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La belle France December 21, 2007

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Those who work in advertising in France have made it law that a female orgasm must feature in every TV ad. Regardless of whether toothpaste, wallpaper, cat-food or something more pertinently sexy is being hard-sold, the ad must have a woman nearing ecstasy. “A-oh-a-oh-a-chet-ez ce pa-ah-oh-ah-oh-aah-pier (ah, oui, c’est tellement bien) peint.” Dunno if it works. But France seems like a happy enough place.

I once went to a wedding near Paris and travelled with a woman who happens to live a life of relative luxury in London and, while she usually seems a pretty regular type of person, apart from being minted, you are only given an insight into her ivory tower when you and she are unleashed on the French provinces together.

For France still seems to do province. More than the UK, or, rather, and this is perhaps simply a matter of space, it is still easier to find relatively cut-off province in the environs of Paris than it is near London. We heroically made our way to a station not a million miles from Paris. From there, we would have the adventure of getting on a smaller line and arriving at a village station where we would be the only people getting on or off and the poplars would look brilliant in the French summer sun and our host would pick us up in a DS (actually, I think it was a Renault 5, but still…) and we’d probably all be dressed in white linen and it would all be bucolic and perfect and French and wonderful. We wandered off to find the ticket office for the tiny trains. Explained to the bonhomme where we’d like to go only to be told that the last train had gone. It was not yet noon.

We resourcefully found a phone box. It worked only intermittently. Almost impossible to get through to a taxi rank. It was Saturday and the province had closed. We waited hours for a carriage. So long, in fact, that we’d made friends with other people at the station. My rich companion confided in me that transport and telephones, indeed, everything in France appeared not to work. This was a woman with a very different experience of London from my own.

And it’s been nice being in France, even if the mountains do make the most of my very many imperfections. Both for the day-to-day, the getting stuck at provincial, empty, deserted railway-stations, but which are still staffed and, after so long, you are bound to become friends with the SNCFer, and the passion of articulation, not just in the ads, but on TV in general, with pundits of whatever hue currently going through Sarkozy’s love-life with a fine toothcomb and then bollocking themselves for this ‘showbization de la politique’. And the hanging on, here and there, to old routines. It’s been almost a pleasure to be turned away from restaurants for wanting to eat at an irregular hour, and then to be served by a nice, inbred waitress in a homely, unfussy way on simple plates and given simple knives and forks when the time is right.

I am far from Paris, in every sense. Village life appears, just, to be surviving. The village I am in must have been tiny twenty years ago. A nice little circle of a village. The church in the middle and peeking out over the top. The remains of a castle. Some old stone houses. Insane old country dogs with one eye and three legs which chase cars. The monument in front of the mairie to those from the village who died in the two World Wars. And the odd ancient local as the surviving relics of times past. Onto the village have been added nine billion chalets and other residences. There’s a crap new restaurant or two. A smart one selling unsimple food on unsimple plates with unsimple knives and forks. The permanent population, so the story goes, is 600. It increases to 18,000 when the tourists come. And yet I’ve got a feeling this is an out-of-the-way resort as resorts go. It’s not near the railway line. And even the new bit of the town is deserted on a weekday when night falls and the skiers must put off perfection for another day.

And it’s all fantastically beautiful. The village itself is pretty enough. But, and as inimical as they are for an utterly impractical city homo, you can’t go too far wrong on the beauty stakes with mountains, forests, lakes, sunshine and snow. “Just like Komi Repaablik, Raasha,” the Russian says proudly and as a softener for if we should ever, and so perish this thought, have to move back to Russia by some extremely cruel twist of fate.

And the mountain air. It really is knocking us out. As is the vin chaud.


1. Marsha Klein - December 21, 2007

That war memorial is so sad. So few surnames. It reminds me of Prince Andrew’s comment after Lockerbie, when he expressed the view that the tragedy existed on a greater scale for America, as the majority of lives lost were those of American citizens, failing completely to show an understanding of how devastating even a few deaths can be in a small community.

Vin chaud…mmmmm.

2. Sylvia - December 21, 2007

The war memorial in the village I frequent on the planet naboo is a bit of a surprise. Talk about homeoerotic! Lovely piece of work, but still a bit of a shock on a Sunday morning. I think it’s meant to emphasise the tragedy of people dying so young. And yes, the same surnames come up over and over again.

3. helena - December 21, 2007

French adverts are great – are they still showing the one with the singing lettuce leaf? Actually I have to admit that I love watching French TV – because it’s so gloriously bad.

This was a glorious post – thank you, you took me right back to France for a moment. I like the fact that once you get outside the big towns you encounter villages where little has changed for generations. It’s somehow very comforting to know that there are places where lip service might be being paid to modernity but it’s a fairly mumbling lip service.

4. pleite - December 21, 2007

Helena, I didn’t notice the singing lettuce leaf, perhaps because I was too distracted by the constant orgasms. And French TV did seem to have rather a lot of quizzes, though we did both get addicted to one good programme taking the piss out of the day’s events. There’s also lots of trying very hard to be zany too, isn’t there? A bad idea.

Sylvia, I wanted to put up more photos, for the previous post too, but it all took so long and I made so many mistakes that I gave up. I think the one that did go up only went up by accident. But what I wanted to show with that photo was that the Riveill family lost a gazillion people in WWI and then suffered the village’s only victim of WWII too.

Marshypops, indeed. 22 deaths in WWI must have been a good whack of the village’s adult population, I reckon. And I tried to label that photo, “Pity the poor Riveill family,” but technology got the better of me. It also shows nicely how much more ferocious WWI was in terms of sheer numbers. There was another jollier monument close by asking god to bless viticulture. Quite right too!

5. narrowback - December 21, 2007

I remember a driving vacation through the backwoods of Newfoundland, which is “backwoods”, itself as compared to the rest of canada and in every wee village there’s be a monument to the dead of WWI…even in the hamlets which consisted of a church, a general store and about a half dozen clapboard cottages. I was struck to the marrow by the the length of the list of names of those lost from tiny communities…”geez, two dozen men from this wee little wide spot in the road!?” upon returning home I did some research and learned that the Newfoundland regiments had been decimated at either the Somme or Ypres

that was some 25 odd years ago and sparked my continuing fascination with monuments.

6. pleite - December 21, 2007

This one – I have a nicer photo of it, with the French flag and all, but don’t think I can face trying to upload another pic – reminded me, in design, which I suppose isn’t that surprising, of the ones you see everywhere in the UK too. A column. Names. Dates. Given absolute pride of place in this French village, though, which might be the norm, actually.

7. bowleserised - December 22, 2007

There was a very moving monument on Sylt too, RFM has photos of it somewhere. I actually find the German war memorials even sadder, if that’s possible, for complicated reasons.

8. Ed Ward - December 22, 2007

You’ve hit on it: rural France rocks. I hope I’ll be able to keep you guys entertained (in an urban situation, with lots of great rural scenery from which you can drive back to the urban area afterwards) after I move there. I am, of course, expecting scads of visitors. Unlike Berlin, it’s, well, it’s France!

9. pleite - December 22, 2007

Ed, France has very much to be said for it indeed. As does Spain, incidentally. The Russian and I braced ourselves for our first bit of Berlinerishness and we got one soon enough in the shape of a rather miserable lady checking our tickets on the Airport Express. But we shrugged it off and, brace yourself, were happy to be home… But, my god, those Pyrenees villages were beautiful. Within striking distance, via Perpignan, I’m guessing, of Montpellier too.

B., do you know, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a German memorial. Not one commemorating Germany’s dead, at least. Ones to the victims of fascism galore, and then, of course, the Jewish memorial, and camps, but I’ve never just seen a little German memorial. Did it even have names, the one on Sylt? My impression is that Germany has made the war very non-personal in its Vergangenheitsbewältigung (sorry, any excuse to type that word) way.

10. bowleserised - December 22, 2007

Yes, yes, they have names. If you want to see a great variety of German war memorials, go to the (very beautiful) cemetery in Marzahn. Includes memorials to victims of Stalin. It was full of people harvesting chestnuts (or maybe truffles or mushrooms) while I was there.

11. pleite - December 22, 2007

Darling, thank you. You’ve given me a New Year’s Resolution. To make it to Marzahn. I’ve never been, even though it’s got mythological status amongst non-Marzahn Berlin’s Slavs. It’s whispered in hushed tones. It’s where ‘those’ Slavs live. Bad Slavs. Naughty Slavs. Slavs who’ve come here and been given nationality thanks to some tenuous link with Germany. Not Slavic equivalents of beautiful losers and puppeteers at all.

Pankow is disappointingly unslavic, though there was a woman with good Russian hair and in a good Russian fur coat reading a Russian detective novel on the U-Bahn the other day and that was very St. Petersburg-like. (Oh god, I should be working/buying Christmas presents for ungrateful nieces and nephews with rich parents who’ll holler in disgust and pity as they open their Kinder-egg-level generosity gifts. Just CANNOT be bothered.)

12. rock - December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas lad. No gunfire yet but there’s still time and mom’s not here yet. I’ve packed to move even farther away twice this week and at noon today was screaming fuckoff fuckoff fuckoff at full volume at my landlady in the front yard. Just to show these yuppy neighbours how tis done back in the hills. I’m mortified. There’s an erotic war memorial in Peterborough Ontario that defies decoding. Angels in German helmets, Canadians (I guess) out of Maxfield Parrish (sp) on meth. The German seems to be winning. Like the drug, the art is not worth the trip. Or at least less worth the trip. You enjoy France. Give me an ice pick and a parka any day.

We did have a lovely night of music at Bill’s for solstice that was pretty damned provincey before it got… dark and heartfelt and boozy singing and playing. You’d have liked that. Otherwise my man, I give you France.

13. Taiga the Fox - December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, ho ho ho and festive stuff like that, BiB. Sorry that I’ve been a lazy blogger; will be (a bit) better one next year xx

14. Mr D - December 30, 2007

There’s a German war memorial here. I go past it on the bus four days a week.

The pictures on it are more varied than what you can see in the photo, and if memory serves me well it also has a long list of names (from both wars).

15. annie - December 31, 2007

Happy New Year, dearest BiB. Are you with your family? Hope it is (was?) a good one anyway x

16. Mangonel - January 4, 2008

Aah, happy you are having a good time. Happy 2008 to you and your lovely Russian


17. pleite - January 4, 2008

Mango, thank you, and Happy New Year to you too. Happy to see you’re back in the blogging way.

Oh, Annie, Christmas really needs to be banned. At least for me. I want an ASBO forbidding me from ever having to observe it ever again. Hope your 2008 will be much better than its start.

Mr D, nice snap. Nice snaps, in fact. Just had a peek at your picasa page. Swabby G. looks pretty but I can imagine you not wanting to live there. Tübingen has that quality too.

Taiga, an excellent resolution. A Happy 2008 to you too.

Rock, is this it? But I like the sound of your evening. Did anyone cry? I always think that adds a certain something. And I’d love to shout, “Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off,” at my landlord, though I don’t even know who he is and he’s probably an OK bloke, though there was once a report on the BBC about the person who was in charge of drugging up the old East German athletes and the name was eerily similar. A Happy New Year to you too.

And to everyone, indeed.

18. narrowback - January 4, 2008

all the best for the new year BiB…

19. pleite - January 5, 2008

Thank you, kind sir. All the very best to you too. Fully expect to see you in 2008!

20. narrowback - January 5, 2008

despite the pain induced by the current dollar/euro exchange rate and the fact that all of the bills from the recent visit have yet to arrive let alone been paid i’m already contemplating the next visit…you can bet on it

21. pleite - January 5, 2008

Narrowback, I know all about travel and bills. I will ask myself, “Why oh why did I go to the UK for Christmas?” until next Christmas, and, I hope, remind myself in time not to do it again. Will next eat in 2011.

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