Monday, October 20, 2008

A flag pin for a Frenchman

This is how we came to have drinks with the baker and his wife.

Actually, she's not his wife, as he is quick to point out. They'll both be 70 this year, and they were both married before. He still carries a photograph of his wife, who died young from cancer, in his wallet; I've seen it. They've been together, though, well over a decade. He keeps his own place in Nice but seems to live most of the time with her, in her house the next lane over from ours.

Their names are Gérard and Anne: it's significant that I know that, because ordinarily French people don't tell you their names. That way, if it turns out that you're actually an agent of the King, and you've come to collect back taxes or haul someone off to jail, you won't know if you've come to the right place or not. (Not anymore, of course, but once upon a time, when cultural habits were formed.) We went right through most of the last school year not knowing the name of E's flute teacher--we were just told where to meet the flute teacher, and then, there she was, and we knew she was the flute teacher and she knew E was a student and what else, really, was necessary?--until one afternoon I actually asked her name. Then she told me her family name; we're still not sure about her first name. (This means that we call E's prof de flute, who may or may not have actually hit 30, Madame.)

But as I was saying: Gérard and Anne invited us for drinks. It came about, I think, because one day Gérard asked me to bring him a flag pin (like the one M. Bush wears, he said) from America. We relayed the request, and the next visitor arrived with the pin in her suitcase.

C and I took the pin to the boulangerie on a weekday afternoon at the end of the summer. I handed it over the counter and Gérard's eyes lit up. This is for me, for me? All the way from America? he asked.

We assured him that it was.

It's just like M. Bush's pin. (Gérard is the only person in France who likes M. Bush.) Chérie! he called Anne from the other end of the counter. Régarde! Look what les Américains have brought me!

I pointed out that the pin would flash--clignoter--when the front part was connected to the back part. Gérard looked at me like I must not understand what clignoter meant. Perhaps not surprisingly, flag pin technology is more advanced Stateside than here.

Anne looked at the pin and looked at me. You have no idea, she said, shaking her head and smiling.

I can wear it on my jacket, said Gérard. It's just like M. Bush's pin. All the way from America.

Anne went back to the register and rang up our baguettes. Next time you go to America, she smiled, I want a Chrysler. A big, silver one that I can park right outside.

And that's when Gérard decided that we should come for drinks.