Let me explain something about French employment contracts. In contrast to UK contracts where employers often mandate 5 days be taken at Christmas, French employers frequently write into contracts that 3 weeks must be taken in August. This is known as ‘Le grand depart', emptying Paris and leaving the overheated city (highs of 40 degrees lately) for the tourists, mainly Chinese.
In my new one foot in France one foot out world, I was torn on whether to join the French ranks or stay in the UK and enjoy the glorious summer. Frustration and regret got the better of me, so I called Charlie. Charlie - my French friend who I lived in Nice, over a decade ago, along with 6 other students. I was doing an internship, he was studying for an Environmental Masters. Charlie invited me to stay with him and his wife in Provence straight away.
Charlie promised to pick me up off the last Gatwick flight. Dinner got the better of him and he forgot, an hour and hour later a very merry Charlie and cousin arrived at Marseille International. I quickly noticed the cousin was a communist; anti-debit cards and smartphones, lives on cash, bartering, with a little Nokia phone he kept losing and listens to Chopin CDs. The communist came from Poe, but not having a debit card was unable to take any motorways from Poe to Provence, so a journey that normally takes 5 hours took the communist 8 hours as he navigated the back roads in his state manufactured 80's Renault. Vivre la revolution comrade! A great big bear of a man with white Celtic skin and long ginger dreadlocks he seemed to take to his new name.
The trip to see Charlie was booked two days before departing, not allowing much time for due-diligence on the set-up. All the bedrooms were taken so I was given an air mattress in the lounge which collapsed halfway through the night. Charlie also has three cats, which I am allergic to, and one fan for the house. With temperatures around 37 degrees in the shade, the only cool place is the shower.
With the communist cousin came the aunt, there are two things to say about her 1) as a 60+ mature lady she has no wrinkles yet has never moisturized but does eat five pieces of fruit a day and 2) a non-stop talker, I remember her devouring an ice cream as we all sat around a café table, dripping most of it over her dress and mine, and then by way of compensation knocked over the jug of table water and 3 cups, causing both of neighbouring tables to leap out of the way. All actions were reported with the utmost of accuracy as they unfolded.
Charlie's wife is a ‘bombe' (French word for hot chic also called ‘un avion de chasse' a Spitfire) with legs up to her earlobes. ‘Legs' fell in love with Charlie 12 years ago (her first love) and now they live in a little village called Miramas-le-Vieux – first love turn husband – obviously not at all what I was hoping for with beautiful boy. She is a typical French girl full of style, knows how to dress, hold herself, cook, be the perfect host, all with apparent ease and no effort. Quelle classe.
Our next guest is a Feldenkrais teacher (a form of yoga). Known as Le Sensei (martial arts teacher). French to the core lives in Paris and has visited London for the first time in January (he is 45), he thinks he is an extremist because he bought a juice extractor for €1000 and insisted on only eating raw food for a year and a half. Le Sensei has now been relegated to the lounge but has secured my fan in the reshuffle. I am now at the top of the house with no windows, no fan, Le Sensei appears, however, to be sleeping soundly with the brand-new air mattress that was bought for him yesterday, I am trying to locate sharp pointy pins. Le Sensei does bring something to the party, a guitar. After dinner, he strums away in the middle of the road and I sing or howl out of time and pitch as the mosquitos peck away at us and the neighbours complain.
My first memory of Charlie was of him opening the door to our apartment in Nice wearing a little straw beret. A tree hugger, lover of nature and active socialist. Charlie now has a sports car – I am shocked – and the group spent 3 hours yesterday in a designer outlet village, I am aghast. I sat in a little café and stared out at the fake cardboard town trying to comprehend what for the love of Ford we were doing there. Charlie still thinks he is a socialist, I would say more ‘gauche caviar' the French equivalent of a champagne socialist.
There is a cult French song, known by all French and sung at campfires across the country ‘Foule Sentimentale' by Souchon. A song that critics consumerism. Interesting that these caviar socialists sing this by night but shop in designer villages in 40-degree heat by day. I lost no time in pointing out this contraction to them.