Friday, June 29, 2007


I think that I can safely say that most French people are not enamoured of cats. Oh, they might have a cat or two around the place, but the cats are mostly left to themselves to get on with it. No sleeping with a purring kitty in this country, in fact, the cat is lucky be let inside the house and fed with regularity.

Cats are forgotten or ignored creatures, here. If it dies, it's simple to find another one. If it gets sick, wait and see what way will the average Pierre, Paulus, or Harold take a cat and spend money on it at the vet. And when it's time for going on a vacance with the family, which is usually an extended visit to someplace far away, often to the beach or up skiing in the mountains, the family cat is not even considered, and often left to get by as best as it can on it's own. They sometimes do the same with their Grannies, who don't starve to death as the cats do, but end up dying in heatwaves.

Spaying and castrating are an affront not only to the French pocketbook, but what macho Frenchman, or woman, for that matter, would even dream of cutting off and mutilating something that represents sex! Sacré bleu! Even my own wonderful and usually understanding vet felt that he had to comment, when, after what must've been the last straw for him, once the dog and the pony had been done and I asked him to do the cat, "Well, it's easy to see that you are a divorced woman". Forget civic responsibility in this place.

We have no Humane Society for cats in this town, either...the very idea would be laughable. There is a dog one, however, for lost and abandoned dogs. Or rather, there is a man, Mr. Bobois, who takes care of what are mostly lost hunting dogs, until their owners come along and claim them. The dogs stay at a small kennel behind what used to be the local slaughterhouse and is now the hunters' clubhouse. The property belongs to the town, and the Mayor's office is the one that pays for the dogfood.

But it's very difficult to get a dog accepted into this place. I suppose that's because any dog but a hunting dog is difficult to place, and some dogs have stayed there for months befor Mr. Bobois, who has a good heart but a difficult character, has been able to place them into an acceptable family. Of course, he'd probably have more luck with placements if he'd just give them the dog and go...but he tends to come around and check up on things, once a dog has been adopted. Often. Even more often than the local social worker does with problem families, foster care, or human adoptions. So, unless you fall in love with a particular dog in the kennel, it's best to simply ask around for one, as they're easy enough to find, without having to be 'vetted' by Mr. Bobois.

And, if you should happen to find a poor lost little stray dog, don't say anything, just go and dump the thing into the kennel, walk away, and don't look back. Not to worry, the pup be well looked after, once in there. But if you were to call and report finding a dog, well, you'd be given what I seem to remember is called, 'the third degree'. Something akin to being tied to a chair in a dark room, with a bright light shining into your eyes during the inevitable interrogtion. "Are you positive that this isn't your dog? I don't believe that you just 'found' him. Why do you no longer want this dog?"

There's no chance if you find, or want to dump, a cat. And if your cat is silly enough to have had kittens... The French are very close to their money. Oh, they'll spend more than they should on the important things in life, such as good clothes, or excellent food, or wine. But not on pets, and certainly not on cats. If Minou the kitty has kittens, she won't be raising them to the age where they can be given away to good homes, not often at least. Sometimes they'll get to stay two or three weeks, just until they can walk on shaky new legs to the bowl and feed themselves, but mostly they're gotten rid of at birth. Remember the old fairy tales, where kitties were tied up into a bag with a rock and dumped into a river? The french wouldn't even bother with a bag, or take the time to look for a rock. We've been out fishing under a bridge by the side of a lovely river, enjoying our day and catching enough trout to barbecue in the evening, when the day was spoiled by a car stopping on the bridge and a man dumping kitties out of a bag and into the water. He crumpled the bag up and put it into his pocket as he left, no point in wasting what is not given free any longer at the supermarket. To give it it's due, maybe the trout we caught had their suffering, too.

And this killing of kitties is nothing that the people seem to be ashamed of. It comes as a natural and accepted part of the conversation. Our lunch at a fine restaurant was spoiled by the woman at the next table discussing how she simply puts the kitties into a canning jar, fills it with water, and shakes until the deed is done. She went back to eating her garbure soup, full of local richness, with cabbage, beans, vegetables and confited duck heads...but my appetite was gone.

I never went back to that restaurant after the kitties-in-a-canning-jar incident. It was just too sad. It used to be one of our favorite places to go, the food well done and beautifully presented, the prices reasonable. In the summer, they'd bring out the tables to the terrace and lunch would be served outside, under a canopy of plane trees, their branches trained to reach out and hold hands. The meal would always begin with a help-yourself tureen of garbure soup and a platter of assorted marinated vegetable salads and coldcuts. After that would come the main dish of the day, sometimes roast duck or chicken, sometimes delicious hogjowls braised in orange, or a boiled beef and vegetable platter and rocksalt and grainy mustard for dipping, served with even more vegetables and maybe fries or steamed potatoes, too. Then a plain salad of lettuce and vinaigrette...why is it that other people's vinaigrette always tastes better than what you make at home? I've thought to begin a vinaigrette club, where members trade vinaigrettes among each other, in order to have a change of taste, rather than the standard, same-old-thing that we each make at home.

After the salad, the choice is yours for dessert, all homemade by Francis, in their own kitchen. Open-faced apple tart, real fruit sorbets with the thinest and crispiest of spiced wafers, warm strawberries and cream on a pastry disc, creme brulée with a burnt caramel top and chilled raspberries and cream underneath, a fresh fruit salad presented like a fancy ladies' hat, with spun sugar wrapped around it, tiny choux buns filled with pastry cream and laced with chocolate sauce...and then tiny cups of hot, black, very strong coffee. I tried for years to get served my coffee with dessert, but Annabel, the English-speaking waitress who'd been to California, always told me firmly, "You are in France, now, and you'll do it our way!"

. She could be quite firm, could Annabel...I remember one time, when the restaurant was packed solid, with the daily special being roast duck. We always had too much to eat to begin with, after the soup and the crudites, and there was usually enough left over to ask for a doggy bag for the meat (not generally done in France, but as I said, Annabel had spent some time in California, so I was 'allowed' this, if not coffee with dessert). This time, Annabel said to me, as she was taking the plates away, "Sorry, but I'll do you a doggy bag next time, as we are a bit short in the kitchen, and need more roast duck.". As I said, the French are very tight with their money.

Mr. DuCamp

We had a suicide here, a few years back. Suicides are not that uncommon, this is a town with ordinary depressed, drunk, divorced, cheating, insecure, ill, and poor people, just like any other small town. Not to say that it's only these kinds of problems that makes someone consider, or commit, suicide. I imagine, never having been seriously in any kind of suicidal frame of mind, that whatever it is that triggers or finishes the act is between the person and their maker.

What made this suicide so unusual is in the somewhat spectacular way it was done. Don't get me wrong...any suicide is a big deal, especially to the loved (or unloved) ones left behind. It does seem that suicides tend to go into two separate camps. There are the ones that simply want out, and go about it in a no-nonsense fashion designed to get it over and done with. And then, there are the ones that seem to use the effects of their suicide to further the pain for the ones left behind. A nasty sort of fringe benefit, you might say.

Mr. DuCamp's suicide was most certainly of the second camp. It is still spoken of to this very day. I imagined that he planned it, and its repercussions, down to the last, most intimate detail. It seems such a shame that he didn't stop to think of the innocent people that were bound to be touched by his act, as well. Maybe too, had he thought it out a bit more clearly and with less emotion in the heat of the moment, he would've not done such a thing, saving all of and community alike...such awful memories, such awful wonderings about the pained heart and mind of the hurt individual.

This is a small town, just one up from a village, really. The thing that saves us is the market day, when farmers from all around come with their produce to sell in the town square, right by the fountain with the stone carving of the wild boar who, history has it, it the reason that the town is even here. It seems that hunters were chasing a wounded boar through a marsh, when the boar dropped dead. When the hunters caught up to the animal, they noticed that the boar had salt chrystals on it's whiskers. Back then, salt was one of the only ways to preserve food, making it a very valuable thing, indeed. There have been humans in the area, boiling down the salty marsh water to make rock salt, since the Bronze perhaps the story is more than a legend, perhaps it has a grain of truth to it.

Because of the salt, and the value of it, the town became quite rich. And well known for it's hot saltwater cures, bringing curists from all over Europe to take the waters. Local loththarios made it a custom to meet eligible female curists at the train station and romance them for the duration of their three-week stay, a custom that still holds to this day. Many people stayed on and began to intermarry with the townsfolk. This created a big problem for the Town Fathers, as the revenue from the salt was being diluted. Their money was being menaced! Steps would have to be taken to protect their salt heritage and birthright!

You must understand...the town is in a little, almost hidden, valley, just at the beginnings of the Pyrenees foothills. Centuries had passed without too much interference from outsiders. The salt was their salvation, and the basis of their economy...but it was mostly taken away to be traded. Even the famous 'Bayonne Ham' was, in reality, from the town's salt. Bayonne, half a hundred kilometers away, just happened to be the port that the ham went from on it's journey to the four corners of the earth.

The Town Fathers, seeing this revenue beginning to slip out from under their grasp, made a few resolutions. It was declared that the annual dividing up of the cash...called, I kid you not, 'The Sauce'...would have certain stipulations attatched to it. A beneficiary had to be the issue of a proper marriage, and not be born out of wedlock. Only the firstborn son could inherit salt rights. Only persons born within the actual town could claim salt rights. And so on and so forth.

These resolutions had the effect of not only making the townsfolk even more wary of anything but the merest trade with outsiders, it also made them change their matrimonial habits somewhat. There were at that time, many, many incidences of 'Mariages Blancs'....White Marriages...that is to say marriages that were never intended to be consummated, marriages on paper only, often between partners of incredible age gaps, sometimes the differences being fifty years or more. One can still go into many of the big, older houses in town and marvel at the separate chambers for each marriage partner, with the formal receiving rooms communal, and the living quarters apart. Some even have separate wings for two sets of servants.It seems the townsfolk have followed in the tradition of this 'protectionism' ever since. Outsiders are looked upon with wary eyes, and seldom brought legally into the family folds. Marrying a first cousin is not unheard of. The telephone directory has about thirty family names, an amazing thing, really, for a town of more than five thousand people. Everyone knows everyone. Everyone is related to everyone else.

And, depending on your family name, you might be able to more easily get a good job, a loan, a place in the local political scene...or an invitation to join the volunteer Fire Department. All the firemen have local names, and have grown up here, and their fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers have been firemen before them. Mr. DuCamp was a fireman, too. And so was his wife's father. And so was his wife's lover. And so was his wife's lover's father.

So, when Mr. DuCamp decided to commit suicide because his wife was having an affair and was planning on leaving him, he must've thought long and hard about all of this. He did the deed with a locked car, an opened thirteen kilo propane gas bottle, and a match...therefore, you could say that he was serious about things.

But he did it when he was damned sure that his wife's lover would be one of the firemen on call, one of the people responding to the explosion and the fire. As I said, everybody here knows everybody else. And their business. And the car they drive. Can you just imagine the scene at the site, with the entire team of firemen there, including Mr. DuCamp's wife's lover? What would the others have said? "Hey, Marcel...this one's yours!"?

And to top things off, Mr. DuCamp and his family had been living in a house that had been built on his family's farm, right next door to where his mother still lives to this day. One can only imagine the chagrin of this poor woman when she had to not only deal with the suicide of her son, but put up with her former daughter-in-law living in the place with her new lover, as well. The people of the town are very tight with their money, very frugal, and would never spend money to rent another house when there was already one available, you see. So the woman stayed on living next door.


I try to be a good neighbor, really I do. But, sometimes, things just get to a point when you can't stand it anymore, and something has got to be done. That's what happened with my neighbor, Hans...who really should be called 'Hands' for his ever-gropeing ways, when he is around a woman, any woman.

For an old geezer, Hans is pretty agile, especially when it came to the opposite sex. One has to be forever dodging both his hands and his innuendos. He's always turning the least little thing around to be of sexual conotations, and pawing and panting and actually drooling, when in the presence of anything female.

Of course, he's also one of the richest old geezers in the town as well, so perhaps that helps his chances along a bit. Not that it would help him during the actual act...I have it on good authority from Maggie (a poor single mother with refined tastes and aspirations), who had a go, thinking to get herself set up. Maggie's only comment, when asked how it went, was, "Meme pas penetrée!".

And Hans has a reputaion for having a hedgehog in his pocket, which is to say that each time he reaches into his pocket, he get poked by the hedgehog's spines, and pulls out his hand too fast to get any of the cash that's at the bottom. Maggie didn't last too long. None of them do, in fact...although there is always certain to be a petite, well dressed, well kept woman of a certain age hanging on Hans' arm at any social gathering of local ex-pats, it is an ever-changing woman. And one has to be adept at learning the new one's name, and and making smalltalk with her while not recalling any previous conquests or anecdotes of.

I'm not sure that Hans was happy to see me moving in as his new neighbor. Me, four little kids, goats, ponies, donkeys, and all the rest did change his quiet neighborhood somewhat. But it wasn't for the noise, as he's mostly deaf, and has his hearing aids turned off, anyway. It couldn't have been for the animals, although some of them did, from time to time, get into his garden...not that they made a mess, or destroyed any plants, mind you...and I did bring over eggs, goat's milk cheese, legs of lamb, and sides of bacon. Maybe it was the kids...Hans hates kids, he even specifies not to bring them to his parties or dinners...but even that seemed to be okay, and one of his ladies was being the piano teacher for the boys, until there were just too many complaints about doors being slamed, hair being pulled, screaming and tantrums...but the boys have another piano teacher now, and this new teacher doesn't do anything like that, and is quite calm, really.

It wasn't as if I were The Neighbor From Hell. I did try my best. But I did do something that might not have been exactly kosher. In my defense, however, I have to say that I was mightily provoked. It was at the time just before Hans had the fence put up between our two properties.... You see...I had a lot of chickens. Chickens are great for eggs and meat and a farm-raised organic chicken is always a useful bartering tool, for when the car breaks down or a tree falls on the road, or a leak needs fixing. And each chicken has an individual personality and character, so when the time comes to kill them it can be really difficult to choose which one is gong to go into the pot, especially if you've given them cute little names, and watched them grow up or hatched them yourself in the incubator. In fact, the best way to get over that problem is to buy or raise even more chickens, so that one more or less won't be missed.

And that's what I did. I accepted half a dozen more grown laying hens from a little old lady who goes every year up to Paris at Christmastime, in order to visit her daughter. She stays for six weeks, so there really isn't anybody willing to take care of her birds for all that time, and she had gotten into the habit of giving the birds away each winter and starting with fresh birds each spring. She didn't have the heart to kill them, but I did...and I traded her the hens for young birds every springtime, with eggs in between.

Chickens don't take too well to having new friends. In fact, chickens won't even let new friends sleep over or lay eggs in shared nests. Sometimes chickens will beat up on other chickens that have been introduced into their cluck-clique, and the newbies have to go elsewhere to find a space of their own.

And that's just what those new chickens did, too. They went straight over to Hans' garage and made themselves at home. I didn't notice. I was too busy with the rest of the gang. But I still was being a good neighbor, and brought a dozen eggs and some garden produce over to Hans each week, which he always accepted with a big smile, and a laugh. Nevermind, I thought to myself, some pople are stranger than others. Live and let live.

Until the day I noticed that the hens were over there. And, on closer inspection, noticed a nice nestbox, complete with one marked egg...marked 'hard boiled'. Grrr! The nerve of that guy! Why didn't he just tell me...he could've kept the hens and the eggs, I didn't mind...but to continue to accept eggs from me all the while, to boot! I had to think about some way to solve this.

As luck would have it, the Gendarmes happened to pass by on patrol and stopped to pass the time of day. I mentioned the nest and the eggs and asked for advice. They said just not to poison the eggs. Great. I had to think of something that would do the trick without too much humbug.

If you know about chickens, then you'll know that they do most of their pooping, about 75%, during the night, when they are asleep. And you'll know, too, that anybody can do anything with a sleeping chicken...they just hum gently and dream away, and stay sound asleep, it's impossible to wake them unless you happen to turn on the lights.

So, that night, the kids and I put thirty chickens into Hans' car. This was easy to do, as he had, still has even to this day, an open jeep-like car...somewhat like a French version of that old Volkswagon 'Thing'. We perched them all over..the steering wheel, the seats, the open edges (butts inward), even the gearshift. And then we went to bed. That old bugger wants chickens, I'll give him chickens!

Now, before you go to wondering why I did it this way, and didn't simply stop by and ask Hans to stop, or even just let it go and give him the hens and the have to understand that Hans is very old and very rich, and that he considers his life and the people in it a big game of chess. He enjoys his life and all the daily happenings in it, and it would have disappointed him to no end to simply have nothing come of this little incident. I simply helped him out. In fact, he's been known to repeat this little story, in the years that have since passed.

The next morning I made a point to be in the garden from daybreak. The chickens had come back home at dawn, leaving the car to go and look for worms and bugs in the small forest nearby. Hans came out of his house and got into his car and got as far as backing it up a few meters before jumping back out. I sat quietly in my garden and watched as he emptied the nestbox, broke it into little pieces, burned it, and then made an inspection of his garage, looking for any bits of feathers or hidden eggs. He then went back into his house, presumbly to call the Gendarmes.

Sure enough, the Gendarmes showed up a few minutes later. I was still sitting quietly in my garden, just waiting. After a few minutes of conversation with Hans, one of the Gendarmes peered into my garden, spotted me, and crooked his finger at me, "Come on over here, Susie". Well, so I did.

When I got to where everybody was, next to the very shat-upon, and in, car...the Gendarmes (trying, but not quite succeeding, to keep a straight face) asked me what was going on. I replied that it seemed the chickens were just being chickens, because, as chickens are wont to do, they tend to sleep where they lay. And as they had been doing their laying in Hans' garage... And then the Gendarme asked Hans what he had done with the nest and the eggs that had been there the day before! Years ago, that was, and I still laugh when I think of the look on Hans' face! In the end, the Gendarmes said that since it had been my chickens, it would be up to me to clean up after them. And so I did. I dumped thirty two buckets of hot soapy water into the car, and called it a day. And I had a full case of 360 eggs delivered to Hans' house the next day. Here you go, Hans, have some eggs!

Dominique and Pierre

We used to have these other funny neighbors. That was Dominique and Pierre. They taught me how to kill and cut up a pig, and how to make bacon and ham from it. We had to do the pig on Friday evenings, though, as it's no longer allowed to kill large anmals at home, even for personnal consuption. You can still kill a rabbit or a chicken at home, but not a pig or a sheep or anything bigger than that.

Of course, everybody still does kill their animals at just have to be careful of how you do it, hence the Friday evening time slot. The Gendarmes aren't going to come out and bust you on a Friday night, and they'll leave you be for the whole of the weekend job of butchering, too. And that does take some time...kill the pig, scrape the hair off, cut it open, hang it up high overnight from the lift of the tractor so that the cats won't nibble on it...or the rats. Scraping and washing out the poop in the guts, for use as sausage casings. Casings can be bought, clean and dry in salt and ready to be soaked and used, but why spend the money for that, when you have all the famiy, neighbors, and outlying relatives to help do the shitwork?

It depends on who you are as well, if you want to do home slaughter. The Gendarmes will turn a blind eye if you are local born and bred. And white. But, if you happen to be a Muslim planning a barbecue to celebrate the end of Ramadam, it might be better to buy your sheep already dead and ready for the coals. Because you can be sure that the Gendarmes will wait til the deed is done and the meat has been perfectly prepared before busting you, slapping you with a hefty fine, confiscating the meat, and then having their own barbecue. Gendarmes could give a hoot about whether the meat has been blessed before slaughter or stuck with a knife and bled to death, they'll enjoy each and every bite of your hard work, and make jokes, besides.

Going over to Domi and Pierre's house was always interesting. If their daughter, Luci, was home from University, she could be found in a chair, sucking her thumb and cradleing a doll. Or rather, what was left of a doll. Mostly just a part of the skull was left, after years and years of being rubbed and fondled down to just the bit where the hair goes into those little holes in the skull. Remember those dolls? Rows and rows of tiny, evenl-spaced holes in hard plastic, with a few hairs stuck into each hole. They don't make em like that, anymore. Today's disturbed young person wouldn't have anything left of a doll by the time they were 21. Good thing thumbs are still well made.

Luci never said much, unless she was screaming at her mother. And her Mother never said much, either, unless she was screaming at Pierre. I only remember Pierre saying something one time. He said to Lucy, "Come and suck me off." At that time, I didn't speak or understand too much of the French language, but I did understand that phrase...I mean, I'd been a married woman and all.

Discretion being the better part of valor, I though to just play the villiage idiot, and pretend that I hadn't heard or understood. What else could I have done? But my head was in a spin, I can tell you! And I understood perfectly well the screaming and the fighting that Pierre's remark caused, too. What an uproar! Domi screamed that they'd all be in hot water if that sort of stuff left the house. Luci screamed at Domi. Pierre went upstairs and slammed all the doors along the way. Then Domi went back to serving me a cup of coffee and all was as calm as before. I drank the coffee, made my excuses, and left as soon as I could.

After that Domi never came around for about a month. She'd been coming by every day. She must have been scared, or suffering, or both...because for her to not come by to see what she could borrow or beg or steal was unusual. Domi is a kleptomaniac. I figure that it's a sick, and has come to her from stress, as she has one daughter who is a streetwalker, one son who'd been killed by a hit-and-run while he was in the seems that the driver was looking to kill a soldier, any soldier, Luci and her problems, one other wierd son, and one son who married a girl like good ole' Mom... she sucks her thumb. Did I tell you that Domi sucks her thumb, too? And wets the bed...but I don't know if any of the others do.

Domi couldn't stay away forever, so things got back to somewhat normal. She'd come by and I'd watch her like a hawk. If she borrowed something I'd have to make a sure that she didn't 'forget' to return it. The doors would have to be secured each time I went out. If I was at the quiltshop teaching patchwork and Domi 'happened' to pass by the window, I'd have to excuse myself and rush home to chase her off of my property, where she'd be, thinking that I was otherwise occupied.

Christmastime came by, and we decorated our tree. In our family, we have a tradition, we make our own ornaments, adding new ones each year. Ivana, Domi's granddaughter, who lived with Domi and Pierre because her mom was too busy being a streetwalker to take care of her, came by to join in the fun. And then we were invited back to their house to help them set up their tree...I guess that Domi had thought enough time had passed after the 'come and suck me off' incident to be safe. I did, too.

Their family had a fake tree, made of plastic with a metal frame. It had been stored in it's narrow box for the year, and had to be set up and the branches pulled and tugged into shape so that it would look more like a tree and less like a squished bunch of plastic rolled up. Domi took the thing out of the box and set it on the stand and began to work on the branches. Ivana chimed in, "It's me, it's me that gets to spread the legs of the Christmas tree!".Now...I ask this the normal French expression of speech for what we were doing to that Christmas tree? Is this a normal thing for a seven year old to say? Especially in that house with those people? I might have given her the benefit of the doubt...except for the darting glance that I got from Domi. It was all in the look in Domi's eyes. Was Ivana going to be doomed to the same fate as the others? For me, it was not a very merry Christmas.

Jules and Josette

I have these neighbors, an older couple who I'll call Jules and Josette. They are in their seventies, and have been married for about fifty years. No kids, as Josette has had quite a few miscarriages, but Jules has an offspring, born to a mistress, from the time during the early years of his marriage.

Josette doesn't allow Jules to see or have contact with this person. Josette doesn't sleep in the same bed as Jules anymore, either...and hasn't for about forty years. How do I know this? Because Jules told me, many years ago, while sitting and chatting in the little park that's just in front of my house. I did think to myself, as he was speaking about it, "Why on earth do I want to know this?"...but then, I can be pretty naive, looking back, and the conversation took place about ten years ago, when I didn't understand all he was saying and didn't understand too much of the French mentality, either.

This tiny little park used to be quite the place for neighborhood gossip. Back when I first came to the town, almost fifteen years ago, it was the place where the little old ladies of this part of town hung out. I called it 'La Club de l'Apres Midi'. They'd come each afternoon, after the lunch and their housework was done, to sit in the shade under the what was then a plum tree but has been replaced by a mulberry tree. They would just sit on the bench and speak of ordinary things...Claudette would talk about the potatoes she's cooked for lunch, Josette would tell about things she found as she cleaning the cinema after a film, and Madeline would talk about, well...she'd just the time, she was beginning to suffer the effects of dementia, but nobody realized it back then.

Mostly it was the ladies that would sit and talk, but sometimes, if Josette wasn't there, Jules would come and have a chat, too. Josette wouldn't come on the days she had a black eye, so Jules replaced her on those days. Jules had been a Gendarme for the whole of his working life...that's our version of the cops, 'Gendarme' translates into 'armed men', and are a branch of the French Military. Back when Jules was on active duty, PC was an unknown term, and the Gendarmes had pretty much a free hand, to rule as they best could, or would. I guess that's where the Jules got it from. I guess, anyway.

I learned most of my French 'big words' (swear words) from Jules and Josette. Our houses are not all that far apart, on a small cobbled narrow lane, with three and four story houses made of stone lined up one next to another, sometimes with just teensy, shoulder-wide alleyways between them. Most of the houses are between two and three hundred years old, and the difference in ages and styles makes the lane look like a pretty, although grey, patchwork quilt. The canyons of the town serve to amplify sounds, especially during the summer when wooden shutters and windows are left open.

So, when Jules and Josette are going at it, with bangs and shrieks and china and furniture being thrown about, we can pretty much hear the whole show. Josette puts on her 'victim' voice and really goes to town...the muffled yells, with 'HELP!' escaping from between Jules' fingers, the big, big swear words, from both of them equally, the 'fight to the finish' noises coming from their house...even the tourists have been known to stop and stare, or go as far as to call the cops or run to the Mayors' office for help. Sometimes the man from the Mayors' office comes and tells them to tone it down, and it stays quieter for a time, but that never lasts.

They are pretty regular...each day at seven in the morning, then again at about eleven, and then sometimes, but not always, at around four in the afternoon. Year in and year out. Kalani, my youngest son, (the one with a very sharp sense of wit), was woken one morning by the goings-on, and said to me, "Mom, time to get up, the alarm's ringing!". He is a very funny boy (but he hates when I repeat that story).

A while back, I was passing in front of their house when the Gendarmes were outside. The senior Gendarme asked me if I'd seen Jules recently. So I said to him that perhaps Josette had finally had enough and maybe they should check the freezer. haha! The look on the Gendarme's face was enough to keep me laughing to myself for days!

I did ask Jules, long ago, what the hell was it all about? He said that Josette was deaf. ?! Oh. Just last week, we were passing on the lane, him on his bike and me dragging groceries from the car, when we stopped to pass the time of day. I asked him again, and told him that my kids were wondering why they stayed together, and that I'd explained to the kids that back in those days, people got married for forever, and divorce wasn't just something to be taken lightly. Jules' response was that they were each waiting for the other one to die, as he'd actually been to a lawyer and had been told that he risked losing too much, were he to divorce after all these years. You see, the last one alive gets the money.