Thursday, January 29, 2009

Oh today V/8

It was the kind of day in January you dream of. A morning that starts out tinged with golden light. That’s right, golden. I could see the thin line of gold light in the east as I woke. I hit the vines just as the sun was making it’s appearance above the hills. There was ice on the puddles of water left from the last rain but all signs pointed up. There wasn’t the slightest breeze and it was so still you could hear every sound in the surrounding valley.

Yes the good days come too. It changes everything. This is the day where everywhere you go in the area you see workers in the field. The smaller producers can wait for nice days to do the taille and today was that day. It is the kind of day that when you see the workers out in the fields you think, oh that looks pleasant, I wouldn’t mind doing that. And you would be right.

We were an equipe de choc today. Humming along up and down the rows All three of us were in good form because of the happy weather. We cracked at it and finished up the field we have been working for the last two weeks. It was 5:54 when the sun set with the same golden color it rose with.

I know I said math and minimum wage work don’t go together but on the way home today I was juggling some numbers in my head. The field we just finished is 1.8 hectares (only 18 more to go) There are 4000 souche (vine stumps if you will) per hectare. That is 7200. There are roughly twenty cuts per souche. Overall I did about half the field myself. That is 72,000 squeezes on the trigger of my electro-coup 2000 pruning pistol. If you take my wage and divide it by the number of cuts I made, I earn about seven tenths of a penny per trigger pull. Ah, it’s a good life in the south of France.

I did get a good look at a Bonelli eagle today. They aren’t rare but they aren’t commonplace either. I heard it screaming before I saw it. It was on the other side of the little valley where we were working. It was floating around looking for an air current. It came within a hundred yards of us before it got what it was looking for and circled out of sight. Yes, on some days the migrant worker is just who you want to be.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Relentless V/7

I left work early today. It’s wednesday and my kids have a half day. They are old enough that they don’t need me to watch them, but being that the judge saw fit to have them reside most of the time at their mothers, it seemed like a good idea to quit early and profit with their presence. If I work the whole day I am too spent at night to do anything. I miss my kids being around and yet I was conflicted about taking a half day off when I woke this morning.

It wasn’t about the money. I need every centime I can get but the thirty one euros less isn’t going to change my world. It was more the sun. From my bed this morning I could see the sky was perfectly clear. Today would be a sunny day of full proportion.

I didn’t see the wind, in town that kind of detail is well hidden. It wasn’t until I hit the vines that I realized just how hard it was blowing. It blew unceasingly, this wind with a name - le vent Tramontane. It is the little cousin of the Mistral. It is dry, cold and often violent. It carries air from the polar regions. In summer it brings clear blue skies and a bit of relief from the heat. In winter it just brings cold air.

It isn’t only the cold that the wind brings. It brings forlornness. The cold I can dress for. I lived in Chicago for twenty years, we have a wind there called the Hawk. I wear six layers of clothes that are made of every material known to man. Cotton, silk, wool, synthetic, topped by a down jacket that is a hand me down from my deceased father. He got this jacket in the seventies, and wore it often. It’s my work jacket now and is still going strong. It was made when the ‘made in the USA’ label meant quality and not crap. In any case I can dress for the cold, the forlorn character of the days like today I am less prepared for.

My father used to always say “ there is no heavier burden than a great potential”. I think of it often in my latest in a long string of dead end jobs. I wish I could blame my current hard luck job on the fact that I am a stranger in France, but even in the states, though I gained a bit more money, I never had a job that could lead somewhere. I don’t know what happened, it did seem that I was full of potential. It’s these types of thoughts that the unceasing wind blows in. They are the opposite of sunny and mild.

At noon time I was happy to be leaving the vines behind. In the car, it was warm and quiet, and I was heading home. It made me recall when I drove taxi in Chicago. How stunning the sunny, but ice cold days in the cab could be. How the folks all frozen and distressed would enter the warm cab and say to me “how lucky you are”. Little did they know.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It wasn’t Sunday today V/6

The clouds rolled in on top of the great weather we had yesterday and the temperature dropped thirty degrees. In winter, low pressure zones around here are tolerated like a Sunni in a Shite neighborhood. They get pushed out in a rough and rapid manner. In any case the wind pushed in at great speed and continues to blow.

Cold constant air from the north was rolling down off the Larzac which, as I left for work this morning had a white shadow of snow around its peaks. The Larzac Plateau is at 2700 feet, the vines are on the slope up to it at about 700 feet. Standing in the vines you look North to the plateau. To the South the Herault valley and then the sea on the horizon. It’s really quite spectacular as far as the view goes.

The weather and the view. It’s rare that you actually see either one but both are omnipresent on the terrain. Today it was grey and cold and windy. It felt like work. Hard miserable work, all day long. I did see some cool looking clouds at around five o’clock when the sun was setting. Little wispy, passers by, separated from the giant mass of grey that made up todays sky. They were low flying. They looked exactly how they are painted in impressionist paintings. All gestural streaks of slightly varied shades to each stroke of the brush that made them up. Bold slashes of flashy, nuanced orange and red on a textured grey background.

Yeah there are moments. But aren’t there always. A friend of mine who got punched in the eye one time told me the pain was so intense that each time his heart beat he saw a flashing light in his eye. He remembers it as a fluid, electric blue color, which sadly he said, he has never seen again. In a short time I will forget today, except for those funny little clouds.

Thanks to the miserable weather the vignerons wife couldn’t let me eat and nap in my car as is my habit. No sun makes for a cold lunch. So I headed up to their house, half happy to be eating in warmth and half sorry to be missing my nap, for lunch. Eating lunch there is a quick look into the farmer world. French style. That means we start off with a quick appetizer and a drink. It’s sweet gold wine. Muscat from the the neighbor. With it we have some olives from the vignerons trees. His mother put them up before she died in october. They were Luques olives, green firm olives that are the specialty of this area. He says when he went to school, he had a math teacher who each time you got a correct answer at the blackboard, would let you take an olive from the jar on his desk to eat in class. There were some small black olives the vignerons wife Sandrine made. Now that the mom has died someone has else has to do it.

It’s a quick meal because of that but it’s all ready to go. The vigneron has the meat already cooking on the braise of the fireplace when I walk in. It’s sanglier, wild boar, which he and his hunting club bagged last weekend. It’s a marcassin, a baby, very tender. Soft like pork but with more flavors. mmm. He opens a bottle of wine from the grapes we picked last year. Primeur, the first wine of the harvest, it’s like Beaujolais nouveau, without the marketing campaign behind it. Good cheap, plentiful wine of the region.

Sandrine apologizes there are no vegetables as she passes around the goat cheese that the lady up the street makes. Another glass of wine. Some peaches put up from the trees that sit beside one of the vineyards. Then a coffee, a cigarette, and the moment over, we all head back to work.

It is still cold, perhaps the wind has even picked up. The constant noise of the wind forces us to work in silence. By three o’clock the three glasses of wine mixed with the full meal, instead of my sandwich, orange and a nap begin to make the work heavy. Just when I start to feel sorry for myself, I see the funny little clouds start wisping past.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sun day

Today was Sunday. I woke up at nine o’clock. The sun was in full flower. The room was golden, the sky deep blue. Out the glass doors through the garden and onto the steeple of the church it was still. It formed a picture you might see in a slick travel brochure on the South of France. It was the type of day that makes you feel lucky.

I stayed in bed a while finishing the short story I left when my woman slid into bed last night. She was all fresh and French smelling last night. This morning she was pressed up against me sleeping. All the kids too, were still asleep upstairs. The sun, the colors, the free day stretching out before me, us. Mmm, some days you wake seeing dreams.

One by one everyone wakes, comes down. I step out to the boulanger and get some sunday breakfast goods. At eleven o’clock we are all seven in the kitchen, and each attacks their sunny sunday feeling large and spacious idea of the perfect breakfast. The table is spread out with croissants, pain chocolat, and baguettes. Tea, coffee, hot chocolate, milk, butter, marmalade and nutella. There are mandarins and oranges, bananas, grapefruit and lemons. Knives, spoons, bowls, plates and cups in various states of use. So we all lounge in the kitchen, doors and windows thrown open to let the sun have it’s full play. It’s a moment of excess that isn’t too much. We all wordlessly agree, it’s a good day.

But the sun is calling. It will be gone at five o’clock. You’ve got to get it when and where you can, and the close quarters of the villages aren’t where it’s at. I can’t help but think that it is a great day to be in the vines. They are laid out with maximum exposure to the sun in mind, which is just what I have in mind too. If you get a day like today in the vines you finish in a t-shirt and come home with a bit of color. It does well for the internal and external myth of good living in the south of France.

But unless you are a vigneron, the vines are attractive only in the ideal. They are still hard stooping work and that is never the best option for a sunday afternoon. So I call my friend with a sunny garden and offer to come over and taille his trees. It’s really the ideal compromise, he has just a few and I get to strap on my electric pruner. It’s the perfect mix of 100 percent sun with 10 percent work and 90 leisure. I take my son with me. We work easy. We drink a couple of glasses, sit at the garden table in the sun and chat until the sun starts going down. Some days, being a fake farmer in the South of France is best way to be a real artist.

Friday, January 23, 2009

It’s raining today and 43° V/5

When it is raining in the morning we don’t work. That’s not to say we don’t work in the rain. If it rains when we are working we continue until it persists and then insists and then we stop. I work for a mad man. Like his profile dictates (you could say the stars if that's your predilection) he is a worker. He can clear fields with his bare hands. Build houses in a single year. And who described as Clark Kent (or the french equivalent - Charles Roi) fights for Truth Justice and the American (French) way.

My vigneron is the kind who would settle the wild west if they had one here. They fix planes in wars and tractors in peace. Have rock solid unwavering beliefs (often to the detriment of those most intimate to them) that can fluctuate when the change leans to their account. They live by numbers - square meters and costs, hectares and production. They spend their life chasing. It's a hard life in many ways.

They miss the softer symbols of value. They make complex figures they can't understand. They can’t calculate children, so they have to believe in tradition. They disappear in their fields and leave their wives and children to calculate the cost of absence. They can’t believe in softness, it’s implications are too many. In short, they are the type who work in the rain. So sometimes I do too.

But this is the south of France, the Mediterranean has its own well know effect on even the hardest of workers. The sun and sea that color this part of the world have been wearing down the steel of hard workers since the first go-getters wandered out of Africa. Hence here we are all aware that there is no sense to be miserable just on principle, the vines can wait until monday.

So what do all the tailleurs of vigne do if they are not out in the vines. At this point of the year we are omnipresent in the fields. Everywhere you go you see the cars parked in the vines, the red suspendered and battery packed hunched figures slowly (from a passing car they are motionless, like giant insects devouring a crop, after days of time they leave a field bare then swarm to another) going about their business.

For me, when it rains I feel good. I lay in bed while the house gets up and moves about its daily business of school and work. Then I get up slowly and let the idea of a ‘free’ day spread out before me. Morning tea, all sugared up. I smoke on the terrace and watch the masons, wet and cold, preparing a new roof in the rain across the street. Two young dudes with diplomas, they are ill dressed for the weather and their work reflects it. Ah, les artisans, long from downtown. Their miserable look pushes my day into luxuriousness.

I love my work when I am not doing it. For the next few months I am a tailleur of vigne again. A platelet in the economic life blood of the region. The boulanger where I get my sandwich greets me each morning and gives me a little break on the price. Like the rest of my caste I hobble slowly down the streets each night at dusk in medieval villages with my Electo-coup tool box in my hand. I except the nods from the neighbors like a returning soldier in an ongoing war. They often ask news from the front. I can only recount that it goes on.

But today a reprieve in the battle. All quiet on the southern front. Like a rainbow, the sun suddenly appears in the late afternoon. Just in time to tidy the house, attente les enfants, the weekend. Everybody, and Cash - in the house.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Back in the bureau

I had a rendezvous with my public aid lady. They want me to start inserting myself into the economy - on a non-black status. They are willing to help me, they just want to know what it is I do here other than ‘being a stranger’. If really pressed I say I am an artist. Even so, they set me up with the rendezvous today. It was with a group funded by the state who is in charge of doing something with artists. In France they believe artists still exist. But here, like everywhere else, no one knows what to do with them.

So to get my 390 units of currency mailed into my checking account each month I need to get myself a statute. You know, something a little more concrete than ward of the state. But it’s still socialized here, everyone is a ward of the state in different degrees. Everyone is getting something. Everyone is paying something too. That’s how it goes.

On my end at least it all goes back into the pot. Gas, food, a few items for the home front and voila I have seeded the local and national economies with my little economic germs. If they gave me more I would buy a car. You could think of it as an economic bailout of minuscule dimensions.

Couldn’t everyone in the USA have bought a car with the 825 billion dollars that they are doling out now. Or for that matter everyone in Iraq could have bought a Ford Chrysler or Chevy too. Who doesn’t love a new pick-up, it keeps the Indians from fucking us up, why wouldn’t it work in Iraq. We’ve spent 650 billion there and what do we have. Even worse what do they have. We should have attacked Saddam with 22 million Ford F250 pickups.

But that seems to be old business now that Bush has rounded up his wagons (well protected by the Wells, Fargo, and Brinks brothers) and headed back to Texas. Back at the ranch they’ll discourse again how it helps the little man when a new office building goes up in Dubai. Those dudes are artists with serious black projects. I need a project too. That’s what the public aid lady said. She says if I can’t get something going after six months they will start talking street sweeper. Hmmm? a union job.

But I have a job. Though I can’t say that it’s artistic. I can’t even say it’s a job. You see it’s black work. That means when in the social service building we all adhere to a don’t ask - don’t tell policy. It has to be that way, that is how the farm lands run here. We are all itinerant workers. The monthly checks are for the butter and cheese, perhaps a bottle of wine, with the fantastic local bread. Think of it as a bailout without the need for a crisis. Now that is an artistic project.

To make my rendezvous I had to leave the vines early again today. It was a good day for the taille. I was happy to go but would have liked to stay too. Though it wasn’t sunny, It wasn’t windy or cold or raining either. The vigneron took a break in the afternoon from tiling the well subsidized dream house he built, is building, in his natal village where he has his vines. For the first time this year we are three in the field. The work seems to progress rapidly, the rows fall every hour, we go back and forth at seemingly great rates of speed. But just in comparison. Quickly it will seem plodding again, like Washington politics perhaps. But for a moment it seemed fast, we were moving quickly in the right direction. A sensation that had me half wanting to participate, just to see how far we could get.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Go tell it to the mountain. V/3

Well today came again. In fact it's still happening. Though I am getting pressed to get my small tasks completed before bedtime. Work is perhaps just work because it takes up so much time. Even when you quit early like I did today the day seems too short. I had to stop early to file some papers for my divorce. It’s been going on for three years so it wasn’t really pressing. It seemed like a good reason to leave early. At least for a moment I thought so.

I started the day out with the thoughts of my sister who said talk to the vines about how their harvest went. I figured why not, I wasn’t sure if I had eight hours of listening in me, but how much could they really have to say anyway. I would be working alone most of the day so I smoked up on the route to work. I was feeling ready for anything they had to say. At least I thought so.

I left the house all geared up. I had thought the sky was clear when I first woke up, but it’s just getting light out at that hour and so it is sometimes hard to tell totally covered from perfectly clear. Upon leaving the house I saw it was both. Clear in one direction, and dense gray clouds in mine.

The sun just coming up was still low enough to pass below the line of clouds. It created the kind of light photographers snap with. Shocking. In any case by the time I was sugared-up and half way to work a fine drizzle was falling. I was still in sunshine, but I could see the pack of clouds hugging the edge of the Larzac plateau (which is the southern end of the Massif Central). Small smoking clouds would break off from the mass and slide down the colines spitting rain and cold. All day long this advance guard tested the barometrics for an all out assault that threatened but never came. It did bring one thing that made me start thinking that plants can talk.

The road to work is a splendor, well half of it. It’s about ten kilometers total but the last six run through a landscape of hard core beauty which takes too many words to describe. Suffice it to say it is where the flat plain of the sea meets the rise of the massif central. It’s a land of seabed thrown up with volcanoes and the colors and shapes are rugged and distinct.

All that to say, on the route to work I can see the rise of the plateau where the vineyards are. They are easily noticed ordered squared shapes in the hazard of green forest they are cut out of. As I turned a corner I saw a rainbow. The end of it was smack in the middle of the vine where I am working. My immediate thought was ‘well isn’t that something’.

I’m so rigid in my ways. I want to believe but can’t. I want to talk with plants, or even humans for that matter, but constantly get stuck on the fact that we speak different languages. That they, or perhaps me, don’t really have anything to say anyway. But at the least every living thing speaks of life. I’ve never taken stock until then that I need to listen better.

The rainbow, like the thoughts, passed away. I worked all morning alone. Slow. The rows fall half as quickly with one. The key is to never look ahead. Keep your head down. Focus on the line. All the work is at knee height. Chop-chop-chop. One souche to the next. Clearing off their out-spread arms. Zip-zip-zip go the shears. Rip-rip-rip go the shoots pulled from the metal wires. What-what-what am I doing here.

The last harvest was good. For the farmer. The vines gave up record tons of grapes. Fat and Juicy they were. Vast quantities of raisins were produced. The vines are tired. They were pushed to their limit. They are fatigued, and concerned for their longevity. Some stand like the others but are wasted inside. They probably won’t make it through next year.

Over burdened is what they were all saying. Too much fertilizer, too much water, too many shoots, too many buds. Too many raisins crowded together vying for the limited resources of the root system. Too Much. Too many leaves leaves not enough airflow, not enough sunlight, hence fungicides. I can’t breath.

At harvest a giant diesel machine rode over the rows and shook the raisins off the stems, stored them and vomited them half juiced into a waiting truck. The raisins were picked and crushed before they had a chance to even mature. It was a disaster. The vines know they can’t go on like this. I saw some today that have already given up the ghost. Most of the others are like jews in the barracks at Auschwitz. Resting but dazed by the world they inhabit.

It is out of their reason to think it was planned this way. That the dying but still functioning system that they are caught in runs on quantity not quality. Their functional lifespan in this system is 15 years. Because of their genetic makeup they think they should live much much longer than that. But they won’t. Once they pass peak output after ten to fifteen years they are ripped out and replanted. Young vines produce quantity even if they don’t have the roots to make quality. The vines life for production wine is like Upton Sinclair’s Jungle, but for fruit. It’s harsh, violent and short lived. The vines are screaming fatigue. I heard that when I went down my row today.

Like a red cross nurse in world war one I do what I can to ease the suffering, but know it is helpless. I follow the vignerons rule. It’s his field, his life. When the decision arises, I do lean towards cutting them back a bit harsher to curtail their deadly abundance. But it won’t stop the system they are caught in.

In the afternoon the vignerons wife was there. It was windy, wet, and unpleasant. Then we saw a rainbow of vibrating colors. The whole arch was visible. It was very close and we could see the two ends where they touched the ground. The colors reached a point where they were glimmering and then suddenly another rainbow appeared just above it. Two rainbows always makes me think of Indian lands in the southwest. Indians are like the vines, they have been around since the beginning. They seem to just keep going no matter how hard the conditions become. Me, I left work early.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It sets in. V/2

There was no rain today. I worked thursday and friday last week, then had the weekend off. After work last night (yes it was only monday) I was already begging for rain. It was like a kid who goes to sleep amidst blizzard warnings and wakes up to wet roads, grey skies and school as usual. The shear folly of this stint in the vines has set in. Today the football field sized vine is just about half finished being trimmed back. There lay in wait at least ten more terrains to do after this one.

I was talking with the wife of the vigneron, she was working in the vines with me. For a moment we paused when we reached the end of a row. She looked back at all the neatly shorn souche we had just put in order. It was one more on the side of the finished. 'It seems to be going faster this year' she said. I looked at her strangely, which usually means I don't understand her local french words, which sometimes slide by me. I did understand the words but couldn't comprehend fwhy she would say that. So she added ‘we finished april 20 last year’. I said ‘yeah, that seems about right’. I can vaguely remember because I had scheduled a voyage for the end of april and I was getting nervous about making it. 'I always think we won't get it done, but we do'

When she said that I thought, how do I do it. That's assuming I forget the fact that I have to do it. It’s part of my romantic myth that I have some money in my pocket. But a myth doesn’t ever take stock of daily aches and pains. None the less I have to keep selling, and buying my myth to keep myself going. My body is already broken. So is my budget. I just keep at it.

I couldn’t help wonder what happens if my pockets are empty and my body can’t do it. A bit of misery is good on any resume, but the people who are interviewing you don’t want to see that it’s the first and last position you’ve held. Like math though, it's a subject I don't want to go to deep into.

My body, it’s working. I am working. In between I eat, sleep, and prepare for tomorrow. Mmm tomorrow, another whole day. I can do it. Tomorrow.

Happy says listen, perhaps the vines might be saying something. I think why not, it goes with the myth I want to tell myself. I mean just speaking practically, who could look away from 'vine listener' on a resumé.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Kenny V/1

Well I am back in the vines. Sunrise to Sunset. You can do that in the winter and still not have enough hours at the end of the week to make a big check. You know, one that makes you think the pressure is off for a while. That’s why the pay is in cash, liquide is how they say it here. They’re perfect the two words together in my head. The cash folds up in your pocket and the liquide flows right out again. All these small chunks of cash that I harvest in the vines.

It’s work. Clipping clipping clipping. Not unpleasant, at moments. It’s the continuousness of it that is the work. This field is like a football field, picture it in meters, yards, acres, hectares, whichever you can best sum up. The vines are planted in rows, each a meter (or 40 inches if you prefer - ladies which do you prefer) apart. The rows are two meters apart. It only takes two minutes per vine, but there are thousands all lined up and waiting to be shorn of their latest seasons matrix.

If you start doing the math (especially with a clock) it becomes brutal. In the farm world, simple mathematics lead to a sum that is futile, often depressing. |t is better to just look than think. Juggling with idle numbers you might inadvertently snip when you should’ve snapped. Look don’t think. Where will I put next, the blade of my electric shear? There is a year’s worth of the vines work you erase with each squeeze of the trigger. The future is altered, one way or the other. Quickly decide. Quickly decide. Quickly decide. All day long.

There are moments when you stop.

To smoke a cigarette, take on or off clothes, to look around, stretch your mono-positioned back (lean down and into the vine with your left shoulder, with left arm sweep together the serment, right hand position shear at correct height, finger pull trigger, left hand grab shoots and cast behind you). It always feels good to move into other formations, even if for a brief time.

Today the sky was full of clouds that were an assortment of blues that one would normally associate with tropical waters. It was stunning in the sense that I had never seen that before, a sky totally blue with clouds.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Limo Ride p. 1

It just fell to me, it was as if I had no choice in it.

Some one said to me one Tuesday night.
-hey you probably qualify to have a free transit card. You know because of your situation and all.
Proof, once again, that even in the worst of positions there is always a facet that shines, a face with a grin. An official who is officious. That’s what I’m looking for. It’s not always so evident in the land of babel.

In any case it was a project, something to do, a direction to head. The next morning I turned on the computer and searched some info on how to go about acquiring a free transit card. There was nothing precise but the right did seem to existed, and it appeared that I filled all the requirements. A few weak leads pointed to a bureau in town here. If I didn't dally I could catch them open. I brushed my teeth, shodded up and headed over to the bureau.

After receiving the requisite not our department run around, I was given a vague route towards another bureau where they might be able to answer my questions ‘avec plus de precision’. I went to this office and it was more of the same. (the gatekeeper, a pretty young girl of very local roots, was suspicious of my status - unwealthy american. She scoffs me when I jokingly apologize for breaking her myth that is, evidently, still active regarding us folk from the empire). I did glean one key piece of information - she let slip the magic words while on the phone with her superior asking what to do with me. (I never let on I have this same problem).
As she cocked the phone away from me, she inquired if the benefit I was looking for wasn’t the ‘carte mandarine. (see the orange on the bus? it’s all so clever, so coded, so hidden just in front of your face.)

I immediately went home, searched the word ‘carte mandarine’ and voila! No need for all the bureau’s and the bureaucrats. Trips in cars and forms and letters - not even the post. Transport L’Herault run by the Department of L’Herault, has all the info on a hard to find (without the secret words - carte mandarine.) web page. I dashed off an E-pistle about what was needed to secure this Carte Mandarine.

The next day the reply was in my e-mail in-box. They needed my address and a justification of my official situation. (Here I can say that ‘officially’ I am a wreck, how much this bleeds into my ‘unofficial’ personal life is another subject that I will surely reflect on during my upcoming bus rides). Everything could be done via email. I immediately scanned in the single sheet of paper necessary that shows my address and the fact that I am officially wanting and sent it off. It was France at its best. Fraternity Equality Liberty all with the friendly efficiency of the modern day technology.

Just 6 days later I open my mailbox and found an orange and blue themed envelope which upon opening revealed a similarly colored magnetically readable pass for all transit within the region. I was now holder of an all access, free pass on all modes of transit in the department. All grace of an aside from a stranger at a party on a Tuesday night. Long live les fetes. Vive le republic. I am full of dreams.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Oh. You.

Yes, you know. How I would like to write to you in your language, but again I will write with mine - addressed to you. I’d like to say it so you can hear it without any work. Mais je begaye dans ta langue maternal, and I want each word to drip into you.

You see I want to be filled with you. So each word I think and then scrawl across the screen is just a murmuring of your name, mmmmmm. I wish I could send it to you in the beautiful hand of Pierre I saw the other day. That script learned at the time when, if the letters weren’t formed just right, your hand got smacked. With a ruler or a pipe or whatever implement the teacher thought would spur you on to improvement. Sometimes it left scars, but more often it left letters, then words, which, like the spoken word here, flowed fluidly one into the other.

If I could write with that hand it would sound beautiful. You would believe for the rest of your life in unending love. But alas...

...I am a project of not a different time, but only a different priority. My work with numbers is excellent - they stand blocked and straight and clear when figured. In any case, nowadays, the words are instantly mediated as the fingers slap the keys. Just imagine the sentiment of these words written in an illuminated manner.

But in revenge words are free, and come easily when they are directed at you - the object of my desire. I want to say how wonderful it would be to sit beside you, drinking talking eating looking hearing, together, in gleaming full flowered France.

The other day was like that. With Pierre there was Paul reading. To hear the hand of Peter read by Paul was quite a treat, especially after having attended catholic school for so long.

That idea Pierre was fleshing out - a voice of directness - one talking to the other. Letters written alone, one sided. One voiced letters, one to another (Paul wanted to know who that one is, never mind about the other). In the directness of that voice comes the sound of pained wondering, a longing for the other to hear, not the words, but just the silent sounds attempting to vibrate with love for another.

The words trying to re-create the sound of one expressing fully to another.



They’re so romantic, slow, objectifiable, words scratched across paper. In letters, like fantasies, only your physical body is denied.

The physical body of my car checked out fine the other day at the control tecnique. They said - okay - I was relieved. When I went out to get it yesterday it was missing. I was confused because I thought I was sure where I had left it. Then I remembered - the marché. I had forgotten to move it for the weekly market. I checked with the local police and they said
-yes. It had been towed.

Strange, how after two years of moving the car every tuesday night, suddenly it is forgotten. What does that mean other than I ride a bus to the pound to fetch it and pay the145 euros of fees. In one forgotten action, half of my months disposable income vanishes. What else beside the budget is broken when the mind slips. What is this action, of forgetting.

In this case it led to you. On the walk from the bus stop to the tow lot I suddenly thought of you. It isn’t that I am not often thinking of you, it was just that it seemed as if you were there with me. As if you weren’t so far away.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Everyone has a dream.

I put a cork in 2300 bottles of wine today. It was part of the dream of the English doctor and his wife. They wanted to be wine makers, so they packed up jolly old england and traded it in for sunny south of France. He acquired some terrains and outfitted the barn at the back of their house with some modern but not fancy vintners equipment and, well, he’s making some wine.

On paper the dream always looks rosy, in real life it can get a little sloppy. Between working a few days in the local clinic, and trying to make a go in the wine business, a little baby and another on the way, a 200 year old house that is quaint but needs work, he is often a bit pressed. Even in a small operation one man can’t do it all.

He called me the other day to see if I was available to help him put his latest batch of wine in bottles. It’s a precise, if not exact time frame that dictates everything done in the wine making process. Now was the time to get it in the bottle. He called me a bit frantic wondering if I could help him the next day. I am beginning to get a reputation as a worker who is usually available, and cheap, one could almost say easy.

I said “yes, okay, tomorrow at eight”

Now, I have my dream too, I would be hard pressed to say exactly what it is, but it seems to have something to do with watching others go about theirs. In effect, it’s how I make my living here in this land of dreamers. I restore their centuries old building, pick their olives, bottle their wine, prune their vines, construct their new vacation home. Even my woman is working on hers, she’s about to get her masters degree. They all came here with an active dream. I mean what kind of image do you pull up when you say the phrase ‘South of France’.

I would guess that it often includes a few bottles of wine (which i did get as a prime de panier) but I’d also say that your revery would rarely include a work day which leaves you with 45 euros in your pocket. Which is almost the equivalent of a tank of gasoline for a small automobile. This nagging lack of cash that lingers like a chronic cough is one reason I concentrate on watching other folks go about living their dreams. It reinforces a myth that I can’t psychologically afford to let die. The dream that the life in the south of France is gay and colorful and full of rich tastes. It’s not that always being broke prevents you from dreaming, it’s just that the actual living out of the dream is a bit more difficult without a full fledged income.

Poor though is relative. The fact that I eat regularly and have a roof over my head makes me rich in comparison to the vast percentage of the worlds population. There are times though when the others misery isn’t enough to rinse the bitter taste from my own mouth.

I went to get two new tires today so I can pass the automobile control this week. It has to be done every two years and my time is up. Premier prix. Rock bottom. A hundred and ten euros. I gave the guy my bank card. It came up wanting. I thought I had a bit left. The tire guy, though he had to listen, didn’t really care. He just heard - DENIED. The more I explained, the more lame it sounded. I told him I would come back. I had to leave the car there and hoof it back to my womans house to get a check from her.

There was nothing romantic or myth producing about the two mile walk. It runs along an ugly, busy road that runs through the industrial zone. If there were still railroad tracks it would have been on the other side of them. The route was wet and noisy. It was somewhat sunny out, but the general feeling was windy and cold. Like the failure of the boy scout that I am, I wasn’t prepared. For the bad card, for the walk, for being poor, even for being in France. I just wasn’t prepared.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Oh no, Another Feast

Back from the vacation again. A quick trip to the Arriege. The Pyrenees and Montsegur, last stronghold of the Cathars. The mountains are still there but not the Cathars, at least not in any organized form. So instead we visited grandma. We stopped in to eat the goose and see about her broken elbow that kept us from eating that goose on Christmas.

In France it’s all about the food, and at the holiday time this is more present than normal. Everyone is laying it out and at the start of the holiday week, sitting in a little local wine bar with a few friends we splurged and ordered a bit of foie gras. Somehow it led to a discussion about the methods of going about enlarging the liver of the geese or ducks to acquire this very tender delicacy. Unfortunately the night ended with a discourse on the habit of eating foods packed with ‘bad spirits’ and well, I could only agree and consequently swore off my now tainted habit that reaches a peak at this time of the year. At the time it seemed not only logical and sane, but fairly easy to do. I mean who wants to feast on the fruits of torture.

As I said it seemed like a simple thing to do. Like all other seemingly simple acts it required a lot more than I bargained for. It started in the Pyrenees, which accounts for a good part of the 17,000 tons of fois gras produced annually in France. We weren’t at grandma’s house more than an hour before the food started coming out. She was preparing the diner for the village new years fete and there was no limit to the quantity of delicacies lying about in the kitchen. The first thing she offered was some foie gras, which she was in train of stuffing into prunes which would be served hot with the filet mignon the next evening. I looked at her daughter who had been with me that infamous night two days earlier. She looked at me and smiled. I am not sure if it was because of my fresh dilemma or because she is hip to my frequent late night testimonies of good will that are quickly forgotten the next morning. In any case I remained mute for a moment and then I heard from the kitchen, “I have some with truffles too”.

Well I took that as a sign that I had been too excessive in my recent proclamation. I don’t know if you have ever tasted foie gras or truffles, both of which are exceedingly tasty. Perhaps you have, and if you have tasted them together then you already know my response. I decided that it would be impolite to my host to refuse. I quickly added aloud to my wife that it made much more sense to make my decision effective at the beginning of the new year. We all need resolutions for the new year and now I had one . The sauterne was opened and the fattened livered consumed. Delicately laced with the perfume of truffle it danced in my mouth and left flavors that didn’t stop giving. Simply put, it was very, very good.

Little did I know then that my holiday crisis was just beginning. The next day on the table at a friends there was the foie gras again. I ate it. I reiterated the story of the tasty but bad spirits and my decision for that nights resolution. If it was possible, it almost tasted better knowing it would be my last. Then we got ready for the new years party.

It was like any other new years party, a few friends, a lot of champagne, a lot of good food, a bit of dancing. The only thing that was different was that there was one guest who was a butcher and his wife from the area. They fondly call him the pig man because he deals in pork of very high quality. He picks and chooses his animals from the farmers themselves. All small local producers, all traditional and all sane. The meats and sausages he produces are fantastic and often best just eaten raw. They have flavor that you wouldn’t know existed if you’ve only eaten mass produced products.

We were at the table again about one o’clock when he comes in from the kitchen with an entire ducks liver, pinkish brown and just a bit shiny sitting on a plate. Everyone at the table almost oohing and ahhing as he set it down. Everyone that is but me. I am groaning at the folly of my attempt. They all say his foie gras is the best. Subtle, smooth, full of taste. Having eaten many of his other products I can’t doubt it.

Again the discussion, and then he explains where he acquires it, how he prepares it. About the traditional method of gavage, the stuffing of the geese and ducks. From ancient Egypt, then Rome, now here still. You see the fowl have a natural attitude towards over eating, a stockage of fat for the migratory season. Sure the local farmers push that natural aptitude but if you let the birds go they will regain their natural form just as they do in the wild. It all made sense. Being still within the past years calendar (technically it was still December 31st evening) I served myself a small piece. They were right it was a perfect texture, delicious, the best I can remember eating. Just before serving myself more I saw all the bad spirits leave the liver that was before me. It was then that I firmly decided never to make a new years resolution again.