vendredi 2 juillet 2010


Coriander and basil in the kitchen window

I am covered with acute urticaria, what the French and the British in a rare moment of cooperation both choose to call hives. Mine look like the ones on the back.


I also look a little better than most of the people in the photos.

Even more happily.

It all started yesterday morning, when I had fallen into a coma just as my husband was preparing to leave for work. Let's say that I haven't been sleeping very well, with temperatures well above 90° F for over a week now, to which we must add the wedding last weekend, when Siysphe danced until the middle of the summer night. Her husband even joined her on the dance floor, set up on the lawn behind le Fay.

This brought Sisyphe great joy.

Into a dream that was surely unpleasant (they all are right now), the sound of the lower gate rolling open (or closed, but Sisyphe was certain it was open, and Sispyhe's subconscious rarely fails her). Sisphye opened her eyes and stared at the closed metal blinds, light trying to stream in through the ventilation slits. Thank God for ventilation. And, thank God for slits that keep the light out. Sisyphe listened with all her might, only half awake.

Noise. The door opened. Footsteps in the house. Sisyphe roused herself to the effort to learn who the interloper might be.

"Qui est là? Qui est là?" Sisyphe listened for a reply.

"C'est moi." Moi sounded very grumpy. Moi also sounded just like my husband.

"Mais, qu'est-ce qu'il y a?" Moi stormed around, making angry sounds. Sisyphe rolled over and looked at the digital alarm. It was not well into the morning. It was 7:50 am. "Qu'est-ce qu'il y a? Mais, qu'est-ce qu'il y a?"

[So much for Sisyphe's brilliance in the morning.]

"Où sont mes bottes de moto?" It sounded much more like a challenge than a question. I struggled to think clearly.

"Pourquoi? Qu'est-ce s'est passé?"

"J'ai marché dans une merde de chien. Je ne peux pas aller dans un hôpital comme ça," he stormed. "Où sont mes bottes de moto? Putain, fait chier."

Dog shit. On the motorcyle boots. Damn. They have thick soles with deep treads. Think. Where are the other two pairs?

"Elles étaient dans la rentrée. On les a mises au garage?"

"Je n'en sais rien. Mais où sont elles, bordel!"

Please let me explain. In every day French, "putain", or "prostitute", is used as an expression of discontent approximating our word "fuck", only somewhat less strong. "Bordel", or "house of prostitution", is used rather like we'd say "damn it all to hell". And back.

I pushed myself up, grabbed the first thing to cover myself and staggered out to the garage. There was a yellow shopping sac that contained a pair of black boots. I staggered back into the house.

"Ce sont elles?"

"Oui. Tu comprends, je ne peux pas aller dans un hôpital avec mes bottes couvertes de merde. Je dois aller directe au bloc, et je dois les laisser au vestiaire." I tried to imagine a pair of motorcycle boots, the treads of the soles filled with Rapide's dog shit (Baccarat goes very nicely, as she learned to do, back behind France Telecom's utility building next door), sitting in the changing room of the hospital's OR facility, stinking.

"Non, bien sur. C'est clair, mais, je ne comprends pas, tu as ouvert le portail en bas, alors --" I struggled some more to piece the events together. He had left, and he had returned, but the dog shit was down in the bottom garden, "et j'en ai ramassé les crottes hier --". I had, I explained, cleaned up every pile of pooh that I could see.

"Je suis déjà parti (I was already gone). J'était dans le chemin (I was riding up the lane), et ça m'a sauté au nez (and the smell assaulted my nose), alors je suis revenu. Je ne peux pas aller au bloc comme ça --" he repeated for the third time.

"Non, bien sur. Je comprends. Tout à fait." There is no mistaking the smell of dog shit. Ever. And one certainly cannot walk into a hospital with it covering ones' boot soles, let alone leave them in the doctor's changing room in the OR.

"Mais pourquoi tu n'as pas rincé tes bottes à l'eau au lieu de faire tout ça?" Why had he not simply rinsed his boot soles with the garden hose, nearly 50 meters of which was still trailing down the stairs at the center of the garden, from the spout on the house to the pool. The heat wave we have been suffering evaporated the water level in the pool below the skimmers while we were away over the weekend, letting the pump run dry.


"Je n'allais pas revenir jusqu'à en haut pour ouvrir le robinet (I wasn't going to come all the way back up the stairs to open the spigot) juste pour redescendre pour rincer mes bottes (just go go back down to rinse my boots), et pui remonter pour le fermer (and go all the way back up to turn it off) pour redescendre pour reprendre la moto (to go all the way back down to get my bike)."

He hadn't thought to call to me to ask me to handle the spigot part while he rinsed his boots and darted back to his bike, but by then, there was no one to whom to make this reply. He had laced his boots and was gone. I watched him shut the door, thinking I was going to have a lousy day.

After breakfast, I covered every inch of myself and trudged down the stairs to the bottomgarden, which I have normally sprayed with chemicals that kill all vegetable life by now. There was a barely discernible path to where we park the motorcycles. The rest was covered with weeds that stood as high as my waist, and presumably dog pooh. I set to work, filling bag after bag with the weeds, including stinging nettles. Forgetting the fact that they are vitamin (and even protein in late season) rich, and forgetting that they act as an activating agent in compost, they are a pestilence. I thought I was protected.

I was not. And then, something "jumped to my nose" (me sautait au nez).

Ugh. What's tha --?

Oh, but there is nothing that smells like dog shit, and no mistaking it. I looked at the bottom of my espadrille, otherwise covered in dirt. A smear of light brown dog diarrhea. I cast a glance around. Looked up the path through the weeds to where the motorcycles sit at night. Nothing. This was the one bit of dog shit, and both Audouin and I had stepped in it.

Bor-del de MERDE!

I scuffed the thin sole of my espadrille in a tuft of grass and returned to yanking up weeds. Bag after bag of weeds. By evening I had 17 large bags full to carry up the 30 steps to the top terrace and over to the gate.

You could always bring the car down and load it from the lower gate, suggested myself.

"Yeah, but this way I get a work-out. It's been too hot to run, you know."

Suit yourself.

With only 4 or 6 bags to put into the car before heading to the dump, my neighbor drove by.

"C'est des déchets végétales?" he asked. I nodded yes through the sweat running down my brow. "Attends," he said, "Je veux ça."

"Mais --" It was too late. He had gone by. I glanced at my watch. I was going to miss the dump. He parked the car and walked up to me. "Mais, c'est des mauvaises herbes -- des ortilles."

"Ca ne fait rien," he said, grinning, heading back up the sidewalk toward me. "Viens avec moi, je te montrai." I started to protest, but there's no arguing with my neighbor. He wanted my weeds, he'd have my weeds. He opened his gate and led me to a place just before the path headed down a set of stairs to their bottom garden. I followed. "Je mets des gravats ici depuis qu'on y habite. Je mets des déchets pour que ça pourrissent et couvrent les dégats."

In short, he had been dumping his masonry from his various demolition projects since he had moved into the house down there, and it created an eyesore. He wanted my weeds to make more of an eyesore until it all rotted into some sort of compost, requiring only a layer of topsoil before planting grass to cover it. I thought of any future residents in their house and how they would feel about that if they were dedicated gardeners, but he looked convinced.

"Ca ne serait pas plus facile de le faire monter d'en bas?" Wouldn't it, he asked, be easier to bring it over from the bottom of your garden here?

"Peut-être, mais j'y ai pensé et je me suis décidée de monter les sacs. Ca fait de la gyme, tu sais. C'est mon stairmaster." Maybe, I said, but I decided to carry them all to the top. It gives me exercise, you know. It's my stairmaster.

Like I needed it, after yanking 26 bags of weeds (more to go), up by the time my evening was finished.

Today, I had to call a halt. Besides trying to save our biggest koï and the rainstorm, which dropped the temperature 20° F in a half hour to 75° F, only to leave us to get our oxygen from the water, like the koï, and still dripping with sweat, the pharmacist narrowed her eyes, looking at my hives, and asked if I didn't have someone else to finish this project for me.

In the interest of protecting my husband, tout à fait connu à elle, I smiled weakly, "Bien sur."

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