Mon singe

I have a monkey on my back. Un singe. See him? No, of course you can’t. He’s a private little fellow.

I’m no addict – he’s not that kind of monkey. But carrying him around all the time can be exhausting. He never shuts up.

There he goes again: What on earth are you writing about? No one is going to have a clue what you mean. A monkey? How ridiculous!

Monkey has his good points. Sometimes he makes me smile.  Il fait le singe, makes like a monkey. And he can be a creative little guy. Bitingly funny. Who would even think of half the stuff he comes up with? Too inappropriate, mostly, to share with anyone else. But in some ways he is my muse.

Most of the time he is an angry little dude who makes me impatient and short-tempered. A kill joy. He can be terrifying, with his dire predictions and irrational fears.

He is my inner critic, my slave driver, cracking his whip. Not good enough, he whispers. Who do you think you are? Often I believe him. Monkey see, monkey do.

Too often he exhausts me to the point where I just give up. No, I will not be good enough. While I’m at it, I won’t be good at all. May as well fool around instead of working. Waste time, kick back, have another glass of wine. I will forget about exercising or writing or doing whatever else I’d planned.

Now it’s time for a change. This year, I’ve decided to make friends with my monkey.

I can’t get rid of him completely. But I am thinking that perhaps I need to work with him. He is part of me after all. And in order to enjoy the good I need to manage the bad.

So I’ll tell him it’s okay not to be perfect. Sometimes good enough is just fine. And failure is okay if it means you really tried. In fact, it can be positive.

He will surely scoff.

And I’ll simply say: Monkey, be quiet. (Not ‘shut up’. Even monkeys deserve respect.) I’ll invite him to take a deep breath, admire the view. I’ll even give him half of my banana.

The rest I’m keeping for myself.

Happy new you!

Have you made any resolutions for 2019?

Péter le feu

‘Péter le feu’ may call up images of a fire-breathing (or farting) dragon, but in French it means to be bursting with energy.

And I’m happy to report that after a long, hot summer, during which my get up and go got up and left, I’ve finally got my mojo back.

Je pète le feu.

This week there’s a definite fall vibe in the air, even though we’re currently enjoying a lovely Indian summer. All those cooler nights and early mornings have me energized and raring to go, even, dare I say, looking forward to the change of season. I love the autumn, always have, with the exception of a few weeks in November when I become convinced of my imminent demise. Something to do with the change of light after we set the clocks back. (Although the EU recently announced they would put an end to this barbaric practice, making me oh-so glad to be part of Europe).

Twice this week I woke up before the alarm clock at 5:30. I’ve gotten back into some healthier eating, drinking and exercise habits (yeah, I know…boring). But I’m exploding with ideas for several writing projects, looking forward to my next vacation and frankly, happy to be alive. It has been ages since I felt this way.

Not to brag or anything. That would be a different kind of péter all together.

‘Se la péter’, to show off, is one of those French expressions I gave up trying to fathom years ago. It is filled with pitfalls for non-natives: if you forget the ‘se’ or the ‘la’ it means something completely different. Like to actually fart. Which is not something most people brag about.

Aside from its less than noble meaning, péter also means to blow up, to explode or to crack. Like a firecracker, un pétard. And it is associated with another verb also used to describe being full of energy: gazer. ‘Ça gaze?’

How or why these explosive terms became associated with being in good health and raring to go is a mystery to me. But it seems the French are well aware of the comic potential of the word and its English cousin. The expression, ‘Salut, ça farte?’ was immortalized by the actor Jean Dujardin back in 2005 when he played a French surf bum obsessed with speaking Franglais called Brice de Nice (jokingly pronounced with a long ‘i’ as in Bryce de Nyce). The film, while silly, became a cult comedy classic.

Alors, ça farte?

A couper au couteau

So thick you can cut it with a knife.

That expression, the French version of which is ‘à couper au couteau’, is often used to describe an accent. A heavy one. Like one in which a typical French politician, ie not a slick new model like Emmanuel Macron, attempts to speak English.

In French, however, it is also used to describe heavy fog, a wine or even an atmosphere. I learned this from Bob, that wonderful online reference for French as it is actually spoken (not for learners as it’s all in French).

And when it comes to cutting with that knife, if you are in France it has to be with an Opinel knife. The Savoie company started making its trusty folding knife with the wooden handle back in 1890 and has been famous for it since. So it is that the Swiss have their army knives and we have our Opinels. If you go on a picnic in France, that slab of sausage or cheese or baguette just has to be sliced with a trusty wooden-handled knife that someone happens to have in their pocket, hopefully one in better condition than ours!

As you can see from my feature photo, we are not good examples of French culture. Our Opinel was moldering in the back of a drawer and is in terrible shape. The tip of the blackened blade appears to have been broken off, possibly from being used as a screwdriver instead of a knife, and the handle bears the logo of another company, so it was probably a giveaway. In fact, it probably belongs to my Beau-père, handyman extraordinaire, so it has been around the block a few times.

Whose English, by the way, sounds a lot like Sarkozy’s. There is no political message in that; Hollande’s anglais was just as bad.

But like the knife itself, though it may be thick at times and dull at others, it is sincere. And it gets the job done.

Do you have an accent? Or a trusty knife?

Poser ses valises

Set down your suitcase

How I love the French expression, ‘to set down one’s suitcases’. Although it hints of travel, ‘poses ses valises’ means just the opposite: to stop moving around and settle down somewhere.

Ah, travel. The romance, intrigue, the sheer chic of wheeling that expensive Samsonite trolley bag around. Of taking off in one language and landing in another, of leaning back in your seat and being served while selecting from various entertainment options.

Readers of this blog will see where this is going. I love going places. I just hate getting there.

Why do I dislike travel so much? I’ve mentioned before how much I hate packing. I used to enjoy the idea of a few empty hours in which to read, catch up on work or just let my thoughts go idle. And I still do: on a train or a boat. But when it comes to air travel, it’s another story.

Travel for me is a great many small details and a few sweeping generalities. Most of them are aggravating. It seems that effort required to move from point A to point B across borders and seas with suitcase intact is inversely proportionate to the increasing democratization of international air travel.

First there is the airport security check. The removal of personal items, the stacking of your stuff in plastic boxes, the impatience of the staff and fellow travelers. The shoes that ring alarm bells and must be removed. The full bottle of water that goes down the drain, only to be replaced by one that costs twice as much on the other side.

Rinse and repeat. Hurry up and wait.

If purgatory exists, it must surely be in an airport departure lounge. Where, despite the unpleasant state of being on hold, the upside is the chance to people watch. And the endless parade of humanity, with all of its foibles, is by turn entertaining and repugnant.

The fact is that I do not wait well. I am unable to settle comfortably into one of those molded plastic chairs with the immovable arm rests that prevent people from lying down. My eye wanders continually to the departures board, to check if there are any changes in flight status. I look for signs of life at the gate, in case we may be called to board. I watch the people for signs of lunacy, check for the nearest exit, ever vigilant in case a disaster should be about to occur.

In another scenario, I race to the gate for fear of missing the ever-earlier boarding call, where I learn that my flight is delayed. Then look around hoping to get a good coffee or a nice strong drink to dull the pain only to discover that this particular terminal or departure area is devoid of anything as civilised as a proper coffee shop or bar. Vending machines only with their astronomically priced distractions.

Finally we board (bored) and I learn that the only thing on offer are soft drinks and hot beverages, served at boiling temperature in carcinogenic plastic cups and so late in the short haul flight there is barely time to gulp them down before we land.

If we land, says my ever-paranoid self. Despite the fact that time and again seems to prove that we will indeed deplane in one piece. But that little voice has been drummed into my psyche and nearly always makes itself heard somewhere midair.

If the flight is long enough to have food and drink service, I order the Frenchman to get wine even though he no longer drinks, just so I can have a second tiny bottle. He is highly amenable to my inflight alcohol dependency.

Possibly he hopes it will take the edge off my nerves enough to hunker down and read or watch a film for a few hours. He, of course, has downloaded a slew of his latest series, something involving drugs, violence and bloodshed. His iPad is primed for hours of entertainment, which is he able to absorb under almost any circumstances. Turbulence, delayed food service, even amidst the crowds in the departure lounge. I do envy his ability to focus on pleasurable pursuits while I self-inflict mental anxiety and count the minutes. Either that or he is asleep. He often nods off before we even achieve altitude.

With a raging thirst brought on by being so unnaturally high in a pressurized atmosphere of the plane, exacerbated by nerves and boredom, I down each and every beverage on offer. Wine, water, coffee, tea, more water…which is why I always take the aisle seat. I’m frequently up and visiting the loo. Husband will go perhaps once in an 8-hour flight, often just before we land.

Another form of limbo for this reluctant traveler is circling in the sky over an airport for endless loop de loops waiting to land. When all of the highly impatient, nervous flyers like moi are thinking to themselves: is everything all right in that cockpit? I imagine the copilot, suicidal, having slipped a mickey to his unsuspecting captain. I can almost see terrorists having cracked the door code and insinuated their way inside. Or worse, having taken remote control of our plane somehow and sending us for a nosedive into the sea.

Welcome to my twisted writer’s mind. There is a great deal of drama. Travel only fans my flames.

I watch in fascination as people go by in wheelchairs, with babies and toddlers, with pets in carriers, folding strollers and various paraphernalia. How is that I, an able-bodied middle-aged adult, find this so hard when others with real baggage seemingly grin and bear it?

On a positive note, I may have missed my calling as a consultant to the airline industry. By the end of our trip, I had completely redesigned overseas air travel to be more comfortable and efficient for the modern-day passenger. More on that later.

For now, vive l’été chez soi!

Just as many in France are packing their bags for a much-anticipated summer vacation, I’m home from holiday and very pleased to be staying put for awhile.

How about you?

 

S’entendre

Beautiful Madeline and Humphrey

‘Entendre’ is one of those French words that effortlessly brings together different concepts and blends them into one. It means both to hear and to understand. Employed in its reflexive verb version, s’entendre, it also means to agree and even to get along with someone.

There is no understanding without hearing. And if you do hear someone, and I mean really hear them, you are halfway to understanding. Which is the basis for every agreement.

Perhaps this wisdom is one reason why French became the language of diplomacy.

Diplomacy never having been a strong point, I struggle daily with this.

Several years ago I lost all of the hearing in my left ear. The diagnosis of the problem that led to this was a perfect example of one doctor who neither heard nor understood my complaint and another who did.

Thankfully, my right ear remains fully operational. The resulting lopsided hearing, however, can be painful. It means that my good side often gets an earful of unwanted sound such as music or conversation. This can make me miserable in restaurants, for example, where the next-door table is a bit loud. Conversely, it makes it impossible to hear anyone on the left side. Generally I avoid sitting with anyone on my left (other than husband, whom I know well enough to guess what he’s saying or can comfortably ignore). At parties or crowded events of any kind, I must constantly perform a strategic repositioning to catch important information, turning me into a sort of whirling dirvish.

It can be comical. I have no ability to pinpoint where sound is coming from, so will turn my head like a radar when someone calls me on the street. People who call themselves friends and even family have been known to have fun with this.

What I’ve gained in return for the hearing loss, however, is considerable. Selective hearing, the ability to tune out unwanted noise, is essential to understanding. It is a skill I’ve been forced to learn, one that I haven’t yet mastered, but is beginning to serve me well. Je m’entends.

I am literally learning to tune out unwanted noise to better understand my world.

And the magical, wonderful thing that happens when you do this is that you begin to read the subtext, the real message that lies beneath the surface.

Getting along with anyone, be it family, friends or work associates, is challenging. No matter how much you appreciate someone, there are times when you just can’t share their point of view. With family, at least with mine, there are times when you would cheerfully gag them to shut them up. But if hearing is the basis for understanding, then not hearing is also a strategy. At times like these, it helps to turn a deaf ear.

Do we understand each other?