Tours, France – The First Two Months

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There is a very long, very old bridge that I can see from my spot at the library. It crosses the Loire river, which is not unlike the Red River in both its speed and colour. The bridge is called Pont Wilson. Wilson is probably someone’s name and since everything here is named after someone, it’s probably named after this guy Wilson, but I don’t know who he is or what he did. I could look it up, but I’m not going to right now. This bridge is pretty wide and what’s funny about it is that they’ve only designated one lane for vehicles. So if you’re a car and you want to take the bridge south to head towards the city centre, you’re cool, but if you need to cross the Loire heading north, you’d better find another bridge. The middle part of the bridge is reserved for the trams which run north and south. You can walk on that part, but you’d have to move out of the way a bunch so as not to be hit by a tram. They don’t go too fast, but they weigh a lot and if they hit you you’d probably feel pretty stupid. Plus there’s a huge portion of the bridge reserved for foot traffic and a whole separate portion for bicycles. This way everyone gets fair use of the bridge. Except for cars. Like I said, they get one lane. But you know, cars have it pretty good everywhere else, so I don’t feel too sorry for them.

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The library where I sit overlooking the river and the bridge is my library. I call it mine because it’s less than a ten minute walk from my apartment, and I kind of feel a sense of ownership for everything I can reach by foot. It’s a wonderful place to sit and read, and there are only a handful of problems with it. For one thing, it’s closed Sundays and Mondays, which forces me to haunt some other establishment where it’s customary to purchase something if you want to sit and read. The other problem is that all the books are in French. Not a big deal though–I brought a bunch of my own. One nice thing about the library is the DVD section. I can borrow two DVD’s at a time at no charge. This was especially handy during that first month when our internet was in the mail. I still borrow a film now and then because Netflix doesn’t have everything. The last complaint I have is about the people whispering. There’s a lot of whispering.

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When I was in Winnipeg I bought an umbrella at Winners. It was a good umbrella and it was on sale and I read that Tours gets a lot of rain so I thought, boy, you’re really thinking ahead old man, good job. Rosie laughed that I bought an umbrella in the winter, but I told her, just wait, it’ll all make sense. It turns out that it does rain a lot here and if you have one of those tiny purse-sized umbrellas you’re okay as long as there is no wind, but when the wind picks up, look out. That’s why Rosie had to replace her tiny umbrella before we’d even been here a month. I shared my sturdy umbrella with her on the day that hers broke and I think it made sense then why I’d bought the umbrella. To be fair to Rosie, she laughed because I already had an umbrella, but that umbrella was obtrusive. I’m glad I brought this normal-sized umbrella because the streets here are narrow.

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There is a young man walking through the library carrying a book bag that reads, Britney Spears Changed My Life. All I can think is, I hope that’s true.

When you get a good seat at a coffee shop you kind of want to spend the day there. There’s this place down the street from me called La Petite Atelier. I’ve been going there since the first day we arrived in Tours. In fact we went there our first evening in order to borrow their Wifi and do a money transfer. They put mint in their water. It’s a nice touch. Plus the coffee is good so I just keep going back. I suddenly wondered what the hell Atelier meant so I looked it up. It means “a workshop or studio, especially one used by an artist.” I don’t know if putting mint in the water constitutes artistry, but like I said, the coffee is pretty fucking good.

It’s hard to find spicy food here. We have a pretty good spice rack going on in our apartment, but I still haven’t found chili powder. That’s not the whole truth. I did find chilli powder, but it was way more than I was willing to pay. I think that if something is out of your price range than that thing doesn’t really exist. Like in Rome, I saw a guy driving a Ferrari, but I didn’t really see the Ferrari. All I saw was a price tag with way too big a number on it, so I had to look away and tell myself I didn’t see a Ferrari. That’s why I’m saying that I haven’t found chili powder yet.

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The man with the Britney Spears bag took a book from a section called Romans de l’Imaginaire. Before I look it up I’m going to guess that that means Imaginary Romans. I looked it up. It means Fantasy Novels. I guess Romans means Novel. I was pretty close on the Imaginary bit, though.

I have an island. I’ve only been there a few times because it’s the kind of place you’d really only visit on a warm, sunny day and there hasn’t been too many of those. But I plan to go there a lot in the spring. I brought a picnic lunch there one day. Sunburned my nose, too. My lunch was a sandwich. The bread and cheese here … well, it goes without saying.

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In french, umbrella is parapluie. That’s different than parasol, which is a beach umbrella. I said parasol and Rosie told me that that meant beach umbrella. Now I know the difference.

I drink a lot of wine. It’s the cheapest kind of booze you can find and it goes with almost anything. It’s a nice routine to pick up a bottle of wine and a baguette on my way home from the library. You could live off of that. I don’t live off of bread and wine, though. I eat lots of other things, too. I haven’t had tacos since December. I miss tacos.

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Those are some thoughts and experiences I’ve had so far in this city. When I feel like it I may talk about our trip to Italy. I don’t know. There’s bound to be more to talk about, but it’s a little city and the pace of life is slow. We’ll see what happens.

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The Clod In The Casket

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“There is no reason not to predict and prevent your own death when you can self-diagnose with WebMD.”

“You’re right. He only has himself to blame.”

“It was definitely Crohn’s that got him.”

“Could’ve been lupus.”

“Lupus, sure. And it’s so treatable.”

No Smoking

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“It’s disgusting,” my mother said every time we came home from my grandparent’s after Sunday dinner, hanging our clothes in the garage to air them out. Her father was a two-pack-a-day smoker with leather skin and a handkerchief he used to hack into. “Smoking is a nasty, disgusting habit,” she said. I agreed with her, but I still wanted to try it.

I decided one day after school that I’d built up enough nerve—I was going to walk to the gas station, putter around, pay someone a dollar for a cigarette and smoke it on the knoll overlooking the highway. But by the time I got to the gas station my nerves were shot. I couldn’t approach a stranger to ask directions, never mind bum a smoke off one. I spent the dollar on a candy bar and left.

As I walked home, my hand turning over the unused pack of matches in my jacket pocket, it occurred to me that I was not above finding a cigarette butt and smoking that. I made a detour and slowed my pace as I got to the path that cut through the park. Off in the distance I could see the pinks and blues of fall jackets, boys and girls clambering over the playground, technicolour pendulums on the swing set. I hung back from the park and scoured the path that ran along the man-made lake. All I found were a few butts that had been smoked down to the filter. I would learn one day how expensive cigarettes were and why a thrifty person wouldn’t waste, but at the time that was no consolation for my wasted effort. I cursed the smokers who hadn’t even left me enough tobacco for one experimental puff and went home dejected.

As I think about what it was that made me want to smoke, I’m stumped for answers. It wasn’t from peer pressure—none of my friends had admitted to trying it. I still wore sweatpants, so it certainly wasn’t that I was attempting to look cool. Perhaps the problem in trying to understand the motives of my twelve-year-old self is that motive is a grown-up concept. I think about all the times my parents asked me why I did something that I wasn’t supposed to do and how often the answer was, “Because.” If I’d been the sort of kid who talked back I might have asked them, “Why do you need a reason for everything?” I understand now why they needed an explanation, but at the same time I love that there wasn’t one. With so little mystery left in the universe it’s a small relief to me that people remain plenty mysterious.

The Champ Is Tapped Out

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Avaritia stands aloft. Spreads his thick arms. Cash rains onto the partygoers. They slurp the pools of green off his marble floor and out of his champagne fountain.

Across the crumbling city an IRS agent salivates as a judge signs his warrant.

Tannins

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The Captain placed a tin mug on the table in front of Lieutenant Malory and sat across from him.

“Sorry, Malory, saving the fine china in case the Queen ever pops in.”

Malory flashed a tired smile as he brought the mug up so that it touched his moustache. He breathed in the black tea and was overwhelmed by the familiar mélange of spices that he never took the time to learn the names of. “Reminders of home,” he said.

“It’s the little things, isn’t it? For instance, I find myself missing the crunch of a garden cucumber.” The Captain spooned a heap of sugar and stirred it into his mug. The pinging of the metal had an atonal quality that reminded Malory of his sister as a child at the piano, whining about having to take lessons, refusing—it seemed to him—to improve at all as a student.

“Sugar?”

“Thanks, but don’t waste it on me,” Malory said. “I don’t drink tea for its flavour.”

“Care to elaborate?” the Captain said. A bombardment murmured faintly in the distance, like the white noise of a thousand heartbeats.

“I like the idea of tea. I enjoy the process of boiling the water and steeping the bag. I like everything about it up until that first sip. Somehow it never tastes as good as it smells. It’s like when I was a boy, I remember the anticipation of the thing was always better than the thing itself: Christmas, vacations, birthdays, it didn’t matter.”

The captain croaked deeply, approvingly; it reminded Malory of the satisfied hum his father made while rolling a cigarette, regarding it with interest.

“How are your men holding up?” the Captain said.

“Bowler had to shoot a mad horse the other day. It upset those who saw it. Besides that, they’re restless. I think they’re tired of minding this patch of earth. They want a fight. At least they think they do.”

“You know how it goes, Malory. They’ll get their fight, and if luck favours our side, they’ll be minding—as you put it—a different patch of earth before the end of the week. It’s all the bloody same.”

Malory lifted his mug in salute to the Captain and sipped his tea. It was bitter. More so than he’d expected.

“Which brings me to the point of why I called you in here,” the Captain said. “I respect you, Malory. Always have. We’re alike you and I. Somebody in an office somewhere has asked us to die for our country and we’ll do it, no questions asked.” The Captain lit a cigarette for Malory and one for himself. “We’ve received new orders to push through to the river at 0500. I know you were expecting to rotate out, but there’s been a development and, well, this is how it is.”

“I understand,” Malory said. He fought down the bile in his throat.

“I knew you would.”

“I’m sure the men will be thrilled to use their guns for more than clobbering rats.” Malory picked up the mug of tepid, brown liquid—determined to finish it as a matter of propriety—when a shell hit nearby and shook loose a good deal of debris from the roof of the bunker. Malory placed his contaminated mug on the table and brushed the dust from his hair.

“Damn,” the Captain said. “My sugar.”

“Thank you for the tea, Captain.” Malory saluted and set out for his platoon. He wondered how quickly the men’s thirst for battle would dry up once they’d tasted it.

Making A Deal At The Edge Of The Night

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The mouth of the revolver snaked in between Jacko’s collar and scarf and bit him on the neck.
“Metal’s freezing,” he said.
“That’s all you’re going to say?”
“You won’t shoot me, Tubbs.”
The hammer cocked. Jacko shuddered.
“I’m listening,” Tubbs said.

Immutable

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“What about amendments?” Maria whispered into the Void. She picked up the list of Thou Shalt Nots and shrugged. “You know,” she continued, “like the Constitution—change with the times.”

“As it is written, so shall it be,” the Void whispered back.