Tuesday, August 24, 2010


He arrived, a reluctant demon, loath to be exorcised from his unwilling host. He ripped, he tore, he kicked. He used his substantial size to terrorize and in the end, after the body of the possessed was spent…exhausted…completely beaten down in battle, he decided…maybe being born is an okay idea after all!

Today (actually Sunday but I'm late posting as usual) marks the 25th anniversary of the birth of my first-born. After doing his very best to kill me, and only succeeding in wounds that would eventually heal, this scrunched up, red faced, nine-and-a-half pound, pointy-headed little egg roll was laid on my chest.  I took one look at him…. and understood what perfection was.

My perfect baby Ryan, whose name means little king, remained perfect. He slept, he ate, he laughed…. exactly when he was supposed to.  Okay, except for those 6 months after his little brother was born when he saw that his kingdom was in great danger from a usurper and his head spun around 12 times, his eyes rolled to the back of his head and he transformed from royal prince back to demon again…. but only for 6 months.  He returned to his state of perfection as soon as he was reasonably sure he had squashed the insurrection and had simply gained a new subject. 

The problem with first-born children (and perhaps all…I’m just speaking from experience) is not their problem at all. It’s the problem of their parents. From the moment they arrive, we praise, we clap, we encourage by using words like perfect, and marvelous, and wonderful and again, perfect. There is nothing they can’t do, and we are quick to take note and share their most amazing accomplishments with all who will listen. …and if they don’t do it, we let them know, in no uncertain terms, that they a perfectly capable of perfection. We expect it. And soon they become very aware that it’s required of them.

But the day comes when they simply can’t live up. It might be grades, it might be personality, it might be sports ability…whatever, and the non-stop clapping diminishes. The words of encouragement are replaced often with words of disappointment. They’re not sure how it happened but they know that they are falling from grace.

I’m overstating my case a bit because, in fact, we really don’t expect our children to be faultless human beings. We are doing these things to encourage them to be the best they can be. And with first children we are so in awe, so sure that we have actually produced the greatest ________ (you fill in the blank: President of the United States, nuclear physicist, classical composer, painter….) that was ever born. And because we’re brand new at this whole parenting thing and want to make sure the next_________ is properly nurtured, we go just a little over the top!

I was a first child. I really had a perfect childhood. But the day came when I realized I wasn’t the most beautiful, intelligent, funny child that ever walked the earth. I was just a normal kid like everyone else. Algebra was my first hint at that…. French class, my second!  The list after that is just too long. And I spent the rest of my school years…and still continue today…waiting to disappoint, though desperately not wanting to. Waiting to fail someone… parents, teachers, friends, bosses, co-workers. Anyone who expected more of me when I couldn’t or wouldn’t comply. Eventually, I stopped trying and just rebelled against the whole stupid nonsense.

My perfect son reached that point, like many others, when he hit late Junior High. And I was hard on him. The more I expressed my disappointment, the more he rebelled. And I knew exactly what he was doing…I did it myself. But I never relented. Mostly.

I’m not sure if I’m any smarter today or if I would be capable of doing things differently. I know I would try. But I, as all other parents, did what I thought was the right thing; the best thing for my child.

For that reason, I can’t apologize to my son for all my faults and transgressions as his parent.  His turn may come and he too, like all of us, will struggle with the what ifs and how tos. And he will do his best, like the rest of us.

So today, his birthday…a time when I always spend prolonged moments reflecting about the day of his birth…all his subsequent birthdays and the wonderful (and sometimes not so wonderful) days in between, I want to say one thing to my little prince…my little demon.

You are still as perfect to me as you were that first moment and you always have been. Not because of what you do and how well you do it, but just because you are. Well, that and the fact that you’ve grown into a man of imagination, creativity, thoughtfulness, resourcefulness, talent, intelligence, curiosity and humanity. As I knew you would.

I will always be possessed by the perfection of your spirit.

Happy Birthday my sweet.

Je t'embrasse,

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Scientific Breakthrough!

CARRY, FRANCE: This just in.... the French have developed a new, highly effective sunscreen. It protects you from the sun yet allows your body to absorb vitamin D, it doesn't harm the environment, it is capable of clinging to you in the water, it rarely causes a rash (unless it has been contaminated in some way) and most often it doesn't burn your eyes. It's a simple theory really....COVER UP. But the French interpretation beats a t-shirt, hat and and zinc oxide smeared across your nose.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Les Vacances d’Été

As you may or may not know, I recently took a little break from blogging.  A vacation so to speak. I feel no guilt about my little get-away.  I live in France.  And this is the land of holidays.  Not because it’s the place people go for their getaways, but because it’s the land of the most vacation days per year per capita.  There’s a little debate as to whether Italy gets more but hey…let’s not haggle!  It’s a boatload.  And July and August are the months when EVERYONE takes the largest share of their holiday allotment.

French workers are guaranteed at least 5 weeks of vacation per year with many being given as much as 8 weeks. Add to that legal holidays and the average number of paid vacation days is 37.  That compares to 13 in the United States.  And here in France the workweek is 35 hours.

I sold television advertising before I moved here to France.  I had to accrue my vacation throughout the year and by the time I added in doctors visits, appointments and other such nonsense, I could probably figure on a week. Add to that the expectation of 40 plus (and I mean plus) hours per week…and taking my computer on vacation in order to keep all my accounts in order, and …well…. sometimes I wondered if I wasn’t actually taking a negative number of vacation days.

As in all countries, those that have their own businesses work more and probably vacation less. But, believe me, they still take their time off.  After all, It’s good for your health!  Nobody seems to worry about the 2 or 3 weeks of lost revenue…and nobody finds some poor sod to mind the store while they’re gone.  They just shut 'er down!

So it’s August in France...as I walked down the street today, numerous businesses were battened down. Doors locked, gates closed, shades pulled.  Taped to their windows were handwritten signs that say “On Vacation. Will open again September 1".  Or…”Finally on vacation. Will return  August 23”.  The gallery downstairs has a sign that simply says,  “Gallery reopens September”.  Smart guy… allows him a lot of leeway!   And today I saw a sign that said “On vacation August 15 –August 23. I want a beer!”  My friend Fehti went on vacation last month and he  had somebody (obviously a French person with some English knowledge) translate his sign into English as well.  It mistakenly said, “ Gone for Holydays.”  I guess the French do look at holidays as just a wee bit sacred.  And when the tobacco shops are closed, they always leave the address of the nearest tobacco that is open…we wouldn’t want any violence due to nicotine or lotto ticket addictions!

Every day in August there are traffic reports, particularly on Red Days (high travel days) letting ALL the vacationers know how long it’s going to take them to get where they’re going. I’ve learned to simply avoid the beach in August. If you can visualize oily sardines lined up head to tail in a tin, that’s exactly what the beaches are like this month.

If you don’t get there by 10 or 11 am, you might as well forget about finding your 6-foot square territory on which you’ll rest your weary, work-worn head and soak up some rays and some peace and quiet. There’s certainly enough sun to share here in southern France but not enough beach. And trying to get back to wherever you came from after a day at the beach is horrific. Take a picnic…you’ll need it for the car. 

I have found a couple of beaches that seem to be off the radar....but I'm not telling where!

I’m not even going to begin to debate the idea of this much vacation…does it work, does it not?  There are all kinds of studies, pro and con, that do that for me.  I do think there must be some sort of happy medium, particularly for a country like the United States where workers put in more hours than almost anywhere in the world.

But at this point, that’s not my worry. My chief problem is where is the next nearest open boulangerie now that mine is closed for two weeks and if I have a hankering for pastry, where will I go now that Patisserie Weibel has abandoned ship for a month?  Neither of them conveniently left an address of the nearest, open carb shop.

Bonnes Vacances!

Paintings Carry and Sardines courtesy of Gérald Wiechert

Monday, August 16, 2010

Method Writing

It's Monday again. Which means an article written at this time last year. And thus...the continuing saga of Crazy Emmanuelle...and her goofy friends. For the beginning of this story, click here.

I have been told several times that I should write a book about my later-in-life adventures. The idea rolls around in the back of my head but I have never been sure that what I have to say is interesting enough or if these times would really be considered adventures. I've changed my mind. My life became a novel this week when Crazy Emmanuelle (see last week's article) sent a brut named Bruno after me.

It began with a voicemail message on Tuesday. The man behind the ominous and heavily accented voice identified himself as Bruno, a friend of Emmanuelle's and he said it would be "interesting" that we meet. I'm always a little suspicious of the word "interesting" (as when someone tells you your soup is "interesting" or your newly acquired painting is "interesting") and even more suspicious of anyone who describes themselves as a friend of CE. I texted him back to ask why he thought we should meet. He replied that it was "of course about the house" and he wanted to talk to me about the missing items before he went to the police. Apparently the tally has gone up and I've now stolen 20,000 Euros worth of antique family jewels and other valuable and items. After a couple of texts back and forth and some very forceful threats from him, I stopped answering. He, however, continued. Incessantly.   He proceeded to threaten me and my family, we would all go through much trauma and pain, I would never again receive a Carte de Sejour, I'm a stranger in a foreign country and this will be so difficult for me.... and so on and so forth. He demanded that I meet him before Saturday at noon, or else.  He did not specify that we meet at the OK Corral but it was beginning to feel like he would say something like that. He continued non-stop and as we got closer to the deadline, he became more and more prolific.

By Thursday afternoon, I became really afraid and went to the police, even though I knew I could never explain in French what was going on. I just needed to be in the police station so I felt safe. While there, I finally reached my friend, Gérald, who agreed to come down and together we explained the situation to the officer. As it turned out, CE had already been to the police the week before. So I filed my complaint against her and some special document that basically says the charges against me are false. The consensus among my friends and acquaintances is that what she and Bruno really wanted was to extort money because, in fact, they have no case. Or else! "Or else" as Bruno so eloquently put it, means my "life would become even more frightening".

I am not kidding, this all really happened! I deduced through all of this that Unbalanced Bruno is the man Crazy Emmanuelle lived with while she was in Paris and judging from the timetable he set for me to respond, I figured he would be back on a train to Paris by Saturday afternoon. All I had to do was wear sunglasses and a hat, walk only on the backstreets, and turn off my phone at night so he wouldn't continue to wake me up.  Saturday afternoon, after "the deadline” he sent a text, which said, "done. You, your mother, and your son for stealing, voluntary degradation and moral prejudice. Congratulations silly woman". And sure enough, he disappeared. Saturday night I slept like a baby.  However, whenever that phone beeps telling me I have a text, I behave a little like Pavlov's dog with the bell. I don't salivate but my stomach drops somewhere down near my knees and I feel sick.

I'm not sure what is going to happen now. This is France, after all, and I've learned that any bureaucracy here is slow moving at best. But apparently a formal complaint has been filed against me. All I can do is hope for the best. I did not steal anything, but of course, I made some serious errors in judgment. As far as I know, these errors aren't illegal and I'll have to wait this out. My only hope is that by the time my case actually comes around, I'll have some idea of how to defend myself in French. Or at least understand what the charges are! My mother is worried and has images in her head of her 50- year- old daughter rotting away in some cold, dark cell in the deepest depths of a third world country but I'm sure French jails are comfortable and probably bigger than most of the apartments I've lived in here (I've lived in 5). Somebody probably even does your laundry and cooking. On top of that, a friend has kindly offered to bring me oranges from the "outside" to fend off the inevitable scurvy. And I will certainly have plenty of time to write my book. I'm looking for suggestions for a title.

And so Mr. Neuske, the bacon is still welcome, but it might be searched before it arrives in my cell. Please do not include a file in the package. I don't need any more trouble!



Monday, August 9, 2010

"Luck is Believing You’re Lucky"- Tennessee Williams

Time for a Monday Memory...written for my newspaper column at this time last year. To read the beginning of this story, click here. And this is not yet the end of the story...more to follow in the months ahead.
It has been a rough 4 weeks. It really has. I try to stay positive; that is generally my nature and for that I am very lucky. And it is, in fact, the only way that I have been able to traverse the bumps, ruts, and sometimes very large sinkholes that I’ve have encountered on this new road I’ve taken over the last 3 years. But there are times when I feel there is nothing left to do but curl up into a fetal ball and cry like a baby. As much as I try to defeat those moments with positive or funny thoughts, they sometimes get the better of me....and I think maybe that’s good. Sometimes crying is cleansing... and perhaps as good for the soul as laughter. I had one of those moments last month and will not feel the need to be “cleansed” again for a very long time.

I returned to my apartment one day to find myself locked out. I was really at a loss until I peered through the keyhole and realized there was a key in the lock on the other side. That meant only one thing. Crazy Emmanuelle (the woman I don’t know who I sub-lease from) had returned. No warning, nothing. And she was inside MY apartment and had locked ME out! I knocked on the door and was greeted by a half-crazed french women, spewing forth venom like I have never heard. 

In a nutshell....and in a delirious mixture of French and English, she let go on me. I had changed her apartment, moved her things (take note: she did not call it cleaning ), this is like rape, slept on her bed, broken her mugs, this is like rape, I trusted you, this is like rape, this apartment was in perfect order when I left....ya da, ya da, ya da. To make a very long story just a bit shorter, I tried to explain to her that I packed her things so I wouldn’t break them because it was impossible to move around, I cleaned because it was filthy and I couldn’t find the floor...or the chairs....or anything else, there were bugs in the furniture, worms in the wood, bedbugs in her mattress, and moths flying out of her closet like the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz (well I didn’t actually mention the monkeys but....). Our conversation was reduced to a screaming match and I began the attempt to pack my things, throwing everything in whatever box or suitcase I could find. This was difficult at best because I was shaking like a leaf from both anger and frustration, and she had thrown my things in piles all over my room. In desperation I called my friends Simon and Gérald, both of whom arrived within minutes. We piled, carried, searched, packed and eventually, after they too were subjected to her wrath, I ended up in the street with all my belongings piled up around me. 

The really lucky thing about this whole rotten situation was that as Crazy Emmanuelle screamed and ranted, people began to arrive. First, of course, Gérald and Simon. Then came Patrick from downstairs who caretakes many apartments in the neighborhood, including mine. He doesn’t speak English but offered to show me right then and there, all the apartments available in the neighborhood. His wife arrived, offering her support. Frank from upstairs showed up and was visibly upset. He called Alain, his boyfriend, who is the landlord of the building. Alain arrived toute suite , gave me my two kisses and kindly asked how I was doing and then marched over to CE and began to ream her out. It was fast, angry French so I couldn’t understand but Simon and Gérald came running up the steps to get the scoop. He basically told her that she should be thanking me, the apartment was despicable when she left it, I was paying the rent so I could do what I wanted (she apparently had not been paying), from now on she was getting no breaks from him no matter what sob story she concocted, she should get a job like the rest of us, and once again, she should be thanking me.

Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but I’m still on the street with no place to live. I looked at all of Patrick’s apartments but none were right and I had no intention of living in the same neighborhood as Crazy Emmanuelle. Finally, Frank remembered that his apartment on the other side of town (he keeps it in case he and Alain break up...they've been together 12 years) was not occupied for a few weeks and he offered it to me. Alain offered a space in the garage for my things, we put my few pieces of furniture on the street for some other poor soul to snap up, and he walked me over to my new, temporary apartment. And within a day, I had a house-sitting job for a friend in the country for one week and a mansion-sitting job for the month of August at a most beautiful old villa on the hill. 

I didn’t cry (okay, just a little....my lips quivered) until a week later when I heard that CE was telling everybody that I had stolen 12,000 Euros worth of antique jewelry from her apartment. That was the straw that caused the aforementioned infantile behavior. Once, when I was 13, I shoplifted a ring from Scissors Department store because “everybody was doing it “and I wanted to see what stealing was like. I felt so bad I took it back the next day. And another time I found a tube of mascara in the bottom of my shopping cart as I was loading my car at Target. I was in a hurry and didn’t take it back. But cross my heart, that is the extent of my thieving! And so, after being accused of an act I’m not even capable of, I curled up and cried for 5 hours. I looked like hell the next day but I think I felt better.

Last week, I wrote this story but in much more detail and with decidedly more venom. I didn’t feel good about it. I really didn’t even want to write about it. I took my computer into town to send the story to the newspaper (the mansion doesn’t have internet) and my computer was stolen off the bus. Needless to say, the article didn’t get sent. 

My computer is my lifeline. It allows me to write these articles, it keeps me in touch with friends and family, I need it to find a new apartment, and most of all, I can use it to call my kids. It also contained all my passwords to all my accounts and private sites.

But again, (I hate to sound like a Pollyanna) there were many lucky sides to this new predicament. I had been on my way to have lunch with my ex-landlord Liliane (we are now friends and meet once each week) and she drove me all around town trying to find my Macbook, I had just backed up my computer the night before onto my portable hard drive, and my friends Tony and Bénédicte took me out to their house and let me use their Macbook so I could change all my passwords, email my insurance agent, and begin the process of finding a new computer. I did not cry (my lips didn’t even quiver). I think I had used up all my tears the week before. I did however, continue to repeat the soothing mantra that I used the week before, “I will not give up and go home, I will not give up and go home.”

Yesterday, Tony and I were having lunch and he offered to go with me to Crazy Emmanuelle’s to retrieve the few items that got left behind in all the confusion. She did not answer the door but while we were standing on the landing, Alain heard my voice and came down to chat. He gave me a sleeping bag that I had left in the garage and invited me to a party in September. Then Patrick came down. I thanked him for all his earlier help and said “vous êtes très jolie.” He laughed a little and said, “de rien.” At that moment, I realized I had not told him he was very kind, I had told him he was very pretty!

So the positive and truly lucky moments in all of this are:

I have friends who care about me. That’s worth more than anything.
I have an invitation to a party.
I have my sleeping bag...which really is comforting when you have no place to live.
I’m living in a beautiful mansion right now.
Frenchmen have a sense of humor.
The sky is still blue everyday.
I’m still in the south of France. 

But man, I could really go for some Nueske’s bacon! (the absolute BEST bacon in the world) and maybe some of those powerful sleeping pills that got left behind.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Back in the Saddle

I've been away from my blog for nearly two weeks and I've got to tell you...I really missed it. I miss writing it, I miss reading other bloggers, I miss the communication from commentors. I stayed away on purpose. I decided I needed to give my arm time to heal and I've been icing, attempting to use a sling (although that was an exercise in futility), carrying a light weight back-pack and no purse, taking enough ibuprofin to turn my stomach inside out and avoiding my little Mac. And it does feel better. Not great, but better. I keep wondering though, if it just feels better because now it just goes numb!

Yesterday, I went to Ikea (pronounced Eekayah) and bought a new office chair that allows me to sit higher and that seems to help. The problem is, it's not a fancy leather one with brakes on the rollers. I live in a hot, 400-year-old apartment whose old stone floors and support beams sag with the weight of time. My chair wants to roll to the middle of the room whenever I sit down and when I stand up, the sweat produced from sitting on plastic causes the chair to make a valiant attempt to stand with me. I see another writing injury in my future! One day they're going to find me on the other side of the room, my head in the fishbowl, my ass in the air with the wheels of the chair that is still stuck to it, turning slowing in the breeze. This is really not the way I pictured my demise. I've now set up a little chair corral on the floor consisting of file boxes and the litter box and have the fan pointed directly at my rear end. Needless to say, it's not a perfect set-up but it's gotten me back here. Which is a very good thing for me.

I have another excuse for my absence as well. My two girlfriends, (the 3 of us met while living in a convent in London in 1980) came to France to grace me with their unfailing friendship. I have seen Jeanmarie almost every year since our London days. But it's been 17 years and one divorce each since I've seen Vicky. It was a glorious 2 weeks and I was not willing to take the time out to painfully pound out an article.

So I'm back on the horse so to speak.  It's really just a sticky, cheap, black plastic office chair, but a saddle nonethless. And I'm so happy to say "see y'all tomorrow".