Saturday, July 13, 2013

Beyond Le Mer

The 4th of July at Chez Hinson/Gunia
For the past week or so, the temperatures here have been in the high 80's and low 90's (high 20's, low 30's if you're reading in Celsius) and the last thing I've felt like doing is putting an old MacBook on my lap. But we've been here 10 months so now might be a good time for a summary and progress report.

            Walking to lunch today we were reminded that, despite my online harangues, the Bordelais have made virtually no progress in ridding the streets of dog shit. This afternoon it was particularly hazardous, even for France, as what appears to have been a sizable pack of Great Danes filled Rue Palais Gallien with their super-sized menace. If the goal was to put a pile in every square of sidewalk, they hit it in the first block with one thoughtful cur leaving a jolie replica of Mont Blanc (minus snowcap) square in front of some poor saps' doorway. If someone figured out how to make the French (and Irish and Italians) go outside to smoke, fixing this should be child's play.
            In other news, you might recall back in November that we had a rather unpleasant experience with a dishonest locksmith. I think it's now safe to report that, for reasons known only to him, he decided we weren't worth the effort and we never heard from him again. Maybe he got a look at our bank statement.
            On the language front, I continue to stumble my way to a (I hope) working knowledge of French. My summer course just finished and while, even after ten months, most people could be telling me to get bent for all I know, at least I can understand the checkout girl when she asks if I have my own bags. And I think I'd get it if someone told me I was on fire (Excusez-moi, monsieur, mais votre cul brûle.)
            Administration and assimilation progressed in May as, with the help of our friend Joëlle, we filed our first French tax documents, the ramifications of which I'm still not entirely sure of. We're not liable for income taxes but have to pay the tax d'habitation based on income and the size of your living space. The forms are filed in May and they send you a bill in October. At least that's how I understand it, anyway. So just let me reiterate, if your dream is to live someplace that speaks Urdu, get to work, NOW.
            Further administrative developments included the issuance, after only 6 months, of a permis de conduire, a driver's license.  The process was simple enough since Florida is one of the states having a reciprocal agreement with France that allows for a straight swap, no test necessary. We had to have our original license translated (at €60 a pop), respond to 2 letters asking for documents we had already given them and make 3 trips to the Prefecture, the last of which was to answer the question of when we took our original licensing exam. I actually called the DMV in Pennsylvania only to be told records that far back might require a bit of work (and money) so we just guessed and that was good for them. Like bureaucrats everywhere, all anyone really cared about was filling in all the necessary blanks and, in the end, it was no worse than any American DMV and better than New Jersey's. When I was transferred to New York, my New Jersey driver's license came minus the motorcycle endorsement I had for years. At the time I didn't care because I didn't have a bike anymore and riding one in Jersey seemed suicidal. France, however, is a great place to ride but it'll cost me plenty to regain my license since most European countries actually require schooling and skills before you hit the road.
            Living in Bordeaux, I've discovered a couple of things about wine, if only by osmosis - mainly that I prefer Burgundy and Côte d'Rhone. My blue-collar roots, however, make me a committed beer drinker and, happily, even France (thanks to Alsace) makes better beer than non-craft American swill and Belgian ale is everywhere. Unfortunately, German beer isn't particularly plentiful but you can get a real Budweiser (Czech) and it doesn't suck. Europeans want their beer to taste good and don't delude themselves so "light" beer is non-existent. Here it's Amstel, just Amstel. Stella Artois and Heineken are downscale, or at least nothing special and usually the cheapest beer on the menu.
            As previously reported, I've been playing with an amateur big band and, like Florida, we've knocked off for July and August. This has been a fun group and it's eased the transition here immeasurably.  Everyone has accepted me and is helping with my French. The highlight of my gigs, other than one of the other trombone players falling off a riser, was a couple of weeks ago when I got to play in an all day big band marathon. Most of the players were amateurs but many weren't and one of the things that surprised me was that all of the singers sang in English, even the tunes with French lyrics. My band did one of these, Beyond The Sea, and when Feodor called the chart I thought, "Great, I'll finally get to do this in French." This song was written by Charles Trenet, a Frenchman, and originally titled, Le Mer. I'd come to hate it, at least the English version, after too many experiences of backing not so hot singers with Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin fixations. So when our singer did the same version, I asked why he didn't do it in French. No one knew and the only explanation offered was that this was what our arrangement called for. When I pointed out it was virtually identical to Charles Trenet's original, I got a mass Gaulic shrug. If anyone can explain this to me, I'd love to hear it and if I ever find out, I'll let you know. In this video, even Charles Trenet succumbs to Bobby Darin.

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