Ed Ward's Blog Leaves Europe After 20 Years and Returns To The U.S., Another Foreign Country. Currently, This Blog Is In Transition.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Post Heatwave Miettes
Been meaning to phone home a little sooner than this, but the past week has been pretty awful. Again, apologies to my friends in Texas, since nobody should have to endure what they've endured this year, with a heatwave which has seen daily temperatures hovering around 110°F (that's 43.3° C, folks) for weeks on end. Still, around here motionless air around 90°F (32.2° C) with high humidity hasn't exactly inspired me to go out and snoop for stuff for the blog. It's the weather pattern here, and I'm quite sure there's a French word for it: either the winds are off the Mediterranean coming from Morocco or whatever bit of Africa is down there, and, thus, hot and damp, or they're coming from the Cévennes Mountains, and are cool and dry. The turnaround tends to involve violent winds, and when it goes from hot to cool, it's a welcome phenomenon indeed.
Still, one must go out from time to time, and hot muggy weather is prime observation time for Stupid T-Shirts. I don't carry a notebook for this, and there were days when I saw so many I forgot them all. Just enough of them stuck in my feeble brain to report a few classics back here.
Naturally, summer brings thoughts of water and the beach and all, so there are a lot of fake souvenir shirts for California beach towns made by the big designers. Someone has also come up with one that reads
In case any of you are thinking of taking this advice, may I add that most of the time surfing on the waves is far preferable. I guess shooting the curl is surfing in the wave, but that's not the usual way you do it, and is recommended for advanced practitioners. Maybe Mike will correct me on this.
Unsurprisingly, men wear the vast majority of stupid t-shirts. Some of this is because women's ts tend toward simple messages (I LOVE BOYS) or graphics with one word (FASHION or CHIC) -- or with no words at all. Men have to let it all hang out. One exception I saw recently was a teenage Japanese tourist girl whose shirt had the message
MY BLOG IS
My immediate reaction was to get offended, but on solemn reflection, without having seen hers, I'm afraid I had to agree. I'm not sure how to make this blog more fashionable, but will entertain suggestions.
Men's ts also tend to have more aggressive messages on them, or, rather, teenage boys' do. One I saw had a picture of a black guy's hand with a huge ring on it grasping a sheaf of $100 bills and the message
I think it's a shame to live in a society where power and respect and taurn are all equated with money. Especially taurn. Whatever that is.
But the hip-hop ethos really does drive young French men, especially the white ones, and especially the white ones who don't seem to understand English very well. That's what I had to conclude when I saw
I dunno, dude. Sounds kinda gay to me. It's the Ghetto Absolutely Fabulous Mob you want to watch out for, though.
And finally, the other day, a wonderful summing up of the whole teenage male ethos, a picture of someone breakdancing (still huge here) with the words
WHEN I DIE
MAKE IT LOOK LIKE
I WAS DOING
* * *
Montpellier is currently in the midst of a serious crisis, one which involves me as much as anyone. The huge French supermarket chain Monoprix has, apparently, discontinued its free pink bags for groceries. You can still buy sturdy reusable plastic bags for €.15, but they're not the same. The old ones were flimsy, but actually stronger than they looked. I kept a steady supply of them for use as garbage bags in the kitchen, and I wasn't the only one by far, to go by the bins where the neighborhood chucked its garbage. Sure, the 9% beer crowd tossed theirs on the ground, and so did others, but I'd still say a large percentage of my neighbors reused them for various purposes.
Which is what recycling's about, right? And when I went grocery shopping, nine times out of ten I'd take a cotton bag of my own (thanks, SXSW) to use, because I hate waste as much as the next guy. But now they're gone and they've been gone for a couple of weeks. I'm on my last garbage bag (looks to be something I brought back from Staples in New York), and I'm not sure what I'll do when that gets full and has to be tossed. Monoprix is a perennial candidate in various European green prize initiatives, and they've done many wonderful things in terms of making organic food available at sane prices (and packaging it so it looks different so you know it's organic) and trying to source locally (although what's with the Mexican garlic and Tasmanian onions?), but they seem to have forgotten the other end of the chain.
UPDATE: Aug. 30. Yesterday, pink bags were everywhere at Monoprix. They're back. Just in time for my next bunch of garbage, too! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, again we see The Power of the Blog In Action! (Well, if such a thing were true, they'd have taken down that fake Brassaï by now).
* * *
Another crisis seems to be the Estivales this year. This has always been fun: a bunch of local winemakers, many of whom are pretty obscure, set up on the Esplanade Charles de Gaulle, and you buy a tasting glass and three tasting tickets for €4. The pours are generous, there are loads of stands set up selling "tapas," ie, charcuterie and mussels and fake Indian and Japanese food and who knows what all, and the city sets up long tables and everyone hangs out, enjoying the nice summer evening.
Or at least that's how it's been. My first Estivale this summer involved my meeting a friend at 10pm, and it was the first time I noticed any tension: some guy was haranguing a server in one of the wine tents and things looked like they were getting a bit out of hand. I noticed a lot of rather, um, overserved people wandering around that evening. My second one was perfectly civilized, but started earlier. Then, two weeks ago, I met Kirsty and a friend of hers from the States for a tasting and, along with our glasses, we were handed a little flyer from the city suggesting the use of public transportation. Unnamed "incidents" were mentioned, and I remembered hearing about something in the local press through the grapevine. What was really telling was that, by the time of our last glass, workers were dumping piles of cellophane-wrapped thingamajigs with the city logo and instructions on how to use "Le Ballon." I should have grabbed one, just to see how a do-it-yourself breathalyzer works, but I didn't. There were also cops everywhere, and I do mean everywhere.
It's weird, but it's something I've noticed: in comparison to America, where alcohol consumption is considered something apart from daily life, as close to a civic sin as seems possible, in Europe I've always been gratified by the way it's integrated into the fabric of society, from my first visits to England when I saw people bring their kids to the village pub, to Germany, where the hotel vending machine had beer in it (and so did McDonald's), to France, where wine is almost a sacrament. The American attitude leads to binge-drinking: the drunkest people I've ever seen in public were in the parking lot of a "bottle club" in Tyler, Texas, a "dry" city with circuitious ways around the law. American students on year-abroad programs come here and slam down the cocktails, and apparently that ethos has crossed over to their French peers: around the corner from me is a "shooter" bar, serving nothing but flavored rum shots to college students.
I have no idea if there's a sea-change underway, and, to tell the truth, I kind of doubt it. Adults seem pretty balanced on this sort of thing, and it may even out. It's just that I suspect it wasn't always like this, and I'm surprised by the aggression and stupidity involved. On the other hand, apparently there are those people who, when they die, want it to look like they were doing something cool.