Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hanging by a wire

My story is unraveling. It has become much too confusing. The trajectory has just taken a turn for the worse. I should have known the story would turn like this, they always do. Sure there is the one or two that don’t and they’re held up as the model that is looked to, but look at the untold numbers following that model. Statistically it’s a very long shot. But that’s the seductive nature of the model, it’s so attractive it refuses shear logic; or the clarity of numbers.

The whole thing just peaked out, the gradual slope upwards just ended, I hit the peak at 1:48 pm on may 14th 2007. I had just spent the morning in the vigne. It’s like a guardian angel that I refuse to listen to, it’s always gently whispering in my ear when I listen. It always has something to say about the beauty of consistent action. The rows, up and down, back and forth, put up one wire, put down another, move to the next. Pause at the end of each row, regard where you are, what you have done, what needs to be done next. All the while earning your daily bread. I mean really what more can I want.

The work is as mentally focusing as a word jumble on a crowded plane. It’s the one repetitive job I’ve done in the vine that isn’t physically debilitating, that doesn’t consistently pick at one tendon or muscle in your body until it swells, aches or both. It’s just like taking a hike in a beautiful spot, only you have to stop every three quick strides at a metal pole, attach the hanging metal wire on the middle hook (that was taken down last month) and detach the metal wire on the top hook and let it hang down (to be hooked back up in two weeks). There are twenty hectares that need to be tended, two people, 25 hours each. It’s a lot of walking , but really not tiring, except for the fact that I can’t stop looking at it like work.

So today we started, and after a week off that was full of sun and fine times, at 8 am the skies were threatening. By ten the threat had been made good and we where in the rain again. At first, I don’t mind, it’s not cold and the rain is steady but light. The vigneron, with the first drops goes to his truck and pulls out the rain jackets. He has to force one on me with his constant offers of an extra lying in the truck. My laziness often passes into stupidity, if one can’t come inside when it’s raining, at least put a raincoat on, and if the coat has a hood, why not wear it. The vigneron, like a good mom, keeps telling me to use the hood. In any case in an hour, my pants are soaked, the last row of the grenache finished, and I gladly agree when he says “let’s have a coffee”..

At first when we got in the truck, I was expecting a thermos, which he often ports after lunch, but instead we start driving and I realize we’re heading up the road to his mother’s house. It appears the morning is over. I am always overjoyed to leave work early, even more so when it’s unexpected. It’s the same level of excitement I had as a kid when a snowstorm would cancel school in the middle of the day. We’re going to wait it out at her house, and if it keeps going I may be done for the whole day

I can use the money in a bad way. I am down to my last 700 increasingly faible US dollars from the last stint in the cab and I have 275 euros cash here - total. Even the 8.27 per hour for a few hours is starting to seem like big money, but like I said, I’m an addict to that ecstatic feeling of things being canceled, and having more time to do nothing. I have the same excitedly sleazy feeling as I had on Friday afternoons cutting out of the history of film class at the state college to kill that time at the pinball arcade. It was so strong, this attraction to laziness that even when I wanted to watch the film they were showing in class I would duck out. I’m a creature of repetition, even when it means my own demise.

“Don’t worry about the shoes” she says as I start taking off my muddy boots to enter the house.
I’m happy to see mrs. S. again. She is exactly as you would wish your french mom of the vigneron to be. She clucks at us to sit down and let her make us comfortable. She frets whether we are chilly or need dry clothes, she offers hot drinks of any sort as she puts out some cookies on the table.
“Christian get some slippers for him” she insists as I wash up in the sink.
She rubs my shoulder saying “oh you’re all wet, do you want a dry shirt”. I insist I am okay and she tsk’s at me, wagging her head lovingly at my stupidity.
It’s one of the few places in the french world that I feel wholly comfortable, happy, at ease to be.

“Ah, the weather is terrible” she says and I quickly add, thinking of the afternoon off, “yeah, and it looks like it is going to be this way all day long”
“That’s what they said on the forecast”. the vigneron adds. I get a rush of hope at these words.

As we drink the coffee and chat about this and that, the rain slows, but as we finish it recommences with renewed vigor. “If the weather doesn’t stop by noon it will rain all day” he proclaims. It’s 11:20, the morning is now officially finished, and as we have another cup of coffee, we all seem to silently agree that the whole day of work is probably over too. The talk turns to the forecast for the week, and the weather patterns in general.

I am sitting at the table as they describe again with a quiet pride the intricacies of the local weather and it’s particular patterns. The focus is on prediction, and the signs one can count on. At one point after pooh-poohing her son for his prediction of a hot summer because of the rainy springtime she says matter of factly, “If it is windy for three days after the feast of St. Mathias, it will be windy for forty more days”. Her son talks about the rain and the wind and the effects on the new vines, the weight of the water and the speed of the wind acting together to rip the new shoots from the vines. They go back and forth discussing weather trends and grape production.

She has watched the weather, and it’s subsequent effect on the vines, first with her father, then her husband, and now her son, from that little village on the side of the Larzac Plateau, in great detail. When she says “It always rains the week during the feast of St. Fulcran” (the patron saint of Lodeve) or “even though the Pentecost is in late may, it’s nine times out of ten chilly” I thoroughly believe her, who else would know. It seems to me it would be like not believing an indian chief when he says it looks like it will be a cold winter.

I am riding the wave of good feeling listening to them talk and knowing I will be heading home soon for the day. At 11:45 the vigneron says “well, I guess that’s it for the day, do you want to head back to your car”.. I feel the happy calm of a shot of morphine coursing through my vein, as I try to say unexcitedly
“we might as well, we can get at it tomorrow”.

I head home to Lodeve to eat with the kids on their lunch break, we are all feeling good about the weekend of fun just passed and they are riding too, the coats of my lazy mans freshly found day off buzz. We are all feeling good. At 1:40 my cell phone rings, I see the name of the vigneron on its screen. I quickly realize it has not only stopped raining but that the skies outside are markedly clearer. I answer the phone reluctantly.
“Hey it looks like its going to be clear this afternoon, do you want to come back to work”. I stutter something out, and then say with conviction, “oh, it’s still raining here”.
“Really”. he responds.
“Well just a little”.
“I know you’re in Lodeve, it’s your call, you don’t have to come in if you don’t want to” he says. I can think of no good reason to say no, but that is my goal, so for a while I just stutter away in incoherent french. Something about already showering and attacking it early tomorrow, and “I would but...”
“Well I’ll be out in the vines where we left off whatever you decide” I can hear his voice register a bit of disappointment but I stick to my guns, and then try to explain to my kids why I don’t feel like going to work even though I am always broke and have nothing to do at home. They look at me as I would imagine the vigneron would have looked at me had we been talking in person. They go back to school, I take a nap for an hour.

When I wake at 3:00pm I am rested and ready to go, but it is too late to go back to work, and I have nowhere else to go. I head into the other room of my tiny apartment and turn on the computer. I check my empty email, and then surf through some porn on the web before deciding to watch a quick pirated episode of the soprano’s before attacking something productive. It’s almost midnight when I’ve finished the whole fourth season of the sopranos series before I decide it’s time for bed. Work starts at seven tomorrow.

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