Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Back from Nice

Utah, the monster dog.

I am barefoot on my terrace, swinging on a hammock, the unseasonably warm weather making me think of Camembert left to melt on the grill at the end of a summer barbecue. The husband is working just a few meters away, the cat is in her basket napping, and the dog who is visiting for a week is slobbering copiously. Five seagulls are making a racket as they dive for the old bread I had left for them on the marsh. I don't think dogs eat live bird, but it does make me wonder. Does the labrador hear their cries as a dinner bell's clanging?

The weekend in Nice with old friends was very, very interesting, but it feels good to be home.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

People in My Neighborhood

Her name is Gudrun, and she runs a bed and breakfast some two kilometers from where I live. Born East German, she has called France home for the last thirty years.

"I came before the Wall came down," she told me over coffee and biscuits.

Looking at the cane she held in her right hand and remembering how earlier she had had me run up to the second floor to fetch a forgotten key because she managed the stairs but with difficulty, I went for the obvious; I asked, "So you jumped over from the other side?"

"Ah," the reply came with the appropriate enigmatic smile, "it was much more complicated than that." Gudrun paused for a beat, and after would give me nothing more to satisfy the curiosity. She changed the subject.

Impossible to resist whispers of intrigue and mystery! I have turned village tsismosa, and am determined to get invited another time for coffee.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Ranting and Raving

Art shot that has nothing at all to do
with the contents of this blog entry.

Every Filipino immigrant will have tales of little indignities and humilations to tell, injurious encounters with stereotypes and prejudices. Each one will tell you his own way of dealing with being a stranger in a land where the locals are occasionally assholes. I'm betting that majority will say that the best defense is no defense. Either get away from the situation or, if that's not possible, swallow your hurt and smile if you can. Unfortunately, I'm no Gandhi. What suits my temperament best, I find, is to look the monster in the eye and tell it to go back to the dark uneducated hole it came from.

The monster this last time was a small-village barman in his sixties, and the eyes, as is often the case with people of his profession, were rheumy. If that weren't enough to tell you who he was, just look at the popped blood vessels of an old alcoholic all abloom on his nose. We were there for hot chocolate, but he decided he'd also serve us with conversation. The group being multicultural, naturally he began by asking from where we came.

"Ah, the Philippines," his eyes lit up when he heard it. He proceeded to say he had friends over there--presumably as ancient and as potbellied as he--prolonging the life of their retirement euros where everything costs three times less. "It's a poor country," he said. "For you to be studying here, your parents must be capitalist businessmen. Are your parents rich?" I just looked at him, mildly appalled at the tactlessness.

The Belgian girl beside me corrected the assumption, saying I was here married to someone French. "Ah," he was at it again. You knew from the tone of his voice and how he smiled that he actually thought he was being friendly. "You got lucky. You found a way out."

Stunned, I was silent for a beat, during which the Belgian chick tried to come to my rescue by saying, "But no, it was her husband who got lucky!" But I never needed any saving.

"Monsieur," I finally found my voice, icy-cold though it was this time, "I did not get married to my husband to escape my country. Rest assured that I had a very good job and a very good life over there." I looked at him with what I tried very hard to be a withering stare. "I am not some poor, ignorant country girl, do you get that?"

At least he got that he wasn't welcome near our table, so he muttered something unintelligible before lumbering away. One of the French guys with us tried to calm me: "I don't think he meant it." And that is exactly my point. Very few of them mean it. They open their mouths to display how their thinking has been malformed by stereotypes and prejudices, and when confronted with how they had been offensive, they'll say they didn't mean it. They just didn't know any better. Are we to let them continue using ignorance as an excuse to do harm?

That's a big No for me. I take their education as my own personal responsibility. I open my mouth in turn and tell them off so that next time they see an Asian girl, they'll think twice about labeling her a spoiled brat, a poor island girl, or--let's not forget the great big scarlet brand--a whore.

Of course, my goals are not all lofty. "I don't think he meant it," Thomas said. "No, I'm sure he didn't," I replied. Then in a voice I made sure was loud enough to carry to where the monster was wiping glasses behind a counter, I continued, "He's just an idiot!"

Friday, February 09, 2007


I met a girl who just recently moved here. She was peppy, which is refreshing for a European chick, and with clever layering managed the feat of being fashionable while engaged in the very unglamorous task of rock-climbing. Like regular girls, we started talking about the soldes, happening right now, with most shops selling their wares at a discount. Think Midnight Madness, only nation-wide. She really had to go visit the boutiques this Saturday, she said, it was her only day free. You can rush it a bit after work, too, I suggested. No, she replied, she works almost every day well into the evening, until 8:30 or nine. I hope they pay you overtime, I sympathized. Whereupon she gushed, No, it's my choice really, I like staying late at work. I really really love my job. Really love it. Given a statement like that, of course you have to ask, What's your job?

Her response was not quite what I expected: "I do research on evolutionary biology. We're studying the asexual reproduction of these multicellular creatures that have existed on earth since life began--how they have managed to survive the environmental changes, how they have done that solely with females, by cloning, and what, in the evolutionary sense, their existence means to humans." A pause which I used to search for the signs that scream Nerd! that I must have missed, but, no, there really weren't any thick glasses. Then she thrilled with the same enthusiasm I've heard former colleagues use when talking about fashion styling and beauty reportage, "There is just so much to do and to know!"

And so now let me display my awe of humanity by saying, it really takes all kinds to keep the world moving and shaking. Ang galing, ano?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Cure for Boredom

This is what I feel:

i.e., exhilarated, exuberant, excited

Because this is where we went:

village of Collias, near Nimes

This is who we were:

Sebastien, Emeline, Apol, Sebastien (yep, there are two of them),
Stephane, Sarah, Rui, and Karin taking the picture

And this is what we did:

Climbing rocks! (Excuse the pun.)