Sunday, October 10, 2004

What a Weekend

Oh, God. France is such a social country. On Friday I made plans to have Saturday's dinner at the home of the same English teacher (Madame Rossini) who put me up for those first couple of days, and who I greatly inconvenienced by waking up so late both days. Sunday was supposed to be open and free.

Things changed. Saturday I slept about 12 hours and woke to a rainy gray day. I popped off to the supermarket (InterMarché) for a baguette and some Vanilla Coke. Fire up your sociology texts; am I French or American?

InterMarché which also sells drugstore things and has a section for movies and CDs and video games. I'm tempted by Myst IV, but I don't know for certain that it will run on my PowerBook, plus I didn't exactly come to France to play Myst, y'know.

The point is that I only went out once. The rest of the day was too nasty to venture out for very long - quite cold and raining on and off. Madame Ferrand from next door (also the school secretary) has lent me a bicycle, but it was a bad day to explore without, say, a parka.

So by the time 6:00 rolled around, I was listless and not quite ready for a big dinner thing. I say 'big dinner thing' because in France the whole process is more drawn out than in the U.S. For example, I arrived at about 6:30, and we sat and talked for a bit. I met the Rossini sons and saw some pictures. We had an apertif (that's a before-dinner cocktail / drink thing, for those not in the know) and listened to some music.

Did you know that there's a French dude called Johnny Halliday whose sole schtick since the '60s has been snagging American songs, translating the lyrics to French, performing the songs, and getting very very rich off it? Kind of like how everybody (ahem) borrowed Twist and Shout from the Isley Brothers and didn't even say thank you.

(This will be as good a place as any to warn you that since every single minute of my journey so far has been fraught with learning, I am very very likely to have 17 diversions for every one main point I'm trying to make. It's probably just as frustrating for me as it is for you. Please bear with us as we resolve this technical difficulty.)

Dinner itself was delicious and very French (from the region of Savoie) - three kinds of meat in thin slices (ham, I think) and boiled potatoes. You crack them 'taters open and here's where the magic happens. There's a heating rack in the center of the table that melts slices of cheese for you. Once your cheese is ready, you let it fall directly onto the potato. Yum.

But this was not the extent of dinner; no, Precious. The French do a lot of their living at mealtimes - it's important that the food be well-made and authentic, it's a time for togetherness, and it's a sort of conversation space that I'm not used to seeing in the States these days.

So we had an hour or two of good food and conversation. The discussion turned briefly to zombies, so you know I loved it. My delighted fascination with the walking dead mirrors my excitement vis-à-vis androids (not robots, mind you, but androids who look like you and me but harbor an uneraseable hatred of all that breathes in their cold metallic hearts). Maybe I am just a bit odd. If you have any other suggestions, I'm waiting to hear them.

After dinner we retired to the living room, where we had more music. It seems that a lot, if not the majority of, music in France is imported from the United States and England. Over the course of the night we hit up Bob Dylan, Santana, the Eagles, the Smashing Pumpkins, Tom Jones (!), Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, Guns 'n Roses, Eric Clapton, and a few others. Only a couple of the songs I heard the other night were French language.

Ask me how odd it was to hear Johnny Halliday singing "Until the Midnight Hour" IN FRENCH followed by a live version of "Smoke on the Water" in the middle of the French countryside on a quiet rainy night. I will tell you it was a crazy experience but the speakers were great, so I've never heard a better version of "Smoke on the Water."

Madame Rossini went to bed, and her husband and I retired to the TV room to watch a concert DVD. We had Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Yngwie Malmsteen (Did I get his name right? Who cares?) ripping unbelievable sounds out of guitars. For my money, by the way, it's Satriani all the way.

After a good bit of being amazed by the crazy guitarists, I went off to make my evening phone calls and go to bed (they had offered me some sleeping space, too). The total time for the dinner experience topped six hours. A lovely time.

The problem came when I slept 12 hours. I woke up absolutely mortified and arranged my exit as soon as I could. I have this thing about sleeping late at other peoples' houses. I can't stand it.

Of course, then I worried that I offended them by leaving their house within five minutes of waking up.

Odette says I didn't do anything wrong, and I hope she's right.

Turns out that in my absence I was invited to lunch next door - that's the home of Madame Ferrand, the school secretary. So I did the whole thing again, but for lunch this time. I ate with Monsieur and Madame Ferrand, their daughter Valerie, and her boyfriend Thierry. Oh, and the dog (Chippy, I think), who likes to eat napkins. It was again wholly pleasant (the French practice Southern Hospitality), and it lasted perhaps four hours.

So I had a totally French weekend. And, once again, I'm ready for bed.

For next weekend I'm going to do one of the following:

  • Meet up with Doogie and Melissa in Paris

  • Visit Le Mans with Maribel (Spanish teacher, you remember)

  • Visit the seashore with the Rossini family

  • Go picking mussels with the Ferrand family

I haven't the faintest clue which, and in the meantime I absolutely must get to Laval for my Carte de Sejour, otherwise they will kick me out of France with extreme prejudice.

Forgive me for rambling like I did, by the way, but with all the overwhelmingly new stuff I've been seeing and experiencing, my mind is set on 'Omni', perhaps permanently. We shall see if it decides to calm down.


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