Non Je Ne Regrette Rien said...

Amy, sorry your experience here has been so utterly sismal and disappointing. I am also thankful mine has been 180 degrees opposite. "joyless"...wow, coudn't béat the weight of that, how utterly depressing. Hope u guys find what u are looping for, and soon.

John Medd said...

Speaking as someone who relocated only three months ago, I understand totally where you're coming from. The grass may be greener, but it still needs cutting. Will we stay? Who knows? The people are friendly, the quality of food and produce are second to none, we now live nearer to our son and the local pub has been a life saver. But it doesn't feel right. Not yet, anyway.

Rosie said...

if I could go, I would...it is a musicians graveyard here...unless you are a traditional celtic or chanson francais musician...
I have had so many experiences like that in bars that i dont bother anymore.

the fly in the web said...

Yes...something that works...that sums it up.

We've lived in France for about twenty years, but the last few were hard going and we should have moved out earlier.

Don't knock yourself for falling for the French dream...it's a huge image and well publicised, not only by the French Tourist Board but by all the people who make a living from that image....selling property, selling accommodation, selling tat labelled 'French' to people whose self worth needs bolstering...
'put this galvanised bottle carrier on your kitchen worktop and people will just know you're sophisticated...'

Put it behind you, look for somewhere that works for you.

amy said...

Thank you Anon. I wanted very much to say "this is how it is for me" - not to trash France. Wherever we go there we are, as somebody said...finding the place I can be myself to the best of my ability, I guess that's what I hope for - and this self that I am happens to be a musician.

You're very kind Alison and we look forward to seeing you again before long!

I've thought maybe doing something else here would work Kim, but I'm not ready to quit music, making records, playing for people who are interested. It's wonderful you have found your place in France, it all seems to be working for you. The right fit.

amy said...

I envy you, John, in many ways. I look back at my old blog posts from when we first came here, discovering everything. And how we found a local bar that became our place, not perfect but somewhere to go and see friends and feel at home. It does take time...and then things change sometimes. Maybe we were thinking dropping out and playing covers was just the thing - now I know how much it means to play my own songs (and Eric's songs too, or ones we've chosen, not pandering but because they mean something). It sounds like you're off to a fine start, good luck!

amy said...

It starts to dawn on me, Rosie - the strength and resources to make major moves is not going to last forever. I know we can do it this time, but taking a lot of care in figuring it out. It's sad you can't get up and sing, it is just too hard here. But your students are very lucky to have you as their teacher.

I feel lucky to have had the chance to see it all firsthand Fly. Not as a visitor but day to day. Looking forward to moving on...

Non Je Ne Regrette Rien said...

Just checked in and saw all of my damn typos, sorry i am borrowing an iPhone with a mind of its own while in the states, grrr. Think u filled in the blanks tho'! And yes, i do believe it is all about the individuel journey. Funny enough there isn't a galvanized anything associated with mine. You folks will find your niche, i am sure of it. xx

Katherine said...

Sometimes the right place for somebody else is the wrong place for you. And there's someplace else out there that IS the right place. Hope you guys find it.

sam said...

'a new calm and wisdom that can only be acheived by staring into the flames'...in a way it seems you've stared into flames (of a sort) and now you can look ahead and decide where you really belong. of all your blog posts (and i adore each and every one) this is by far the most incisive and wonderful - perhaps the poubelle was the answer after all. throw it all away and start clean.
you could always come to colorado. it has been years, but i'll show you around...

Ed Ward said...

There's a weird branch of astrology which Yoko Ono, among others, is or were into which I think is metaphorically correct: depending on the alignment of the stars, where you are may not be the right place, no matter how "right" it seems: you have to move somewhere where the heavens above are more in tune with your own astrological makeup.

Like I said, a metaphor, but one worth considering. I'm continuing to draw strength from my relocating here: the stars above Berlin shifted horribly a few years in, and I almost became paralyzed. I know it'll take work to stay but right now I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be -- and after two years that's not the honeymoon talking, either.

I do hope to see you guys before you up and out for wherever's next, though!

a said...

Ooooh that sounds bad. Move up here to Normandy. It's just the same with the added bonus that it's always raining…

amy said...

thanks Kim - galvanization (ie to keep from corroding) is the answer!

Thank you Katherine, the French have a great phrase - par hasard, by chance (but sounding more like by hazard) which is kind of how we found ourselves here...next time we are for sure doing plenty of research. More boring but necessary.

Sam, I'm glad you're still reading! You are absolutely right, I have done a lot of staring into flames, fields, star-filled skies etc the past few years. Will make it back out to CO one of these days, for sure.

It's funny Ed, I've never seen the stars like I have in this place. I've never had such a strong connection to nature either. But knowing it isn't the right place and that it's possible to move on has given me the greatest feeling of joy and optimism. I can imagine being unable to identify what needs changing in order to do something about it. It's great that you were able to get to France and from your blog it sounds like you are getting a lot out of it! I envy your food and wine experiences, at times I've thought maybe things would have been different in a more food-oriented part of the country. (but that wouldn't have changed the dire musical situation). I do hope we can make it down that way, this summer?

Now you also have that fantastic food up in Normandy, right Adrian? All that dairy...

Anonymous said...

Good luck Amy and Eric. Hope you can fit in wherever you land, or let the place fit around you. You guys are just the right amount rock, garage, punk, 60s, and musicianly for me.

John in Ireland

amy said...

Thank you John, hope we can do both of those things. And hope all's well with you in Ireland, can't believe it was almost a year ago we were there...

the fly in the web said...

People who suggest that it's where you land that determines your experience are so right!

We first lived in grape growing land...nice, open people but then, with good French, moved to cattle country where the people were generally inbred and abominable.
We knew we could communicate...they just did not want to do so.

le-maine said...

just came back to your blog to see if you are playing anywhere near us (Rochechouart) - only to find that you are, like us, planning to escape. We ourselves came here with child eyes and for a time it was wonderful, but now we find ourselves nodding knowingly as we read of your frustrations and disenchantment. Sometimes we say "nice place - shame about the ******!", but you do find gems among the dross wherever you settle. Maybe that's it - don't settle, easier for a male to say that maybe. Anyway, happy wanderings, and we hope to catch you playing somewhere someday.
Rob (ex-Papys) and Sue (ex-Pilates)