EVERYTHING CHANGES

oznorYes… disaster hits and everything changes. The flood has changed Salies. The hoarders have been forced to throw out all they have hoarded over the years, the car owner who was saving up to buy a new one but has put it off because the old one still worked, must now go and choose what make and color he/she wants. The coffee group that met at Rose’s Café where I went every morning has dispersed some going to the Casino and others to the La Pause Gourmand in town (the only two functioning of six cafés); my friend Isabel has stopped coming to coffee altogether. Three places to eat of the fifteen there were before are doing good business. People mill around the center of town and once a week the Mayor offers music and things to eat and drink around the Hotel de Ville. Some restaurant owners have been obliged to take that long needed vacation and don’t hope to see business-as-usual at least until September. Only one of the five bakeries has remained open. Of the six hairdressers only one is open and can’t handle the load. Unfortunately for Salomé her beauty salon (the Toutou.net) oznoropened last week and she has had her summer coif. The banks are closed and for cash one has to go to the only supermarket open on the outskirts of town (my usual market around the corner shows no sign of opening soon) or to the next town. The one café open in town has gotten a temporary license to sell liquor because the two bars will be closed for another six months, so it has now turned into an all-service stop offering coffee, ice-cream, beer and wine, a daily menu consisting usually of a quiche-Lorraine or a Croc Monsieur and salad, the daily news (both newsstands are closed) and a place to leave and pick up your dry cleaning. It is where the book-club meets and where the English-French language exchange convenes twice a week. The two Bio shops –one fresh produce sdrand the other dried goods- have been wiped out and who knows it they will reopen. The Tourist Office is closed as is the auditorium and the large gallery where Salies hangs its expositions during the various art festivals of the year.

The help that has poured in has been unbelievable (C-Discount, an Amazon-like internet store, donated an extraordinary amount of refrigerators, freezers, micro-wave ovens, washing-machines, and toaster-ovens, along with mattresses and chairs); people have given so much clothing that they have now stopped receiving donations. Those who were not affected dragged everything usable out of their storage rooms and offered it to the victims, and helping hands came from all over the region to join in with the cleaning, washing and gutting of the affected houses and shops. Most of the immediate work has been done now and people wait for insurance companies to come and settle, hoping they’ll get enough to replenish their losses and fearing that they will get next to nothing. Someone was told by her company cofthat they would not replace any of the kitchen ware lost because it was insured against breakage but not against flooding. When she asked what she could do, they said that she should plug everything in and hope it stopped working in a few months and then the insurance would cover it. Absurd but true: ‘Fine print syndrome’. And after the insurance comes the wait for the overburdened plaster, paint and carpentry companies to show up at each person’s house or shop. The estimate for everything to be fixed is over a year.

cofAs for myself, it is the second time in less than 12 months that the Universe has seen fit to plop the past in my lap. First it was my ex-husband’s letters and mementos which I wrote about some time ago. Now the flood has dredged up my journaling notebooks, jottings from all the years of my transition from my first life to my second: 1991-2010. They were in the storeroom in the basement, in a cardboard box, and there they would have stayed, abandoned and mostly forgotten had it not been that the storeroom flooded. A quarter of the notebooks were wet, so I pulled out the dry ones and contemplated throwing the whole smelly mess out. But as with the letters, I didn’t. I hung the wet davnotebooks on the contraption I use for drying clothes when I can’t hang them outside and daily went through the arduous chore of unsticking page after page so they could dry and be read. Through this salvaging the past has surfaced and now all the notebooks are in a dry market bag in my apartment. As with the letters, when I get back from my trip with my granddaughter I plan to re-read them and, as with the letters, I am sure they will inspire me to continue writing my life.

cof

 

ONE WEEK AFTER

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The featured image, if compared with this photo taken today, gives you an idea of the depth of the wáter the morning of the flooding.

Today is the summer equinox, the longest day of the year: June 21. I remember such a day 16 years ago as the day the end of my second marriage began. My husband at the time, had been without alcohol for at least 13 years, longer than I had, but he was having a hard time adjusting to our new life in Madrid and his solution was to hit the bottle. If I had been more vigilant I might have suspected it because his paranoia about what I was doing or not doing began then. He began slyly suggesting that I might not be doing legitimate things with my free alone time; that I might be unfaithful while he slaved away.

In a way, he was right. I was being unfaithful: I had fallen in love with Madrid! Living in Madrid was something I had not even dared dream about because I considered it all but impossible, and yet my non-dream had come true and, upon arriving, I discovered what it was like to live in the so-called First World. I had never experienced such freedom: physical, emotional and psychological. As a woman living in Mexico City, one’s freedom is restricted both by real and imagined dangers, and certainly by unpleasantries. If one walks alone down a street in the city, the least one can expect are wolf-whistles sometimes accompanied by lewd invitations or threatening movements. Women (and men) wear no real jewelry or anything that looks real, and even the cheapest of watches can sometimes call unwanted attention. Your handbag might be swiped as fast as you find yourself lying in the gutter or flat on the sidewalk. Going to a movie alone is inviting some aspiring one-night lover to sit next to you and put his hand where it plainly isn’t called for and being in a restaurant without company (especially male company) makes everyone else look at you as if you had either been stood up or were discretely soliciting. So street-life in Mexico City is usually in a car with the windows rolled up and the doors safely locked or accompanied by a man who poses as a bodyguard, be it your husband, brother, uncle or eldest son.

Madrid, on the other hand, seems populated mostly by single women. They fill the restaurants and loll at the street cafés; they make up the movie’s most numerous public and they can be seen strolling down the sidewalks even in the less reputable areas of town. They go everywhere alone; they drive down the avenue with their car windows down and their arms, decked in Cartier’s or Rolexes, resting freely on the sill. When I saw that, I could hardly believe it. Suddenly I was free! I could go anywhere at any time and not feel I was going to be robbed, raped or kidnapped, not even molested! I walked down the streets of Madrid with my bones singing and my body feeling totally alive, I would smile at everyone I passed as if I were a bit loony or had had a couple too many glasses of wine at lunch. I bubbled, I floated, I chortled, I sang like a bird suddenly let loose of its cage. I had little time for anything else (including my husband): I had fallen head over heels in love with the city of my choice.

Then I fell in love again, and my second love was Salies de Béarn where I have lived for the last 8 years. A peaceful, tranquil, nothing-important-ever-happens-here town, a place where one comes to nestle, to nest. Sometimes it rains too much (is that true?) and sometimes it is too hot or too cold, but in general it is a middle of the way town where one can age peacefully without bothering the very few youths who occasionally burst through town on their motor bikes making as much noise as possible as if to show all us oldies that they are actually here. In other words, it is peaceful… until it gets the rain of a month in 24 hours and the River Saleys rampages through spreading destruction and mud everywhere.

That was one week and a day ago, and as soon as the water receded the people arose, like a team of coordinated ants carrying, washing, cleaning, throwing out stuff, travelling from house to house with one question: How can I help? Firemen and civic workers poured in from nearby villages that hadn’t been hit so hard. Neighbors who had been spared helped clean the houses of those that had been flooded and housed their tenants until they could go home again. An army of volunteers served lunch and dinner all week long for anywhere up to 250 volunteer workers and affected neighbors. Mayors from nearby towns sent their cleanup teams, their plows and trucks; one sent a carload of flowers to refill the drowned planters all around town. The Mayor of Salies offered the food served to all the workers and flood victims, ordered portable cabins set up in front of stores and shops that had been gutted in order for the owners to be able to do business from them while their establishments were mended. Thousands of bottles of water were distributed. Food was handed out to the needy. Companies donated refrigerators, microwave ovens, freezers and other kitchen equipment both to private houses and to the restaurants and cafés that had lost their livelihood. Clothes poured in and furniture and distribution centers were rapidly set up, and the information providedoznor from house to house so that everyone knew what was available and where they could go to get it. The Red Cross set up their tent in the center and attended anyone who needed it.  Salies was a hive of activity and goodness. Trucks heaved through the muddied streets collecting everything that had to be thrown out and taking it to parking lot I walk through every day which was used as the village dump. A mountain was formed by fridges and stoves and sofas and beds and every imaginable object that could not be restored to previous conditions.

Yesterday, one of the downtown coffee shops –their personnel and helpers having worked around the clock- was able to open and for the first time in a week I got my morning coffee and Salomé her biscuit (Loli too). The center of town finally began to look half-way clean. I went back to the coffee shop after lunch, noticing how glorious it felt to

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On the black sign on the wall, the last row of three dots at the bottom marks the height of the wáter at its worst, at least 20 cms above the head of the man sitting next to it.

be able to have my coffee whenever I wished, and found that there was a gentle man (yes, a gentle man) playing a synthesizer on the sidewalk to entertain the people on the terrace. To my delight, he even played a Mexican melody –Sabor a mí (the taste of me)– which set me to singing the words under my breath. And now, this evening, Salies celebrates the summer equinox with its very own Music Festival.

It is a tradition in France that all the cities and villages celebrate the 21st of June throwing a music festival. Usually, different organizations put up stalls and sell food and drink to the crowds that gather to hear the music. Tonight there is a smaller crowd than usual (perhaps the tourists who usually attend festivals in different villages have been put off by the dramatic photographs in the news), and all the food and drink is free, its cost being absorbed by the Mayor. It is good to see the center full of people again; it is good to hear laughter and singing. And there is no doubt that the unfortunate event has left a positive result overall in a feeling of oznorcommunity as I had never before experienced. I find myself talking to all kinds of people with whom I would have barely exchanged a ‘bonjour’ before because now we have something common to talk about. The conversation may stray to other topics after a bit, but the introductory questions are: “were you affected?” and “are you all right?”

If before the flood I had already tasted the delights of living in a small community, now the profound benefits become palpable. My heart expands with love for each and every one of the people I have come to know here, as I turn to leave and return home, leaving the sound of the Bearnaise choir filling my ears and my soul.

cof

AND THE SKY DID FALL… ON SALIES DE BEARN

870x489_bearn1Since a picture is worth 1000 words, here is my little French town this morning. This is the street leading to Rose’s Café where I have coffee every morning with my friends. It is obvious we won’t be having coffee this morning or perhaps many a morning to come.

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This is the center of town, La Place du Bayaa; the small semi-circle of plants in the foreground surrounds a fountain which is now under water. Tomorrow this plaza would be full of vendors with our Thursday market; there will be no one tomorrow.a-salies 2

Another view of the Place du Bayaa: the Bakery where I sometimes buy croissants, next to it the real estate agency owned by my friend Loic who rented me the apartment where I live. To the left is the Eyeglass store, completely under water.sdr

This is the road I traverse daily leading to the pharmacy and the small supermarket. It is also where Salomé’s beauty parlor is, something she will not be sad to hear as she has an appointment for a shampoo and coif on Friday which I doubt will come to pass.

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At some point I considered buying this house which is still for sale. Today I am thankful for my second story apartment.

 

 

 

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The parking lot I walk through daily with Salomé and now Loli; Salomé wonders why we are not going to the coffee shop today for a cookie.oznor

The river, having loosed itself from the shackles of its banks, completely ravishes parts of the town rushing through and carrying with it cars and anything else not tied down.la-rue-elysee-coustere-ce-mercredi-matin 2

The Saleys River has left its bed and gone on a rampage through the village.

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Compare the photo above (from internet today) to the one below taken by me on a brighter day. Notice that the buildings are the same although the angle of the photo is different. Observe that the bridge that appears below has completely disappeared in the photo above and there certainly won’t be anybody eating on the veranda of the restaurant with the red shutters.20140815_152631Now compare the following two photos, the first taken by me at a better moment, the other from internet today.20140406_145414le-saleys-mardi-soir

And last, the main street going through Salies

 

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I have now been able to walk through town; the water has receded and left a brownish yellow mud all over everything. There are large water trucks washing the streets as best they can. People drag mud stained objects from their stores and restaurants, their offices or homes and place them in piles beside the doors. Someone is on the phone with the insurance company. Most places have had more than four feet of water and mud in their places and everything is ruined; it will take weeks to clean it all out. I do not want to take pictures; I feel it would be rude.

The owner of the Grignotine where I often eat gives me a kiss on the cheek; I ask if there was much damage. She shakes her head and grimaces, her eyes are sad. The owner of the Café I go to every afternoon, the one that has the most delicious icecream, is hauling stuff covered with mud out into the street; her café offers a book-Exchange service for free, and they are now all books that no one will ever read again. I peer into the darkness in her café. The degree of destruction is unbelieveable: nothing is left untouched except the ceiling.

On my way home, I head to my friend Isabelle’s house. I have crossed my fingers that she managed to stop up the door well enough to avoid the water from coming in because she has just spent the better of two weeks doing a thorough cleaning of her house and she was so proud a couple of days ago when she announced that all was done. No. She has not escaped. Her son and his girlfriend are slushing out the mud and the contents of her kitchen -all brown and filthy- are standing by her door in the street. I don’t stay long: I have the dogs and can’t help.

Slowly I head home, the weight of the disaster weighing on my shoulders. I feel sad and tired, very tired.

THE SKY IS FALLING

Chicken-Little-on-CNN

Yes, the sky is falling and it has been falling all day, in sheets of rain and wind to whip them up. There is water everywhere and I can’t even begin to tell you what a walk with the dogs looks like. It is days like this (and I haven’t seen many) that I rue having dogs and wish I had a small covered terrace where they were used to peeing when not able to go out.

oznorThe sky is falling and both my doggies came in sopping wet and had to be dried off with a towel which in turn merited a doggie treat in Salomé’s consideration which meant that Loli had to get one too, although a smaller one naturally. And it has been one of those days, or should I say weeks?

Having two dogs instead of one, albeit twice the size, has taken its toll and after three days my back felt as if someone had taken to beating on it when I was asleep. I did two things which in combination only caused a more serious problem. One was begin to take large doses of Ibuprofen for the muscular contraction on my back (with meals naturally) and the other was worry myself sick that my back would not be all right for my granddaughter’s visit and our trip together across the top of Spain. This deadly combination not only produced an ulcer in my stomach, but also made it bleed, something I discovered yesterday morning and which scared me half to death. I actually found myself in somewhat of a panic yesterday afternoon and acting like a five-year-old: running down to the car determined to drive the hour to San Sebastian and an emergency clinic; racing back up the stairs terrified of what they would do to me in the clinic and where I could keep my dogs in the meantime; calling the local doctor and then refusing the appointment he offered me at 6:45 a.m. today because there was no way he could fit me into his schedule yesterday at 6pm. Up and down, up and down, somewhat like Chicken Little in a panic and believing with all my heart that my sky –at least- was falling.

Finally, I sat down on the chair I had pulled out for my exercise session which I hadn’t done, supposedly to go to the doctor’s, and I stopped, stopped everything but breathing and being present. I recognized the terrified little girl who just wanted to curl up under the table and cry, and I breathed into the place she was hiding inside me. A few breaths and the belief popped up: I don’t know what to do… and I felt the panic. After all, when you are five years old and something terrible is happening –like your parents are fighting or there is a thunder and lightning storm outside- and you don’t know what to do, the projection is that surely you will die.

Fortunately, there is someone who has grown up inside me too and she stepped forward and took hold of the child: “You don’t know what to do, is that true?” I waited, breathing deeply. “You don’t know what to do, can you absolutely know that is true, that you don’t know what to do?” The child inside heard the kind voice and seemed to settle a bit: a “No, not true” came up.

So: “How do you react, what happens when you believe the thought that you don’t know what to do?” It was clear as day: fearful, helpless, wanting someone to come and rescue me; mind confused, muddled thinking, seeing everything –every possible avenue of help- as threatening; unable to act or move. Paralyzed.

And “Who would you be in this same situation without the thought that you don’t know what to do?” I took a breath and went back inside. Without the thought, stillness crept in, the body relaxed, the anguish vanished: just me, sitting in chair, doing my Woznorork.

Turn it around: “I do know what to do.” I sat and waited and the answer washed over me like a balm. I picked up the phone and redialled the doctor to say I would be there the following morning. Peace descended and I simply made myself my dinner, walked my dogs and went to bed.

Now –as the sky continues to fall- I hear the sirens of the fire truck rushing to aid some victim of the deluge. I wonder if they are called for a tree that has fallen on a roof or a house that has flooded. A few moments later I hear voices outside, two stories below my window. I look out: the fire truck has come to our building. It seems the downstairs apartments (that are actually half a floor beneath ground level and have a small mdeoutdoors terrace, have flooded. Their occupants are all outside in the rain, wondering what to do, how to save their belongings, where they will spend the night and how soon the insurance will fix their abode. I am safe and warm on the second floor, high above the water, although the storage room I have on the lower level is flooded and all the cardboard boxes I have stored there are soaked including one that holds all my diaries of the last 26 years: natural disasters come to show us what we didn’t need.

Finally, as the rain seems to wane a bit, I take the reluctant dogs out for a last pee or poo. We discover that the road behind the building and the adjoining vineyard are completely flooded. It seems that the sky has fallen tonight. Unfortunately, rain is predicted until 7am tomorrow morning with the worst of the storm expected at midnight. I have offered a neighbour my extra bed if he wants it, but it seems he prefers to sleep in his car. Loli is all curled up in her basket asleep while Salomé seemed to think something special was going on and she could jump into my bed with her wet feet and head. I was sorry to tell her that, even on nights when the sky falls, she has her bed and I have mine.oznor

A SPECIAL DAY

oznorActually, the special day began yesterday, precisely at 4:38 in the afternoon. Some people might find it strange that a special day begins with a gold inlay falling out of my top, left molar thanks to a piece of chewing gum that I was… well, chewing on. That was when the luck started: I didn’t swallow the inlay which –give or take a few- is probably around 60 years old. I have my marvelous dentist in Mexico City –Dr. Carlos Cornish who died quite some time ago- to thank for the long life of the inlay, and the chewing gum for the fact that I didn’t swallow it. I extracted the gold piece from the gum and placed it in a small container which I dropped into my purse so as not to forget it in case I could, by some miracle, find a dentist.

So there I sat, in front of my computer, on a Saturday afternoon, with a gaping (if I was to believe my tongue) hole in the second molar from back to front. Saturday afternoon!!!!! The borders of what was left of my tooth seemed terribly fragile and the hollowed out molar was sure to harvest at least half my dinner. What to do?

Internet, of course! What else? I typed “dentist Salies de Béarn” into Google. Four names appeared: 3 in Salies and one in neighboring Sauveterre. The three in Salies advertised opening hours only during the week, but the one in Sauveterre (a mere 10 kms away) had office hours up until 5pm Saturdays! If I hurried I would make it. There was a phone number which I dialed 3 times to no avail. I decided the dentist probably had both hands in someone’s mouth and couldn’t answer so I left a message saying I was coming and explaining as best I could the reason in French (my knowledge of dental terminology was definitely at its lowest point).

I loaded Salomé into the car, inserted the address into my GPS and… nothing. The GPS couldn’t find the street in spite of the fact that Sauveterre is much smaller than Salies. I tried again: same result. Ok, I thought to myself: I’ll drive there and somehow I’ll find the street. Upon turning onto the highway I saw a police car with a manual radar camera and pulled over to ask for directions. The officer seemed disturbed that I was cofinterrupting his possibilities of catching someone speeding, but kindly asked me what I wanted. I wondered if he knew the street in Sauveterre. He pulled out his cell phone and began to look for it and I suddenly remembered that I had downloaded Waze recently even though I had never used it. I opened my own phone, typed in the name of the street and, Eureka, there it was. Thanking the officer, I drove off, Salomé in the seat beside me.

With Waze I immediately arrived at my destination and that was the first gift of losing my filling: I now know how to use Waze. The office was closed, however, and even though I knocked and rang the bell it was obvious internet had lied. I sat back in the car running my tongue for the umpteenth time through the cavern in my tooth and wondering what I was going to do until Monday (I had tried eating a cookie before leaving home and the hole had filled up with dough which convinced me that there was no way I was going to be able to enjoy a meal until the problem was solved).

Once again I went to Google and typed in “Emergency dentist Béarn region”. A site with a phone to call popped up. I phoned. A charming gentleman answered and, upon hearing my request, asked from where in France I was calling. I told him and he said I should call the emergency number: 15, SAMU, an acronym for Urgent Medical Attention Service in French. It seemed that this tooth-thingy was going to be a learning experience through and through. I dialed 15 and a very nice man answered immediately. I explained that I needed the number of a dentist on emergency call. The gentleman said he was sorry but there was no dentist on call for emergencies at that time, but he would give me the number of a doctor on call who could tell me what to do until I could get to a dentist. He gave me the number; I wrote it down and thanked him kindly for his service. Then I called the doctor. He answered immediately and I told him about my tooth.

He was very kind and sounded honestly sorry as he told me that there was nothing he could do. Then he said that I should call 15 again the following morning and ask for a dentist doing emergency service. I thanked him, wondering if it had only been Saturday that there had been no emergency service, and hung up. There was nothing more to do but go home with the hole in my tooth and the filling in my bag. Salomé thought that was a very good idea: it was way past her supper hour by the time we got home.

oznorI drove back thinking I would probably have to wait till Monday and settling into the fact that I would have to eat with great care and spend time cleaning out the gaping hole. I noticed how thankful I was that it wasn’t hurting. I did my best to ignore the hole for the rest of the evening and made sure to empty it of all residues from dinner before going to bed. Then I had a wonderful night’s sleep.

In the morning, I first armed myself with the necessary vocabulary: molaire, obturation, trou, dente, and then –after breakfast- dialed 15 again. This time a lady answered and when I explained that I needed a dentist for an emergency (after all, it was now Sunday: the special day) she gave me a phone number to call and explained that a recording would tell me the names, the towns and the phone numbers for the dentists that were on duty that morning. She also explained that emergency dental service was only available from 9 to 1 (which was why it had not been available the previous afternoon).

There was no doubt I was learning a lot of ‘how-to’ from a simple loss of a filling; I was beginning to enjoy the adventure. I dialed the ‘magic’ number and listened to the four names rattled off. For the first one, I had trouble understanding the name of the town where he was situated; the second one was in Navarrenx (a town I go to frequently for my osteopath and that is but 30 minutes away); the third was in Biarritz (over 40 minutes away and necessitating the use of the toll highway) and the fourth was all the way to Saint Jean de Luz, over an hour`s drive. As the towns seemed to get progressively farther away from where I live, I decided to try the first one whose name I could not make out, hoping it would be the closest.

I called, the dentist answered and informed that he was in a town 10 minutes outside of Pau, so it would be farther than Navarrenx. I thanked the dentist and explained I preferred going to a town I knew. Then I called Navarrenx.

I had to dial 3 times before getting through, but when I did it turned out the dentist was a woman called Natalie Marin. I have liked everyone I have ever met called ‘Natalie’ so the signs were propitious. Dr. Marin asked if I could be there at 11:45 and I felt such joy that I very enthusiastically cried into the phone: “Of course!” Then she explained very carefully where her office was in Navarrenx and we hung up. cof

I had a dentist appointment; there was a lovely woman dentist that was going to fix my tooth… and it was Sunday!!! What more could anyone want in life? But my special day had just begun. I practically waltzed off to my morning coffee with Salomé in tow and even decided to gift myself a croissant this very special morning. From my coffee friends I learned that “obturation” was not what a filling was called (although it is French and the dentist understood perfectly when I used it, it apparently is too scientific for everyday usage), but rather plombage which having the prefix “plomb” (lead) probably points to the fact that that metal was used to fill teeth in the beginning.

At 11 o’clock on the dot, I danced my way home, climbed into my car and drove lickety-split to Navarrenx for my Sunday morning dental appointment. Although I imagined that the service was going to cost me a pretty penny, I couldn’t have cared less: anything was worth paying to have that hole in my tooth filled in.

Natalie Marin turned out to be a slightly thick bodied lady probably in her late 30’s or early 40’s who had studied dentistry in Belgium. She issued me into a beautifully clean and modernly equipped office with a lovely pale blue dental chair. I opened my bag and took out the filling. She turned it over in her fingers and said: “Ah, c’est un anlai”; it took me a few seconds to realize she was saying “inlay” with a French accent. I laughed and nodded. “And it is about 60 years old” I said.

20150518_152216As I lay back in the comfy blue chair, I noticed a kind of television screen visible only to the patient, where a video of colorful tropical fish swimming amongst bright corals was displayed. “To make your patients relax?” I queried. She nodded, smiled and then gave me the best news yet of the day: “I believe I can replace the original filling perfectly as it isn’t at all damaged.” What joy!!! My 60-year-old filling can go right back into my 75-year-old mouth! Who could ask for more?

With the first slight contact of the drill in the tooth (to clean it) we both knew my molar was very much alive. I had barely said: “Novocain please, I am a coward when it comes to dental work” when she had the needle in my gum and before I knew it everything was asleep and I felt no more pain. She cleaned the tooth, cleaned the filling and –miracle of miracles- my mouth was just as it had been before the mischievous chewing gum. I was so happy that I smiled from ear to… well it was sort of a lopsided smile; you know the kind I’m sure. I told her three times how happy I was.

My joy was such that I couldn’t wait to pay her whatever the cost. I was in for a surprise. She sat at her desk and opened her computer; after consulting something she told me the amount. I couldn’t believe it! I asked her to repeat thinking I had heard wrongly; no, I had heard it right the first time: € 28.73! If she had said €280 I would have paid it gladly, but 28 euros, dental work, on a Sunday no less!!! How in the world do these people live! My lunch was going to cost more than that. I took €30 out of my wallet and when she said she didn’t have change would I prefer to pay with a credit card, I told her it was fine. But no, she got up and went for her purse and found the 1 euro 27 centimes that was missing.oznor

It was barely 12:15 when I climbed back into my car complete (tooth filling and all in less than 30 minutes) and completely ecstatic! My tooth was fixed and I had found the most incredible dentist in the world. ‘Thank you, thank you, I’m so grateful’ I said out loud as I drove away. And then, as if the universe had not already given me enough, I came home to a beautiful bouquet of flowers I had recently picked or rather pilfered from the community vegetable gardens where they just wither and die.

STUFF

Salies has been invaded by stuff. It is the annual ‘vide grenier’ which literally means ‘empty the attic’ and would be the French equivalent of a garage sale except here it has become professional. Although some of the participants are individuals or families wanting to get rid of all that stuff that has accumulated over the years, most are merchants who have bought up stuff (from people who have moved, downsized, died, or simply chucked everything out) and now go from town to town offering it during the one or various vide greniers of the year.cof

Some of the professionals are eclectic, laying out everything from doll clothes to old jewelry to electric toasters, from used boots to vintage postcards; others have specialized and fill a table with DVDs or toys or army supplies or porcelain and cristal or old cameras.oznor

Amidst the old stuff there are sometimes antiques; other things have never been used and come from a factory that closed down or a store that went bankrupt, but most wear the mark of time. As I wander between the stalls, the faint odor of clothes kept too long in an attic or a closet or a garage comes to me and the multicolored infinite variety of things fills my vision. I have no need for anything but I do enjoy drifting along between the myriad tables glancing absently here and there while in my mind the word stuff repeats itself endlessly. oznorcof

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I needed something, here would be the place to buy it instead of the supermarket or the mall, and then I could feel good recycling all that enormous amount of stuff we humans have produced and getting something at a dirt cheap price too. But I don’t need anything.

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A flowered teacup attracts my attention and I pick it up for a moment. The lady behind the table looks at me and waits. I put it back down having glimpsed –in my mind’s eye- the line of cups hanging from the beam in my kitchen. More stuff. Maybe I’ll take a few of my cups to the déchetterie (waste disposal site) where they will be quickly snapped up by dealers of stuff and perhaps appear at the next vide grenier.cof

Getting rid of all my stuff was what moving to Salies allowed me to do. I sold or gave away everything except a couple of unimportant pieces of furniture (a miniature chest of drawers that served as a medicine cabinet, a small arm chair), a selection of books from my library, one set of dishes and most of my clothes.oznor

The feeling of exhilaration I experienced and the joy of moving into an uncluttered new home has long disappeared under the onslaught of new stuff acquired over the years. Now papers spill over onto cluttered surfaces like mushrooms in a crowded forest; books creep out from bookshelves onto tables and chairs; useless decorations gather on table tops and shelves collecting dust; the closets are full to bursting with clothes, overcoats, tools, towels and every imaginable object that has drifted into my existence without me even realizing.cof cof

Do I really need eleven flower vases? What in the world am I going to do with over thirty ball-point pens garnered from different hotels or events? And the bouquet of different colored magic markers is seldom touched. The seven frying pans hanging from the beam in the kitchen might give the false impression that I cook a lot which couldn’t be farther from the truth. And plants invade every nook and cranny because I can’t resist replanting every voluntary sprout.cof

What do I have seven pairs of scissors for if not just to avoid going from one room to another (and my apartment is tiny) when I need one, or having to look for the pair I just used yesterday and didn’t put back in its place. I have a whole set of new knives I bought because I loved their red handles. They were carefully put away in the closet when I discovered that the knives in my old set (a present from my husband during a trip to New York 30 years ago) cut better and were lighter.cof

There is an apron hanging in the kitchen that I bought because I liked the design and I have never used (great! I will give it to my neighbor on her birthday next week because she cooks every day). I have two pair of binoculars gathering dust, one belonged to my father and another I bought for a trip to the Galapagos and haven’t even looked at since. I have two magnifying glasses and two magnifying mirrors to compensate for failing eyesight which in itself has left a collection of 7 pairs of eyeglasses in a drawer (besides the one for emergencies in every room).cof

Everything has a ‘what if’ or a ‘for when’ or an ‘in case’ attached to its continued existence in my house. Even if I never bought another item in my life, I wouldn’t use all I have. Stuff, it collects like cancer cells occupying space.cof

As I finish my rounds of the vide grenier without –thank goodness- buying anything, I am possessed with an overpowering desire to throw out or give away everything and start all over again. Unfortunately, I know that by the time I get home I will have found other, more pressing matters to dedicate my time to, such as writing this blog post. cof

So stuff collects and I try to ignore it, and the vide grenier will give way to the Marché d’antand where more merchants will sell more stuff, this time made in the old fashioned way our grandparents or perhaps great grandparents knew, back in the days before stuff took over our lives.

ONE DAY TO 75

davI know I am repeating myself but for me this is a milestone for the reasons I have already mentioned more than once (https://writingalife.com/?s=Almost+there) and will not delve into again here. Already I see that tomorrow is going to be a busy day and also a day where I will probably eat more than normal as our custom is to take a cake to share at coffee and later I have been invited to go out to lunch with my dear friends Annie and Richard. So after coffee this morning I decided to go for a longer walk than usual. I set off on the daily path but then veered to the left and up towards what is known as the “Allée Vert” which means ‘green path’. It is a lovely walkway formed using the old railroad tracks through a wooded part of town and it promises greenery, good smooth walking surface and shade. cofSalomé seemed delighted when we didn’t turn towards home after strolling through the public gardens in front of the Thermes.

I knew how long the Allee Vert was and wondered if my left ankle was going to hold out. Once started it would be just as long to backtrack as to go forward. I decided to take the chance and give myself the gift of taking a really long stroll. I was certainly not sorry and the ankle did hold out perfectly although the walk turned out being a little over 4 kms, more than double what I usually walk in a morning. The day had morning clouds which kept the temperature cool and the shade of the trees filtered what little sun managed to seep through. I found myself going along at a brisk pace and feeling extraordinarily good about it. I usually cut my walk short past the bridge where there is a staircase that goes up to the road above which allows me to go home, but today I was determined to walk to the end, something I had only done once before about 8 years ago. Therefore, after the bridge, the sdrscenery was as good as new and I slowed my pace to take in everything and couldn’t resist capturing the new sights with my phone.

Saying this reminds me of how I reacted when cell phones first began to include cameras. “What in the world would you want a camera in your phone for!” was my sarcastic comment. But I have lived and learned and now adore the fact that I can capture everything my eyes delight in to include in my blogs or just to decorate my computer screen. Today it was the fantastic Béarnaise houses that caught my fancy. Thank goodness for phone cameras!oznor

One of the first things that made me fall in love with this town was the rooves, the out-of-the-ordinary Béarnaise rooves, ending not in the straight slope of usual tiled rooves, but in a slight upward curve similar to a young lass’s skirt. There is something so coquettish about a Béarnaise roof that I never tire of seeing them or photographing them. The town is full of –what I call- rooves ‘nesting’ together, but here on my walk, it was the houses that attracted me and not only their rooves.

sdrIt was then that the idea of writing this blog piece came to me, not so much as a form of remembering that tomorrow is my birthday, but rather as a way to publish the pictures that so captured my fancy while walking.

Now that I know the delights of walking and taking pictures, I am sure that my daily exercise will increase (and Salomé’s too). So I will save you having to read more words and just share my pictures from this morning.oznor

 

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Oh yes, there was a black pig too.

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COMMUNITY

Salies, nov 19 2011 024Living in my little French community is like being in love. Every day I leave my house in the morning and have my heart broken wide open. On the way into town to have my morning coffee, I meet the elderly lady with the walker. She stops me to have a chat about her latest problem with her diabetes medicine or simply to comment on the most recent weather; a few meters further on, the overly rotund man in the automatic wheel chair motors out of his house and stops to say hello and smile, proffering a pat to Salomé’s cocked head. The very thin lady with the glasses and the large hooked nose, walking the shaggy red-haired dog that is friends with Salomé, stops to say good morning while our pets sniff each other cosily. A little further on, Loic from the Realty office where I rented my apartment drives by and honks hello from his car; I wave. Michelle, shapely and dressed to a T as if she had been invited to breakfast by the Mayor of Salies, greets me head-on half way to the Café and we exchange a kiss on the cheek and a few words. Right around the corner before I arrive, Jany who lives in the big house is usually outside to greet me and tell me the latest gossip about people I’ve never heard of or met. Her neighbour, with the cute dog that shares a sniff with Salomé, asks me how I am and I return the pleasantry. On the corner, the young, short round guy who cleans our streets informs me that the dog-poo bags have not yet arrived and smiles and shrugs his shoulders to make sure I know that their absence is not his fault.

20160919_103726-2By the time I arrive at the Café after so much social life, everyone is already there. First I wave to Rose (Madame Ça Marche, to everyone because when you order anything she cries out “Ca marche!” or “Coming”) and blow her a kiss. Then I join the table where there is always laughter and fun. Chantal, the woman with the short white hair who always arrives first so that she chooses the table, sits with her back to the sun. I used to get irritated because I don’t like to sit with the sun in my face but little by little we have turned our disagreement into a standing jibe: When I ask her to change places with me she says in an exaggerated tone:20121209_101827Ah, Brianda, tu toujours avec ton problem du soleil” and I shrug my shoulders and answer that one could just as well sit at a table in the shade, with which –laughing- she gets up and gives me her place. Then there is Eliane 2 (Eliane 1 is my age whereas 2 is much younger) who is married to a sculptor and every day brings Josée (who will be 94 in November) to the Café; she fascinates me. I have never seen her in the same pair of earrings and she must have at least 25 different decorative watches. Eliane 1 is the only person I know today who still smokes and she does so with her coffee every morning. Her husband, Bibi (Jean Claude Bidegan), also comes and there is a standing marital play where she recovers the money she has put on the table for her coffee telling her husband that, now that he has come, he can pay for 20160918_102014her’s too. Josée, of course, is a special treat. Small and a bit round, with dyed red hair, sun spots on her white skin and glasses, she reminds me of my grandmother and she has the same spark. She often greets Bibi jokingly with “casse pas mes bonbons” which literally means: Don’t bust my balls. Then there is Gege (Gerard) who is one of my favorites. He has long, fine white hair which he wears pulled back into a skinny 20140102_102517ponytail that droops halfway down his back, and a bushy white beard and moustache. He is always joking and teasing someone at the table, sometimes me, but mostly Josette, the Laotian woman whom I envy because of her “petite taille”. Isabelle, my Spanish friend who has lived in Salies for over 45 years and whose ex-husband, Jean Louis, frequently joins us, is in Spain at the moment, visiting her 86 year-old mother and won’t be back till the end of September. She is the “dame elegante” that I spoke of in one of my first posts about Salies. She always dresses with everything matching: bag, shoes, purse, umbrella, earrings and necklace. Everything goes with everything else, making her look as if she were going to a luncheon along the Champs Elysées. When she laughs, it is 20121209_102429extremely loud and often accentuated by a heartfelt thump with her hand on the table. Occasionally, Yvette Andres joins us. She is an artist (painting and sculpting) who frequently exhibits in the local gallery and whom the group often chides for her lack of sense of direction; she is known to more than occasionally take the wrong turn when driving somewhere. Sometimes YaYa comes (don’t know his real name). He is a teaser, and loves to get my gall giving Salomé more croissant or cookie than Iwould normally allow. She, of course, thinks this is just fine and the moment he arrives he has all her attention. I get and give kisses from everyone, wondering why it is that most of the men have nicknames while none of the women do. C’est comme ça, would be what they would answer if I asked: That’s the way it is.img-20150706-wa0001

After 30 to 45 minutes I have finished my coffee and my stay and wishing them a good day I take my leave. My route home is different from the one I take to come so I pass and greet new friends on my way back. Salomé usually decides that she has sacrificed herself putting up with the boring time at the Café and it is now time to go for a little walk. We stroll past the public gardens and a man I have never seen before stops to ask me what breed my dog is. I answer: schnauzer (pronounced schnoozzzeeer in French) and watch while he gives her a few caresses which she very readily accepts; we wish each other a good day and head off in opposite directions. At the corner, the man who owns the gift shop smiles and says hello as he leaves heading for his own cup of coffee. As we pass the bridge that goes back into town, the young man that owns the toy store (handmade wooden toys, nothing plastic) nods bonjour on our passing. A bit further on, we stop at the Coffee Shop (so called, in English) to say hello to the lesbian couple (Severine and Christine) who own it and give a kiss to Corinne from whom I purchase natural beauty products made with aloe which is supposed to be good for your skin. Everyone takes the opportunity to give Salomé a few caresses and say how sweet she is, so she gets her share of love too.

20160919_134525Heading back through town, I go by the restaurant where I will have my meal later and the man with the German Sheppard who has coffee there each morning looks up and smiles. I say hello and he responds with a wave. Melanie, the chef, is at the cash register and I signal to her that I will be back in a while for lunch; she calls out “A tout à l’heure”, which is like saying ‘see you in a while’. Next door, the artist who sculpts in aluminium, large interesting figures (a flying owl, Michael Jackson, the head of a elephant), says ‘bonjour’ as I lean down to pet his little Yorkie that is in love with Salomé. Salomé, herself, stays well away, not at all interested in the little 20160919_134729whippersnapper trying to get her attention. Under the arches, the policeman who never smiles nods in my direction as I, in turn, say good-morning to him.

Before getting home, I stop at the local super market for a box of dog goodies which I have just run out of. My favorite cashier is there. He is a good-looking man of undetermined age (but no long young, although he wouldn’t be 65 because he hasn’t retired) and today he winks at me as he rings up my purchase. I smile, wink back and say something in which I address him in the familiar “tu”, which is never, never to be used with anyone but the most intimate of friends or family. I immediately correct myself, “vous” and he says I can address him as “tu”. So, I say that then he should address me also as “tu” (the verb is ‘tutoyer’) and he agrees to that. We are both laughing and I am feeling all warm inside. What fun it is to flirt a bit at my age!

On the corner, the man who parks the food truck there on Saturdays and Sundays selling roast chickens or special dishes for a weekend noon meal (such as Spanish paella, Basque axoa, Indian couscous or German sauerkraut with pork) smiles and waves as I go by. The lady who owns the boulangerie where I buy my croissants on Sundays steps out of her shop and I stop to chat for a moment. She has done a marvellous job of dieting and has lost around 15 kgs. I comment how well she looks and she beams.

20160919_134609By the time I get home it is almost lunchtime so I barely have time to check in on my computer and answer some e-mails from friends and family in Spain, Mexico and the USA, and I am off again. As it is seldom that I walk to or from town without running into someone I know that says hello or someone who stops me to admire my dog, the usual interchanges take place again on my way back to the restaurant.

The restaurant where I eat almost every day is called La Grignotine (from the French grignoter which means to snack). There, apart from Melanie and Eric who own and run the place and are practically like family to me, there are always people to greet and talk to. Invariably, André is there. He is a single older man (by about 7-10 years) with whom I havebruschetta-1020x525 more than frequently coincided in noon-hour meals out. We used to see each other in the restaurant of the small hotel around the corner from my building before the Grignotine existed, but now have changed, both thankful for the healthy food including always veggies and salad (something seldom available in the other place). André and I kiss on the cheek, he fondles Salomé’s ears and I usually inquire briefly about his health and the menu de jour as he almost always has finished by the time I arrive. Anika is someone else usually eating alone there. When I first met her she was depressed, having recently lost her husband, according to her, although it had been more than five years. Since then she has definitely recovered and we always ask about one another’s day. Ludovic and his mother (from South Africa) often are there and always say hello. And invariably someone from the English colony in the area whom I will be more or less familiar with will be there too. Occasionally a middle-aged woman called Françoise will come and she has once or twice asked if we can sit together. She is a talker who can make my meal hour absolutely uncomfortable after ten minutes so I try to avoid looking available when she comes. If I meet her on the street it is the same story; after about five minutes of shifting from one foot to the other I make some excuse and run off. Occasionally I have company for lunch: my American friend Janice from Rive Haute; Annie my favorite English friend or my once-in-a-while visitors, and this is a special treat.

002-2My walk home seldom encounters interruptions as most people are in their homes or in restaurants eating, and the rest of the afternoon –except for a short stint with Salome, throwing the ball for her in the garden- I spend at home. In the evening, before going to bed, I take Salomé out for her last walk and pee. It is usually between 9:30 and 10:30. Many nights I run into a neighbour who also walks her Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Archie, at the same time. When this happens, we walk together and I get to practice my French. And every once in a blue moon, my dear friend Christophe passes by cycling to his new ecological house on the hilltop. When this happens, he stops and we talk. I can sincerely say that I love phone-images-june-2012-084Christophe. Apart from the fact that he fixes my computer and my smart phone when the need arises, he is a very special person, one of those rare specimens not interested in money, totally committed to the enjoyment and the betterment of life in all its areas and as kind and generous as they come. He is not much older than my son so I consider it a privilege to be included amongst his friends. When I do run into him, the day or night time walk becomes a special event.

So, even though I enjoy travelling and seeing other places, and occasionally visiting my favorite city which is Madrid, or spending time with my children whom I adore, I cannot imagine living any place else. How in the world could I ever consider moving someplace where people do not even look you in the eye when passing on the street, much less smile or wish you a good day? Or moving to a city where everyone is isolated in their house or their car and knows nothing –nor wants to- of the people living on the same street? Even here, living farther away and having to move about in my car would not be the same. The way it is I belong to a community of warm, friendly neighbours that make me feel more at home than I ever have before.

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THE WEATHER HAS GONE BANANAS

Here’s how it’s been since the beginning of “winter”: one morning with ice that I had to scrape off the windshield, every other day between 16º and 22º C high and a low that never dropped under 9º.

Every day I watch the news to practice my French, and there is a weather forecast that I have learned keeps its weathermen in a cellar without windows and asks them to guess what will be going on outside. I understand them: it is extremely difficult to hit the right answer all the time. As a matter of fact, it seems difficult most of the time although occasionally they do get it right. Three days ago, I longingly gazed at a map of France on the screen that was bright yellow except for a small streak way up north. Then I looked out the window at the sheets of rain pouring down and asked myself how in the world the number one news station in the country could get away with such an ass-backwards prediction.

Yesterday we had one of the worst days since “winter” began (and I put it in quotes because as far as wintery weather goes, we have had none). It was dark (it had been for several days), the rain beat against all the windows in my apartment which meant the wind was going crazy because I have windows to the East, West and North, and the temperature at 11a.m. had actually dropped from its morning high of 9º, to a miserable 7º; for the rest of the day it struggled to get above 7º and lost.

So yesterday morning I watched the news during which the weather forecast spoke of a balmy 13º high and broken clouds. I had high hopes. I dressed accordingly in layers so as to be able to remove extra garments as the temperature rose. Actually, I found myself shivering most of the day, cursing the weatherman under my breath and even eating my lunch without removing my coat because I was so cold. My thermometer is my nose: if my nose is cold, I am cold and yesterday my nose was cold all day, even in my heated apartment.

Today I decided to be prepared.The weather man predicted a temperature between 9º and 12º but I knew he was lying; on the weather map the Aquitaine Region was blanketed with clouds and somewhat to the north, the country was black with heavy rain. I looked out the window. Yes, there were clouds, but here and there I could catch snatches of blue between them and the day was certainly brighter than it had been all week. Still, I thought that things could not have changed much in the 10 hours since my very cold evening walk with Salomé and, remembering my shivering of the previous noon, I dressed accordingly: a cotton undershirt with short sleeves, a red turtle-neck sweater, a brightly colored scarf made of llama wool (even warmer than sheep’s), woolen gloves and my heartiest winter jacket. I tucked an umbrella into my bag (just in case, because those heavy black clouds on the horizon could be coming or going depending on the direction of the wind), included Salomé’s raincoat, and stepped outside.

The weatherman had lied but my judgement based on the day before was not the way to go either. A soft warm breeze of 16º wafted across my cheeks and in two minutes I was perspiring under the winter-wear. Such a shame! Instead of being able to enjoy the weather I was now going to suffer through my 90 minutes of walk-coffee-market and home again either carrying my winter gear or roasting in it. By the time I reached the Thursday street market, the temperature had risen to 17º. It’s the 7th of January, for goodness sake! The weather has gone bananas! No wonder those poor weathermen locked in their windowless cellars can never guess right!

But it is not only the weathermen who are confused: it is Nature herself. There are small white daisies blooming on the still-green lawn, the so-called pâquerettes which are supposed to bloom around Easter week (Pâcques); dandelions are beginning to bud and some trees haven’t even lost all their leaves yet, while others are starting to flaunt their spring sprouts. This can be tragic if the weathermen are right –for once- about the temperatures dropping drastically next week and winter finally beginning, for this might freeze the buds on fruit trees and cancel any hope of harvest this year.

In the meantime, I have hung up my winter jacket, put away my llama scarf and woolen gloves, and taken out a more appropriate garment for walking to my favorite restaurant for lunch. And as far as ‘the weather going bananas’, well the farmers might as well have grown some of those this year instead of attempting apples.

AN HONEST WOMAN

I’ll become an honest woman yet! Believe me, it isn’t easy but today I made a giant step.  Those of you following this blog with any kind of continuity probably already know that I am given to stealing… corn. That may sound strange. There are people who steal money, who steal their taxes, who steal jewelry, who steal children… people can steal anything, ideas are stolen, wallets and identities are stolen, dreams and art are stolen. Anything that is and has an owner is up for bids and anyone that wants it, is a potential thief. Some people enjoy stolen goods more than something they had paid for with hard earned cash: it’s the thing and the thrill all rolled into one. So I steal corn. The corn is there, it belongs to someone else, I enter the field and steal it. I have done this ever since I began coming to Salies in the summers and since I have been living here, I have continued.3

The reason I steal corn (every thief that prides him or her self on being an honest-to-goodness filcher will have a “reason” for doing what they do which in their mind justifies the pilferage) is because there is nowhere around here that sells it, at least not fresh corn, in spite of the fact that this is Corn Country, in capital letters. There are plenty of little cans and medium cans and big cans of sweet corn in the supermarket, but I don’t eat canned corn just as some people don’t pay their taxes and others don’t do an honest day’s work because there is plenty of money around for the picking.

Around here, all I have to do is walk out of my building to run into a corn field; I can’t drive a kilometer on the road without passing three or four, ninety nine percent of which are planted with fodder corn. Fodder corn is the worst kind of corn imaginable. However, I have found that if it is picked very, very early, cooked somewhat longer than its tasty cousin (sweet corn) and slathered with butter, it can pass for a meager excuse of good old american brand sweet corn like what granma used to buy at the corner stall in the market. That is how much I like corn!

So ever since I began coming to Salies, and more so since I have lived here, I have been stealing corn. I very quickly learned how to tell the tenderest ears without husking them, and would never take more than two or three at a time (I’m a proven liar, too, because I count 5 ears in the basket). I also learned howOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA to know when a field would not yield any more edible ears. If you consider that I have been coming here since 2007 every summer and lived here since 2010, that adds up to quite a bounty of corn!

When I checked into internet to see what I could find about fields of sweet corn, I discovered that some people have turned this stealing corn into a business. In Bristol, Conn., for example, there was the following on the news last August 5th:  “A thief or thieves who knew what they were doing stole 20 row of corn right off the stalks at a Bristol farm over the weekend.”  It wasn`t me, scouts honor! Apart from the fact that I was nowhere near Bristol on that date because I was climbing up the Machu Picchu mountain in Peru, I doubt very much that I could have carried, hidden or consumed 20 rows of corn.

Anyway, to cut to the chase, two years ago I was driving to Navarrenx, which is about 35 minutes from Salies, for an appointment with my osteopath when I spotted a field of very green fresh-looking corn. It was the month of September and all the fields of corn were beige and dry with the cornsilk so black it looked as if it had been charbroiled already. The kernels 11themselves had lost any juice of which they could have once boasted, and wouldn’t have looked appetizing but to a cow or a pig. So a field of corn stalks that were upright, bright green and frankly inviting, was like a red flag. I quickly turned the car around (the field was on the other side of the highway) and pulled into an uneven dirt road that ran between a field of utterly dry, unappetizing corn and this miraculously tempting stuff. There were the ears, sticking right up as bright and perky as a puppy’s, and who was I to resist what I judged to be a late or perhaps second crop.  I picked a couple of ears and went on my way to the osteopath. That evening I husked the corn; the kernels were shiny and plump, much shinier and plumper than anything I had picked so far in Salies. I pinched one and tasted. It was sweet! Not really believing I had been that lucky, I pinched another one and popped it into my mouth: like honey!  I had discovered a field of sweet, tender corn! 2

That was the year of 2012 and all through the month of September, I ate magnificent corn. Then, one week when I drove back savoring on the way the corn I would have that night, I found the field harvested, there was nothing but shreds of corn stalks and a few crushed ears lying destitute on the earth. The bonanza was over; I accepted that I would have to wait another year, but I knew now where the field was and never again would I have to eat fodder corn no matter how young and tender.

In 2013, I anxiously awaited August when the young corn plants in MY field would begin to sprout, but nothing happened. Nothing but the disorderly ground cover was growing in the field. September rolled around and I had to admit that whoever was responsible for the field was not going to plant my good corn that year, so I went without.

Hope springs eternal, however, and this year I began watching again from July on. Towards the end of July, right before I went to Peru, I was rewarded with a sight that warmed my heart and made my mouth water: tiny sprouts of corn plants were beginning to break through the earth and open up to the sun. My corn!  I calculated: by the time I got back from my trip around mid August it would just be beginning to form substantial cobs, not ready for picking yet, but promising nonetheless.6

Sure enough, by September the corn was edible and I began harvesting my share. However, as I knew now that it was sweet corn, and I knew I would be wanting to take quite a bit, maybe even share with friends, I began thinking that I would like to find the owner and pay him or her and make a deal to be able to pick to my heart’s delight. I started watching for signs of someone tending the field. I wrote a note, placed it in an envelope and planned to leave it tied to a cornstalk, but the fact that I had put my phone number in it asking the owner to call me made me nervous, so I just carried it around in my car in case I ever found anyone. That way, at least, if I was caught stealing I could prove my intentions were good.

But September progressed and I ate corn at least twice a week and shared with friends, and no one showed up to beg permission from or pay for my harvest.

Today, October 1, it suddenly occurred to me after lunch, that the corn I had picked last week was very ripe and that the harvesting would probably happen soon and that I had better get my last batch in before this happened. As I drove, I prepared myself for the worst possible scenario: a field completely devastated and with not an ear of corn available, all gone -as I knew it probably did- to Green Giant for canning. Visions of an ear of corn dribbling butter passed through my frenzied mind as I 5drove as fast as possible, as if that would get me there in time.

Finally, I approached the field and my worst fears were semi-confirmed: they were in the process of harvesting the corn and had cut about half the field. I looked in dismay, but decided there was still corn for the picking. Turning around, I pulled into the usual dirt road. It was going to be difficult because the corn nearest the edges of the field had already been cut, so I would have to walk quite a distance to get to the stalks still standing. Plus anyone, from anywhere could see me (before it had been easy to hide amongst the tall corn stalks so that no one could see me while I hustled my load. As I 9pulled to a halt I observed at the far end of the field, quite distant from me, but visible, the harvesters and the trucks for loading the corn. It was obvious they would see me if I got out of the car and walked into the field, so I backed out onto the road again and went past the field looking for another access. There was one on the other side, not as wide or well formed but it was a path the car could get into; from there I would not be as easily seen. I was about to pull in and risk the walk across the field when suddenly I realized that here was my chance, the one I had waited for. Amongst the small group of men gathered at the foot of one of the loaded trucks, I would undoubtedly find the proprietor of the field and I could pay for my corn: I could become an honest woman. So, instead of pulling into the protected pathway, I drove back to the dirt road and turned in and drove all the way to the back of the field where the men were gathered. They were standing next to 10the truck loaded with corn and turned to watch as I approached. In my poor French, I asked who the owner was and the first man directed me to a nice looking young farmer who smiled as I picked my way over the clumps of plowed up field to where he was standing. By the time I got there I was laughing at myself: there I was, a 72 year old blond foreigner traipsing across a harvested field to tell this unknown man that I had been pinching his corn and would like to pay him for it. It was quite a laughable matter! But that is what I had come for and that is what I was determined to do.

First I asked if I could buy some of the corn that was on the truck, then I explained that I had found the field two years previously and had helped myself to some corn; that I was very disappointed the year before when there had been no corn (they were all smiling widely by then) and extremely happy that this year there had been some. When I finished speaking I couldn’t have felt sillier, but their eyes were kind and jolly. The owner proceeded to tell me that, today, the corn actually wasn’t his to sell anymore because it belonged to the taller gentleman at his side who was going to truck it to Green Giant (Geant Vert). I smiled and said that I had imagined as much as the corn was very good. Yes, he confirmed, it is special corn for Green Giant.

“But it is you I want to pay because it is your corn I have been pilfering all along.”  By this time, I felt we were good friends all of us, crazy about corn each for his own reason, and I was actually enjoying the meeting, their faces were so open and sweet, like the corn. The owner asked if I had a bag and I said “yes”, it was in the car. We began walking back together.

“Are you going to plant corn again next year” I questioned, as if now I too were part of this business of sweet corn and Green Giant and friendly farmers who were willing to listen to a crazy lady telling them she had been helping herself to their corn without blinking an eye or looking annoyed. He said he didn’t know, that he would decide around January or February.

“Oh” I said, taking out my cell phone; “Would you give me your name and phone number so I can call you and see if you are going to plant next year” (I didn’t add ‘so that I can come and steal some more’ because I didn’t think it would sound too good). He immediately gave me his name and phone number which I registered under the name of CORN.

When we got to his van, he pulled out a small plastic bag which I immediately qualified as too small. In my car, I had a sack I usually carry Salomé’s stuff in when she goes to her caretaker that I produced without a quiver (I wonder now if he thought20141001_183636 about how much corn I was going to pinch carrying a sack like that around). We went back to the truck, he climbed up and began filling the sack as I watched. Finally, when it looked as if I wouldn’t be able to carry it, I called out to stop. When he handed me the bag, I had been right: it weighed a ton! I put it down and asked how much I owed him for this corn and what I had snitched previously but, even before I asked, I knew deep down that he wasn’t going to let me pay, as turned out to be the case.

I said ‘thank you very much’, I said ‘I’ll call you in February’, I said ‘Thank you’ again. Mr. tall Green Giant picked up the heavy sack and said ‘I’ll take it to your car’. And I drove off with over 20 ears of corn.

So crime pays, but coming clean pays more, at least in corn, and today I am an honest woman who is calling all her friends to offer them corn on the cob, last batch for this year, honorably filched near Navarrenx with the help of its owners.

EPILOGUE

The next day, at our coffee gathering, I become very popular:  20141002_101125