I never thought I would fall, believe me; in spite of the fact that I live in a country where it is so prevalent that contagion is practically inevitable. And yet, I was positive: the bug would never bite me, it was not in my nature, it was against my better judgment and certainly had nothing to do with the personality I had so carefully constructed. No. Not I. Continue reading
My grandmother used to repeat it often: Whistling girls and crowing hens always come to some bad ends. But I wanted to whistle, I wanted to whistle bad. My mother said you’ll get wrinkles around your mouth, and I noticed she already was beginning to have some. Had she wanted to whistle too, when she was a girl, and given in to the desire as I did when no one was listening? Continue reading
Yesterday –or maybe it was two days ago, time begins to lose its accountability- someone sent me a PPS (pictures and words) titled “The Eggs You Eat”. I knew what I was in for if I opened it, and I opened it anyway. I watched, each moment more pained, the photos of four or five hens cooped together in spaces too small even for one, of beaks cut with hot pliers so that the birds could not peck each other fighting for what little space they could, of wings and breasts featherless and bleeding from incessant rubbing by wires that band the cage, of animals too exhausted to even stay on their feet from laying day in and day out as many eggs as possible. My chest hurt when the pictures finished. Continue reading
The day my Grandmother turned 75, she looked at me and said: “I’m 75 years old and I don’t know what I’ve done with my life.” I was 27 and her words hit the center of my soul like boulders rolling downhill. Continue reading
Arghhhh!!! Two days and no connection to Internet. I send my Muse (el Muso, an old friend from highschool days recently refound and whom I call ‘my muse’ because it was to share with him that I originally began to write about Salies) an ES-EM-ES saying I am disconnected. I get an answer, well no, I get obsessively the same message over 12 times: WRITE ABOUT LIFE WITHOUT WWW. Twelve times is definitely an order, so… Muso, here goes.
Life without Internet… sucks! I have written a piece yesterday. I want to post it: impossible, no internet. I want to send it to el Muso, impossible, no internet. I want to talk to my children, impossible: no internet. I want to play a game on the web… same. Suddenly I realize how dependent my life has become on the WWW. I even thought I could live in Salies because Internet would have me connected. I go over to the Park Hotel (Casino) and get permission to hook up to their WiFi. I get hooked up and… no internet: I cannot connect. My computer says it is connected but e-mail, explorer and other utilities are not working; Skype refuses to connect. Frustration. My I-phone keeps repeating the same message: WRITE ABOUT LIFE WITHOUT WWW. Muso.
What in the world is going on with connections in Salies? The phone has become a parrot with one discourse, and my computer refuses to connect to Internet. I walk over to the Cyber Service (now that I have discovered where it is). A sign on the door announces the person in charge has gone on a vacation and won’t be back until a week from today, August 30th. Frustration. WRITE ABOUT LIFE WITHOUT WWW. My phone has OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Ok, so I realize how my life is affected by Internet. Even in Madrid I am hooked up a good amount of time and my being able to be in contact with my kids at practically any waking hour we share is part of feeling free to live wherever I want. I don’t have to live next door (the phone repeats, every 15 minutes, WRITE ABOUT LIFE WITHOUT WWW… ok, I’m doing it, I’m doing it.) So even living in Madrid without internet would be problematic. I would have to revamp my life. What else am I dependent on. Good God, everything!
Think of life without computers (I used to write on an electric typewriter and before that on a manual one, and before that by hand…), without electricity, without supermarkets, without running water, without phones… Think of life without modernity, period! No trains, no planes, no cars… Back to the basics. Many people still live that way. (WRITE ABOUT LIFE WITHOUT WWW…I wonder what is wrong with my I-phone. This is the 14th time the message has entered and I AM DOING IT!!!!). Life without internet… well, most of my life I have lived without internet. Without television at least until I was 11, without cellular phones, wow!, until just … what has it been, already 15-20 years. It is hard to remember when we weren’t connected all the time by some mechanical device. (WRITE ABOUT LIFE WITHOUT WWW… I turn the damn thing off, crazy phone).
I used to go to the supermarket with my Mother, it was much smaller then, practically no choice: cereal (Kellog’s Corn Flakes; later, Kellog’s Rice Krispies), one kind of milk, a reduced selection of veggies, meat, nothing fancy, local produce. When we got home we had no idea if anyone had called while we were out. It didn’t occur to us that this might be a problem. There was no way anyone could leave a message; they just called back when they thought we might have had time to get home. If somebody died you might find out two days, a week or even a month later; if that someone wasn’t close, you might not find out for a year or two, or maybe never. You didn’t need to know.
Without Internet… I would go to lunch, no hurry to get back, sit on a shaded bench in the park, read while Salomé sits next to me. Two French children, boy and girl, come over to play with Salomé. My French is terrible but I invite them to throw something for her. They find a blue top to a plastic bottle and begin to throw. As usual, Salomé won’t give it back: she prefers to be chased. They find a red plastic top to a bottle and she gives up the blue one. The game goes like that. Then I take my leave; Deborah and Davey (the two children) watch me walk off. I would have stayed longer but my French is so lame, I tire very rapidly of trying to say things understandably. When I say them in my head, when I am alone, I speak very good French. It is when talking to others that I mess up. C’est la vie!
WRITE ABOUT LIFE WITHOUT WWW… I have turned the phone on again. Its insistence begins to bore me. I do not understand why one means of communication is nonexistent and the other insists on repeating itself endless and uselessly. This is the modern world. Without Internet, one might just decide to take a nap.
WRITE ABOUT LIFE WITHOUT WWW. Ok, already. Life without WWW would be quiet. Yes, very quiet. Life without WWW would give me time to watch “Living Luminaries” and see Eckhart Tolle remind me of the power of Now. I could be in the Now. Life without WWW, would be silent and present. I would put on my boots and tie them carefully, breathing all the time, listening to my breath. Then I would begin, one foot in front of the other, walking, purposely, attentively, breathing, feeling my breath as my eyes settled on the present, the green, the trees, all different shades of green, the grass, the call of the birds in the trees, movement, fantastic shapes of white clouds against a sky so blue, so blue, so blue… Now, life, happening, step by step, along the path, picking black berries and sharing them with my little dog, that dog, the one the follows me and then runs ahead, without Internet, eating blackberries, diving into the underbrush with me, through the thicket of trees, the path we know because we followed it the other day, to the field where the good corn is, and back with corn in my pocket, breathing, watching the clouds leave the evening sky while the setting sun tries to catch them before they go, without Internet, the breeze beginning to cool the setting day, breathing, now, watching life unfold, flow, slip by like the breath.
Thank goodness, I have left my neurotic phone home. When I return there are six more messages: WRITE ABOUT LIFE WITHOUT WWW. WRITE ABOUT LIFE WITHOUT WWW. WRITE ABOUT LIFE WITHOUT WWW. WRITE… WRITE… or not.
Today I have gotten a pimple; it is to the right of my right eyebrow, between the brow and the hairline. It has been an elephant’s age since I last got a pimple. I stare at it in fascination; run my finger lightly over its raised surface: it is not “ripe” yet. I used to believe I would have pimples for the rest of my life. As a teenager they were a big problem and always seemed to come on the day of an important event or a new date. That is a teen cliché, but knowing it doesn’t make the horror and suffering any less. The morning of the dance, the evening before the first date there it was invariably on the chin, in the middle of the forehead or, horror of horrors, on the tip of the nose. Sometimes there was more than one, seldom was the skin smooth and beautiful, blemish free. My grandmother, the one with all the answers, promised me that when the teens were past, the pimples would go, but I turned twenty and they continued appearing, if anything with greater frequency. I never remember having more than three at a time, but they were always red, angry and very visible. It wasn’t a question of hygiene, I made sure of that: I had no blackheads to speak of, it had to be hormones, my mother said.
At twenty I met my future husband. He had just taken his medical exam and was a full fledged doctor. “As soon as we get married, they will disappear” he assured me; “Sex every day will get rid of them.” We got married, we had sex every day, the pimples continued. A dermatologist told me that when I had children everything would balance out and the pimples would disappear. I had two children: the pimples continued.
I gave up. I decided that there was nothing to be done and I would undoubtedly have wrinkles before I got rid of my pimples: I would have pimples in between the wrinkles. Life continued and so did the pimples. The children came and went, and finally so did the marriage: and then the miracle happened: the pimples disappeared.
During my divorce I would have loved to blame my pimples on my husband, but they had predated my marriage. Their disappearance, no doubt, had more to do with psychoanalysis and psychotherapy (several years of it) than with anything else. The fact is that today I have had clear skin for so many years that the appearance of this one pimple (hidden from the public view by my hair) almost produces nostalgia, a visit from the past that probably is due to my French diet rich in cheese and ice cream. ‘Funny’, I think as my mind travels to different ailments and diets, ‘how diets are fashionable, allergies are fashionable but pimples have never been fashionable’. Oh yeah: “What are you wearing to the wedding on Saturday?” “Well, I thought of my black dress, my black satin shoes and a big red pimple right in the middle of my chin. How does that sound?” Not fashionable!
Allergies today are especially fashionable. It would seem that to be allergic to something is to be in, especially if that something is edible. When I was growing up I didn’t know of anyone who was allergic to anything; it wasn’t the fashion. Today everyone is allergic to something, mostly dairy products or gluten or both. That to me seems strange, especially since humanity has been eating gluten ever since it cut back on dinosaur meat (which was really bad for the health, specially getting the stuff on the table). So vegetarians and vegans are reduced to soy. I wonder if there is an overproduction of soy in the world. People with alergies don’t seem to be able to drink milk, or eat bread or cake or cookies; ice cream and sherbet are definitely out; for vegetarians and vegans meat is a no-no in any form; many don’t even consume animal products such as eggs… that leaves eggplant, squash and beans, more or less; and that, only if you did not read the book about eating according to your blood type. When I got to the part where my blood type was not allowed to eat meat, lettuce or even eggplant, I threw the book out. Not much of a menu. Vegetarians also complicate the preparation, so whatever they are eating appears on the table disguised as meat, bread or a dairy product. This is really weird if you think about it. A guy won’t eat meat, but he will eat something that looks, tastes and smells like meat. What part of himself is he trying to fool or to appease: his stomach, his mind, or his senses?
Today, I find people’s obsession with food and what they put in their mouths both tiresome and fascinating. For instance there is a book out there now promoting the consumption of “green smoothies” because someone discovered that chimpanzees don’t get cancer or pimples, or their hair doesn’t turn grey or they are more spiritual, or god knows what. So we are supposed to eat a lot of green leaves combined with fruit because that constitutes the staple diet of a healthy chimpanzee. But as we humans cannot, at the same time it seems, produce the enzyme necessary for digesting fruit and the enzyme needed to digest raw green leaves (as it seems Chimps can) we must find a way to break down the cells in the fruit and green leaves so as to digest them correctly and together: eureka, green smoothies which must be made, by the way, in something called a Vitamix Blender, the only one fast enough to actually break down the cells so that we can digest them. I find myself asking if we are certain it is the Chimp’s diet and not his life style that prevents the cancer: maybe it is the not living in cities, or travelling on subways for two hours every morning, or fighting traffic or working in a 75 story building, or trying to figure out where to buy the damn Vitamix Blender, or doing so many other stressful things every day, but… no, a green smoothie will assuage all that, certainly and we will all live happily ever after like Chimps (that probably don’t have a life expectancy of 75 mean years as we do, but anyway…”salud” with a green smoothie.
Well, so much for healthy diets. I have just downed a cob of stolen corn on the cob probably sprayed with the worst of fertilizers and some toxic pesticide because here in France corn is fed to the pigs anyway, not to humans. Of course, later we eat the pigs, so…
Along with my corn, I consumed the rest of yesterday’s baguette covered with four slabs of brie cheese and what was left of the ham, all heated in the broiler-microwave oven (another no-no), followed by a whopping serving of raspberry sherbet and a slice of non-ecologically grown Spanish melon. I don’t know, my mother never worried about what went into her mouth, ate everything she felt like and died at 91. It has always been my belief that eating well, things I like that are tasty without being overly unhealthy, is one of the great pleasures of life, a pleasure which –unlike the others whose practice is definitely limited- can be indulged in three times a day for every day of your life as long as your stomach holds out. Now that is something to consider. Anyway, the brie cheese was delicious and well worth a pimple or two at this late stage of my life.
Enter Salomé. Salomé is a story in and of herself and in Salies she is my introduction to almost everyone who talks to me; she is the excuse, the reason, the attraction. And it is true, I too find her so adorable that if she weren’t mine I would want to pet her; she is mine and I want to pet her all the time and do so, much to her pleasure I believe. But the French seem to love dogs and passers by stop to pet her, to ask what kind of dog she is, to comment (“c’est très sage”) on her good behaviour or just to smile, so my “social” life grows. I seldom learn anyone’s name as people who stop on the street to pet your dog and then ask where you come from or what her name is, seldom introduce themselves, but they do become familiar faces that smile knowingly and say “bonjour” each time they pass you on the street or in the park. It makes Salies seemfriendlier every day .
But Salomé has been even more than that. She was the introduction to my two solid friends here. When I was here last August, we walked past a Café near the studio, and she darted under the table to sniff (dog-greet) a Yorkshire terrier; they immediately leapt at each other in playful fashion and before I knew it had their leashes all entangled. There were three people seated at the table: two men and a woman. I said “pardon, pardon” in my worst French to the man holding the leash and proceeded to untangle the playful dogs. While I was so engaged, he turned to his friend at the table and said “Es un schnauzer” in perfect Spanish, even though I had heard him speak French a moment earlier.
“¿Usted habla español?” I asked, using the double question mark as is the custom, “¿de dónde es?” (Do you speak Spanish? Where are you from?)
Once more in perfect Spanish, he said he had lived 20 years in Mexico and –of course- I immediately identified myself as a Mexican now living in Spain and visiting Salies… and that was an invitation to sit and share a cup of coffee. Charles, or Carlos as he prefers to be called, is a Swiss-Frenchman who has lived in Baja for many years and now lives in Navarrenx, a nearby medieval town. The couple sitting with him came from Barcelona, he a native and his wife a Canadian. I was later informed that Pepe, the Catalán, owns a restaurant.
“We must get our dogs together” Carlos declared in perfect English and thus we proceeded to make a play-date for Salomé and Mickey, the Yorkie, for the following Saturday. On Friday before the appointment, Carlos called me and suggested that we make it lunch while the dogs played, as his Mother , Ettie,–with whom he was living- was feeling well and Pepe –the Catalán restaurant owner- would be making the meal. I was delighted and thus made my first friends in Salies. Over the last year I have not contacted Carlos, but have exchanged e-mails with Dolores, the Canadian woman who lives with Pepe in Sitges near Barcelona. It was through her that I heard of Carlos’ cancer and operation, and was kept up to date more or less on his health. With such news I did not expect to find him in the excellent condition that I did when I first visited this year, but it seems that his giving up smoking and drinking (which he did with absolute abandonment last year) has greatly improved his physical well being even though the cancer persists and he is receiving chemotherapy treatments. (Update: 2010, Carlos died shortly after my visit last year. His mother died six months later.)
Salomé, however is not always able to establish such lasting encounters and usually they are just brief interludes that lead to nothing if not just beginning to feel at home and comfortable in a town where the faces become every day more familiar and smiley.
Salomé is not, of course, my only source of introduction to the townsfolk (and the passing tourists, and here a slight digression: I do not consider myself a “tourist” for I settle here during a whole month and am not just a passer by, peering at the sights and the town’s idiosyncrasies without integrating), the other source being –naturally- human needs. I have come to the conclusion that all social life stems from the identification of needs that others can satisfy, including the need of distraction and human contact: we don’t socialize because we like other people, but we do begin to “like” people with whom we socialize when they satisfy our needs and do this in a kind and fair way. Need creates social contact and this, no doubt, is a very large oxymoron, but a very noticeable one during my stay in Salies. I need bread and the baker needs clients. If this exchange is done in a friendly, kind and fair way, I begin to experience pleasure on ‘visiting’ the bakery and, I presume, the baker experiences some pleasure on seeing me each morning. Our initial “bonjours” and “bonne journées” sometimes lead to questions of where I come from, or if he is a native of the town, or even to gentle jokes as with my friend René at the Café René where I have my morning coffee. These relationships must be cultivated over a long period of time –it might take me two or three more years to finally ask René what has happened to his voice (never louder than a whisper even when he seems to be yelling)- but they too, like the smiles from nameless acquaintances in passing on the street, make Salies every day more a place I identify as mine.
So, petit à petit I make a life for myself in this small town, so much so that as my time here draws to a close, I feel my heart a bit heavy and am already thinking of putting aside the studio for next August, or even taking it for a month and a half. Who knows? The future is nonexistent and I can but think that today that will be my choice.
In the meantime, as a farmer plows his field, sows his seeds and harvests his crop laying the land fallow for the following season, so I go about Salies, leaving seeds of smiles, harvesting the acquaintances that have grown this year and preparing the terrain for the next season.
Everything is about me. The second morning I awake in the small studio I rent in Salies, I remember my Grandmother’s lament: “Nobody needs me anymore”. She was in her late 70’s, living at my mother’s house in Mexico, separated from her lifetime home in New York and any friends that had remained there. Arthur, her late husband had been dead for over 7 years and she herself had, had a stroke that left her semi-paralyzed. “Nobody needs me any more”. It is not exactly what I think upon awaking, and yet there is the thought that here in Salies, everything is about me. Every decision, every move is “do I want to or not?” Nobody asks me for anything, nobody needs me, there is nothing I HAVE to do, no chores pending, no appointments to keep, no phone calls asking for help. Only me, and of course, Salomé.
This is good but unsettling. I am not indispensable for anyone, haven’t been for a long time and ALL my time is for ME. Soooo, what to do becomes a “problem”. What do I want to do now? It takes getting used to. However, previous experience has taught me that in a few days it will be heaven and by the time my month is up I will go heavily back to the responsibilities and chores of home and work. So here I go: a month of it all being about ME.
French service. Goodness! I always forget and the harshness of it hits me like a slap in the face. The French interpretation of efficient (good) service is to be brusque, stern, stiff, unsmiling and quite rude. First they ignore you for at least 20 minutes to make sure you realize the favour they do by waiting on you, and then they look at you as if you had made them wait. Their best service always presumes you to be wrong, is prompt to point out that you cannot order what you just ordered in a tone that suggests you are an idiot for even considering it, and then proceed to tell you what you should be ordering instead (if you ask them to repeat it because your French is lousy and they speak so fast –on purpose, of course- that you are not even sure if they are offering you fish or poison, the points against you double). No smile, definitely no smile. It probably has to do with their training; perhaps they think that to be stern is to be professional and gives them the air of precise efficiency and, of course, of being right. The French are always right.
Ah, but if you have a dog and they spot it sitting quietly at your feet, then they are all smiles… not for you, for the dog. They unprofessionally kneel down, cooing “mignon” and scratching its head, behind the ears, all smiles, and then they whip into the kitchen with a speed you could well wish to see when you’re hungry, and out again with a bowl of cool water which they place in front of the pooch with a few more smiles and “mignon’s” coming out of their fingertips, and then back to you with their poker faces suggesting you certainly have now had enough time to decide even if you are simple minded. You order and smile and say “merci” when they bring it, but to no avail. After all they are hard working and want you not only know it but also to understand that it is your fault: you are the cause of all their suffering. C’est la vie; c’est la France.
Sandwich. Sandwich in French is translated into an unheated baguette, cut in half and slapped with one cold, greasy slice of jambon de montagne ou cru (cured ham) and nothing more. But, ahhhh, sandwich at home in French translates into a delicious baguette, cut in half, brushed with a light coating of mayonnaise, two thick slices of jambon douce (regular ham), several chunks of brie cheese, heated in the toaster oven and then garnished with lettuce and sour pickles. A side of salad with lettuce as only the French know how to grow it and we have a fête de la bouche.
Cold drinks. “C’est ne pas possible”… They would never say it, but they don’t have to: you can see it running through their mind when you order a Coke to go with your exquisite meal. And then you commit the ultimate sin: you order glasson, ice. That’s when you get the look that says “hopeless”. Occasionally, you will get what you asked for, but most times they will bring the Coke without ice. When you repeat stupidly “glasson”, they point to the bottle and tell you it is cold (c’est froid). And then you have to explain –I do- that in spite of the fact that the drink is cold, you want ice.
Today the ice cubes, presented gingerly in a small glass with a teaspoon for serving them (don’t they know you are just going to dump the meagre amount straight into your coke?), look like small pillows. Now who would make an ice cube dispenser that produces cubes that look like small pillows? The waitress places them in front of me with a grimace that might look like the beginning of a smile if I didn’t know already that it is a controlled smirk. She knows I’m American, in spite of the fact that if anyone asks me I promptly tell them that I am from Spain and that my Father was Spanish, and –by the way- originally from this region of France, yes, Béarnaise. And if you don’t believe me, there are several ‘Domecqs’ named on the war monument that stands so proudly by the Saley’s river. This, at least, is what I would like to say if my meagre French allowed me to, but I think it as I smile lamely and murmur “merci”.
Salt. Salt is a no-no. It seldom appears on the table. What in the world would one want in France with a salt seller on the table? Every chef in France, no matter how small the restaurant, knows the exact amount of salt each dish needs, so why would any self-respecting client want salt? But, of course, I am not self-respecting; I want salt. Hopeless case, that’s what I am. I get a salt shaker that probably hasn’t been used for the last year at least (maybe since I came in 2009) because the salt is practically glued to the bottom and I have to slam it several times on the table to produce a few grains. So not only do I ask for salt, but I make noise about it which attracts the attention of others eating at nearby tables. Now I have informed everyone that I do not approve of the chef’s seasoning. I am surprised the chef does not come out personally and sprinkle arsenic all over my food.
Waste not, want not. That is what my grandmother used to say to get me to eat everything on the plate. The phrase went along with the explanation of how there were so many starving people in the world and how lucky one was to have food. It meant that not even a pea should be left. The French are not worried about the starving people as far as I know, but they do expect you to eat everything on your plate because any morsel left there is seen as a complaint. A complaint about French food is practically unpatriotic and even tourists are expected to be patriotic if they are in France. So tourists beware: you must be ready to die for what has suddenly become YOUR country even if they don’t like you. So the pizza is delicious and even though it has the finest crust, I prefer to eat half the crust and all the topping. So I delicately scrape the ham and cheese and tomato onto the half of the pizza I will eat and leave the remaining crust lying accusingly on my plate. I notice it there, the waitress notices it there… and we both sigh. I pretend to be interested in eating the rest until she moves away to wait on a more appreciating table, and then quickly slip the remaining crust under the table to Salomé’s delight. So now I understand why so many French bring their dogs to restaurants with them.
French fleas. In spite of my supposed spirituality, I am capable of killing other beings individually or en-masse if those others are about to eat my dog alive. Ever since the first time I came to Salies, I discovered that French fleas are of the Charles-de-Gaulle strain and have nothing to do with Spanish fleas. Spanish fleas, as far as I know, are non-existent. Salomé gets treated with a small vial of flea and tick poison once a month and has never suffered a flea. But I had no sooner descended from the car and released Salomé to do her duty in the park, when she was attacked. By the time we had taken all the stuff (ok, I had) up to the studio apartment, Salomé was infested and scratching and jumping all over the place under attack from a population of fleas that apparently hadn’t eaten all summer. I had religiously put the juice on her the day before coming to France; she also had a white collar on which is supposed to keep EVERYTHING, including mosquitoes, at a safe distance during six months, but the French fleas obviously, couldn’t read Spanish and had no idea that they were supposed to be repelled by these inventions. Salomé was going crazy and I was horrified. I rushed to the nearest pharmacy (in Salies, the pharmacies carry human and veterinarian remedies) and explained in my lame French to the lady at the counter, that les puces françaises had invaded my dog and I needed something to repel them. She gave me flea shampoo. Salomé got bathed, lathered and left the suds for 10 minutes. The Charles-de-Gaulle fleas withstood the onslaught. I returned to the pharmacy. The pharmacist suggested I bathe her again and then handed me a venomous spray to put on her under parts. That did the trick.
The second year I came, I was more prepared. I brought the shampoo and spray with me and put the vial of insect repellent on her a few days before coming so it could have the complete effect. None the less, she got fleas and therefore a bath and a couple of sprays before coming clean.
This year, I put the white collar on a week before, the vial four days before and the morning of our trip, I sprayed her under parts with the insecticide. Then I sprayed her again before we descended from the car. I was sure to beat them this time and for a while thought I had. But the second night here, Salomé suddenly started jumping around as if something had bitten her tail, so I put her on her back and searched her under parts. Sure enough, I found the culprit, as far as I could see only one. Now, to kill a flea is not easy; they are not prone to cooperating for one thing and for another, they’re fast and jump if you’re not careful. When they jump they can land on their hunter and then you really are in trouble. So I went for the flea, the flea went for the nearest thicket of hair and disappeared. So I sprayed. The flea reappeared and the chase resumed.
It isn’t easy to kill a flea, even if you manage to catch it. Fleas have a hard crust that must be squeezed between two fingernails, preferably the thumbnails. So it was quite a chase and in the end I was triumphant, managing to catch the tiny thing between my thumbnails, press and hear the “pop” of life leaving it. It was only one flea this year; no invasion, no bath, a couple of more sprays and Salomé is peaceful and so am I, in spite of being a murderess.
P.S. Of course, a few days into Salies and all these “jottings” become obsolete. The French service is marvelous, kind and gentle (efficient enough), the food is perfectly seasoned (no need at all for salt) and the Badoit is cold enough to be consumed without ice. Salies, of course, is heaven and Salome’s fleas have all departed.
All I want is a big glass. One that will hold 12 ounces. I’ll even take a hefty 10 ounce glass if that is available. It is for my morning smoothies. I am in France. In France, everything comes in 3 ounce glasses, even Coca Cola!
Yesterday I went to the big Carrefour, the supermarket, looking for a glass. The largest thing they had was a nice sized (4 ½ ounce) wine goblet. I do not want a glass with a stem for drinking a smoothie in the morning. I want a big glass. Nothing. As a matter of fact, there was an absolute dearth of glasses. A few that would barely hold the juice of 1 ½ oranges. There were pitchers surrounded by 5 or 6 small glasses, suggesting that any container the size of a pitcher (14 ounces or more) should only be for sharing with at least 5 other people. There was one glass, perhaps 6 ounces: it would have done alright but it cost 8 euros and had “Perrier” written across it in big green letters. I was not going to pay 8 euros to advertise Perrier while I drank my smoothie in the morning.
Well, I thought, tomorrow there is a garage sale, a “vide grenier”, and there I surely will find a glass. That was yesterday. This morning I decided to get there early. If there was only one glass, I didn’t want to run the risk of someone else getting it. There were more than six tables the length of the room filled with objects that people had pulled out of their cupboards and closets and attics. I combed them one by one: three-ounce glasses… more three-ounce glasses, wine glasses that would perhaps hold four ounces if you topped them, three ounce glasses; a few five ouncers that came with a pitcher (I only want one glass, just one, eight-ten ounces, please). Not one, nothing in all that stuff on the tables. I bought a drawing of two woodpeckers climbing up a trunk, a sheet for the bed (here they just put on a throw quilt and no sheet; if you get hot but still want to cover yourself, there is nothing, so I bought a sheet), and a square red woven straw box with a top to use as a container for recyclable material. No glass.
I went for lunch at a restaurant that serves very large portions all on one plate. There was nothing minimal about the serving, at least as far as food went. On my plate there were three lamb chops, a good serving of ratatouille, a nice portion of salad and a generosity of French fries which come with everything. I asked for a Badoit (bubbly water) with ice. The waitress brought me the demi-Badoit, an acceptable 6-ounce glass that said Perrier across it in large green letters, filled with the ice, and a small three ounce glass that was apparently to serve the Badoit in with one or two ice cubes from the larger glass (I saw the men at the next table do exactly that). It was obvious that even at a restaurant the large glass was considered a container not worthy of being used for drinking from. Perhaps they were afraid someone would pour the drink all over themselves or the table, or drown while drinking from a larger glass. I resolutely poured my Badoit over the ice in the larger glass and drank from it without a mishap.
Tonight there is an arts and crafts fair in the park below my building. I am hopeful. Perhaps someone has made a large glass as a decoration for a table, or even a small vase to hold flowers, that can serve as a 12-ounce container for my smoothie. As it is, at the present, I make the smoothie in a pitcher and then, using the thimble-sized glass in the apartment, pour and drink and pour and drink and pour and drink: definitely ladylike but not practical at all.
I think of the United States, I think of the movie theatres where one cannot get anything less than 12 ounces even if one wants to. “A small one please” means at least 12 ounces; a medium must be about 16 and a large one probably contains a litre and a half. It seems a bit gross compared to the delicacy of these three ounce glasses, but then, this is Europe and here people drink one or two ounces of coffee instead of a mug; a small cup of tea, instead of a container-full. I guess the smoothie will have to be consumed in three or four goes unless I can come up with that vase that will do the trick.
And, all considered, if my only problems in life are small glasses I guess I should count myself as lucky.
Posdata: Finally found an 8-oz transparent plastic bathroom glass decorated with navy blue fishies. Will do for the time being. Mental note to bring large glass next year.
So I am back, it is the forth time. The first year I just passed through the village, found it charming, checked into a room at the Casino-Hotel for one night (Salomé was still a pup) and absolutely fell in love with Salies de Bearn, a small town halfway between Biarritz and Pau, close to where the Domecq family apparently originated (a tiny place composed of 4 disintegrating buildings called Usquain about a 45 minute drive from Salies). That was in 2007. I decided to come the following summer and promptly found a studio that looked like just the right thing. It was. I stayed two weeks and was so in love with being here that after my lease ran out, I spent two more nights in the Casino Hotel…
Before departing, I learned that I would miss the important fest of the Piperadère and something bearing the pompous title of the “World Championship of <<Espadrille>> Throwing”, ‘espadrille’ being a local sandal with a sole woven from cord (the Spanish alpargata). I promised myself not to miss it the following year.
Therefore, last year I spent the whole month of August here inspired by my Muse (EL MUSO, an old friend from my school days with whom I had reestablished contact on Skype) writing about Salies. It was then, after returning to Madrid, that I continued writing and have ever since.
Last year I realized that, by leaving at the end of August, I would miss the Festivity of the Salt, the one that closes the season around the middle of September, so I promised myself to take it in the following year, which is now, when I am planning to stay until September 13th and be present for that day.
So now I am in Salies again, in the same studio apartment, with the window that overlooks a forested hill. I hear the pitter-patter of rain on the leaves as the storm that has been threatening for hours finally lets loose. Poor Saliesciennes: they are in the midst of the biggest fest of the year (fête): the Piperadère. Piperadère is a local “stew” which can be eaten as a dish by itself or used to garnish a meat like chicken or pork. It is comprised basically of tomato to which are added green peppers, onion and garlic. That is the base, and then each chef adds his or her own touch. According to an Englishman who was explaining it to a friend, the purpose is to cook the best Piperadère while drinking the most alcohol without falling into the cauldron. The judge later will do the rounds tasting all the stews and prizing the best. After that, in spite of the delicate egos of the chefs concerned (who by that time are too drunk to give a damn) all the Piperadères are poured into one giant cauldron to serve the 600 odd townsfolk at the evening banquet.
At this moment, under the multiple tents that have been set up, donned in their inventive costumes and chopping veggies like mad, the teams are being rained on. No doubt they have pulled their cauldrons in under the scanty covering to avoid making a watery piperadère. An announcer strolls around with a hand-held mike animating the fest in terms that are broadcast through the village by loudspeakers strategically placed at street corners. The vendors who have set up stalls all along the Cours du Parc which runs the full block length of the Parc Public display their wares in hopes of making a day’s wages. Several townsfolk have dressed in accordance with the ancient usage and exhibit the various crafts that have been part of the daily life from time immemorial: the gathering of salt, the forging of iron into utensils, the grinding of the corn to feed unsuspecting duck grown for paté, the preparation of strands of long grass for weaving baskets, the delicate carving of wood and intricate stained glass ornaments patiently artisaned. The old traditions are dragged out of the cellar, the back room, grandma’s trunk and exhibited for all to see: homemade bakery, homemade patés, homemade bread and sausages.
Modern crafts join the old along the “rue”. One woman makes piecemeal bags, aprons and jewellery with bright-colored cloths; another paints imaginative figures on pieces of wood that hold clock mechanisms; a third exhibits elaborate rings and earrings forged from rainbow-like plastic that attract youth with their brightness and low prices.
Now the sun has reappeared and in a while I will venture out again. It is my second Piperadère. I do not plan to go to the banquet for last year Salomé and I suffered from the extremely entusiastic band that blasted the happening with extra loud music. But for today, I will enjoy the merry-making and then follow my fancy until bed time leaving this short piece to do the chores of a brief introduction to my writings “In Salies de Bearn, France”.