Somebody get me out of here. I have no idea what is happening and if you’re reading this, you’re an American (maybe) and you must, by the law of culture, help me out. We do have only a little control of our lives as we know in our lizard brains that life itself is totally out of control. If any of this rings true in any sense, let me spill the details of my personal circle of hell. Yes, you should have read Dante if even as a twenty-something while you lived in an attic of a German woman’s apartment who was studying to be a nun, and who you saw in her underwear (plum-colored) during your student days in the humid fields of Iowa at that famous school that is really famous for being famous and not much else. When you flinched she called you a “prude” and you didn’t even know what it meant. What follows is worse, so much worse that it feels like it happened and will not stop happening. Like a memory stuck on ON in the brain.
I am currently all alone in of all places France and my only link to the outside world is the terrifying, loud, over-peopled outside and the friendly square face of the Grundig television set sitting on a wobbly red formica table. With just those two items to focus on, nothing is stopping time from being 1967. Modernistic design. I’m in a room that is a basement that has storage areas that are sealed off with wooden doors shaped like cage walls and painted white so that the bar-ness ness of them are highlighted due to the extra blackness of the darkness looming behind. To not lose my mind (a survival/maintain mode), I am watching a “lovers” show that is somewhat similar to the Dating Game of the nineteen seventies although not half as funny in a different language and the prize this time around for knowing what a partner may answer to an utterly frivolous question is an impossibly tiny video camera that is shaped like a mini-vacuum cleaner.
Aren’t all game show prizes a lifetime supply of Rubik’s cubes? The show that follows the funny romantic one is “Toute Le monde Deteste Chris”. I change the channel and I see a naked man with it all hanging out exit a bathtub that he was sharing with a beautiful red-headed lady. Talk about your free association.
Don’t believe what is seen on T.V. about the Euro-experience. I’ve been to restaurants where both young and older women have doused their food with salt and pepper as if it were ketchup on French fries in the U.S. Un ami here swears that the French fries here are so much better than in the States but I insist they’re simply more delicate and probably cooked in a healthier grease (but grease is grease) so they don’t even need the now international condiments. What about fries with salsa, if we’re going to go there? In this crazy place they’ll even bring you homemade mayonnaise if you ask them just right, for the dipping.
Game shows of different cultures either seem much better or way worse. It’s hard to tell. They feature questions such as “Describe your first time” or “What is the percentage of women who wear make-up to the beach?”. You have to just sit back and wonder: what’s the meaning of life, anywhere? The universality of a fact no one knows.
There is always the temptation of the beach with its topless women splayed like lizards, flopping out their breasts like undercooked pancakes under the hot, hot sun. A guy will never score with any one of these shirtless, strapless beauties even though his body is perfectly skinny and ripped and his glasses are dark and perfectly cool (probably Ray Bans) thus the outdoors becomes a public scenario of the folly of the singles’ bar with invisible walls between scantily clad men and women and it’s all so visible for the viewer to see. Women basting themselves in sun tan lotion, oiling their breasts like Vegas strippers who just don’t care as happy families take in a formal lunch at restaurants sur la plage and it is really much more skin than ever needs to be shown but oh well.
It’s the male’s entrance to the sacred space of the beach that makes it impossible to go. The walk onto the burning sand with a towel bought from a grocery store, the body in a limb language that attempts to state: “no. I’m not here for the ladies; I’m here to swim and soak up some sun. No, really, I’m not here to stare at practically naked women of sizes and shapes and ages who immerse themselves in sea water and then bathe in public showers, and then recline like Odalisques paying no attention to the open texts of their nudity made radiant by the sun’s Van Gogh light. Nope, that’s not what I’m here for!”
This whole notion is so un-Viking.
Sometimes, even, the naked ladies smoke.
Or there is the café scene that is hit-or-miss at best. First of all first of alls, it takes a loooooong time to even get a waiter or waitress and sometimes when you succeed in gaining the attention of one of the prima donnas, it turns out to be a pissed off female version of Howard Stern.
For as many women as there are, there are two times the amount of men (does this sound familiar?) but think of it from a man’s point of view: the rare and pristine packs of ladies are very beautiful and are speaking fast, quipily, and this is what it’s like to watch sirens who go out for a bite to eat in this morphed Greek civilization that just loves to wear the right shoes.
Look at the bright side, which is quite easy to do in the Provençal light, when the waitress is tipped, the rail thin, black locked, Euro-goddess who never smiles, might just tell you what you’ve always known: you are nice. We never get that in America in the form of a robotic thank you. That’s one little difference– to be acknowledged for who we really are in the inside. Even if it’s not true.
It’s near 4:30 and the café called Le Petite Monmartre is cooling down. Bums approach tables selling lighters with notes that describe their destitute situations and it is only because you are in an almost equally destitute situation that has you in need of a cheap lighter do you think the transaction is one of marvel. The lighter is shittier than a cheap American one though both the U.S. and French version are made in China. The underlying theme is so air apparent: ah, life, so beautiful and so horribly sad.
The pretty little girls watch me write but they will never have the courage to speak to me, an idiot who speaks their language like a child. Powerless and safe, I’m finally at the apex of freedom.
As a guilty American, I look in my bag as if I had another 5 Euros. I could have paid the poor guy who had to go to a copy shop, an extra flourish of humiliation for putting down in words his desperate situation on the piece of paper that accompanied his shoddily made lighter.
Perhaps it would be better to be gay here. The looks I garner from men are inquisitive in nature. They seem to want to know what version of themselves I represent. It’s quite flattering as I protect my laptop from the very American and very random spurts of mist that the overhead canopy releases to cool down another warm summer day. They peer at me from behind dark glasses I am not cool enough to afford.
Another issue of note: how often people crack up on t.v. or in public and laugh until they cry and how others allow them to do so with no admonition. It’s a necessary function of the circus of life and it’s hard to hear laughter and not think it’s directed towards the listener.
All I really know at this small café on top of a hill that gets the breeze off the Mediterranean (making the crowded beaches obsolete for city dwellers in the summer) is that this is a viable center of the world. Everything one needs is totally accessible. Such as Chinese/Portugese/French/Indian food, plus really good pizza, plus happy people, plus tiny grocery stores, plus poulet rotis, plus the possibility of numerous bars, plus American cigarettes, plus cool boutiques for clothes and shoes, plus a place to get a haircut, plus a cash machine where unfortunately the American dollar is 1.55 Euros, plus beautiful happy people the kind that can be seen only at U.S. airports.
If I could accurately, as with video or digital photography, tell of the beauty that is readily available here, I would but I have only words. I am now watching two women at this café talk as one of them takes care of her feet with a toenail clipper (the tables are near a curb) and I can only lift my glass of pastis as a silent gesture of approval. Her toenails are painted purple.
Travel means only to go to another café once the viewer becomes bored with the immediate unstill life to perhaps enjoy a beer from a waiter who has no change and the women are perhaps a convention of models who do not know it themselves but who stare at the fool listening to his computer generated music and who is having a great time alone, something quite alien here. Getting drunk isn’t an issue when driving is unnecessary and there is no fear of a jaywalking ticket from the utterly non-existent police.
A child approaches asking for the box of matches he sees on the table. He has fireworks that he and his friends desire to light them on the playground, in full view of adulthood, As it is near Bastille Day there isn’t a qualm and in ten minutes he returns with the box and thanks you for your trouble.
At six p.m. life at the café is just starting to happen. There isn’t a thing to do but watch them watching you and to tip small because waiters get paid a decent wage. When tips are given in an American way, they bow to you and make you feel like you are royalty. I wait on France as if I am its servant and I know that in my heart of hearts I will never leave here until I have to piss so bad that the garbage cans down the street, my only friends, call my name and invite me in.
©2012 This work is the property of the author.