some say oc, others say si, others say oïl ( I say pot-ay-toes - and some still say french fries ...)
The tidal flow of our summer season has crept up on me and time at the pixel-face has ebbed to an all-time low. (Excuse for not posting No. 1) My Mary has just had her first show in a serious gallery in France (Excuse No.2) 'Eet eez ze laziness'. (Default excuse)
But I just have to break radio-silence for this one!
valupakhas une petite problème ( or, una petita problema) :-
pardon my french...
so... I'm learning french from a cd rom, and it's got a man and woman demonstrating each word, term or phrase.
I've noticed the male often prounounces the "e" at the end of a word, while the woman usually doesn't.
Explanation for the sounded 'e' at the ends of words is regional. The woman is probably from the north of France and is using a Parisian standard 'received pronunciation'. We Brits call ours RP (or BBC English). It is clipped and fairly fast. He, au contraire, could well be from down here in the south (le Midi) where the pace of life is slower and the words get time to stretch out for a siesta.
There were in fact two versions of French - the southern langue d'oc (the language that used 'oc' as its 'yes' word) and the northern langue d'oïl (note the double dot over the i - pronounced [wil] or [wi], as in modern French oui - which asserted the use of 'oui' as yes).
The North suppressed the Oc lot by force - consequently down here they hate Parisians even more than the Brits, which is a relief after living in Ireland ... Occitan is still spoken around here, and is a cousin to mediaeval Provençal (la lenga d'o) and modern Catalan.
Europe - like MonstroMart - is a Baffling Ordeal. But to return to the language CD : the man naturally sounds more 'span-ish' (that is, a bit span - and also a bit spic, his Mexican relative.) The sub-text of course runs : she's proper and modern and Parisian and slim and chic - while he is an unreconstructed slob from the mediaeval south.
Oddly in Corsica and in Ile de France yes is said: ié - try saying it : yay!
le pays de langue d'ok Okay, c'est le pays de Mickey.
This, à propos nothing in particular, is Cork where I lived for half my life, while never learning a word of it ...
And by the way, Valupac, thanks for nudging me back on line.
I may be more absent than present over the next few months - but as the brilliantly economical occitan word has it - Rai - What does it matter.
movicon? : images I put together with a Manu Chao song
I realised - with a jolt - that nearly three weeks have gone by without a journal entry. However, I also note that others within my ken have been equally lax. So : no guilt, and no gloat. Eet ees jus' ze laziness. The weather has been praeternaturally fine all this while, and there's been more outside activity (than internal). Now this week France is having snow and we're getting some Siberean winds too : gusts of 100 kph means time at the keyboard. We have winds here, and they have names : le Autan blanc and le Autan noir (one dry, one wet blowing up from Spain); le Nord; le Grec; le Marin (a mild,damp and depressing wind from the Med), le Ponant (from the west); and lastly our predominant wind (that used to blow for 230 days a year) la Tramontane - in occitan: lo tramontanto alto (N.N-W),lo tramontano basso (W.N-W) and which is related to le Mistral and has the even more local name, le Cers. But what's all this got to do with the price of fish? Very little at all. Except I saw the following flight of fancy on the label attached to a pretty (pretty expensive) embossed glass tub of sea-salt at the supermarché today.
I have been wilfully literal in my translation :-
The Tramontane wind, predominant element of the Aude coast, influences our culture and our passions. It is its force which in summer overwhelms (makes fecund??) the expanses of water over our salt pans. Come the dawn, when as if by magic the tempest abates, a salt is born - so light it is reluctant to sink. The Flakes of Salt of the the Aude Country, fruit of the duality of the winds, will bewitch your palate with its typical flavours, for the greatest benefit to your health.
And what has this collage got to do with the price of chips, you may ask:-
Well - Gruissan is where the salt is born. It's a pretty little old village with a pretty large and ugly salt works, and a pretty amazing collection of fisherman's chalets-on-stilts that stand clear of the sea when it's running high up the beach. And it's where a pretty steamy film was made back in the mid-80's that got quite a cult following in Europe. It's a passionate-but-doomed love affair between Betty, a waitress and Zorg her writer boyfriend (the torrid Béatrice Dalle & the tortured Jean-Hugues Anglade). It doesn't end well. It's how the French like it. It's still hot after all these years - and is in fact called '37°2 le matin' or (99 F. in the morning) - the English version : Betty Blue.
I pass the autoroute sign for Barcelona as we do our local shopping - it still comes as something of a surprise to be living so far south and so near such a fabled city. Which is why we've just been there for our 29th. wedding anniverary.
Vendangeuses - Paul Sibra. Text J. Lebrau 'Ceux du Languedoc' 1946
Moux looks north out over the valley between two ranges of mountains : the Montagnes Noires which are the last slopes of the great raised upland of France's Massif Central - and the Corbières range which run south until they form the foothills of the Pyrenées.
Something of the spirit of ' 68 inhabits Domaine Isabelle. When we first came to the village we'd pass Charles & Isabelle's house on the main street and wonder who might be the owners of the stacked bookshelves and the sculptures, who was it within who liked their jazz to flow, of a warm evening, out through the open window. We didn't have to wait long. A small group had been meeting through the winter with the aim of awakening the village from its slumber of decades by organising a celebration of the poets that Moux had produced over the centuries (eh oui - more than any other village in France - nous ne sommes pas des sauvages ici, tu sais!). At the fore were Charles and Isabelle. As mosaic designers and a painter we were invited to take part in this Portes-Ouvertes weekend. Readings and plays, music and dance were performed in courtyards and parcs that had been closed to the general eye. Our own Maison de Maitre, closed up and empty for 30 years, was an ideal venue with its pillared barn - le hangar or auprès - and closed courtyard - to host musicians and actors and flamenco dancers.
Charles & Isabelle are well-known in the small community of vignerons des Corbières for the warmth of welcome at their house and the gaiety of the evenings during le vendange. They are among the few now who cook and eat with their grapepicking team. They make room for all at the long table in le petit caveau, where the music and stories and wine flows freely late into the night. And not just at harvest-time. Evenings chez Charles et Isabelle start at the door of what to most would seem a shabby lock-up. On the corner of a dismal street in the middle of a dull village in le Midi. But inside -
This particular evening was something of a one-off. André, an adult-education teacher friend of Charles' from the nearby market town had been working on some compositions with his friend Serge, a small farmer from Indre-et-Loire many hours north. Was there a possibility that a few people could be rounded-up to lend a critical ear? There was. And there was food with it, and wine on tap - literally : from a spigot right behind where they set up their amps.
André brought a collection of instruments : guitar, flute and an alto sax, which proved too loud for the occasion - the songs were from Serge : a surprisingly eclectic mix with a core of sadness in all of them. The longest ( twenty strophes or verses) was a valediction to his daughter leaving the farm to work abroad - an affective drama with Marco Polo showing her a world of wonders and dangers. The song I recorded has all their weaknesses and their strengths : I still can't follow all of it, but it concerns the pain of the small farmer in a land less recognisable, where a simple man with sensibilities is increasingly at odds with the world around him - and the way wine can drown these woes. He hasn't got a voice, it's plainly true - but he has a song that after a couple of plays will stay with you. It's plaintive without being mawkish, and hard without bitterness. Never going to make the charts - but then I'm never going to make the best-seller list. These were intense pieces of his life - his journal. There were only as many listening to him as are reading this.
A wet & windy weekend ahead, but I'm happy to be here still to experience it. Appreciative also of the concern shown online - the sheer disbelief at my utter ineptitude was well concealed in most of the notes. The dangerous part of the work is over - now it's two days of slopping about with french mortar à l'ancienne méthode in the cement-mixer. I'm pretty sure I've got the mix right : 10 parts sand + 5 parts chaux blanche/ lime + 5 parts water + 1 part electricity.
Then it's off up the village to Charles & Isabelle's petit caveau - their wine-making barn - for une soirée musicale-apéro-dinatoire. This means 5 parts wine + 2 parts food + 1 part avante-garde sax + 1 part poetry. I'm keen on anything jazz, won't say no to the wine, and will get some of the poetry - but to Mary this will be another evening of atonal awefulness and linguistic difficulty that she'd rather not live through.
I, however, must drink moderately and leave early : we have guests coming round for a hot curry - something simply beyond the tolerance of our french friends. C'est la vie. Et la vie est belle!
Strictly speaking, I shouldn't really be here writing this. Technically speaking I should be dead. Metallurgically speaking I should be fused with the aluminium ladder I was standing on when I severed the main power line into the house yesterday. 450 volts is what we asked for from Electricité de France ( air-day-eff ) to feed 9 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, two kitchens, a poolhouse and a pottery kiln. And that's what I got yesterday - plus its cousins the Watts, and its in-laws, the Amperes. The bang was enough to cause Mary to quit her painting and come and investigate : an annoying break in her BBCRadio 4 program on Turkmenistan bridal customs that might mean a) missing the last verse of their nuptial chants or b) having to deal with her husband's charred remains. She was thus in a doubly crabby state (remember : 2 crabs = lots of sharp remarks) because she had expressly reminded me, before I started stripping all the old piping and tubing and wiring from the garage, not - and I do remember her emphasising this - not to cut through any live wires. Well of course I must have been tired or distacted or I missed the ironic content or perhaps I thought she only meant the warning metaphorically, but anyway I went ahead and cut the wire.
And didn't feel a damn thing.
Imagine how god-like I feel now.
Inexplicably, while nobody acknowledges my divine indestructibility everybody is impressed by my sublime stupidity. Mary of course was not amazed (see previous post, and other medical and psychiatric reports) but the EDF guy who came as dusk fell to patch us up temporarily, certainly was. He wouldn't go near the wire 'til a specialist was called up from the nearby town, with full rubber protection. His attitude was exemplary : now that he didn't have to deal with any smoldering remains he was pragmatism personified : What did I say to the office when I phoned in ? Did I say I had cut the wire ? No ? Good ! He'd report that yes the wire in from the street was elderly. That it broke of its own accord. That the State would replace the entire line. And that it would all be free. Otherwise - it could have cost hundreds ...! This is french socialism at work. He has a job for life (he is literally unsackable) so he can go about dispensing the richesse of France (however indebted it actually is) to the ordinary man-on-a-ladder. Anyway. So. If I'm not strictly speaking supposed to be telling you this . . . Who is? What's the netiquette for when someone pops their clogs in the middle of a posting? What happens when you've left hundreds, or possibly three people waiting for the next installment of the Claire Escourrou/De Longueval family story, because you've inconsiderately fried yourself while trying to fulfil your wife's request that you do something to smarten up the garage, or somehow brained yourself with a cricket-bat while trying to save your team from certain ignomony, or simply fallen out of a canoe? Do You wait for weeks, wondering what on earth is the man doing that takes so long between posts? Do You write in, pestering the widow for a few more facts, because it was just at the point where it might begin to be interesting and surely she could put aside her veil and look at his notes and fill in the rest of the story? Or - after weeks of suspense when you've begun to suspect that he has succumbed to the siren lure of Vox and is posting lurid stories of Love-Life in the Languedoc - you receive a black-bordered notice, regretting, with sadness, the passing of a much loved but tragically uninsulated husband?
We're just back from having an evening out - in Andorra. We were invited by Sue & Steve the only other English - well, Yorkshire, which is nearly the same thing, I can understand most of what they're saying - people who live in the village. He's setting up a broadband consultancy there - which means an appartment & an office & visits from us & huge meals & lots of cheap drink - and Skiing. Now, I haven't skied since I was a youth, but that hasn't stopped me from getting a pair of skis and getting all the clothes and getting all excited. All we didn't get was the snow. Global warming. Bugger bugger bugger.
Mary laughs at my hobbies. She makes fun of my all-consuming, and all-too-soon-spent enthusiasms. But only afterwards. And only in the general and aimiable way of women at work in their ceaseless struggle to keep man from monomania. While reserving to herself the right to be singleminded. So she has seen Cricket come and go - watching uncritically from the sidelines as I displayed my unerringly accurate talent as Fixtures Secretary, for sending our hapless pub team (The All Nations, Clapham Common) across London every weekend to certain slaughter at the hands of teams so talented they should have been trashing Australia. And unironically applauding my conspicuous skill-less-ness (there is such a word now, for it alone describes my way with a cricket bat. And ball.)
She has witnessed them all come and go : rollerblading (hurtling across concrete on narrow wheels into hard fixed objects) then canoeing (as in poleing upstream while standing, as in sailing a 24-inch-wide craft while lying down, as in - well you get the picture : doing something stupid in a narrow tippy boat) , sea-kayaking (more silly stuff in something even skinnier and less stable), and off-road motorcycling (think: amateurish suicide-attempts halfway up mountains where the crows will have time to pick your bones clean before the rescue services can find you). I salute her stalwartness in watching me head off at weekends not knowing if I would return in a bag, or bags, or ever. Perhaps that was her plan - if so she concealed her hopes (I prefer fears) behind a remarkably uncynical and supportive front. She, meanwhile, was engaged on more serious business. All she ever wanted to do was paint. With her father away in Africa or the Far East on some telecommunications contract, she signed up, with her mother's support and encouragement, for four years at Cork College of Art. After just one year her father pulled the plug. She had just come joint top of year (with her best friend Maud Cotter - now an acclaimed Irish sculptor). If she wanted to continue her third-level education it would have to be something serious, some profession - and at university. To spite him she chose philosophy. She went on to get her masters, and an offer of doctorate study at a college in the States. She chose instead to stick with me and my plans, and to have a baby. She did return to painting - which had by then become a sad and outmoded occupation for an artist - Art having become a matter of silly piles of bricks, specious statements of intent, and serious money. She has painted steadily through those years, staging a few shows in Cork and Dublin, selling privately. And now after a gap, another solo show in Carcassonne, this May : two floors in a delightful gallery - La Maison du Chevallier, a mediaeval knight's house. You are all cordially invited : to meet a dedicated painter and her dilettante partner.
There are some who ask themselves : what does he do all day? Apart, that is, from wandering around his decrepid village - drink in one hand, camera in the other - accosting senile villagers in an attempt to get the latest gossip about people dead a century before. And there are others who persist in their phantasy that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, have never done a honest day's work and generally lead a life of leisured enebriation. The fact is that we pack a year's work into six summer months : weeks on end of back-to-back 16-hour-days. It wasn't really planned that way : there was supposed to be more mosaic commission-work, more paintings sold, less cooking and cleaning toilets. As it is we can cope with the frantically exciting and alarming summer schedule - balanced by the dull-as-ditchwater, living-like-church-mice winter regime. There is still a great deal to do when our Summer People finally depart : I am gardener, groundsman, poolboy, carpenter, roofer, raker of leaves, professional composter and amateur pyromaniac.
There is still a great deal to do to the actual fabric of the place : the stables are full of rubble from a roof-collapse a few years ago - something has to be done with it before it kills some over-curious artist with a fatal interest in Rural Ruin.
But this has been my first winter not grimly working on a building site, here or for someone else. I have slowed down. I've started looking back. Enough to start writing, and to imagine another future. This venture has been the biggest I've ever undertaken : the largest house we've ever renovated, the most overgrown garden we've ever designed and planted - and the greatest business gamble. There won't be anything bigger, in its sheer mass, in my life. But that doesn't mean that there will be nothing greater, nothing more exciting. We are beginning to picture a leaner and greener and more streamlined existence, with less belongings - less bulk to encumber the life of the mind. That's why I'm carrying the camera. And the wine, I'll have you know, is never uncorked before six.