Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Keynote Speech #1.1

At left: The happy couple...

If you need more convincing, if you still do not think it wise to stqy qzqy fron the French, then look qt ny blogging; They insist on being different, the cheese_lovers, even zhen it comes to computer keyboqrds; Thqt meqns thqt these dqys, qith ny old, Philippine_bought conputer sold qnd replqced zith q French model, just spemming ny words right hqs becone an exercise in pqtience qnd concentrqtion; Thereùs q Q where there used to be qn A, qnd q Z zhere before there zqs q W; It gets zorst becquse K, L, qnd M qre qll nixed up; Don,t even qsk me to do qny mqth noz. If I zqnt to type the nunber five I get (, instead of the nunber eight there is _; Wondering zhy I end my sentences zith q semi_colon/ Thqt,s zhqt I get zhen I press dozn on the button zhere ny period used to be;

[Translation: If you need more convincing, if you still do not think it wise to stay away from the French, then look at my blogging. They insist on being different, the cheese-lovers, even when it comes to computer keyboards. That means that these days, with my old, Philippine-bought computer sold and replaced with a French model, just spelling my words right has become an exercise in patience and concentration. There's a Q where there used to be an A, and a Z where before there was a W. It gets worst because K, L, and M are all mixed up. Don't even ask me to do any math now. If I want to type the number five I get (, instead of the number eight there is _. Wondering why I end my sentences wih a semi-colon? That's what I get when I press down on the button where my period used to be.]

Friday, November 25, 2005

Keynote Speech #1

So you've heard all about why interracial relationships are difficult, right? So I don't have to tell you anymore about it, yes? Well, I just gotta.

If you absolutely have to marry someone from another country, at least make sure he comes from somewhere they speak the same language as you do. That way you don't have to suffer a 30-minute argument because you and your husband are going out for dinner, you've put on mascara and high heels that's how much you're looking forward to the evening, you've even sprayed on some vanilla perfume because you know he loves the scent of this sweet stuff, and then you ask him, "So where do you want to eat, honey? Cafe Bouzigues or should we try someplace new?" In response he looks at you in what you will very soon interpret to be a bored manner and says, "You choose. I don't care."


You think about that. Allow the words to bounce around in your head for a bit. And then, a full minute after, newly-married, sensitive you, shrieks, "You don't care?!?!" You repeat the noise one more time, and then continue. "We just got married last June and already YOU. DON'T. CARE. ?!?!" You're not done: "If you don't care, then why are we going out anyway???!!!"

It takes 10 minutes of you sulking, not saying anything, and him trying to make you stop pouting, and another 15 minutes of you both discussing the nuances of language before man and wife finally figure it all out.

Pierre tries again. "You choose," he begins slowly. "I'd like to eat at Cafe Bouzigues, but we can also try another restaurant if you want. I. DON'T. MIND."

P.S. Also try to look for someone who doesn't come from a country with such a thriving and independent-minded film industry that many of its citizens know nothing about Hollywood movies.

Me, at the film rental shop: "Hon, I heard this is a good movie, do you want to get it?"

Pierre glances at the DVD jacket, looks at me funny, and smiles: "What are you planning for tonight?"

Me, not getting it: "What do you mean?"

Pierre looks at the title of the movie, examines the pictures of a sweaty Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton in a kamiseta, then taps his finger against the lettering on the jacket that proclaims, "Monster's Ball." He says: "This is a kinky movie, no?"

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Third Time's The Charm

Thick walls, deep resentments

(The explanation for the title: Twice last week I tried to blog about this subject, but my efforts were botched by computer troubles. Here's wishing me luck this time...)

Even before the rioting that went on for three weeks made the fact of racial tension inescapable, I would already occasionally feel their discomfort, this pervasive unease.
Nico, who helped build our terrace, telling another story of how he had gotten into a fight with Beurs, second- and third-generation Arab immigrants, a fight that like the others that preceeded it, his anger, heft, and military training made sure was bloody. For my benefit, he added in English--quite unnecessarily, because how could I miss it?--"Me no like Arabs."
On our first visit to an Asian-goods supermarket in Nimes, Pierre warned me against ever coming alone, especially not at night. We were crossing the parking lot closed in on three sides by square, ugly buildings, and he told me of how he had grown up in places like this, the slums of France, inhabited mainly by Arab and North African immigrants. Pierre's eyes were alert, resting a few moments on a young man with brown skin, black hair, dark eyes. He knew this type well, he said, especially the feel of his fist against his face. Pierre was the son of a policeman, and until the age of 15, he was almost every day assaulted, sometimes verbally, often physically, by Beurs who wanted to get back at the older Mister Masssebieau and the establishment he represented.

Often Pierre would say to me, "I've travelled everywhere, but nowhere do I fear violence as I do in my own country. Out there, you know that when they attack you, it's because they want something, your wallet, your jewelry. Here, they'll do it just because they hate you."
Malika was the first Frenchwoman of North African origins I met, the daughter of Moroccan immigrants. She's in her forties, educated, single, working as a production manager for theater productions. Being those things has made her an outsider in her own ethnic community, where even now living outside their country women are expected to do nothing but marry their own kind, stay home, and raise children.
Lawrence, a social worker, invited us over for a grilled fish dinner where talk inevitably turned to the rioting. Everybody seemed to agree that the violence got as bad as it did because the resentment that the young rioters had inherited from their immigrant parents have, in this generation, transformed into anger, even hate, because, yes, they really do not have the same opportunites as the blancs, the "whites." Lawrence had no trouble convincing us how hard her job is. She engages the interest of youngsters in the banlieus, the slums, so that they are motivated enough to enter into a training program. Then she has to help them find jobs. Are there any for these sons and daughters of immigrants? She shakes her head, "Rien." Nothing.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Not Another Wildlife Story

The ducks may be gone, Tara and Maya, but the cats still meowl.

Here is a picture of Dolly, back when she was two months old (she's four months now); or can it be a picture of Sally, who would have been an hour younger. They just look too much alike. (Or maybe I am addled by dinnertime's Bordeaux?) .

Daughters of ginger-haired Marmounette, they are two balls of black fur rolled up beside me on the bed as I write. One is near my feet (that would be Sally... or is it Dolly?), the other is to my right (pick a name and place it here). Now they yawn and they stretch, at exactly the same time. If they weren't so sleepy, I'm sure they'd want to say "Enchanté, pleased to meet you." (Yes, they're bilingual).

Now to my left, just a little less hairy, and splayed out instead of rolled-up, is multilingual Pierre. If he weren't in deep sleep, I'm sure he'd still be incommunicado. Three a.m. is much too late for him to be exchanging pleasantries with anyone.

The quacking out in the marsh may have been squashed, but here under the blankets, the husband still snores.

P.S. Neither animals nor humans were harmed in the taking of any of these photos.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

In Memoriam

Goodbye, feathered friends!

It was but a mere week ago that we would open our doors to the rowdy quack-quacking of the family of ducks that lived in the marsh out front. Wild they were, the types you'd see with jewel-green feathers, but not wild enough to resist the day-old bread we'd toss them. The ducks developed such a liking for the dry baguette that they would have given those dogs in Pavlov's experiments stiff competition.

Every morning it was like clockwork. Pierre, crumbly offering in his hands, would come out and whistle a high note. Three short bursts, and the five canards would come paddling, tracing a swift diagonal line from where they stayed on the other end of the marsh to where our terrace ended. Voila! Breakfast is served.

Now there is only silence. We have come to accept that the quacking came to an end when the gunshots began. For a period of three days, from the left of the property, where the marsh connects to other bodies of water that the ducks no doubt fished, we kept hearing loud blasts. It was hunting season.

Our fowls have fallen. I imagine them now, stripped of feathers and webbed feet, swimming in bile, digesting in some fat Frenchman's gut. Their only consolation the fact that pieces of their beloved bread are no doubt being digested along with them.

I make my statement now: I protest the violence in France.

P.S. I know. I am too flippant. France burns, and I make a joke. What do I, an immigrant of less than six months, make of the violence in the cities? I make of them many things. Tonight ends my mourning for the duckies, tomorrow I write more.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A Postcript

I guess this guy never heard about jumping into the water.

Two Sundays ago was the last day of the revivre, "the revival" or "the rebirth," the weekend when, after a five-day break from a full 10 days of partying, the entire village of Aigues Mortes rises up again, nursed to new life by the steady stream of yellow liquid flowing from the bars, pastis, 90-proof milk of Provence, which the locals suck steadily from morning to night, only weaned away by spectacles involving men riding horses or men either chasing or being chased by bulls.

An excursion at the beginning of the village festival taught me too well why one of the French terms for hangover translates to "my hair is pushing out of their roots," so I exempted myself from the rest of the mayhem. I stayed home most times, even giving up my thrice-weekly evening runs because the festival horses trot twice daily down our stretch of country road, and zig-zagging steaming manure is just not fun exercise.

But that time, two Sundays ago, I decided to have my own little revival. Horse shit be damned, I declared, put on my gray trainers with the neon-green swoosh, and sat down my husband for a serious talk.

"What do I do if I encounter a bull?" I asked in what I think now to be a plaintive tone. (Of course I was worried. Remember that Jeanette had warned me to keep the gates firmly closed lest a creature comes to kill me. She warned me twice.)

"Jump into the water," Pierre said, referring to the canals of brackish water bordering the roads hereabouts, runoff from surrounding marshes. "Bulls hate the water," he added in that quiet way he has of making mundane pronouncements sound somehow important, reminding me of Yoda, if instead of jumbling his words Yoda spoke with a French accent.

Armed with this wisdom, and before I could change my mind, I unlocked the gates and sped off. I was panting after two kilometers, my body having quickly forgotten what a jog was about, and I let down my guard for a minute to gawk at a swarm of swallows overhead so that I stepped on green-brown feces, but the half-hour passed largely uneventfully. Had I dilly-dallied and jogged a little later, this blog would have ended differently. Or would have ended for good.

I had just sat down in the garden with a glass of water, trying to recover, when through the barred steel gates I saw what should have been a hallucination. A bull loose on the streets. As these animals go, this one was only medium-sized, not the massive toro for the corrida, but one of the more slender varieties they use for the course de toro. They were smaller. And quicker. With horns no less sharper. Its passage was announced by the thuds of its hooves hitting the ground, 300 kilos of angry beast looking for a way out. I blinked, but the mirage would not go away, only continued by a throng of men riding their horses fast. These were the gardiens, keeper of the bulls, who had just lost one.

When the frenzied entourage had gone, and once I had managed to pick my jaw up from where it had dropped on the just-cut grass, I looked down at my Nikes and felt immense relief that they didn't have to get wet.