Sunday, May 22, 2011

One Of The Flock

I was running away from the news, from the computer. And looking for a snack.

Sunday afternoon in rural France. Good luck finding anything to eat. The shops and restaurants are closed. Most of the bars are closed. And even the ones that are open don't have much in the way of food. Some peanuts maybe?

Then I remembered - it's springtime! Vide greniers, flea markets. People selling old stuff and always a few tables with cans of foie gras, cassoulet. Bottles of wine, apples. Usually a cake or two.

So I was navigating the tiny roads, fuel gauge on E but no gas station between me and the closest flea market. I figured it was worth the risk, to get a snack.

I never imagined I could enjoy driving a manual car - not back when I was learning. But now that I know the roads, where to brake and shift, through muscle memory as much as anything, I feel capable when driving again. The way I used to do back on the open roads of the USA.

Back. I'm going back! I can't stop thinking about it. Everything I do I'm thinking, "if all goes well I won't be here this time next year." And this (brake, shift, shift, accelerate) will all be a memory. I am ready to go.

Round the corner in front of Chateau de Brie, start to descend and there's a car in front of me, slowing down. A flock of sheep is being driven along the road. They're so cute.

And annoying. Really annoying. The woman urging them on isn't really urging hard enough. She's smiling a little too smugly, and her clothes aren't exactly farmer clothes. A sheep farmer come lately?

At first I'm smiling too. Look at the little one, trailing behind his mother. So cute.

Then I'm cursing, the same as if I was stuck in traffic on the Williamsburg Bridge or on Chagrin Boulevard or Hillsboro Road. "Would you move your fucking....sheep?!"

Finally make it to the flea market. And it's like every person I ever met around here is there. Not friends I've made but people like the butcher and the massage therapist, and the evil boulanger and the kooky woman who used to sell old furniture. I'm thinking maybe I died, back by that flock of sheep. It could be that this is what it's like in purgatory, because nobody that I really really love is there, and we're all going to be stuck together for eternity unless I make amends for...things.

I see Nick and Angie and that hints at a more promising forever, but they're headed in the other direction. Then I hear Shania Twain blaring out of tinny speakers that are hanging everywhere. That would be about right, for purgatory. I like Shania okay, but with all the country music I love to choose from, it would be pretty sad if she was the soundtrack I had to purify myself to.

I hear the thumping of boots on a wooden stage, and across a field I see a team of country line dancers. All togged up in jeans, plaid western shirts and matching straw cowboy hats, they are kicking and stepping, slapping leather and turning and clapping, then changing position and doing it all again. Brows furrowed, mouths set in grim determination, eyes staring straight ahead - they don't appear to be having much fun. I see the woman who owns the lingerie shop execute a joyless heel and toe. The man who works at the dump, the lone male dancer, is the only one who smiles.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Inside I do a little of both while dialing in "wry smile" for a facial expression. Then I find the table with the cakes. I buy some and hurry back to the car, which I wisely parked facing away from the fete. I must've known I'd want to flee.

"If the car starts, and has enough fuel to get home, I promise to be a better person," I pray. I turn the key.

Then I see Bob Dylan's "Modern Times" on the seat. I put it into the player. "Thunder On The Mountain" comes in. It's not purgatory any more. Or if it is, it's not so bad, because someone I really really love is there.

The lousy and wicked and perfect things people do and the future in front of me and Eric, and whatever missteps behind and ahead - like a good acid trip, Bob still helps me feel like it's all leading to something. I guess that's called hope? Happy Birthday Bob.

I'm tempted to go back to the flea market and force them to stick Dylan in the player and see how the line dancers do. But the gas tank light just came on.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nostalgia In Advance

In the glow of an imminent departure, everything's bright and beautiful. The same thing happened when I was getting ready to leave Cleveland - all of a sudden the snow melted and even surly postal clerks were smiling. It's even more so here in France.

Rural Backstage

french toast
French Toast

in bloom
Blooming Courtyard

Noilly Bottle

old gear
Old Gear

The gear may be old, but the man is not. Happy Birthday Eric, the sweetest boy in the world - you only improve with age, like a vintage tape machine (well, maybe not this one...)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


soulac turret

Eric and I took a spontaneous trip to the Atlantic coast last weekend. Spontaneous in that we knew for weeks we wanted to go somewhere but couldn't make plans until exactly one hour before leaving. "Let's go to Soulac-sur-Mer", Eric suggested. He'd mentioned the place before. I had been looking at the Ile de Re further up the coast near La Rochelle, or Cadaques on the Mediterranean, on the way to Barcelona. But the drives were a little long - Soulac is a short ferry ride away from Royan, which is an easy two hour drive to the west.

soulac sculpture

After the hills and valleys, cows and old stone of the Limousin, the Atlantic Coast is like going forward in time from the sixteenth century to the part of the twentieth century when France resembles the France I imagined from new wave films. Royan was bombed at the end of World War II and it's now mostly white modern 50's buildings, brisk and stylish so you want to turn your shirt collar up, toss a sweater over your shoulders and put on some big sunglasses. Which is what most of the people on the ferry across the Gironde estuary had done, that very definite French way of declaring "It's the weekend now, and we are, tous, at ease. "They look like a SpecSavers ad," Eric said.

Soulac is a pretty little beachside town, with brick cottages built at the beginning of the 20th century. It felt like a bit of a secret, with very few hotels and a small commercial district with shops and restaurants. A large covered market building, mairie and ancient church. With a lot of the houses still closed up for the winter, it had an air of mystery and possibility that made it the perfect getaway; I immediately started imagining our new life there.

souvenir soulac

Dangerous, traveling without instruments. With only an overnight bag each and two rusty bicycles, a person starts getting ideas:

Eric's a rogue handyman with a glamorous past. Is he English? No one knows for sure, but he has a Hemingway air as he cycles around with his toolkit, wearing movie star shades bought, in another life, in Los Angeles.

I'm a disheveled seaside painter, with fraying vintage jackets and paint-spattered jeans, hair perpetually tangled from the salt air. I pedal my bike in gold antique platform sandals, rumored to have belonged to Carole Lombard.


Together we own a junk shop, and this being a seaside resort town, none of the junk is cheap. We drive a Mehari and live in the one block long "poor side of town" in a beatnik shack with a gravel garden. Every few months, we take a ferry back to civilization and break out the guitars, performing to an adoring crowd.

soulac porch


But, after eating at a couple of good restaurants, locating the hipster-ish bar, biking in the direction of the "naturist" beach but giving up because it was too far, walking one more time down all the streets of the town and bumping into the same people again and again, it was time to go.

We drove back through the Medoc, passing chateau after chateau - not the rustic, humble chateaux I'm used to seeing daily but huge, imposing structures, each attached to a famous vineyard: Lafite Rothschild, Latour. Like the war memorial and the gun turret painted with a cheery beach scene in Soulac, I made a note to "look all that up". If I got it together, all the looking up of battles and chateaux, historical artifacts and memorials (churches, not so much, maybe I spent too much time in them as a kid for them to hold any interest or magic), I'd reconstruct the Second World War and probably the one before that too, and the last several centuries.

Back home, I wondered if property in Soulac was really as expensive as they say (it is) and whether it might be a little bit sleepy in a town whose population shrinks to under 2000 in the winter (it would). But I held on to my beach life fantasy for two days, until Pilates class. Annie the instructor had us in an upside down pose where she came around asking each person a question, to make sure you were holding your neck correctly.

"What did you do this past week?" she asked Julia. "A lot of cooking and gardening and a lot of laundry and cleaning," Julia answered. A pause. "A lot of drinking."

"How many new lambs this spring?" she asked Helen. "28! A pretty good year." I was momentarily in an episode of The Archers.

I half-prepared an answer, about a weekend holiday in Soulac. It was like back when Sister Mary George would come around and sing to each fifth grader "What did you have for break-fast?" and you had to sing back "Orange juice and instant oat-meal!" even if you had rocky road ice cream mashed up in a glass of milk.

But I knew deep down what my question would be: "When's the next concert, Amy?"

Relieved to have my own special question, relieved to return to my familiar role (I've got a gig, therefore, I have a purpose in life) but a little sad to see the gold platforms vanish in a puff of smoke, I answered: "This Friday at the tea shop in Piegut - it's gonna be great!"

gold shoes