Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Le temps des secrets. The heart of the V/series.

I wish I really had work instead of just writing about it. It would be so much more fruitful. I mean how many stories can you wring out of just a few days work. You see I am a deadbeat here in france. It's not by choice I just can’t find work, even immigrant work. There are french people taking those minimum wage, off the book jobs that I wish were reserved for immigrant workers. Times are tough, la crise is here too.

I had my two days work and then it was good bye. My vigneron is just a guy who delivered my wood. He said he had a couple of days work. I did spend a few days in the vines and they were great. I have to admit though, the stories of work in the fields are conjured of old dreams from the days when I would walk around my village.

You know, the one where I used to live. The one that my, sometime hopefully in the future, ex-wife (unlike President Sarkozy who got his divorce in two months, mine now trains on into it’s fourth year. It is exactly where it started regardless of two decisions rendered. Did I just hear someone calling for another appeal) is still in. It’s where she hoards my children.

Being without a job does have it’s privileges. At the time (when I was married and in St Jean B) one of those was walks out in the french countryside. You must believe that all those beautiful things I told you that I saw in the vines are true, even if how I got to see them wasn’t. That little village was so romantic a place that everyone who moved there became some kind of writer, or at least a painter.

It had that kind of effect on me too when I walked around among the vineyards and olives and little garden plots. It’s deep south of france country, it makes you want to be a paysan. Not being able to become one, I tried for a Marcel Pagnol kind of thing. You know writing about the paysans as if you lived among the paysans.

I would sit in the fields and watch them go about their work. One season following another. Quite nice, but once back in the house my wife would walk in after her job and the romantic story would become a slasher film. I gave up one and by consequence the other. Now I have no house, kids or job. It’s for that I fell back to fabricating stories. Churning up the memories of walking in my little village town watching the workers in the vineyards made me nostalgic, romantic. All my free time got me wanting to be Marcel Pagnol again. Create a bit of that famous french romance.

I have a lot of romance, the only thing I don’t have is money Now thanks to my one time in the future ex-wife who just made a new appeal to the French Judiciary I won’t have any for the considerable future. I need a job, a lawyer, and a new file to go alongside the one on my desk which is already over filled with he said, she said, legal mumbo jumbo collected over 3 years.

I feel like I just got re-upped, against my will, for another stint in the army. In a romantic world I would say the french foreign legion, but I’m not feeling romantic. That’s why I figured I would confess and tell you that all the stories I’ve been telling you about my work in the vines were a lie, well not a lie, just a story. I don’t feel like any more stories about romantic worlds. In the future I promise to try to be more honest with mes petites histoires de mon vie en france. Starting today.

I wanted you to know, just so that in the end there won’t be any misunderstandings.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Psycho's and surprises.

Some days just can’t be figured out until they happen. When I woke up this morning it seemed like it would be just a tuesday in the vines working. I didn’t know it would start off with a croissant, but it did. My son ran out to the boulanger before school and brought one home for everyone. It can all be so good if that’s the way you want to look at it.

Why not. I had to get gasoline this morning too. It was going to be a sunny day. Or so I thought. In any case at eight thirty it was golden red. I gassed up and then was feeling so good that I sugared up too. Oh yeah. Thanks to that little break, the timing was just right for an eagle to fly beside me and land on a bush just on the roadside as I drove to work. Who could have seen that coming.

I had a couple of minutes so I stopped and watched him until I had to go. I honked my horn before leaving and watched him glide off, all gold as he caught the rising sun along with the wind. Hmm.

I didn’t know my son was going to call before I got to work, upset and worrying he had done something wrong because his mothers car got broken into. Yes, how does that train of thought arise. I try not to speculate on that. It’s not any different than the parent who doesn’t look too hard when their kid is getting abused. What can I do, there is no legal provision for proving psychological damage. Though it seems that stressed children usually are a pointer.

The day went quickly. The sun warmed everything up and by the afternoon, we were stripped down to t-shirts. After yesterday’s cold 75mph winds, it was surprising. No surprise there.

The big surprise came when I got home. There was a letter for me from my divorce lawyer. After three years of one sided wrangling we finally got a decision. It was exactly what I offered (close to everything) in the beginning. She got the kids 80% of the time, and the house, I got to be unmarried to her. It was the only way to keep from dying a long sad death along with her. It had to be done.

So the letter came and it said my ex wife (one day) was appealing the decision. That was not expected, I mean how much more than everything can one get? But that is what this woman I once called wife wants. Everyone's heard that Hell has no fury like a scorned woman, but what they don't often hear is that Heaven has no joy like a divorced man. You see it's all how you look at. For better or worse, it seems like I'll have another few years to do just that.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Word from the eastern front V/15

The battle wages on. We have breached the half way point. Six fields stripped down to the bare stumps. The old shoots churned up and now invisible, just a bit of organic matter that feeds the future. It’s not unlike an animal that eats its offspring to continue living. Or if you like it closer to home (homme), the Donner Party. They got snowed in for a winter in the Sierra Nevada mountains and ended up eating each other. Organic matter. We all need it.

So as the world in the vines advances, the outside world which demands my getting by as a stranger in a strange land doesn’t cease. If anything it becomes more insistent because of the lack of time I can donate to it. Being a fake farmer is even more tiring than being a real one.

The idea of one thing at a time doesn’t work when that one thing goes on for months. I’ve missed the deadline for the taxes, I haven’t made an appointment at the eye doctor, and I have a stack of various official looking letters sitting on the kitchen counter that haven’t been read yet, in part due to the unseen eye doctor.

It’s a rat race here too. It’s just slower and there is more cheese about. Perhaps field mouse marathon is closer to the just description of the pace here. In that case I could say that I am coming up on the 20 mile mark, otherwise known in the world of marathoners as ‘the wall’.

“The Wall.” It evades easy definition, but to borrow from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of obscenity, you know it when you see it—or rather, hit it. It usually happens around mile 20, give or take a couple of miles. Your pace slows, sometimes considerably. You feel as though your legs have been filled with lead. Sometimes you can’t feel your feet at all. Thought processes become a little fuzzy. (“Mile 22, again? I thought I just passed mile 22!”) Muscle coordination goes out the window, and self-doubt casts a deep shadow over the soul.

Yes, self doubt and a deep shadow over the soul. It’s for this I crave the sunshine, it creates a chemical chain reaction that counteracts doubt. In fact it’s one of the reasons the vines attract me. If the sun is out, (which it often is here) the vines are in it. The vines whole life cycle is dependent on massive doses of sun. Mine too, after all, I am a Leo.

It was glowing bright light yesterday and eventually we stripped down to shirt sleeves. Hmm yes. The sun. It keeps the soul shadow free, the skin toned, and the muscles limber. But once again the French administrative world was knocking. Actually it was insistently pounding on the door in the form of the requisite monthly meeting for wards of the state. That includes me. I like to be included in things, but this meant that I had to quit both work and the sun before they were finished for the day.

At three o’clock I found myself sitting again in the windowless basement office of the Lodeve MSA office awaiting Mme. Montseratt. She is a cloud that casts a shadow of self doubt over souls throughout the department. It isn’t her as much as what she represents. Namely the numberless gate keepers of low ranking bureaucratic status who thrive on making access to the social system more complicated than it really is. I can’t really blame them, it’s a form of job protection, but to miss a sunny day for this kind of man-handling throws a deep shadow of doubt over my soul. I am not talking Thomas' questions but rather his teachers in Gethsemane when he wondered, at the most fundamental level, how he came to this. Oh. Where are my raisins in the sun.

By the time I leave the bureau it is five thirty. The sun is still up but it’s heat is gone and it is throwing off that low angled sharp light of late winter afternoons. That glaring dirty light that arrives just before dusk and which flattens out everything in it’s path. It’s a heat-less light which highlights all the blemishes of our human constructions, our improvements on this earth. It throws long, harsh shadows.

By the time I get home the sun is down. In the western sky, in a limitlessly dark blue sky Venus is like a beacon. In the moment when I step out of my car and look up at the transparent dark blueness that fills the distance between that planet and myself I am stunned into forgetting everything mundane and un-wonderful that comprised my day. The warmth of the sun, the dark blue transparency of the sky, and the house full of souls on vacation rested.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A little vacation romance.

A little romance for you today, after all st valentine shouldn’t be forgotten just because his day has past. It’s also a vacation week and the house is stocked with nine souls, and a few others that pass through to visit. It puts me in a romantic mood, the warm house in winter with a lot of activity. During vacation everything seems romantic, even work.

Even migrant work. That’s why I put the three boys in the car after lunch and we headed to the vines. Vacation in the south of france countryside. Pruning vines in the sun that glimmers on the Mediterranean in the distance. What sounds more romantic than that.

Not much, and for a short afternoon it is just that. The taille, like coal mining, is work that kids are actually well suited for. Their short stature gives them a decided advantage - their little backs don’t have to stoop to reach the vines.

They do the pre-taille. Cut the vines back, leaving them long and ripping the tangled rest out of the metal guide wires they cling to. We come along after and just clip the rest down to where they need to be.

For boys, these three were 10,12, and 14, it’s ideal work. At least in it’s concept, if not it’s duration. The basic job involves cutting and ripping and pulling out. You also get furnished with very sharp hand shears. You are outside. You can make as much noise as you want. You also have long whips of various shapes and lengths in your hand at all times with which to flog your co-workers. In short it’s ideal.

The only problem with kids today is they refuse to work all day long. They're just not as productive a in the olden days. Then, I guess you would just take a vine and whip them until they worked efficiently and silently, like those racially mixed kids in the cave, in the Indiana Jones Movie, did. But being neither in the olden days (at least currently they aren’t old, though they said the same thing in 1909, or 1209 for that matter), or in the movies, we just aren’t allowed to whip kids to get them to work. In short, the work day was brief.

Which conveniently worked out well for me. Because even though I work sporadically, I like vacation too, and this kind of workday is just that On vacation one goes to the office with pleasure because you know you can leave when you want. It doesn’t seem like work when you don’t have to do it. Consequently the concept of work is removed from the workplace. It’s a lovely state of being.

After our pancake breakfast at 11:30, we made our thermos of tea, got our shears and off we went to the vines. It was our days outing. It’s like going to a museum, it’s interactive. But in a real way. You are on the land. The french land, and you are in a vineyard.

The work is good for about a half hour of attack mode, a half hour of encouragment mode, a half an hour of prodding mode, and a half hour of horseplay before the shears are discarded and they are romping around in the woods which border the vines. It is all just as I previewed. It’s sunny and we’re all outside. The boys play and I work with the vigneron and his wife for another hour before I call it quits. My good will (and fake farmer status) validated by my even showing up. We were all packed up and leaving long before the sun went down.

After everyone over bandages their tiny blisters we head out to eat. The project being to earn some money and then spend it. We spend it on pizza. What else can you get for 5 euros a head, which is just what the vigneron slipped them all before we left. They are like fisherman back on land after a month at sea. They recount their stories of the work, the tears and travail. I couldn’t be happier - they all agree that migrant farm work should be for someone else.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Be brief. V/14

We go up and down the rows. Each day the swath grows larger until one day we are finished. Then we move on.

Like the weather, today there was everything. Weather of all sorts, the leitmotif was the wind. It just kept coming, hard, cold, non stop. There was sun and then clouds and then more sun. The jackets came off and the jackets went back on. Over and over. Hot, cold, and always the wind. Loud, biting. It’s a strange mix with the full sun.

I woke up from my nap hot. My car was like a little green house protected from the north wind and baking in the sun. Five minutes later it was snowing. I saw it come in from just up the road. Wild. A little storm. full of angry dark clouds sneaking down from the mountain ridge and moving through the colline. It was coming right towards me. The wind was screaming and the little storm was moving at a good clip even though it looked heavy with moisture. I could see the sun disappearing on the ground as it advanced. It was isolated but intense.

The sun was still shining just until the rain, hail, snow fell. It came with an advanced guard of small rainbows. There was one that I saw advance through the field in front of me. Literally a light beam of color sweeping across the ground. It was a like a little personal storm to wake up by. It wasn't even big enough to darken the surrounding hills.

When the rainbow advanced to within a hundred yards of me the wind stopped dead for a moment. Then the rainbow went out and the tiny hail hit, the wind recommenced with full force, and the snow fell. For two or three minutes it came down like crazy and then it stopped and the sun was back out within a minute or two. Intense.

I watched the dark little storm drop a glimmering white light below it as the little storm moved across the valley. The wind continued, we continued. Little by little we advance. They say that little steps make the great voyage, but we just go back and forth. Like a day in the cab, no matter how far you drive, you end up in the same place as you started. In the meantime there are naps in the car and violent storms.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

them bones, them bones, them funny bones. V/13 pt.1

I am in the vines and wet. It spit rain on and off today. In the end we quit early because of it. There were an amazing quantity of rainbows today - small intimate ones. They span a field or two. You can often see both feet of the arch touching down. They are so many that unless they have some special rainbow quality, like the full arc or glimmering color, you tend to ignore them.

That was just a side show to the big fight that was going on all day up high over our heads. It featured two heavy weight contenders - the massif central and the Mediterranean sea. We were on the front line. Hence the rainbows appearing like mushrooms on a moonless night.

The massive central was throwing down some wind at full force. Backed up with monster clouds and wet, gray biting rain that the vigneron called melted snow. The whole mass was hanging on the top of the plateau, just to our backs all day. Every hour or so it would make a push, overtaking the blue skies in an attempt at reaching the sea. It would rain, never hard, but constant. Just enough so that you thought you could continue working... at least the vigneron thought we could, though in the end it was him who called the day finished. I actually was ready to stay. It’s my fake farmer pride that doesn’t let me pussy out, at least not on the exterior.

It was four thirty when we quit. The vines we’re working are up the road a bit from the town where, when I moved to France, I had a house. A little maison de village, a 700 year old rock townhouse. I had a wife and two kids there too. They are all still there, I am not. I still see them on my small quantities of court appointed time, at least the two kids , the wife and the house are ‘interdit’. It kind of takes some of the romance out of me each time I pass there. Wicked.

So as I passed through my old little village in the drizzling rain I came across a hitchhiker. I had seen him a half an hour earlier in the vines. He was walking along the trail of Saint Jacques de Compostelle that runs right through the vines. You know le chemin de St Jacques - The Way of St. James, it’s the pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain. Tradition has it that the remains of the apostle, Saint James, are buried. In fact the church is built upon the grave site.

There is another tradition (without the press and consequently the pilgrams) that claims that the bodily remains at Santiago belong to Priscillian, the fourth-century Galician leader of an ascetic Christian sect - Priscillianism. He was one of the first Christian heretics to be executed. You remember Pricillian and his ism - it was derived from the Gnostic-Manichean doctrines taught by Marcus, an Egyptian from Memphis, and later considered a heresy by the Roman Catholic Church. Remember? - at the synod at Saragossa in 380. There are a lot of battles that are waged, and which like the weather, pass and get forgotten.

At the time it was a giant battle for the newly forming Christ network. There were a lot of hot human beings fighting on both sides. A locale ward boss, a certain Hyginus (a.k.a. mr. clean) made his fears known about Priscillianism to Hydatius Bishop of Emerita (Mérida), and Ithacius of Ossanoba. The bishops of Hispania and Aquitaine then held that synod at Sargossa and well, Priscillian and his leaders were excommunicated for there ‘heresies’.

The wrap they officially got them on was the Priscillianian's were talking dualism. The old light/dark thing. The side of Light was the Twelve Patriarchs, heavenly spirits, who corresponded to certain of man's higher powers, and on the side of Darkness, the Signs of the Zodiac, the symbols of matter and the lower kingdom. Not only bad dogma, but black magic said Rome. Priscillian gets the heretics torch, and 150 later Priscillianism, for better or worse, was a non-existant religion.

You see there are always the forgotten in history. Even though for centuries they looked ‘historic’. It always comes down to who will be making the rules, and therefore collecting the tribute. It costs to run an efficient business. It was all about control of the expanding client base. Imperial Rome was going out of business and the catholic church was stepping in. They were pushing a growth strategy. There was an extreme interest to increase territories while maintaining rigid control on already existing markets. Just simple good business.

Iberia was Rome’s and though the Visigoths where rapidly replacing the ceasars, holy Rome would truck no competitors for the flocks’ spiritual dominion. Rome’s strategy was simple, The first step for any upstarts with their local interpretations of the good word was a sit down with a proposition they couldn’t refuse.

Excommunication came next. Excommunication was the black hand of fate as controlled by it’s earthly stewards. You get excommunicated and you are not only out of business, you are eliminated. Think of it like being Will Smith in ‘Enemy of the State’ with Gene Hackman as St Augustine.

In the end the church won and so the bones are St. James the apostle. The pilgrimage came much later in the 800’s when a miracle revealed the whereabouts and identity of these bones. The local bishop pushed it (“G-D dammit don’t you know what an apostle can bring in”) and by the 12th century it ranked with Jerusalem and Rome on the pilgrimage tour. For centuries it was the Mecca of European Christiandom.

By the 15th century the pilgrim traffic had died way down and it wasn’t until the 20th that it picked back up. In any case one of the routes runs right through the vines where I work. I often see folks all backpacked up making the route, alone or in groups. They mostly do small sections of the route, step by step they might make it all before they die, like doing the Appalachian trail.

Pt. 2 the hitchhiker...

The guy I picked up was making his way, all the way, to the holy shrine of old bones in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, (and not the Cathedral of Proscillian of Galicia) in the northwestern coast of Spain, in one shot. He’s been on the road for the last three months. he started in Antwerp.

He looked a bit odd when he first stepped in the car...

Monday, February 9, 2009

It has set in. V/12

It has set in. I always know when it has. The are little signs that start to appear. It’s usually about a third of the way into the job, or season. You see being a seasonal worker the jobs, and the seasons, come and go. Seasonal worker, it’s one step up from being a migrant worker. In the agricultural world the migrants are the street whores and the local seasonal workers are the call girls. We're not, yet, totally beaten up.

The fall is gradual. At times imperceptible. But it is. There are little signs that mark the descent. Like I said, they start appearing about a third of the way in. Which is where we are now, give or take a week. We just finished the grenache blanc today. I woke up this morning and the ring finger of my right hand was locked into a clenched position. That’s a sign.

This happened last year at the end of the taille, and well, it’s happening again now. Street whores are often ex-call girls, the leading cause for their descent to the lower paying/status job being a physical disfigurement. It's always better to look pretty when your being told what to do. It's also pays to keep your mouth shut.

I got to work at nine this morning. The day was still. No wind, fifty degrees. The sky was covered all day, the sun never came out but the light was clear. I was alone when I got there. I decided I would sugar up a bit. That's a sign too. The vigneron and his wife came at ten. The day passed quickly. I took an hour nap in the car. Dead - Calm.

I picked up a little prime de panier today. (something for your basket) The vigneron told me to come up to the house for a drink after work. His kids are at grandma’s for the week school vacation and he and his wife are feeling good. When I got there he laid a little bonus on me - a couple of big steaks, and a leg of sanglier - fresh from saturdays hunt. Oh yeah.

The sangliers are everywhere here but unless you hunt them, or pay out in the rare restaurant you rarely get to eat any. I was feeling good driving home today. Like a call girl when she leaves the trick’s room with an eight ball of coke as her prime de panier. Me, I get boar meat, but we both feel good about our jobs.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Oh Beziers.

It’s sunday again. It is sunny. From inside the house it is a beautiful day. Outside there is a fierce wind blowing from the North. It comes bleak and with an existential force. It seems deceitful - the beautiful look with the raw feel.

But it's sunday, no need to stop looking. There are always reasons to be cheerful - three.

number 1. prunes are like tobacco, if you sprinkle a little water in their bag they both can rehydrate and consequently taste better.

number 2. From the hottest book in that old great book, the Song of Songs... "My love peers through the lattices" - "meitzitz min ha charakim" - HOT - that act of looking, peeking in. A strange tongue. G-d is hiding in the tzitzit, the fringes, longing to catch our attention.

Number 3. I was in Beziers yesterday and the date wasn’t july 22, 1209. If it had been, I would most likely be dead. You see that was the day the crusaders under the command of Arnaud-Amaury, the legate of pope Innocent III in bed with the king of France against the cathers (albigensiens if you will) got his way in Beziers. The orders seemed to be kill everyone inside the city. When asked by a Crusader how to tell Catholics from Cathars once they had taken the city, the abbot supposedly replied, "Kill them all, God will know His own" - or perhaps it sounded more like this - "Neca eos omnes. Deus suos agnoscet

Beziers has seemed damned ever since. Maudit is perhaps closer to the feel. In any sense Beziers has all the reasons to be attractive, and yet it always leaves a taste you want to rinse from your mouth. Perhaps that’s the reason for the unending stalls of beer in town for the feria in august. It’s a big carnival of blood letting proportions. For five days a hot crowded swill drinking mass converges for the festive killing of the bull in the towns arena. At night they swarm about. The crowd is a volatile mix of Nascar and the middle ages, and only ends when the riot police go home.

Oh Beziers. I want to be in love with you and your prime sunny location on the ancient coastal route of the mer Mediterranean. I want to romance in your grand parks and among the confectioned buildings that stand within you. Oh Beziers, with your beautiful old bridge spanning the river orb, and your city wall layed with stone carved by roman hands, why are you so sad...

So its 2009 and not 1209, consequently when I was in Beziers yesterday I didn’t get killed, but I did feel Damned. I went to Beziers for a children's gymnastics competition. The wind was blowing, even inside. The thing went on for hours. It was cold and there were no seats. So many little Tanya Hardings, but without the talent, being pursued, preserved on digital devices of every kind. The town was gray even in the windy sun - the garbage blowing and gathering in corners. It's hard to be old and attractive when you've seen so much suffering. Beziers. Brutal.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Take what belongs to you, and go. V/11

I want to say nothing happened today but that wouldn’t really be true. Lots of things happened today, just not to me.

The work remains the same, the weather is the only thing that changes. It was a bit of everything. I put on, and took off, and then put on again, almost every article of clothing I had today. It was cold and cloudy and windy, sunny and warm, cloudy and still. It rained a bit after lunch.

A damp breeze and banks of dark, loaded, gray clouds, some tinged in radiant white were cruising in one after the other from the sea. Boom. They would run into what the A.O.C. calls the Terraces du Larzac, get caught in the colines and storm. All morning we were just a bit too low and in the wrong coline to get rained out. As I hunkered in for my after lunch siesta in the car, it was dark enough to dream of rain.

My dream became real. It rained in the afternoon but not enough to stop working. It just as well, I can use the hours. That’s all I really earn, is hours, because I get most of the money when I finish working and me and my vigneron say à la prochain and square up the ledgers - Take what belongs to you, and go. Until then it’s on something of an account. Meanwhile I am like a whore who asks her mac for a bit of spending money when the basic needs, or a night out with the girls arises.

It’s low budget, this migrant work. Literally toiling in the vineyards. The moments though, arrive. They just weren’t today.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

One moment without the rest V/10

It’s a critical regard I’m after. If it’s all good, why will it get better. Tell me what you think. At least let me know you see me. That’s what I got today in the vines. A regard from on high.

There is a military base 60 kilometers up the road as the crow flies, or rather as the Mirage F1 flies. It’s up on the scrubby open land of the Larzac Plateau. It’s just around the corner from Roquefort, where they make the cheese. You see, the sheep like that scrubby, open, high plateau land too.

The sheep have been grazing up there for centuries. The Romans got it started, but it was cardinal Richelieu who really made it go. He turned the Larzac into an high performance economic engine when he funneled the contract for the royal army uniforms into the parish of Lodeve. Family connections or something like that. Thanks to that contract Lodeve became a center of wool fabrication in France. It was still a center up until the 1970’s. Just before everyone went to Asia.

Now what comes down from the Larzac are the jets. High end, state of the art fighter jets. In the vines you see them almost everyday. They fly low and fast and high and supersonic. They rip along at altitudes often lower than the surrounding hills. At a distance they are graceful, sweeping and rolling, in long smooth arcs, in and around the volcanic hills that form this zone. When they go right overhead it’s a bit more corporal. Graceful is replaced with crazy. Pounding. Screaming. Raw.

There were two planes that swept right overhead today. Much lower than the close-in clouds that wafted by the other day. I saw them from a long distance. When the sound fills the entire sky I have to stop and look. You need to sweep the sky to spot them. I picked these two up right above the horizon, coming from the direction south west, les mountains carroux. They were tracking right towards me.

I was working alone this morning. So I paused. I stood all the way up, raised my arms and waved at them like you would if you were stranded on a desert island. The two planes were one behind the other and low to the point where you could make out the silhouette of the pilot under the canopy.

The first plane roared over head. In a second the next came screaming by. As it did it rolled a quarter left, turned quickly upright, and then quickly a quarter right before leveling out and continuing with a ‘saw you’ quick thin trail of smoke spit out from each wing tip. All-right!

In an afternoon mission they will burn the quantity of gas the average car driver uses in two years. But so what, right. Flying that low, and a hello - from up there to the middle of nowhere. That’s what I call a very critical regard. It's nice to get it returned, it’s what I am giving all day long - before each squeeze of the trigger.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

more of the same

It’s raining again today. Another day off isn’t as fun as I thought. I am always a victim of my weakest desires. Sloth slips into the mindset and reflects up from the rainy streets of my little backwater town. My town is just like yours, sometimes it looks ugly. But don’t be overly concerned, it’s only a reflection.

I wanted another day off even though I have nothing to do. It’s four days now of rain. I haven’t left the house for three. I find myself a bit antsy at getting back into the vines, and antsy about having to go back there too. It’s winter. The work is outside. Without the sunshine the taille is just hard core migrant stoop work. But without the taille, I am just an exile in the backwaters of France, on a nasty, gray, rainy day. Do you see my dilemma?

Oh, winter rain. This isn’t the light, silver mist of spring, that highlights the almost florescent green, just budding landscape as it shocks itself back to life. This is a flat out, gray-nearing black, winter incident. It’ s the feeling of a three day nor’easter when it runs into five and all the big storm excitement has dissipated and just the nagging wind and the insistent wet gray remain.

I stand at the doors in the kitchen to smoke my endless cigarettes. From here, I look out onto the place. Sometimes I see other smokers on their little balconies, or hanging out their windows, but we are far enough away to be anonymous. In the sun, this little balcony where I look out from is the full-on romantic vision of the south of france. Today it is not.

Today it looks out onto what you might refer to as a crumbling forgotten town. Grey and cold, and half deserted. Like a Nebraska town in winter. Scattered with old wind blown snow piles on the main street, with no signs of active life anywhere. There is no center of action. A weak light in a shop windows reveals no one behind it. In another, you glimpse a man sitting motionless at his desk. The barber shop looks like it closed one day and no ones returned in years. You think - my god - how do they do it. How do they come to live here, what do they do here, why do they stay?

The rain is falling. Slowly, constantly. There is a clear precise light on the wet buildings, wet trees, wet ground. It contrasts sharply with the diffuse, vague gray mass that hovers just above the town. It throws some details, usually blanched out by the sun, starkly into focus. They aren’t pretty. The stains of a thousand years of patched living are leaching out of the mortar that holds this town together. The shutters are rotting and the wrought iron rusting. The cars are all dented and the crown of the statue chipped. The garage doors are tagged and the garbage overflowing. Nebraska, France. Bienvenue!

It will be better tomorrow. At least that’s what they say. I have to believe them when they say the weathers changing. It always does. Nothing lasts forever.

My vigneron, S., told M. Guy he would stop over as soon as they had a rain day. That way they would have time to talk, quietly, in detail. He said that last friday just as the nor’easter was heading into town. It’s rained ever since. I guess he really wants those parcels.

Monday, February 2, 2009

I had an idea today V/9 pt. 2

The old farmer from St. Jean came by today. He has the four hectares my vigneron is working. They are nice parcels, down by the river. He wanted my vigneron to come over to the house to ‘talk’. In the field they talked about the weather, hospital care for the elderly and funereal concerns, something about the daughter in Lyon. All briefly. We were working. Details take time. Hence the sit-down.

The old man is dying. His wife is dying too. She will probably go first he says. He sounds like he won’t wait much longer after she does go. He is fed up. Not bitter, but something that hints of that same taste, touches that same area of strong, not pleasant sensation. In the end there are doctors and hospitals. He finds himself operating in a world of people who don’t care or have time, and right now those are the only two things he wants. In spite of that the life goes on. In the meantime there are affairs to be arranged.

M. Guy was a gardener in Paris for 20 years. He was employed by the abdicated king of England, Edward VIII. Re-titled as Duke of Windsor, Edward lived in Paris with his forbidden bride until he died in 1972. It was then that M. Guy left Paris and installed with his wife in St Jean. He said they were all given a nice bonus when he left. That gesture made the rest of M. Guys life more secure, less fraught with stress. Perhaps in consequence M. Guy is a generally pleasant and happy man. He attributes a lot of that regard on life to the Gardens of the Duke of Windsor

So M. Guy got his vines in the village, and made the world in his order. Along his vines he had all kinds of flowers, and fruit trees. There was plenty of water from the stream that runs along his vines. The life flourished and he lived it among the paysans with a constant and quiet knowledge of his earthy but not peasant past. They had at least one daughter. The daughter is 40ish, perhaps she was even born in St Jean, but in any case now lives in Lyon and visits once in a while with her family.

Alors... now it is 2009 and this couple is I guess in their eighties. He is dying, running out of steam as he says it. He sounds so British when he says “Running out of Steam” even though he is speaking French. He is French, but his time under Edward changed him, “given me an English color” he said. He seemed happy at having acquired it.

That’s why he had an interest in me. For him the Americans were some kind of stranger, shinier offspring of the already strange English. He had taken a liking to them during his time tending the Paris garden of the expatriated English King and his American wife. That story was sold as a heroic English love story. It played out, like the war that was brewing in 1936 (and perhaps because of it) on a global scale. The old vigneron standing in front of me had witnessed a part of that global love story on a very intimate scale. He thought well towards the Duke’s wife, Ms. Wallis Warfield Simpson. Hence the vigneron of St Jean’s kind, glaucoma-ed, eye towards me.

I’m an American too, now tending his vines in France. His own heroic love story of personal proportions is ending. His wife didn’t even recognize him the other day in the hospital. When he asked the nurse how she was doing, the nurse had responded ‘fine’. He was exasperated.

He said it was then that he saw the funny little circle he had run on. We all run on. Even an abdicated king of England. We all finish old and if we are lucky in our gardens. But we finish, and it is never without that slight taste of bitterness that it is that way. Now the old vigneron was seeing it first hand. It was that taste he was trying to spit out. He was a gardener, a vigneron, a self willed paysan, he knew the only thing that would rinse that bitter taste from him was the earth. It was for that he was prodding about in the vines looking for the vigneron.

‘That’s what the doctors should be for. They should have a solution for the bitter tastes of life that we have acquired and need rinsed away". He knows the doctors aren’t going to ‘cure’ his wife, or for that matter him. But he couldn’t accept that they end up adding more bitterness because old age and dying was a business. He was asking for something different. He was simply asking, as any good citizen should have the right to do, for a bit of respectful concern and accompaniment on the way out.

There was something in his demand for a bit of simple justice that struck me as very English in its upright manner and, for the good of mankind, delivery. I could almost see a powdered and wigged courtier leaning over to the dethroned king and in his fay, proper English accent saying, “It was stated properly and was just on level, wouldn’t you agree your Royal Highness?

So the four hectares need to be dispersed with. It makes no sense for the daughter to take them, by the time she deals with all the other heritage matters the vines will have gone to seed. My vigneron has been working them for the past two years for costs and the sale of the grapes, which isn’t much, up until this point. There are four parcels, two with new vines that are just about to start producing. I stooped over for several days in a hot May sun and put those new vines in the ground two years ago.

So there was the old farmer from St. Jean. He has the four hectares my vigneron is working. They are nice parcels, down by the river. They are going to exchange hands, we know which pair is giving them over, we don’t know yet whose will be receiving them. Those things are not always clear, even after the notary has stamped the papers.

After I left the vines that night, I stopped at a friends house. His wife is in the wine making business, she deals with my vigneron and M. Guy amongst others. He does whatever needs being done. He’s a stranger here too, his roots come from gardens a long way from here.

He has envy to lay down roots here, but even a house and some kids don’t seem deep enough. He dreams of a little plot where he can sink down in the earth. A hectare or two in St Jean. Tend some grapes that his wife will change into wine. He wants to build a tiny flagship. I’m trying to convince them to do, and that they’ll need a partner.

The old vigneron said the abdicated king always told him that the further you strayed from your land, the more important your garden became. He said that was why the exiled Edward valued him so highly, he tended his gardens. It is also why M. Guy wants to see his vines settled before he departs. He wants to believe they’ll continue to be tended, to feel the weather change when he no longer can.

Carte SIM pas prete.

It’s monday morning, nine fifteen. I should be crooked over with my electro-coup 2000 attacking the grenache blanc. That’s the field we are working in now. But it’s raining out, just like it was yesterday and the day before. All weekend it has been gray, quiet. I haven’t left the house, save the small expedition for cigarettes saturday morning.

Most people complain about rainy weekends after beautiful weekdays, for me it's the opposite. I like the office to be sunny. The rain, it is a god send. But all weather is god sent, this just happened to fall on the right day. You see my back is a wreck, perhaps because of the rain. Perhaps not. Either way I can use another day of rest. There have been few times in my life when one more day of rest wasn't a good idea.

In any case there is a fixed quantity of work, so the more it gets spread out the better it is for me. The rich man-broken man, poor man -healthy cycle can only be run so many more times. I’m often curious what my children really think of my life, or more so, what they will think of it in twenty years.

It’s raining and monday and all the other kids, who slowly become my engagements too, are off to school. It’s funny my back being all stiff and twisted again. I wonder how these farmers do it all their lives. They just put balm on the pain and get back at it. They seem to be broken all the time, but they just keep going. In between there are brief moments I’ve seen that are hyper-rich. It makes me wonder if I just complain too much, or if there really is a better way.

I guess in the farm world the extreme pains are always short lived. The season is finished and the part of the body that was over used due to the constant repetitive motion demanded can rest for another year. The seasons change and another part of the body takes the brunt of the destruction upon it. In that way the entire person can keep functioning while different parts of the body withstand the brutal assault that it is weathering year after year. Funny, this desire that every living thing has to continue.

The strange thing is my desire to get back to the rows. Doing the taille is like very slowly vacuuming a very dusty rug, or for that matter doing a puzzle. They are all repetitive tasks that in themselves are not fun, but the the more you do, the better it looks. I’m also wondering if getting back into it’s proper stooped position wouldn’t ease my back a little. Whip it back into shape, as they say. It’s sometimes effective, as least in the short term. That’s all I really have. The weather is going to change.

The old farmer from St. Jean came by the other day. He has the four hectares my vigneron is working. They are nice parcels, down by the river. He wanted my vigneron to come over to the house to ‘talk’. In the field they talked hospital care for the elderly and funereal concerns, something about the daughter in Lyon. All briefly. We were working. Details take time. Hence the sit-down.

The old man is dying. His wife is dying too, he says she will probably go first...

Sunday, February 1, 2009

I had an idea today. V/9 pt. I

So I had an idea today. I got it just after lunch.

It was a pleasant day today - in a way. I took a nap in the car after lunch. The sun was radiant. The windows were all open, j’etais torso nu and the heat of the sun was like on a summer beach. The kind of heat that gets you in the eyes. The heat that makes you think of those little double plastic spoons that fit over the eyes that you always see funny people sporting when you are on that beach in the summertime. Oh yes, c’etait une bonne sieste dans le vigne.

It was just a few minutes after three thirty when I had the idea. I remember it because it came in a flash. Though I must say there was a harbinger of its coming just after my nap when I stepped out of the car. A slight detail that perceptually changed. A quick variation that came and went and said ‘prepare for the heat to give way’.

We started work as usual at 1:30. We went up a row and then back and were working our way up the next when right in the middle of the row we all felt the heat give it up as a breeze from the south kicked in. We all stood up and looked in the breezes direction. I looked at Sandrine's watch.

The change brought with it a high covering of thin cloud that filtered the suns heat rays down a few degrees. When we got to the end of the row it was three thirty and where we stood, we directly faced the sea (30 miles away but never the less a direct and unobstructed view upon this source of the wind). We felt the humid, colder than simply cool, but not yet cold, air with it.

I am a fake farmer now, but none the less a farmer. You didn’t need to tell me it was going to rain. It wasn’t going to come right away, but it was coming. Everyone agreed. The weather was changing. We all agreed too, that it was for the worse. The sun and warmth make everything march better here. It was just then that I got the idea.

It was an idea for a story where nobody would be the protagonist. The story would be the weather. It was the weather, it always has been the weather. The weather is the only story that doesn’t have an end. At least an end that can be predicted. The humans in comparison are meager. After a while, our stories all become somewhat predictable, or at the least, you can give a good guess where they are going. We all know the end of our story.

That’s why farmers always talk about the weather, like fortune it is constantly changing, like chance it is perpetually coming. It is intimate without being personal. It contains destiny.

Part II.

The old farmer from St. Jean came by today. He has the four hectares my vigneron is working. They are nice parcels, down by the river...