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Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

Vendredi matin, le roi, sa femme et le petit prince…*

In Absurdlandia, Animals, Artists, Food, Hautvoir, proto drafts, Sundays, Visual artists on July 17, 2016 at 11:03 am

*the title refers to a traditional French song in which the king, his wife and their little prince come visiting the singer on every day of the week. Since the singer isn’t in, the little prince says: in that case, we’ll come back tomorrow. And so on, until the singer runs through the days of the week.

Friday morning my sister and I went to the supermarket in Gaillac. So did a whole bunch of people on holiday for whom the supermarket visit was something of a family outing. Crowded parking lot, impatient parents, blocked alleys while grandpa waited for grandma to choose the one essential flavored tea among the seventy-eight varieties on display. All par for the course – and the main reason why I visit supermarkets as little as possible.

Can you call it a moment of zen when the experience borders on disgusted amazement? Zen of sorts, I suppose, that landed on me in the yogurt section.

Yogurt. A double alley lined with refrigerated containers. Yogurt for children, one label read (this meant either slurpies  with cartoon characters on them or containers with – yes, cartoon characters). Next, you had organic, health (different from the organic kind, presumably), lo-cal, flavored, with fruit at the bottom or fruit mixed in. Did they have yogurt for boys and yogurt for girls? Not that I noticed. Maybe I should complain.

In other words, senseless glut, aisle after aisle after aisle.

Yesterday, before she left for Canada my sister and I took in a exhibition of ceramics in neighboring Giroussens. With all due respect for the potter who finds fulfillment in reproducing stones out of clay, my preference went to a large amphora in the courtyard. Shaped like a traditional receptacle for oil, wine or grain, it is decorated with leaping goats, flying fish and fowl blowing on trumpets and other friends of dance and music. A small sample?

DSCN3076 With thanks to the potter Thierry Basile, whose name lurks at the bottom of the jar, along with a pair of used work gloves.

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Moving stuff around

In Absurdlandia, and other spirits, Animals, Current reading, Food, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, news coverage, proto drafts, Theater on June 27, 2016 at 8:26 am

I’m not personally acquainted with toads. They have an unattractive appearance which leads to negative symbolic representations. But I’ve never met a toad in any significant way so I don’t see why I should insult the species by comparing the squishy and repulsive double-speak of a Boris Johnson to that of the warty amphibian.

Not that Monsieur Johnson is alone in his pond of squishiness. “Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises…” Caliban says in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Not all of the noises are sweet airs, nor are they restricted to the isle. Given the cacophonies reported in various media outlets, a healthy and varied reading diet comes high on my personal sanity scale. While I’d like longer stretches of time in which to concentrate on my proto draft, varied sources of activity aren’t a bad idea either.

The title summarizes what’s going on over here, both in general living and in writing terms. Housecleaning, exchanging a fridge with a freezer compartment against the current one going as a donation to the street festival. Freezer compartments are nice to have if you plan to organize meals in a less chaotic way.

Back to toads for a second because there is something toadish about Johnson. In the literary sense:

“Meanwhile, Toad, gay and irresponsible, was walking briskly along the high road, some miles from home. At first he had taken bypaths , and crossed many fields, and changed his course several times, in case of pursuit; but now, by this time feeling safe from recapture, and the sun smiling brightly on him, and all nature joining in a chorus of approval to the song of self-praise that his own heart was singing to him, he almost danced along the road in his satisfaction and conceit.” (Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows).

As reported in The Guardian, Johnson wrote the following in his column at the Telegraph : “There were more than 16 million who wanted to remain.They are our neighbours, brothers and sisters who did what they passionately believe was right. In a democracy majorities may decide but everyone is of equal value.We who are part of this narrow majority must do everything we can to reassure the remainers.We must reach out, we must heal, we must build bridges – because it is clear that some have feelings of dismay, and of loss, and confusion.”

Brave new world, and the dawning of a gentler, kinder Boris. Yes, all of us lowly non-elected ones are well-served by our champions in the political arena, these days. I have to wonder what a Rabelais or a Jonathan Swift would have made of it all.

For now: windows open to air that’s still cool. The sound of pigeons flapping their wings above the rooftops. Oh yes, and the small lizard that’s taken shelter under my bed. He(she) comes out at times. Slithers up onto the mattress or freezes on the floor. I’d hate to squish it by accident. Plus, living under a human’s bed must make for a solitary life and a limited diet too.

But how to get the message across the species barrier? Fear not, I come in friendship, little lizzy, and wish to point you to the exit. The window, see? Open. Freedom. Escape.The great outdoors. (I’ve tried this approach. Last night, I even extended an old world wall map as a carrier. No go. When my sister comes visiting, I’ll have to explain about the lizard under her bed.)

Medicinal, my dear Watson

In and other spirits, Animals, Artists, Current reading, Music, notes, proto drafts, Sundays on June 19, 2016 at 3:58 pm

I suspect we were the grungiest bunch of people seen in Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges in recent times. Traveling in the grungiest jalopies seen (or heard) in its vicinities too. For one, the pilgrims travel on foot (with excellent walking shoes and telescopic walking sticks). Their rain gear and backpacks: first rate. From what we saw of the locals, some favored traipses through the village with a faithful dog and a flock of sheep or resided inside medieval homes in a state of impeccable upkeep and drove cars better described as recent-model vehicles.

The music took them by surprise too. Many of the older residents who came to the concert looked stunned and attentive during the first set. But since they called in some friends to join them for the second set, I gather they found the experience a change from the usual Occitanian choir group or the classical ensemble in from Toulouse. (Although we discovered a fabulous gospel choir during the after-hours part of the evening).

The highlight, singing-wise: two songs inside the cathedral during an improvised stop (too windy and rainy outside, a few pilgrims followed us inside). Exceptional acoustics. For once, we could hear each and every one of the voices. Total harmony.

Four of us left the all night after-hour early (i.e. two AM).  For the time being, words fail in describing the home in which we slept – something like a museum, with the old woman who lives there in the role of caretaker of her family’s history.

She was born in that house, she told me as we left. Both she and her husband trained as pharmacists – the source of one of the collections in her  home. The old apothecary jars have names like laudanum or ipeca but also opium, cocaine or haschish “*but those were strictly for medicinal purposes then,” she said. This goes without saying.

For non-medicinal purposes, some of the singers brought bottles of rum and I lugged a large six-pack of mineral water. The rest of the spirits were free of charge – which goes part of the way in explaining why musicians may be poor but poor or not, they’re usually well soused and pickled by early morning.

My upstairs neighbor is singing right now. Off-key, as usual. I have some photos to download, some reading in want of doing, some laundry and some scribbled notes to sort through.

Next concert: Tuesday night in Albi. Final week of school coaching for this year.

*Almost forgot: and arsenic too.

Persistent, recurring*

In Animals, Artists, Current reading, Hautvoir, Local projects, Music, Poetry, proto drafts on June 18, 2016 at 9:13 am

*themes, that is.

When did this particular theme first appear? In dreams, then in attempts at fiction – scenes, short stories, unfinished longer pieces. I can’t recall. At any rate, it’s back again and insisting on getting it’s share of story time.

For the theme to be so persistent, it must link back to something quite ancient in my personal pre-historical period. I have some ideas about that personal link. Sharing them doesn’t strike me as the best way to feed – and transform – the story.

Last Wednesday, during a coaching session, a small boy asked me if he could draw while we talked “because it’s easier to talk that way”. I said yes, of course. I had just read him a poem about a goldfish with pimples from the measles, hiding under a sponge in the fishbowl. In the poem, a small boy said he knew about the pimples but didn’t tell anybody. Why? Because he liked to hide his wad of chewing gum under the fishbowl. The boy loved the poem so much he even stopped crying. He drew the measly pimply goldfish, the bowl and the wad of gum while talking about his family woes – the tale of which is a confidential issue on which I’m sworn to secrecy.

One source of the crucial need for fictional accounts may be all the times people swear one another to secrecy.  Leaving them the choice of sharing the secret, one person at a time. Or shouting it out in bouts of Tell All. Or of inventing genetically-engineered versions of truths in need of sharing – versions that protect the basic confidentiality agreement, while letting the truth out to breathe a little. Truth has a hard enough time of it – if you can’t air it out in fiction, what recourses are left to the poor thing? To hide its pimples between a piece of sponge and a wad of chewing gum?

***

Leaving this afternoon to sing with the group. Returning tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the rain raineth and raineth, then raineth some more.

Brush-a, brush-a, brush-a…

In and other spirits, Animals, Food, Hautvoir, notes, proto drafts, Synopsis, Tea on June 8, 2016 at 7:00 am

I’d never been up close to someone miming tears before. A remarkable feat. Eyes dry under spiky eyelashes, a woman whom I know in passing came up to me. Her cat died, she informed me. I expressed an adequate amount of sympathy, considering I’d never met the cat and don’t know her all that well either. This is where the invisible tears appeared and the quaver took over in her voice. The cat’s astral body had dropped by. She’d been pulled out of her sleep by a tiny miaow informing her the celestial transit had gone well. The cat’s astral body was doing fine, roger and out.

Great, said I. Wishing you and the cat all the best. Patted her on the arm and entered the restaurant. So did the woman with a group of like-minded friends.

This is Ramadan. The owner of the restaurant is Tunisian and doesn’t observe the fast. His wife, the cook, does. While the group at the next table moved on from their cats’ health to what constitutes a good Muslim (a good Muslim eats the same things as “we” do), the owner asked me if all the boys had the right foods with which to break their fast at night. The right foods, in his part of the world, begin with chorba – a hearty soup so the stomach can relax and absorb liquids after a whole day without, then a dish such as tagine. His message: the boys were welcome to show up for the duration of Ramadan and take home some food to break the fast.

I lost track of the conversation at the next table while I asked the cook how she managed to go without food and drink from four AM to past nine PM. Habit, she said, although fatigue does set in toward the end.

Meanwhile, four of the five tea houses on the square are deserted. Small town, everyone observes everyone else. (What? You wet your lips with tea?During Ramadan?)

The synapses go tilt on this and bring up a long-forgotten memory of – oh my god, while brushing my teeth, I… I swallowed some toothpaste before Sunday morning communion. Am I fit to receive the body of Our Savior with Ipana in my innards???

***

Writing: the latest, not even at the proto-draft stage at this point. Pulling together notes. Seeing which of the characters (regulars or newcomers) show up to claim rights on this object, or that observation.

Synopsis: literally, one word at a time.

White Bodies

In Absurdlandia, Animals, Hautvoir, Local projects on June 4, 2016 at 7:46 am

When she drove me home, one of the boys from Bangladesh was singing. First, he apologized because he had never sung in public before. Then, he sang and captivated everyone. I would have stayed but the offer of a ride up the hill was too good to turn down.

In the car, the talk was of fatigue. Prior to that, a friend (not given to such things) broke down and cried in my arms because there’s just too much work with too little time and all that work in the hope of getting some funds. Of course no pay accrues in building up the paper files.

Who wants to hear about endless fatigue. About dwindling resources and the arrogance of those for whom  money just is – why don’t the lazy bums get off their ass and earn some? Except it’s not even about the money anymore, only about the arrogance. And truncheons. And dismissive attitudes. Or threats, pure and simple.

How did you imagine France before you came here, I asked the boys in the afternoon workshop. Moving pictures on a TV screen, the Eiffel tower, films and sports, they answered. How do you see France now that you’re here, I asked. They’re a cautious bunch. They said they like it very much.

I read them the recollections of one who made it across the sea over fifty years ago. Who worked all his life in the local tanneries. The racism and contempt he experienced, and the good friends he found too. They listened as if someone was talking about their life.

When I first came across the expression des corps blancs (white bodies) in the boy’s notes, I wasn’t sure what he meant. White bodies, meaning ghosts? Medical staff in white clothes? He meant white people pulling them out of the sea, and how they struck him the way hallucinations do. I suppose over seventy-two hours of tossing in the salty brine would give a hallucinatory quality to any vision encountered outside the shifting and slopping about with others all sick, frightened and despairing.

None of those things apparent at last night’s get-together. They sang, they danced, they joked. They ate, drank, laughed and said nice things about the people helping them out.

This white body  just wishes the fatigue would let up. And the paperwork too. Plus, if the dog would be so kind as to sleep in until six am, I wouldn’t mind.

Allez? Allez, the rain has stopped. A cartoon shows French policemen beating back the flood in Paris, by hitting the water with truncheons and spraying it with tear gas. Might be a less damaging way to work off their frustrations, no?

Fiction – writing down the word, a bit like calling out the dog’s name. Here fiction, here fiction, come on, get back here. Good doggie, come on.

Why people get tired

In Absurdlandia, Animals, Break - coffee, Hautvoir, Local projects, proto drafts, Synopsis on May 31, 2016 at 8:51 am

At least, for the time being, there’s still a human presence behind the wicket. With a bit of persistence, you even get admitted into the Holy of Holies beyond the waiting room. Into a small room where fingerprints get recorded on a green screen atop an electronic gizmo shaped like a cube. Four fingers of right hand, four fingers of left hand, then both thumbs. Followed by an official paper attesting the holder’s  right to wander from departmental administration to municipal bureaucracy for another stretch, seeking an official address the préfecture accepts as the one and only place worthy of receiving her acceptance or denial of the right to stay for another year.

What will be the next step when The System goes all-out electronic? No more human presence to greet, treat or mistreat you and your application for a renewal of your right to take the bus to and from the préfecture. If you happen to live on the street with the rest of your family and if your French isn’t all that extensive, where will you find access to a computer? How will you fill out the electronic queries? I mean, how will you even know how to get online – assuming the library staff allows you inside in your dirty, sorry state? Where do you park the wife and kids while you tackle the screen?

Etc.

Why people get tired. Why they cut corners or ignore LAST AND FINAL notices. Why they shrug their shoulders (if they still have the energy for a gesture that extravagant) or just sit like lumps with occasional glances of the common-misery variety.

Why people just give up and let others do what they will, for better or for much, much worse.

I look at the piles of papers on the table. At the scanner the electrician managed to revive the other day. I look at the novels, the poster from Hassen Ferhani’s excellent documentary Dans ma tête un rond-point. I add  a few lines to the synopsis-in-the-making. I add a few brief notes to a story in the first-glimmer stage. I tell myself I must see the dentist and the doctor too. I look at postage stamps, the battery from my camera, in need of recharging. I tell myself I should eat a bite of breakfast, and ignore the rain, the rain, the rain.

I smile at the absurdities because if I don’t, who else will in this house? The dog? She’s a good sort but not too gifted in the smiling department. In fact, jokes and laughter worry her. She likes sad songs and vocalizes to some of them. Eh, sad songs cross the species barrier, but comedy? not so much. As for absurdity…

A post

In A post to keep afloat, Absurdlandia, Animals, Current reading, Food, Fun, Games, Hautvoir, Synopsis on May 25, 2016 at 7:36 am

This morning, I type these few lines after a lousy night, sleep-wise, and after reading that unionized staff in France’s nuclear power plants are the next considering going out on strike. Never a dull moment.

So I’ll stay with the tiny and the closest at hand, since there’s not much else to reach for anyway. I need help from someone with real and practical knowledge of computers, but can’t afford the services. Everything else is at that same level of need vs available resources. The green plants are thriving and, thanks to a can of bug killer provided by a friend, the termite-like wood-chompers aren’t eating away at the base of my kitchen table this morning. There’s not much breakfast to speak of since the dog polished off my bread supply while I was out. Apart from which, there’s not much else to report on the home front.

Synopsis? Not yet, that’s for sure. I’ll leave the story alone for a while. Maybe read through a few more of the fools in Shakespeare’s plays. In the intro to my copy of Melville’s Moby Dick, there’s mention of the fool in King Lear having served as a model for the character of Pip.

Apparently, my computer has lost the connection again. I’ll assume this writing won’t get erased when I press publish. If it does, what can I do about it? Not much (ah, a little thingie shows up; it reads draft saved at 7:34:16 am. Let’s find out if that’s true.)

Timing

In Absurdlandia, Animals, Fun, Games, Hautvoir, Local projects, Revision, Synopsis on May 20, 2016 at 7:56 am

I’m tempted to stop with the title. It says a lot about why a joke falls flat or makes you laugh (or smile).

The kids – whether inner ones or the ones in real time. In high spirits, keen on having a good time. Adults -inner or real, same difference – anxious to get through the chores and take a breather. The kids don’t get it, the adult blows up. Hey! a whole new game! It’s called: getting under the grown-up’s skin. Ha-ha. Ha.

There’s a level at which the twain shall never meet between grown-ups and kids – the inner and the outer. The kids just want to have fun. So do a lot of adults. Except there’s money to pull in for groceries and rent. Income tax returns to file. Job interviews. Meetings. Calls from the teacher “about the problem we’ve been having with your child”.  Power outages. Email glitches. Software with built-in obsolescence. People at the door just when you’ve decided the day is over. Admin papers in need of urgent updating. Fun. Games. Not to mention quality time with a favorite grown-up (whether inner or etc – see above).

The dog whimpers started at five thirty am. At least, the dishes are done and most of the food prep out of the way for lunch with a friend. Must clear the table for stuff like plates and cutlery unless we pile everything on top of file folders, busted electrical appliances and other sundries.

Apart from which yesterday’s workshop was a delight. The boys were happy with it and so was I. Sometimes, though, the days feel like a high-wire act through a haze of mosquitos.

Must say the random hit on a Facebook message about pickles upping your happy-happy serotonin levels landed just at the right time last night. Five minutes sooner? Not funny. Five minutes later? Meh.

Timing.

And now: shower, get into street clothes, clear the desk, take out the garbage and head to a meeting.

 

Round and round it goes, where it stops, nobody knows

In and other spirits, Animals, Artists, Hautvoir, Local projects, Sanford Meisner on May 18, 2016 at 7:41 am

This post as a favor to myself i.e. getting the swirl of yesterday’s events in some kind of order.

The five (5) cheeses sitting on the top of my mailbox, for instance, when I came back from the two sessions of coaching. (What vowel do the words torchon and cochon have in common? Poupée and poulet? etc).

Between loading the washing machine, seeing the rental agency about the power issue, answering the phone while buying a few bottles of mineral water, getting a boy’s exam paper typed up and photocopied, and making it to my front door again: the swirl remains.

Back home, then, with the hope of emptying the washing machine so the clothes could dry, I’m met by one (1) person with a stack of administrative papers, summons and Final Notices we dump on to the table in the living room. The sorting begins while another person shows up with cables he wants to check out on two (2) photocopiers he’s picked up in a sidewalk sale. While he toils on the floor, the cheese-bearer shows up with his two sons. We are now six people and one large dog in my living room. As one Fats Waller once sang: the joint was jumping. The cheese-bearer’s two sons had shoes with built-in rollers they wished to demonstrate. As for the cheese-bearer – a personable Gitano in his early thirties – I’m still unclear on what all the cheese-bearing portends in terms of special requests in the misty future.

A long and pleasant pause on my neighbors’ terrace. Sun, geraniums and tales over chilled white wine followed by grilled steaks. Followed by a list of agenda items for the to-do list. It was close to midnight when I got around to a bit of reading, then, sleep.

Dreamwise, a lot went on during sleep time. The most persistent dream image being of a long and steep cast iron staircase and of the dreamer, standing at the top and the precautious approach to it. At the foot of the stairs : a busy street scene and the figure of an androgynous black person, singing something operatic to herself/himself.

Will take this day as it comes? I’d say that’s the wisest course.