I am once more addicted to caffeine, there is a van blocking the alley, and Philippe wants me to run away with him. It’s been an annoying 48 hours.
I am too tired to do my job, too tired to go to all my classes, too tired to schedule all the tests the doctor ordered to figure out why I am so tired. A major contributor is definitely all the extra brain work required to speak French all day. I had eight hours of class yesterday with a half hour break. I took notes, in languages I don’t speak, for eight hours. I think the caffeine addiction is self-evident.
What is NOT self-evident is why there is a van blocking our alley. There are four or five apartment buildings whose doors open onto our tiny impasse and one of the apartments in one of the buildings is being renovated. Normally the alley is barred off from the street by metal posts, but the artisans (the laudatory French term for what we would call tradesmen) have convinced the owner of the art gallery next door to lend them the key to the locks keeping these posts in place. Their pretext is that they need to unload materials, but it turns out they just don’t want to pay for parking somewhere else. So any time you want to leave the alley or come back, you have to shout until someone hears you and comes and moves the vehicle to let you through.
I came home from my 8 hours of class yesterday, and I was, to put it mildly, not in a good mood. And there was a van in my way. And I shouted and shouted and no one came. And then, to add insult to injury, two very skinny college-aged French boys also living in the impasse managed to squeeze between the van and the alley wall. I did not fit. I was not pleased.
I knew the owner of the art gallery was somehow implicated, but he wasn’t there. He’d left his number on the door so I called and left a message that I thought was both scalding but also appropriately formal, asking him to please do something about the situation with the van. Before he called me back, though, one of the skinny college boys who had managed to squeeze through the breach found me a workman, who moved the van so I could get in, and then put it right back again.
After Josh too had gotten someone to uncork the alley for him and come home, I got a call back from the gallery owner. He suggested I stop by and he could explain the whole thing to me. I felt a bit chagrined. I was safely home again, and my anger had subsided quite a bit once I’d had a chance to visit the bathroom and put down my backpack. But I’ve read too many Anne of Green Gables books, in which leaving a nasty message for an unknown neighbor is always the first step to a beautiful friendship. So I went around the corner (managing to squeeze past the van, which was an inch further away from the wall this time) and met Philippe.
I started by apologizing for yelling at his voice mail. No problem, he said. I like being yelled at by women. This did not bode well. I apologized for being a bad example of American pissed-offedness, and, insisting I sit down and offering me a coffee or a coke, he waltzed me off on a conversation about cultural stereotypes. After about five minutes, for some reason I used the word “we” to refer to Josh and I. Oh, he said, you have a roommate. I’m married, I told him. 79 percent of French women have affairs, he responded. Ah, I said. Did I mention I’m Amish?
It was one of those conversations you just can’t seem to end, even though it’s strewn with suggestions that you leave your husband and run away to the Luberon with a French man who was in a movie playing Burt Lancaster’s younger self before you were even born. This does not happen in Anne of Green Gables books. Finally Josh popped in to see what had happened to me. I’d say the conversation cleaned up from there, but Philippe diverted his energies into trying to sell us a work of art. Any work of art. He seemed to think we’d be most interested in a nude. He also played my message for Josh, and they both laughed at how bad my French was. I thought you were Chinese! Philippe exclaims. I laugh too, but only because I'm really, really embarrassed.
But the van, you say, what about the van? Well, Philippe agreed that they shouldn’t use our alley as their parking lot, but it’s not his key to withhold—he’d borrowed it from the Mairie (town hall). I have to lodge a complaint with them. Considering what happened the last time I lodged a complaint at the Mairie—that is to say, nothing—I think I’ll save my breath. I’m going to need it to yell for the workmen to move the van again.