Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bastille Day Miettes

I guess I should feel guilty about this, but every year on Bastille Day there is, just a few hundred feet from my head, a fine military ceremony out on the Comédie and yet, four Bastille Days on, I have yet to go check it out. I think it has something to do with the fact that it starts at about 9:30, and I'm almost never out of bed by then. They started sound-checking the speaker's podium about 8:30 today, after which I rolled over and went back to sleep. That meant that the next sounds I heard were the band playing the Marseillaise. After which, of course, this being France, there were speeches. Pertinent, however, to that semi-cynical comment is the fact that, unless the news I've been reading out of the United States recently is being craftily written by some shady outfit with the express intention of trying to drive me nuts, my fellow citizens could do worse than spend some time thinking about just what liberty, equality, and fraternity actually mean.

* * *

And so the days have turned hot. Hotter here in the city, where the limestone absorbs the sun when it shines on it and then radiates it back for hours after the sun has gone elsewhere. The up-side of this, of course, is that there is a bounty of edibles at last. The recent rains have meant that a lot of the tomatoes have cracks in them and have to be carved carefully (and soon), and they're also getting picked too quickly (I've had a couple that were just plain unripe), but at least they're here. I've already made a pasta sauce out of eggplant and have a South Indian dish on the calendar, and lunch most days is cherries -- and a peach if one is ripe. I haven't done a post-market shot in a while, so here's what wound up in the kitchen yesterday. 

Two of those tomatoes have gone to their reward (or is it mine?), and ditto a handful of the cherries and a couple of potatoes. Gotta clear the decks for Tuesday, after all. 

* * *

The apartment next door to me, recently occupied by that Moroccan engineering student who was trying to study for his exams despite the noise made by Mme. Merde, is empty, and has been for several weeks. However, Mme. Merde and her expanded family (a woman who looks a lot like her and I think is her sister, and several other people including an old man who coughs so badly I expect him to keel over after a fit) went off on vacation the other day, and since then, people from the property management company have been showing the apartment like crazy. After all, extortionately priced and inconveniently tiny as it is, it loses even more appeal if a madwoman is sitting in the hallway chainsmoking and yelling into a telephone. 

No worries that the chaos has abated, though. At the end of the courtyard, which is the hollow space created by buildings on four streets on which my apartment looks out, there is a battling couple whom you may remember from the episode some weeks ago when the guy, a skinny drunk with a gravelly voice, launched his meal out the window of his apartment on the third floor of his building like a flying saucer. Not very long ago he threw some more stuff out there, including a package of ham, which landed on the roof of the little cottage that somehow is part of this courtyard area. In this cottage lives an old couple, who can be seen taking their evening meal at a tile-topped table next to their one-story cottage most evenings in the summer. I was a bit concerned that the wife might not be there this year, since she's terrifyingly thin, but no, they were out there last night. 

The battles this couple in the third-floor apartment fight have been good for my vocabulary, however. Last week, the man, enraged, did something -- I have no idea what, since I was here at my desk -- that made enough of a noise that the floor in my apartment shook. The old man from the cottage then came out and started shouting at the guy: "CONNARD!!" he yelled, in a voice that totally belied his age. "DÉBILE!!!" Words that, for some reason, Mr. Isaacson utterly neglected to teach us at Eastchester High School. He yelled them several times as I ran for my dictionary. Last night, they were at it again. Like I said, this guy has a weird voice and his part of the conversation sounded like "Gnarr gnagna gnarrrgh gaah gahhhh." Her contributions were yelling "Dégage!" and "Va t'en!!" In fact, those were pretty much her only contributions, given her audible drunkenness. That being the case, I'd translate those two  responses as "Leggo" and "Geddout." 

Eventually, I'm afraid, one of them is going to fall out the window, since they choose to hold their epic battles there. He's already tried to commit suicide and been talked in by a suicide counsellor, or at least that's what it looked like, but he was back out there a week or so later. They were at it again before 10am this morning, whilhe the band played patriotic music. Me, I'd like out of here so I don't have to endure any more of this, but that's extremely unlikely at the moment. 

Meanwhile, it occurred to me that a Martian landing in the courtyard during prime time would likely think that "merde" is like the Japanese "wa," not a word so much as a vocable indicating structure of a sentence. That's how often people scream it at each other here. 

* * * 

And while I'm complaining, in all the bitching about this place that I've done, it occurred to me as I showered this morning, I've never mentioned, well, the shower. It's not really a shower. I have this kind of wand with a mostly stopped-up shower head on it, and I have to use one hand to direct the spray. I'd much rather just stand under a shower, but the hose on this damn thing isn't long enough. I realized, though, that I could demonstrate this on the blog, so I just went into the bathroom and shot this as a demonstration. 

As you can see, it doesn't even reach the top of my head (proportion is a bit off in this shot), and as you can also see, the bathroom is tiny: that's the sink with the washcloth and towel that are usually on the shower rod (attached to the ceiling by string) on the bathroom sink. 

* * * 

Finally, one complaint that a lot of non-French people have about France is that the idea of entrepreneurship doesn't exist here, the Frenchness of the word notwithstanding. France taxes single-person, self-run businesses so badly that unless you're already rich, it makes no sense to open one. But there are some who try, and you have to wish them well, even when they're comptletely ridiculous. 

For instance, there's a small street I take on my way home from the market on days when it's way too hot to ramble, and there are two stores on this street that make me wonder how they survive. One is a medieval re-enactors' store that sells armor, weapons (dull but accurate-looking swords, shields), and other appurtenances, including bottles of mead. Just down the street is a newcomer whose business plan I'd love to see. It sells cupcakes, bottled ice tea, skateboards, shirts, books and, on appointment, you can get a tattoo there. 

The safest way to make money by yourself or with a couple of partners remains food, though, and a couple of weeks ago as I was walking with a visitor up the hill, a guy handing out flyers handed me one for his new business, Art Burger. Yes, an all-hamburger place. The guy was eager to try out his English and told us that this place -- when it opened, since it wasn't yet open -- would be the best in town. "We're down in the Beaux Arts district -- do you know it?" I did indeed: that's where the studio I use to record my Fresh Air pieces is. I thanked him and he went on to hand out the rest of his flyers. I got it home and noticed something interesting. No, not the wide variety of what looked to be pretty good burgers. No, it was the fact that in a six-page folder, there was no address. Beaux Arts isn't a huge place, but it does cover some ground. 

Coincidentally, I was down there a day later, with this same friend, and, as we walked down a main street, she pointed out that we were in front of Art Burger. Just as she mentioned it, the smell hit me. It smelled good. Seriously good. And, it being where it is, it'd be a snap to find again. But why they went to the bother of printing up hundreds of these brochures in full color and handing them out and omitting the address makes no sense at all. There was a young woman out front and I mentioned that I was glad I'd found the place and, picking up one of the brochures, I pointed out to her that the address wasn't on it. "What does that matter?" she said. "You're here, so you've found it!" 

Anyway, I'll be down there sometime soon to check them out, and if you're curious, they have a website. I just hope that, with the acumen on the business side they've already shown, they'll still be open when I get around to going there. 
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