I was sitting in the main bar of the Gare Montparnasse in Paris ten days ago, feeling more than a little sorry for myself. The relationship I’d started, then left, then started again, hadn’t worked out. Because the other person in this affair is a very, very special woman, it took a lot of will to leave; but as the years roll by, one realises why it isn’t going to work in terms of months rather than decades. If this represents a learning curve, then all I can say is I’d be much happier behind the curve, because such decisions are about self-awareness more than anything else…..and my wired-in faults were as much to blame for the failure as hers.
So there I was, tapping away at the HP Notebook, and nursing a beer prior to catching the TGV back home. I was at a table for three and, after a moment or two, a French couple slightly older than me arrived to take the other two seats. The bloke had a twinkle in his eye and a wry smile to match. His wife asked very politely (as only the more traditional French can) if the seats were free, and I said of course, help yourself.
Within a few minutes, her husband asked me, “Are you a writer?”. I replied “I write”, because in French that sounds marginally less pretentious: the truth is, although an ability to write well made a huge contribution to my earning capacity as an adult, I have only authored anything beyond marketing documents, opinion columns and blogs twice. “I wonder,” he remarked, “what is worth writing about that might drag your attention away from life around you?”
What was really nice about the bloke was, having discerned immediately that I was a foreigner, he spoke slowly and precisely. Amazingly enough, that made it much easier to understand him. And so it seemed to me that he was as nice as he looked. Furthermore, his other half gave him a glance that yelled “Marc-Henri, will you forever mind your own business?” But her look was devoid of venom. I thus reached the conclusion that they were equally nice, very much in love, and just might have something to teach me.
I replied, “Writing for me consists of laughing at how silly most people are, and asking what on earth might make them better social animals”. Their faces lit up.
“Monsieur,” said the wife, “how wonderful! But does such an investigation not start by looking into your own soul?” Her husband nodded enthusiastically.
“Absolutely,” he agreed, still in precisely slow speaking mode, “Is it not true that we have a clinical ability to diagnose others, but are blind on the subject of ourselves?”
I felt as if I’d stumbled into the studios of Culture, the only radio station in France to which I’m addicted. The next twenty minutes flew by at something approaching three times the speed of sound as we discussed the geopolitics, family dysfunctionality, escapism from reality, dogma, bonkers materialism, poor emotional intelligence and overall cultural decline that is contemporary life. But it was getting perilously close to their train’s departure, and so far too soon they left. There were farewells of “Bon voyage” and “Bon courage”, and then suddenly I was alone once more.
France still has mass media that discuss things at the level of philosophy rather than braindead soundbite ideology. It still has a huge percentage of the population in ownership of common sense. And it retains a suspicion of all politicians that is always healthy, and very often hilarious.
There’s a bit of a debate going on at the moment here on the subject of whether test-tube baby help should be available on the national health, or Assurance Maladie. IVF in France is PMA (Procréation médicalement assistée) but the key point is that the Macron government is in favour of extending it to lesbian couples and single mums.
As this is something of a token gesture by Président Emmanuel (and much lauded by his much older wife), Charlie Hebdo has decided to position this as an attempt by the
Royal first family to engage in the sort of ghastly experiments envisaged by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World. It is of course deeply offensive, but also brilliant. While my own view is that their marriage seems very strong and happy, I am delighted to see reminders of the need for cynicism when it comes to the moral gyrations of the powerful.
The shadows are lengthening of an afternoon now. The leaves aren’t falling in any profusion, but there’s a sense of harvest festival in the air. There are so many wild fig trees in this area, nicking fruit from them is not scrumping in the traditional sense of the word: as the French say, il faut profiter….and the profit to be had is on the tongue rather than in the wallet.
Actually, the figs in the above picture are all from mine own (at long last) maturing tree, as are the pears, apples, nuts and inevitable bloody quinces….the last of these going to waste apart from what I can sell to local fruit and veg shops as an ecologically correct crop, from which medically incorrect jelly can be made with half a ton of sugar as the accompaniment to even more medically dangerous cold meats full of fat and salt.
Not many people know this, but fig chutney-cum-relish really is the business when consumed with cold meat leftovers. This is the recipe I use, and I have to say the output can lift the most depressing of winter days.
But before the winter arrives, M et Mme Marmotte are making the most of the fruit windfall at Sloggers’ Roost. Marmots are large squirrels that have evolved to thrive in water. There are fifteen species all told, and they’re designated a pest by the French because of their ability to both eat crops and burrow into foundations. However, for soppy old English gits like me, they act as engaging vacuum cleaners in the garden. This year, they had a litter of four. Their young are so cute and naive, one wants to wrap them in something that might protect them from nature’s claw. But no such material exists. If only it was possible to persuade Leftlib Metropolitan victims of that.