Friday, June 29, 2007

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after the lunch and their housework was done, to sit in the shade under the what was then a plum tree but has been replaced by a mulberry tree.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 talk...at 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.

1 comment:

Mokihana said...

Great story! I'm enjoying reading it.