Monday, June 27, 2011

In The Club

end of summer

I went out for the first time in a week yesterday - the neighbors were having their annual get-together. Angeline from next door had been over to check on my progress and insisted we come. She said everyone would understand.

A little old lady demanded an explanation for my bandaged and battered appearance after I'd done the obligatory kissing, very gingerly, uncertain that we'd ever met before. "Chacun son misère," she said.

"To each his own misery." I'd finally made it.

France is full of little expressions that sum it all up. I guess American English is too ("it is what it is" springs to mind). I try to stay out of territory covered by pat phrases, but sometimes it's nice to be in the club. For a little while, anyway.

We told all the neighbors we'd be leaving soon, and that they will have a lovely new family in our place. With kids. I remembered Hazel joining us at the first neighborhood meal, and how she fled in tears from the farci and the toothless as they drank soup and red wine. The new family, will they join us, next year? the neighbors asked. They are really sad to see us go, and we feel sad too.

They've lived here there whole lives. Not much changes. They accepted us and now we're moving on. Their lives are very different from ours and in the end, there was never much to talk about.

The pears on the tree out back are coming in. When they ripen and drop, we'll be gone.

I get a little misty about that, and then remember what a nuisance they were, those damn pears. If you leave them on the ground, they ferment and gather wasps.

Maybe some day I'll feel like I have time to go collecting, cooking and preserving pears. But not yet. I have other things I want to do first.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Today I Am A Man

grain de beauté

Today's the day for Fete de la Musique in France. A few years back I wrote about about how Eric and I rented an electrogenerator and spent the day and night traveling around the area, setting up and playing for the few. A memorable experience but a one-time only thing.

I noticed this year what was supposed to be a day of musical anarchy has gotten even more and more organized - June 21 falls on a Tuesday, so posters and flyers advertise Fete de la Musique events for the 18th and the 25th because those are Saturdays and people are more likely to go out. C'mon, go nuts for a change, open the shutters and leave your house on a Tuesday night! Maybe in Paris but not in the countryside. So what's the point of this thing again?

We could have fired up the old electrogen today, but I'm recovering from Mohs surgery and that's a good excuse, right? I'd been fretting about this skin cancer thing - BCC, the non-deadly kind. Just a tiny little pore on the side of my nose that the dermatologist with the lousy bedside manner biopsied and sent me for surgery. I've had a hell of a time finding the most effective kind in France. Asking various doctors about what is absolutely standard these days (this is for surgery on the face, where conserving as much tissue as possible is what you'd hope for) I was told - nope, not in France. I asked if it was because the complexions are heartier, less pale, so less incidence of skin cancer? Not at all. It's socialized medicine. Mohs is too costly.

Going to the doctor in France is a mix of brusqueness and care that it is hard to imagine in the US, where health care is huge business. If they're going to sock you with a bill they better provide some service. It all works very differently here. The first time we saw a doctor for a checkup, I couldn't believe it when I called for an appointment - "Can you come in...tomorrow morning?" Expecting a delay of several weeks, I figured this doctor must not have any patients, but that's just standard. She took so much time with each patient, I wondered if perhaps she was charging by the hour. Then it came time to pay and we gave her our euros and she pulled a little pouch out from her desk and made change. I double-checked that there was hand soap at the sink, thinking of her handling money all day. When she retired, I called asking if she had any recommendations, anyone who was handling her patients now, taking over the practice? No. Nope, sorry, can't help you there.

Everything's covered, or almost covered, by the system. But when you get a gynecological exam or mammogram, you the patient are not covered - literally: no robe, no sheet, just drop your clothes right there in a corridor. But if you need a taxi, or a nurse to visit you at home - just call! It's taken care of.

I ended up finding a hospital in Bordeaux that does Mohs surgery so we drove there yesterday morning. I'd called beforehand, just trying to verify that I had an appointment, and did I need to know anything - this is surgery we're talking about. Nothing but irritation from the nurses.

But when I was under the knife (and it was a knife and it was awful and I'll never go through anything like that again without being unconscious. That option was not available to me nor were tranquilizers which would have been welcome. I can understand much better now the idea of cardiac arrest on the operating table. I prayed, I vowed to be a force for good, I imagined myself a soldier on a Civil War battlefield and thought "this has to be better than that." I apologized to the nurse for being anxious. "Vous avez raison" she said - you've got reason to be - I'm not sure if that made me feel better or worse) anyway, the nurse was holding my hand and being so sweet. The doctor took the whole day with me in between sending to the lab. He told me several times I'd done the right thing because the cancer was very deep. He stitched me up and left me so swathed in bandages I can only think of that poster of the Phantom of the Opera. They gave me a private room to lay down in in between cutting and sewing and for Eric to wait in. I told him after it was one of the worst days of my life but at least he was there to share it with.

So no Fete de la Musique today. I hope it's alright to write about this. I hope the stitches will be okay and the scar will fade or if it doesn't that I'll look dangerous in a chic way. Or chic in a dangerous way. The nurse is coming over tomorrow. In some rite of passage I never wanted (who does?), today I am a man.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Chain

I just told my next door neighbor that we're moving.

"C'est pas vrai!" She had tears in her eyes. I'd told her a while back it was inevitable. But I don't think she'd registered it until now.

But all that hard work that Eric did on the place, she said.

True, the man worked like a demon. But wasn't I there too? Is it just this part of France? Around here, when a man is on a ladder or loading wood into the barn or leaning out of a window painting, it's "oh, isn't he wonderful - look at him working". When a woman has a paintbrush in her frozen claw or is hacking through waist-high weeds with a scythe, it's "il faut travailler" (it's necessary to work).

I wanted to scream, then remembered I don't have to - we're leaving.

Instead I hugged my neighbor and told her I'll miss her. Which I will.

We have a buyer. We have somewhere we want to move. I looked for a video of this Fleetwood Mac song because I'd heard of a real estate chain but never knew how stressful it was to be in one. A rather short chain, thank God, but a chain nonetheless. Then there's doctors' appointments and visa interviews. Hoping all the pieces hold until the thing completes and we can move forward. Until then I'll have a hard time writing about it.

There were several live versions, but this has to be the best - Lindsey Buckingham has always been one edgy dude but here he outdoes himself.

I feel downright calm in comparison.