Doing a blog, I'm discovering, might be a bigger project than I originally considered and, lately, motivation's been a problem. It's not that it's particularly difficult and time consuming or that I have to knock myself out to post anything. But considering I've kept this up for nearly a year it's, become a habit that's extended far beyond my usual span of attention. Still, I haven't felt much like writing because I didn't think I had much of anything worthwhile to say and the number of blogs about ex-pats in France must number in the thousands. But this was, after all, only supposed to tell family and friends about our experiences across the ocean, maybe it's time to remember its not literature. So with that in mind, here's a couple of things that happened recently.
The other day, when I got on the bus to go home from French class, there was a guy, best referred to as a street person, standing and talking to the driver. He wasn't particularly disheveled, not all that poorly dressed and had on a hat that looked like it might have originally been intended to be a big black toilet paper cozy. He didn't smell bad, had probably shaved within the week but was missing part of his right leg from about 6 inches below the knee. What made him really stand out, though, was that attached to this leg was what you might call a homemade prosthesis. He, or someone, had made this device out of what looked like scrap wood. It was fashioned to allow him to kneel on it and secured to his thigh with what looked like pieces of old clothesline. As well as I can remember, this is the only person with a peg leg I've ever seen.
The next, and by far more rewarding experience, was the weekend we just spent with friends in a part of France known as les Landes. This is an area of Gascony not far south of Bordeaux and known principally for people on stilts and a storm that blew down a shitload of trees. Maybe I should explain, or at least cut, paste and edit from Wikipedia.
"Landes is one of the original 83 departments that were created during the French Revolution... from parts of the provinces of Guyenne and Gascony. During the first part of the nineteenth century large parts of the department were covered with poorly drained heath land (lande in French) The vegetation ... was periodically burned off, leaving excellent pasturage for sheep, which around 1850 are thought to have numbered [around a million]. The sheep were managed by shepherds who moved around on stilts and became proficient at covering long distances thus supported. Most of the sheep departed during the second half of the nineteenth century when systematic development of large pine plantations transformed the landscape and the local economy." Not exactly how I'd have put it but it did save me some time. Oh, and all jokes about les Landes have to have stilts in them, viz.
The aforementioned plantations came courtesy of Napoleon III who in 1857, for reasons I've never seen explained, decided to drain the whole area and plant pine trees, creating a replica of the New Jersey Pine Barrens and screwing the shepherds out of their livelihood. In 2009, a huge storm blew down so many of these trees that you can still see nearly 500,000 metric tons of logs piled all over the place. And now, with this huge digression out of the way, I can finish my story.
Our friends live near Gerein, a little town in les Landes and they invited us down, explaining that the festivities would include a Saturday night dinner and concert at the town meeting hall. Gerein has a population of around 300 so, secure in the knowledge that France doesn't have Morris dancers, I was expecting something along the lines of an accordion and Charles Trenet tunes. The spectacle was, in fact, a 6-piece band from Barcelona called Microguagua that bills itself as "Alternative Reggae." The next assumption, then, was that people in la France profonde are so starved for entertainment that, like the audience for American Idol, they'll listen to anything. As it happened, this group had gigs in five other near-by villages before closing out their mini-tour here.
It looked to us like just about everyone in town turned out and the audience ranged in age from around 80 to two poor kids, of about 5 and 6, who slept through the whole thing while their drunken shithead mother did what they always do. (Unless you're from Utah, you'll know she drank herself stupid while occasionally patting the kids on the head and generally being a public spectacle and huge pain in the ass. Again, I digress.) You might be able to guess from the picture at the top of the page that the hall, built a couple centuries ago, was a bit short on space. The band, whose unsurprising volume level was probably exacerbated by the room dimensions, was amazingly tight and the Paraguayan trombone player, while not being particularly imaginative in his solos, was at least in tune. The lead singer, from Milan, mangled a few English lyrics (see title) but had pretty good pipes, which he needed since they played non-stop for nearly 3 hours. So there we were, two Americans enjoying Jamaican music in Spanish from an Italian singer in a crowded hall in France. And it looked to us like everybody stayed until the end except for one couple who, when they heard there might be frost, went home to cover their tomatoes. Only in America, not.