Friday, June 27, 2008

Olive trees and Communists

Jules came down this week. He arrived Wednesday morning early--Luigi passed me on our lane, no mean feat on a road that's two meters wide and shoulderless, but Luigi was in a rush because he was on his way to the airport. We've all been battening down. Violette came and the dogs I went with her up to the big house. I helped her while she made the bed, put out fresh towels and a bathrobe, and then cleaned the kitchen. The last thing she did was put a fresh bottle of mineral water in the bathroom. Then Violette roared off in her rusty red Peugeot 105, taking the rest of the week to drive a friend to see her mother, which may actually be the direct idiomatic translation of seeing a man about a dog. Olivier arranged his schedule not to be here at all: his latest method of coping with Jules. Luigi was going to be on duty.

I spoke to Jules late on Wednesday morning after he arrived. Three things were on his mind: first, (and this is how he talks), there was our piscine. Something was wrong with the water, it wasn't clear, we should never have signed a contract with the pool maintenance man, never sign anything, always keep things loose. Second: the arrosage automatique. The grass was going to die immediatement if we did not begin to water regularly beginning this moment. (Noon. 85 degrees. I think I've mentioned the mauvaises herbes that make up our lawn and how they are virtually indestructible.) Third: one of the olive trees was about to die, would in fact be dead within three days if it was not treated as soon as possible. Would it derange me very much if he came down and sprayed the tree this afternoon, as soon as he had taken a short nap?

Down the hill he came an hour or so later in his summer costume of baggy khaki shorts, unbuttoned linen shirt, and boat shoes. Added to this were sunglasses, a baseball cap bearing a bank logo, and heavy leather work gloves. In one gloved hand he carried a canning jar labeled with a skull and crossbones and in the other a plastic tank with a spraying wand. We walked down to the tree in question.

This particular olive tree sits at the end of the épandage, the septic tank leech field. Our épandage continues to be the subject of debate and concern in the neighborhood, particularly for our southerly neighbors into whose vegetable garden the épandage tends to leak. Jules showed me that the olivier d'épandage was losing its leaves, and showed me, too, the tiny holes in the branches where something has bored in to the wood. Something was clearly wrong.

Jules put down the plastic tank and looked at the label on the poison. He had written it himself--1 cuillière à soupe of the poison for 20 liters of water. This will take care of it, if we haven't already waited too long. You can't get this stuff now--it's interdit, forbidden, illegal. This did not surprise me. Do you have a spoon in the kitchen we can use to measure it? Maybe best to put the dogs inside.

I weighed my options, and after considering suggesting a legal method, something like, maybe, lemon juice and vinegar, I went to get the spoon and lock the dogs in the house. Then I went back out and watched as Mr. Environment went to work. He filled the tank with water and dropped in a spoonful of poison, which turned the water a cloudy, murky light green. Maskless, Jules began enthusiastically spraying the tree. A light breeze blew and I went to stand upwind.

A few sprays later Jules decided the thing to do was to prune the tree a bit. I went to get the ladder and he climbed up. Taking a pair of garden clippers out of his pocket, he went to work on the tree. This olivier is not a particularly big one. Its main cleft is only a meter or so off the ground, and once there Jules found a foothold easily. Then he went up to the next cleft, and the next, until he was perched in the top of the tree, easily six feet off the ground, clipping away.

Jules is leaning hard on 70 and had his thyroid removed two weeks ago. Just a little context.

I stood at the bottom and told him to be careful. He told me that at his age it would not be a tragedy if he fell out of the tree and died, but it would be an inconvenience and he would try not to. Then--somehow--we were talking about the Communists. I'm not sure how they came up. The Communists, they have taken over France, Jules declaimed.

I tried to hold onto the thread of the conversation. The current president of France, after all, was elected essentially on a platform of: Not a Communist; his primary opponent's platform was: Not as much of a Socialist as I used to be. So Jules' announcement seemed a little bit of a stretch. But, Sarkozy isn't a Communist, I ventured.

It's too late now. It doesn't matter about Sarkozy. This all happened a long time ago. Olive branches fell around my feet.

When did it happen? Do you mean after the war, 60 years ago? I was racking my brain for what happened in France between de Gaulle's presidencies.

No, it happened under Mitterand. Mitterand was president of France in the 1980s and, for the record, he was a Socialist. Now French families are leaving France every day to live elsewhere. It's the impôts, the taxes. The rich have to pay too many taxes in France, so they take their money and spend it somewhere else. In France everyone hates the rich, they think le peuple should take all the money away from the rich. Le peuple, le peuple. I think Jules would have spat if it hadn't been so hot and I hadn't been female.

The olive tree was beginning to resemble Charlie Brown's Christmas tree and I was ankle deep in clippings. Jules' cell phone rang and he straightened up to answer it, putting out one hand to steady himself in the tree while he opened the phone with the other.

Allo, oui? Ah oui, good of you to call, yes, the surgery was a success, yes, yes, I'm quite fine, thannks for calling, very touched, yes, see you soon. Actually just now I'm, en fait, in a tree. Ring you back? Yes, yes, very kind, see you soon, good to talk to you.

He went back to clipping. People keep calling but I am an old man, what does it matter if I am sick?

Still, nice that people are worried about you. I thought maybe we could leave the Communists behind. I was wrong.

I'm going to take my money and move to America. I'll swear that I am not a Communist and then I'll live there. I like America.

I don't think you have to swear not to be a Communist to live in America. A sense of national pride showed up, or at least of mild confusion.

But of course you do. Clip, clip. Everyone knows that America doesn't like Communisits.

But you don't have to swear not to be one. Do you? I thought to myself. Surely not.

Jules cocked his head towards me. Do you like Communists? Are you a Communist?

No, I said. I'm not a Communist, I just think that it's possible to be a Communist and live in America.

I saw an American film last week. I like American films.

Luigi wandered up just then. He looked at Jules in the tree and then at me, and then at Jules again, and then back at me. I looked back at him. Isn't it time for you to go pick up the girls at school? he said.

No, I said, they finished for the summer this morning. But we do have a dentist appointment at 4.

Luigi nodded and looked at his watch. You'd better go. He smiled.

The girls and I went off--there really was a dentist appointment--and when we came home the tablespoon that I had lent to Jules was on the terrace table and both men were gone.

This afternoon, two days later, the girls and I arrived home again, this time from a full day's outing to Nice. We were hot and tired and looking forward to the pool. G went to check the mailbox while E and I started down to the house.

We took a few steps and both stopped. I said something which is one of those things that as soon as I say them I tell the girls they shouldn't say.

At the bottom of the garden, next to the sickly olive tree, was a backhoe. Next to the backhoe were Jules and the owner of the gardening service that he sometimes uses. There were already two long trenches dug, one coming out from the base of the tree and the other perpindicular to it, running along the edge of the garden.

We slipped inside. C, working at home today, met us in the kitchen. We all stared out the window as the gardener climbed up into the seat of the backhoe and started digging. We could see Jules' mouth moving as the trench got deeper.

He's on his way back to Paris now, mercifully. The gardener drove his backhoe past my window a few minutes ago. The dogs and I have been down to check, and, while the trench emanating from the olivier is filled in, the one across the bottom of the garden--about 25 feet long, a foot or two across, and four feet deep--is still open. At its lowest point there is standing water. As for dirt: there's a lot of it.

Jules is coming back, with his family, for half of July and most of August. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Today is the last day of school. I'll collect the girls and one of their friends from school at noon, and summer will be upon us. I've not had much to say about the Collège des Vignes, not because it hasn't been a central part of our lives, but because it's more E and G's business than it is mine. Or, to try to put it better, school has been, pour la plupart, the girls' experience, and writing about it and them has felt like an intrusion on their privacy. It's difficult enough to be 12 without your mother writing about you.

But this particular collège story is not so much about them as it is about what it's like to be their parents. C and I both carry a long string of academic accomplishments behind us, beginning with C's star turn as the Tin Man in primary school and ending with a couple of doctorates from a university that thinks pretty highly of itself. At the girls' previous school there were plenty of parents who shared our malady and we watched as they breathed down the necks of their grade-conscious sixth graders. Not us, we thought (probably a little smugly). School was an exercise in socialization more than in academics; the girls' grades were not something we followed too closely. Better they should learn to be kind and generous than that they compete overmuch with their friends on multiple-choice tests. Of course the fact that both G and E routinely brought home nearly straight A's made our laissez-faire attitude quite a bit easier.

Our hopes for the girls at the Collège des Vignes were that they not be too unhappy and that their French would progress; a friend or two would also be nice, but we did not want to tempt fate by asking too much. We resolved not to fret about grades. Over and over last summer we said: it will be hard. You will not be the best students, and that will be okay with us. It will get easier over time. Eventually the girls began to roll their eyes when we rolled out that speech. No kidding it was going to be hard.

So off they went to school, and the first weekend they were invited over to another girl's house for swimming. (Nearly everyone has a pool; it's the equivalent of air conditioning.) The weekend after, a sleepover with another new copine. Academics were tough, and we made some emergency runs to the bookstore to buy pochettes and encres, and there were some tears--on everyone's part. We were all of us disoriented. There's nothing quite like going from knowing all the ins and outs of an academic system to not being able to buy school supplies without help from the shop assistant.

By the end of the second term, the girls' grades had begun to take on a pattern. The grading system is different here. It's a 20 point scale, but the 20 point scale doesn't correlate directly to the American 100 point scale. Almost no one ever gets a 20. In fact, a 17 is considered remarkable. Anything over a 10 is not bad. So when the girls began to bring home 12s and 14s, we thought, well, they're getting the hang of it. The occasional 17 would show up and we would think: good, okay, that seems about right. Now what about that 14? Which is not to say--at least, I hope it's not to say--that we didn't praise the 14s adequately. I hope we did; I think we did.

A week or so ago the girls came home with their final report card, or bulletin. (Yes, we got their final grades a week before school was out, but the teachers continued to assign homework until yesterday. And the girls continued to do their homework.) C and I studied it--more 14s, a 17, a 15 or two, the odd 11.3--and after supper went for a walk. As we talked about the year, we realized that we had no idea how the girls were doing. In their class, there are 31 children--a lot, I know, but normal here--and we had no sense, aucune, of how the girls were doing in relationship to their classmates. Were there kids who had straight 17s? Did we need to worry about the 11.3? It was hard to hear each other speak because the academic baggage we were trailing behind us made such a racket.

The next morning I made an appointment with Miss Clavell, directrice of the International Section, and Mme Dupin, the girls' prof principal. When I went to school for the meeting it was hot, outside and in--no air conditioning and no pool--and the three of us clustered around the fan in Miss Clavell's office, pulling our skirts up above our knees to try to catch the breeze.

The teachers took out E and G's annotated bulletins, which we'll receive in the mail in a week or two. A few times a year the teachers meet and review each child's progress. They decide on the class rankings, based on each student's number grades, and write a note to the parents on the student's progress. I looked at the bulletins. G had received félicitations; E was on the tableau d'honneur. Both had been given a bravo for their progress in French. I took it in, nodded, and said, Okay.

Miss Clavell laid her hand on my arm and shook her head. No. No. This is not okay. This is super--and you have to read that in the French way, with a strong accent on the second syllable: suPER. You must understand. Only four children in the class received félicitations, and it is extraordinary, extraordinary, that G should be one of them, after only one year in French school. And E only missed it by a tenth of a point, and tableau d'honneur, only a few children received that. A bravo in French, that is excellent, excellent. They have worked very, very hard and done vachement well. You should be proud, pleine de fierté, in your girls.

Chagrined, I nodded. Of course I was proud of my girls--googly-eyed with pride is how I generally feel, completely awed and humbled that it's my task to look after these two--but I was also awash in disorientation. Félicitations just means congratulations for me, as in: oh, it's your birthday? Félicitations. Finished the kitchen remodel? Félicitations. And tableau d'honneur: just about every kid we knew in our other life made the honor roll. Yet here it clearly had a specific and special meaning. I had the impression that I could walk into any brasserie in any town in France and mention that my Anglophone daughters had received félicitations and tableau d'honneur in a French collège and the locals would nod sagely and say, Elles ont progressé très bien, Madame. Félicitations.

And bravo. I did not try to explain to mesdames that bravo is, for me, a silly word, an ironic word. It's what your pretentious colleague says when he leaps to his feet at the end of the mediocre opera. But here it had a clear, precise meaning. Some kids got a bravo, and others--at least two dozen others--didn't. I didn't understand what that meant, and I don't think it is just a matter of translating the word. You've got to figure out how to translate the culture, and I can't do that yet.

C and I knew how things worked in America. We knew how to calibrate all the honor rolls and presidential scholar certificates. We were oriented; we knew where the school compass points pointed and why. So we could luxuriate in paying attention to what we tell ourselves really matters more to us: that they grow up to be good people.

Miss Clavell and Mme Dupin weren't finished. Les filles, your daughters, they are toujours très gentils avec les autres enfants, Mme Dupin said. They look out for their friends, they are always helping them. Toujours smiling, toujours understanding and paying attention. It is lucky for us that they are here. They have des très bon coeurs.

I had planned to ask more questions, about the academic rigor of the courses, about how the system worked, about the culture of the class itself. But those questions seemed, somehow, beside the point. My girls were happy, they were kind, they were doing well. These two women were besotted with them. They said my girls had good hearts: what parent can resist that? As for the academics--well, I will probably never intutively grasp the significance of bravo, but it sounded like it was a good thing. Something to be proud of. So I said thank you, and they, being bien élévée themselves, said, Mais non, madame, merci à vous. Then we all kissed each other goodbye, and wished each other a happy summer.

This morning, while the dogs and I were on our walk, I thought about my conversation with mesdames. I don't mind most of the disorientation that comes with living in a foreign country; in fact, I like it. I like not being quite certain what the system is, and having to work at figuring it out. The satisfaction when I get it right is worth the anxiety when I get it wrong. What's so difficult about sending the girls to the Collège des Vignes is that we don't know the system, and we really don't want to get it wrong. I don't mind for myself. I've got my string of academic baggage, and whenever I need to, I can open a suitcase and pull out a degree. But my girls are children, here because C and I put them here. If we can't crack the school system, they are the ones who will suffer for it. If I think too long about it, my chest contracts and it hurts to breathe.

It seems, though, that all is well. As the dogs and I walked back down our hill this morning, I remembered the story of Doubting Thomas. In it, Thomas didn't believe his friends when they told him that Jesus was back. When everyone told him that they'd seen Jesus, Thomas probably said sarcastically, Well, bravo for you. Félicitations, and then went back to feeling disoriented and wishing he'd never left home. Thomas didn't understand, and wasn't taking anybody else's word for it. Jesus had to show up and shake hands, which is, you know, the proper French thing to do, before Thomas would believe it. I haven't shaken hands with the French system yet. I am vachement confused about the brevet and the bac levels, and I've just realized that I have no idea what courses the girls are going to take next year. Unlike Thomas, I've still got to go on faith alone. What I have seen is that my girls are in a school where they are loved, and they are thriving. I think I understand enough to say this: Bravo, mes filles.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


This morning I worked in the weeds for an hour or two. Olivier worked near me for a while, putting down driplines for my vegetable garden. We've put the vegetable garden on the terrace just behind the house, at the top of a wall about eight feet high. The top of the terrace is lined in rosemary plants, some of which we transplanted to make room for our petit potager. When Jules put the rosemary in last year, he just dug holes--or whomever he was paying dug holes--and dropped the plants in. No fertilizer, no soil amendments, just rosemary and the local clay. Nothing to discourage the weeds invading, either, so invade they have.

When Olivier finished with the driplines, he stopped to talk a bit before heading on to the next task. He saw the weeds. My method is this: clip them off at the base and then spray with désherbant. I know; I feel guilty about it, but you haven't seen these weeds. Olivier shook his head.

That won't kill them. Nothing will kill that kind of grass.

I raised my eyebrows.

Jules planted it a couple of years ago, up at his pool. Jules' pool is six terraces further up the hill. It's called faux kikuyu; it was developed -- here he nodded his head to the south and the sea -- in Africa, to prevent soil erosion. But here it spreads and spreads. It's already in the neighbors' garden en bas. You can spray it, but it just kills a little part, and then it grows stronger in another direction. C'est terrible, terrible. On peut rien faire.

Oh, I said, pleased to have something to contribute. With us, in America, there is the same sort of plant, developed to combat soil erosion. Elle s'appelle kudzu. You can watch it grow, it grows so fast. And nothing will kill it.

We shook our heads at the perfidy of invasive non-native plants and Olivier shouldered his tool bag and went off down the restanque. I kept cutting and spraying--what else could I do? Short of setting the whole place on fire, or renting a back hoe and scraping off several feet of soil partout to get rid of any vestige of root, all I can do is cut and spray. At least, that's all I've come up with.

I've been spending a lot of time outside in the garden, bent double, weeding and planting. My friend Marcelle, who lives in Cannes, which passes, here, for the big city, teased me the other day: Tu es bronzé comme une fermière. You have a farmer's tan. And I do. I'm not sure what to do about it--long sleeves, I guess, or no sleeves. That requires planning ahead, though. My gardening usually starts out as a quick check and turns into staying til the church clock chimes the next hour. So my arms are likely to remain paler at the shoulder than at the elbow.

Today I thought about the faux kikuyu as I worked at it. It had reminded me before of kudzu, the plant that has taken over entire fields in the American South, in its grim determination to take over the world. I had even speculated that this weed, cockroaches, and Republicans would be all that was left of the planet before too long, and now it's not looking so good for the Republicans. But the kudzu kinship struck a chord with me, the same chord that much of daily life here strikes. Sometimes I feel like Dorothy in Oz. Auntie Em's farm hands have turned into the Scarecrow and his friends; everything is different and yet everything is deeply familiar.

It's not when I'm with the English ladies, or people from the girls' school, that I notice it. It's when I'm with Olivier, or Violette, or Marjolaine, who sells her flowers and vegetables at the rond-point. I come from a background that is three-quarters farming. Families that worked the land since time began, for all intents and purposes--at least for as many generations back as we can count them in America, and presumably a while before that. All of them were, I'm pretty sure, bronzé comme des fermiers. I grew up eating out of my grandparents' garden, and for most of my childhood, the entire family shared the beef from one cow every year. Food and the land had a presence in our lives. It was immediate, tangible. So when Marjolaine tells me that she cut the broccoli out of her garden this morning, it feels familiar. When Violette surveys my garden and says, next year, you should make it a little bigger, I've heard that before. When Olivier bends over my tomato plants and shows me how I should take off the suckers that grow in the joint between two branches, and we commiserate about the weeds, I remember my grandparents, my uncles and aunts having the same conversation.

I know how to plant a garden and appreciate fresh broccoli, stake tomatoes and pull weeds. I know how to talk about those things. There is something deeply comfortable, and deeply comforting, about this kind of talk. Standing in a vegetable garden and talking about the weeds takes me back to my earliest memories, to memories that stretch the length of my childhood. In some deep part of my sense of the world, my idea of what adults do is that they stand around talking about the tomatoes: how many, what variety, and did you remember to pull the suckers off. When I stand on my restanque and have that conversation in French, it takes me back to standing, hot and squinty, in a sunny Southern field and listening to my mother and grandfather have the same conversation, and wanting to be inside at lunch under the ceiling fan getting ready for the cobbler made from fresh peaches. It feels profoundly right. It feels like I just found a book that I loved but had lost and almost forgotten, and now I can read it again.

Those fields, that kitchen with the ceiling fan, the peach trees behind the barn that gave those peaches, are all long gone. I grieved for them and let them go, resigned myself to their passing and loss. But imagine travelling thousands of miles and finding--not the same thing. Different. A restanque. My own kitchen. Apricots are ripening in the tree below Jules' house, and Violette and I plan to pick them together. I want to help her make jam afterwards. It's what we do.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tidy Dogs

Dogs in France lead a charmed life. They travel freely with their people--when driving, I routinely pass cars where the front passenger seat is occupied by a dog--and wander the streets of villages with impunity, napping in sunny spots, cruising the floors of the café for dropped morcels. The farmer from whom I buy vegetables on Friday morning at the Valbonne market brings his Jack Russell terrier. The farmer is costaud, burly, sturdy, somewhere in his 40s or 50s, with a thatch of greying dark hair and twinkly eyes. He presides over a long table holding his blettes, carrots, pommes de terre, radishes, lettuces and poireaux, and his dog sleeps on a cushion in an old vegetable box under the far end of the table. They drive over from their farm in the Var, an hour or so away. I imagine that the Jack Russell rides in the truck with his paws up on the dashboard.

Almost every village has, in addition to its boulangerie, epicerie, boucherie, presse, pharmacie, tourist shops and swimming pool maintenance company, a dog groomer. In French, it's called toilettage de chiens. Faire la toilette, to make one's toilette, used to mean to get dressed and combed and powdered, contact lenses in, hair dried, ready for the day. There was hiccup in the language, though, and toilette went from being an elegant, Frenchy way of talking in English about getting dressed to being a giggly seventh-grade boy word. But in France it retains its original meaning, and not just for people but for their canine friends.

The universal human predilection for cute names that produces American beauty parlors called Curl Up and Dye results, in France, in toilettage de chiens parlors with names that make you call up a friend and tell her what you just saw. One near C's office is called Tout Doux (pronounced Too Doo), All Sweet. Up the hill is one called Quatre Pattes (Cat Pat), Four Paws. The one where we've taken Wendy and Alice is called Mon Bel Ami, (My Handsome Friend), and Madame's business cards states that she is passionnée pour les Schnauzers. Her own very handsome and well-groomed schnauzer presides over the shop, which is papered with photos cut from magazines of prize-winning schnauzers.

Someone has started a business locally, it seems, doing travelling toilettage. She'll come to your house by appointment for dog grooming. There were several businesses like this in our American city: dog groomers, yes, but also pick up and drop off dry cleaning, groceries, and that old favorite restaurant delivery. Here, not so much. You drop off and pick up your own dry cleaning, do your own grocery shopping with your own grocery bags, and restaurants--well, aside from the pizza trucks that show up in parking lots at dusk, the notion of take-out dinner, much less delivered dinner, is pretty alien. So toilettage at home is an exception to the rule.

The enterprising toilettrice has tacked signs up on notice boards and in bakeries advertising her services. The signs are fairly small--a little more than half a sheet of typing paper--and feature, in the center, a photograph of a well-groomed Shih-Tzu, turning up its snub nose at the camera, proud of the pink bow on its head. Under the photo, phone numbers and so forth. Over the photo, in loopy pink letters (to match the bow), the name of the toilettage company. Here, another hiccup: toilette went over to English and turned into toilet, which, in French, is a w.c. But if you really want to sound clever, in any language, isn't the surest thing to use foreign words? Alors, madame la toilettrice has given her business the cleverest name she could think of, a name that evokes both Hollywood glamour and hip familiarity. It's Star Toilet. Guaranteed to catch the eye.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Lining up

C and I picked the girls up at school on Friday afternoon, and on our way home we stopped in at the grocery store. I sent the girls next door to the boulangerie for bread while C and I studied the wine aisle, trying to figure out what to choose to take as a hostess gift to a dinner party that evening.

The girls came back into the market just as we were lining up to pay for our odds and ends. They were beaming. The boulanger wants you to come and say hello, he said for us to tell you. You'd better go.

The last time I had sent them alone into the bakery and not stopped in to speak to the baker, he had remembered it and remarked on it for an entire week. It's a small village. Not much happens at the bakery.

I left C at the caisse and went next door. The baker was talking to two clients, an older couple.

Ah, Madame Washington, bonjour. He interrupted himself midsentence. The couple looked appraisingly at me and I was pleased that I had changed out of my gardening clothes before coming out. The baker explained to them that I was American and used to live next door to George Bush. He explains that to everyone in the bakery, whenever I go in. Mais oú est votre mari?

Il est dans la queue, I responded, smiling.

M. le boulanger cocked his head to one side. The older couple cocked their heads to one side. We all looked at each other for a long moment. I had that sinking feeling that one gets when one has said something just slightly wrong. Then the light broke on the baker's face.

Ah! Il est à la caisse, Madame.

It hit me: I had said that C was in the dog's tail. In French, the word for an animal's tail, and for a line, a queue, are within one strange vowel sound of each other: une queue is a tail, and une queue is also a line. But they're pronounced differently. Not very differently to anglophone ears, perhaps, but differently enough. And a French speaker doesn't wait in the line: he makes the line, il fait la queue. That, as much as my pronunciation, was what had thrown them.

We all laughed, and the baker did his imitation of a dog wagging his tail. Then all three told me all the different ways I could say line: une file, une chaîne, à la caisse. The man in the couple, several inches shorter than I and with impressively snaggled teeth, assured me that French, she is a very difficult language to learn, and if he were in America, it would be très, très difficile for him to speak American. I shook hands and went off on my next errand, but not before the baker summoned C to visit him as well.

I went across to the traiteur for the elusive bottle of wine--we had decided to go with something Italian and exotic, defeated once again by the sheer number of choices in the grocery store wine aisle--and when I came out, Prosecco in hand, I could see mon mari deep in conversation with the baker. I went in to retrieve him--time was beginning to press; a ten minute stop was becoming a half hour excursion--and arrived just in time to hear them placing bets on the American elections. We might, depending on the outcome in November, owe each other a trip to Las Vegas, of all places. Or we might just go across to the café for a drink.