Chasse à la chasse

Hunting season has been open in France since September. On Sunday, a cyclist was killed not far from where we live in the Haute Savoie town of Montriond, near Morzine. It’s an area we know well enough. My husband’s cousin runs a hotel there and we often go skiing or to stroll around the lake.

The cyclist was a British man in his 30s, and in a stranger-than-fiction turn of fate, may not be mourned by all who knew him. But that doesn’t change the fact that each year, lives are lost to la chasse in France. And not just those of the prey.

It seems the hunter, a young fellow just starting out, mistook the cyclist for the target. They were hunting wild boar and so the bullets are big enough to kill instantly. Often, when it’s small game or birds, the rifles use buckshot. The fellow who fired the fatal shot has been hospitalized in a state of shock but an investigation is ongoing.

Sadly, it happens more often than you might think. One of my husband’s uncles was killed by a member of his own hunting party years ago in Normandy. Recently, though, the number of deaths from hunting accidents has been dropping each year. So does the popularity of the sport, which, along with fishing, remains one of the most popular in France.

Hunters are generally thought to be good citizens, who are careful and follow the rules. They must have a license to hunt. They are respectful of nature and only hunt the species and numbers allowed. Still, as I’ve posted before, running across men with guns while out for a walk on a Sunday is far from reassuring.

It’s not always very obvious that you are near a ‘réserve de chasse’ (hunting ground). There will be the odd sign but they are not necessarily visible if you come through a forest path. Sometimes main paths and small roads will be blocked off with a sign that says ‘Attention, tir à balles’, indicating that a big game shoot is happening.

I am not a fan of blood sport, but I do support the right of those who practice la chasse to pursue their hobby within the framework of the law. Should that law allow hunting to go on just steps from where people hike, ride bikes, walk their dogs? On a Sunday? Not in this blogger’s opinion. One very simple change that could save lives would be to set one day of the weekend for hunting and leave the other for the rest of us. Even better, allow hunting only during the week when most people are at work.

In the meantime, you are strongly advised to wear brightly coloured clothing, make a lot of noise and strap a bell on your dog when out walking during hunting season in France.

I’m game for that. And you?

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?

Les aléas

– How are you this morning? – If you really want to know, press 1. Otherwise, press 2.

We all have those Murphy’s law moments, when we are reminded that nothing in life is ever intended to be easy. A natural catastrophe. An unexpected expense. Anything involving a government administration

Here in France we talk about ‘les aléas de la vie.’ And as long as they don’t involve death or taxes, it’s par for the course. I’ve had my share lately – nothing serious but annoying none the less.

It started with the bank. We ran out of checks, and as France is a country where people still write a lot of checks, and also take long holidays in the summer, I wasted no time in ordering some. More fool me, I tried to be super-efficient and modern by going online. After digging up my login and password, a feat in itself, I wrote a quick message to our so-called account manager. In six years with this bank, the turnover at the branch has been too frequent to allow us to develop much of a relationship with the constantly changing staff. And we live half an hour’s drive from our bank so stopping by is not convenient.

– It’s about a loan.
– Great, how much can you lend us?

Two weeks later, still sans-cheques, I phoned. My tone may have been slightly annoyed when the woman I dealt with informed me coolly that she had no idea why her colleague had not replied to my message; I was, of course, free to send a message to any of the staff but each individual was responsible for replying to their own messages. I pointed out that there was no point in going through a centralized platform if there was no centralized follow-up, and that email was only good if you got a reply. She snippily informed me that the checks were now ordered and I should have them by the end of the following week, given the mid-August holiday. The end of the month came and went, with still no checkbook.

Everything changed when our regular contact returned from holiday. Naturally nothing had been ordered in her absence but she pulled some strings and I got the checks within the week. Several companies who’d probably thought we’d taken a very long summer holiday finally got paid.

Meeting agenda: do we really need insurance for water damage?

Next, my car registration papers went AWOL. I searched up and down, convinced I must have stuck them in a drawer, a file or even another purse but alas, there was no sign of the ‘carte grise’, as we call it. I would have to pay for a new one. Then began a little dance with my leasing company, the official owners of the car. The first phone call involved endless loops of automated voices and after punching in the wrong contract number finally led me to a cranky lady who informed me they would send me the necessary document by la poste. Snail mail? I hung up in frustration.

The letter arrived the following week, advising me to connect to an online platform where the entire process would be handled automatically. I needed a letter for that? Still, it was good news: no lengthy trip to the Préfecture with various copies of documents. But first I had to create an account, or log-in with something called France Connect – a service that manages your identity with various online administrations. It turned out I already had an account with this mysterious organization. Once again, I surprised myself by finding the keys to the kingdom and logging in. Off to the races!

Shortly out of the gate, I ran into the first hurdle: I needed a special code to request a new registration for the vehicle, and as the vehicle belonged to leasing company, it would sent – by la poste – to them. Gah! Back to cranky voicemail lady a week later. I explained my tale of woe and was informed that they had in fact received a code in the mail, but they had to request the number from whoever opened the mail by phone so who knew how accurate it would be? Their words, not mine, as I wondered in what kind of parallel universe they operated.

– CIVIL SERVICE WITH A CUSTOMER FOCUS – SPEAK UP!

Naturally, the code was wrong. Back on the phone, punching in numbers and another disembodied voice informed me that this time, they would send me the code. Seriously? They couldn’t have done that in the first place?

It arrived several days later, an official letter bearing exactly the same number as the first time. In despair, I went back to the government site and typed in the number. Still wrong, although this time the message seemed to suggest it had once been right but was now expired. Determined to have no further dealings with the leasing company ladies, I ticked a different box that led me to a different window. It’s all a bit of a blur now but somehow, the magic happened. And once again, French efficiency kicked in: I was able to print a temporary registration document and, lo and behold, two working days later, my brand new Carte d’Immatriculation was delivered by La Poste.

(I will probably find the old document within the week.)

It seems that even with all the technology in the world, things still work essentially the same way in France: you get stuck in an administrative no-man’s land where you think you’ll never get out and then, suddenly, you’re done!

What’s your most memorable Murphy’s law moment?

Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot

You can hear the emotion in his voice. When Nicolas Hulot, Ministre de la Transition Ecologique et Solidaire, says that he has decided to leave the government, live on French radio station France Inter, his words shake with emotion. The announcement sent shock waves across the country this week.

Nicolas Hulot was a big catch when Macron formed his new government in May 2017. For years, French presidents from Chirac to Hollande had been vying to put his name on their environment portfolio. The fact that the well-known ecologist and TV personality of ‘Ushuaia’ fame finally agreed to join the new ‘En Marche’ government felt like a coup, and an indication that the president’s promise to ‘make our planet great again’ was more than just words.

Alas, the reality of this notoriously difficult portfolio was more than Hulot could bear. He is no career politician and I can only imagine that the daily meetings with dullards diplômés must have grated as the ice caps continued to melt. And the long, hot summer vacation gave him ample time to weigh up his options. Despite what many saw as significant progress over the past year, he could not reconcile himself to playing politics. Dumbing down what he sees as a planetary emergency in order to negotiate with lobby groups, each with its own agenda. Farmers, hunters, energy companies.

While some might see Hulot’s departure as a lack of courage, of abandoning ship in stormy seas, the French on the whole approve. For one simple reason: personal integrity. This unwillingness to sell out or compromise one’s beliefs is a value highly prized in France. Nicolas Hulot will be remembered as someone who had the courage of his convictions.

When I heard about the surprise announcement on the radio, I couldn’t help but think of Jacques Tati’s classic 1953 film, Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, aka Mr. Hulot’s Holiday. I’ve never watched the entire movie, but this clip will give you its essence.

Are there similarities between Tati’s lovable but clumsy character and Nicolas Hulot? I see a few, from the fact that he has always seemed like a fish out of water amongst the smooth and smiling political elite, that he is rough around the edges and rather gauche at times. And, as I discovered while researching this post, Tati actually took inspiration for his ‘Monsieur Hulot’ from Hulot’s paternal grandfather, an architect who lived in the same apartment building as the filmmaker.

The word play is fairly obvious. As the French word for holiday is ‘vacances’ and the singular version of the word ‘vacance’ means a ‘vacancy’, the media have also played with this syncronicity of life imitating art.

https://www.letemps.ch/opinions/vacance-monsieur-hulot-agite-medias-etrangers

https://www.contrepoints.org/2018/08/28/323640-vacance-monsieur-hulot

So what do you think of Mr. Hulot’s post-holiday decision? Kudos or cowardice?

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?