For my brother, Michael
Day chez moi begins before it is light although having left the winter solstice behind I hope the days begin to get longer. Still, the sun takes its time in arriving in Salies because there are hills to the East, and the one closest to my house is called “Sweet Roll” or, literally, Sugar Bread (Pain de Sucre). This morning, for example, it was 8:10, cloudy and raining. I looked at the time on the clock and then snuggled back, embracing the warm, bearded, mustached and eye-browed Salomé. Five minutes and I leave her gently snoring (closest thing to a purr that a dog can produce), cuddled into the magenta quilt. I still have to turn on the lights and today I probably will be using them all the time from the looks of things. Even so, the day is not bitterly cold and probably will go to a high of 9-10ºC. Taking an apple from the icebox, I cut it in half, wrap what I won’t eat in plastic and put it back in the fridge. With half an apple in my mouth I use both hands to pull up a chair and turn on the computer.
Panic!!! Not only is Skype not working (yesterday it seems it went off for everyone), but also internet is completely gone and the phone is silent. I look at the NeufBox. Dead! After raffling through the few possibilities I have accumulated in Salies (downstairs neighbor, my newzealander friend, the landlord, the Phone-Internet company) I decide on the logical person: the computer guy who, besides, lives in a building practically next door. Christophe gently reminds me that the lights went off for a split second this morning and that I should simply unplug (debrancher) and replug (brancher) the NeufBox. This done, I am once again connected. A quick check of e-mail, a rapid hand of solitaire (Canfield, which I almost never win) and it’s off to the shower.
The apartment has two small rooms. The bigger one holds the bed; the second is my dressing room, hopefully guest room someday. Halfway through dressing, I pause to look out the window. This is something I do all through the day (in Salies, one has time for pauses) going from one to the other for the different views (my corner-attic has three sides on which to look out). There is always something new to see, even if it is just nature’s artwork in clouds. Today it is strange moving clouds, made up of small black dots that seem to ebb and flow in unison. The starlings, thousands upon thousands congealing in groups that would seem to have their own containment mechanism, migrate to the northeast. Each group forms a single phenomenon, moving, changing shape, pulsating across the leaden sky as if held together by some invisible net.
By the time the starlings disappear, I have managed to blindly pull on the rest of my clothes. A dab of makeup, a quick green smoothie and I’m off with Salomé to my morning café. It isn’t raining any more, but the day promises to be wet. The walk is pleasant and not even cold enough to pull the scarf around my neck. I see the village people all with baskets or bags and remember that, being Thursday, it is market day so my plan extends beyond coffee to a stroll through the main street to review the stalls and perhaps buy something for lunch. As I cross the bridge over the Saley’s River and pause to watch the water whooshing through below. During the summer, the river at this place is contained in a narrow canal which leaves wide cement walkways (le lit, or the bed) on either side. Today, however, the creamy brown water spreads from side to side, a good 6 to 8 meters across, and sloshes angrily at the walls that support the bridge.
Upon looking up, I see my newzealander friend leaving the Café which means he has already finished and we won’t be having our morning chat. He stops for a moment, we exchange a few comments on the state of Skype wondering if it has been sabotage perhaps to do with the Wikileaks business, and then he departs and I sit down to enjoy my morning coffee. Not to be… A woman in the adjoining booth has one of these little barking dogs, a mutt but similar to a Yorkshire terrier, that takes one look at Salomé and charges loudly making menacing pugnacious sounds. Salomé is only mildly interested in what all the fuss is about and simply raises her ears and looks rather questioningly in the other dog’s direction. The owner is duly embarrassed by her small pet’s uproar and unsuccessfully tries to browbeat it into silence. I sip my coffee to a symphony of barks, growls, yelps and vociferous scolding and leave as quickly as possible.
This is the first Thursday market I have been able to attend since arriving and I’m looking forward to buying a roast chicken for lunch and dinner and several more meals. The chicken man with his truck that sports the roasting mechanism inside is not here today. He probably has taken Christmas vacation. However, the pungent smell of Indian cuisine fills the air and I make a b-line for the stall where the Indian man and his French wife prepare spicy dishes. Chicken in curry and coconut milk, and basmati rice with a crisp green salad on the side should be perfect for this rainy day. On the way home, I stop at one of the many bakeries in Salies. There is a line of around 10 people. I patiently take my place at the end. The woman whose turn it is takes her time in reviewing the goodies before deciding and then, as if savoring each delicacy in turn, places her order one thing at a time which the lady-dispatcher carefully extracts from the showcase and wraps up before taking the next order. Nobody in the line looks impatient, or sighs as I am doing. From the ease with which they await their turn, I’m sure they are not mentally huffing and puffing either. There is no hurry, as my friend says, in a town that still does not even have a stoplight.
When my turn comes, I choose a baguette with varied cereal seeds, pay and head out to where Salomé impatiently awaits me. We race home, eat (both of us, Salomé first) and then I bundle her into the car and off to the toilettage where she will be bathed and groomed by Beatriz.
The rest of the afternoon I spend between writing, playing Canfield solitaire and chatting with my friend about the strangeness of certain words in English, i.e. pugn which he has just looked up on the over 1000 dictionaries that his new I-phone offers him. It seems that pugn is quite irregular and after going from “I pugn, you pugsish, he/she pugnaciousnessicless” moves rather irresponsibly to “we ibaloo”. I am not sure that his I-phone is not pulling his leg on this one.
The rest of my day is very simple. Time seems to go very fast in Salies. I work at the computer on this writing, play some solitaire, exchange a few e-mails with a friend and wait for evening when I will once more prepare my supper, slip a movie into the DVD, and watch until it is time to go to bed. C’est ma vie à Salies-de-Béarn.