En suspens

Larousse defines ‘en suspens’ as a state of momentary interruption. To me it feels like time is standing still. This state of being suspended, in limbo, while we wait and see what the future holds.

I am not normally given to pre-election anxiety. But in light of the surprising results the world has seen this past year whenever voters went to the polls, it is natural to feel anxious. Everywhere you turn in France there is talk of what may be the fall-out after Sunday’s first round of the presidential election.

Sure, there will be a second round two weeks later, on May 7. But by then the choices will be narrowed down to two from the current 11. And if we believe the polls, which I am not particularly inclined to do but at the same time cannot reasonably ignore, we could conceivably find ourselves stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place: Mélenchon on the left, and Le Pen on the right.

That particular scenario is responsible for my sense of creeping discomfort. If it came down to it, I am fairly confident that France would go left. But at what price? The end of Europe as we know it, of free trade and the free movement of its citizens. What would it be like to live in ‘La France Insoumise’ (Undefeated, rebellious France)? There are things I could get excited about: a new constitution (6ème République) that would allow this country to make the kinds of sweeping changes that are needed; a real commitment to investing in renewable energy. But how exactly would we distribute the so-called wealth of our country to better serve its citizens?

What concerns me is that there are so many cynical, deluded and misguided citizens who either will not vote at all, will vote ‘blanc’ as a protest, or will vote for an extreme faction which, however endearing, has no chance making more than a ripple at the polls. Which leaves the window wide open – grande ouverte – for our worst nightmare.

Until next week, then, when we will have a better idea of ‘à quelle sauce on sera mangé’…

Le plombier Polonais

Polish Plumber Tour EiffelHave you seen the Polish plumber lately? Let me reassure you: he is alive and well and living in France. The Polish plumber came to life in a cartoon published in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo back in 2004. He came to represent everything the French fear most about Europe: unfair competition from cheap East European labour. Le plombier Polonais emerged from the rhetoric as a terrifying idea:

Imagine, a Polish plumber decides to come to work in France. What will become of French plumbers?

The Polish plumber and his cohorts are back in the news again – with the Greeks on the verge of exiting the EU and the Brits about to vote on their future in it. In France, the latest demon is the ‘Uberization’ of French taxis, which will also bring about the certain demise of its trains and buses. Clearly, we need to stop all forms of progress in order to protect the over-taxed and under-worked French system.

Anyone who has ever tried to find a workman in France can attest to the fact that a little competition can only be a good thing. Case in point: I’ve been trying to get some blinds installed on the south-facing side of my house to protect us from the summer sun. I began in March, signed the quote and left a hefty deposit in April. Last week, after begging and cajoling, I reverted to a threat: if the blinds were not installed this month, I would cancel the order. They called back with a date for end of next week.

We also needed some painting done in our basement. Of course we could do it ourselves, but neither husband nor self are particularly handy. I contacted a company that has done various small jobs for us in the past. They provided a quote the next day, then informed me of a date in mid-June, apologizing for being too busy to start immediately. They came when promised with no reminders on my part.

Plombier Polonais
The Polish plumber became a cheeky tourism campaign for that country. Clever Poles!

The man who runs this business in Polish. He is a charming fellow, although unfortunately he looks nothing like the poster from the tourism office. Monsieur V. hires his labour from the home country and supervises the workers in his native tongue. So I have Polish painters, if not plumbers. They were here first thing yesterday and stayed until 8:00 last night to finish the first part of the job. He has built his business up to a point where his easily identifiable if atrociously decorated vehicles can be seen at job sites all over our area. This leads me to think he must play by the rules and pay the Polish workers a fair wage and benefits in keeping with French law.

This kind of competition should be a wake-up call for the French. Unfortunately it is simply another reason to curse the EU and go out on strike.

Et vous? What’s your experience with the Polish plumber – or his equivalent?

Costard cravate

Costard-cravateDid you know that French men wear costumes to work?

‘Costard-cravate’ is the familiar term for a suit and tie, the uniform of the French businessman. The official name is le costume, or more correctly, according to the dictionary, le complet, although I have never heard this term used.

For special occasions, in a funny turn of franglais, they wear un smoking, or what we call a tuxedo. A.k.a. a monkey suit.

The business casual craze has been slow to catch on in France. Le costume is still de rigueur for les hommes in the corporate world, finance and politics. For women there’s a bit more flexibility but classic apparel for the career girl is un tailleur, or skirt suit.

This is slowly changing, however, in the much of the European business world. My husband, who now manages IT projects for a biopharma company, goes to work in jeans and sports gear. Dressing up means wearing chinos and a shirt with a collar. I have to admit I prefer this most of the time. But I sort of miss seeing him in a suit now and then.

When I was a kid, my Dad would leave for work every morning in a suit and tie, usually topped by an overcoat, a hat on his head and carrying a leather attaché case. I thought all men did this, until I discovered that not everyone’s Dad worked in an office.

Not having to wear a suit and tie is one of the reasons I’m grateful not to be a man.

When I first left school and went to work in an office, I hated having to put on stockings and heels. Dressing up like a secretary felt a lot like wearing a costume. So I decided to get a job in advertising, where only the suits wore suits. Copywriters and art directors could get away with just about anything as long as they were ‘creative.’

Now I work freelance and when I go to out to client meetings I try to look professional yet still feel like myself. The rest of the time, working at my home office, I might wear the same clothes that I do for yoga.

What about you? Is it costard-cravate or do you prefer to keep it casual?

Mayday, m’aider!

Did you know that the expression ‘mayday’ used as a distress signal comes from French? I did not, although I speak the language and have lived in this country for over twenty years.

Amazing what you learn watching television. I was glued to the news last night watching reports of the Germanwings plane crash in the southern French Alps. A former commercial pilot being interviewed on France 2 says that the mystery of this crash is the fact that there was no call of ‘Mayday, mayday, mayday’ – which must be repeated three times according to international protocol. And suddenly it clicks. Mayday is ‘m’aider’ – meaning ‘help me’ in the formal or infinitive form of the verb.

Like you, I am horrified by this crash. The loss of innocent life, the tragic fate of 150 people who took off for a short-haul flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf on Tuesday morning. Something that low-cost travel has made almost like a taking a bus for many Europeans today.

It is all the more shocking considering that the flight was operated by Germanwings, a low-cost affiliate of Lufthansa, one of the world’s safest and most technically reliable airlines.

Perhaps because it has happened here in France, I find myself obsessing about that 8-minute descent into oblivion. The strange trajectory of the crash into the worst possible mountainous region. The gut-wrenching fear of the passengers, the impossible news for the families, the courage of the crews who must sift through the debris for bodies at 1500 meters near Seynes-les-Alpes.

Like many, I’ve considered the possibility that it could be an act of terror. Suicide or a medical emergency is now looking likely with the discovery that one of the pilots was locked out of the cockpit just before the crash.

My thoughts are with the victims and their families, the hundreds of police and investigators trying to recover the bodies on treacherous terrain at high altitude.

And for anyone who has to get on a plane knowing that their worst fears could be just a ‘mayday’ away.

Grimentz and grumbles

IMG_3089After my one-woman tribute to the 80s on the ski slopes last winter, I swore that this year I would get new gear. If only to keep up with my husband who is fully outfitted in the latest high-tech layers, skis and boots, including a set of seal skins for going uphill. I didn’t make it to new skis but did manage to get a new pair of boots, the most challenging part of the whole operation.

Let’s just say I have a rather substantial calf. A pair of gams that call up images not of limbs so much as tree trunks, or, as one (obviously former) suitor once said: “Your leg looks like something that should be put on a spit and rotated.”

Getting a ski boot I can actually do up without cutting off all the circulation in my lower extremities is a challenge. After terrorizing two salespeople and trying on at least six different models, I finally thought we had a good fit in a Salomon. Last weekend it was time to put them to the test.

Now that the spring is upon us, the Alps offer my kind of fair-weather skiing. We decided to make a weekend of it on the Swiss side, more picturesque and less crowded than France. On Friday night we headed for Grimentz, a cute little village in the Valais region of Switzerland where I’d been once before for a work event.

The trouble began the next morning when I tried to do up the boots. Either my calves had expanded in the weeks since we left the store or the altitude was playing tricks with my brain. We somehow managed to do them up but I was feeling pins and needles by the time we got to the télécabine.

The view from the top
The view from the top

My husband instructed me to wait while he got the ski passes. He has this habit of taking charge whenever we get near a mountain. He then directed me to the gondola lift and up, up, up we went – a full twenty-minute ride to the top. What the–? I tried to catch my breath as we got off the lift but the air was a little thin. This was not what I’d had in mind. I studied the map of ski runs. Where were all the blues? And the restaurant? Hubby looked at the map and pointed out that we were on the other side of the resort, its highest point. Seemed there had been two possible ways up and we had taken the wrong one. A few choice words were exchanged but I’ll spare you having to pardon my French. I admired the view while he did a few red and black runs. We took the next cable car down.

By the time we got down to the nice blue slopes it was almost lunch time. We got in a few runs before heading for a sunny spot on a terrace where, a sausage and a large beer later, I began to enjoy myself.

The boots were still a bit tight but at least I could feel my feet. We skied several runs and enjoyed the afternoon.

IMG_3092The best part of the weekend was being in Grimentz. It is a picturesque mountain village built almost entirely out of wood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fire hydrant

Which probably explains why there’s a fire hydrant on every corner.

 

Unlike the French, who so often let their ski resorts turn into concrete monstrosities, this place is nothing but old wood and cobbled streets. Lots of good places to eat, too, and the Valaisans make great wine and cheese.

 

 

 

Stay tuned for more adventures next winter!