Saturday, July 7, 2012

In Which Not A Whole Lot Happens

As many of you can tell from the quick grab by my phone-camera here, it's summer. I went to the market today, picked up some stuff, and added it to the stuff that's already here: the red torpedo onion is from making God'spacho earlier in the week. There are yellow and white peaches both, and the first of what promises to be countless melons for breakfast eating. Some parsley, and there you are.

The truth is, I've been absent from this blog for a while, except for the odd recipe, because I seem to have roped a wild bull. I came up with what seemed to be a decent idea for a book, my agent was enthusiastic, I started writing the outline and now the outline is almost as long as a book itself, which means the book itself will be very long. This proposal requires getting up and writing between 1000 and 3000 words every day, staring at huge columns of data and synthesizing it all into a narrative. I told my agent the other day that it'll be finished about the time the last editor in New York goes on vacation. That way it can't sell too quickly and, you know, give me enough money to pay the back rent and maybe move.

Yes, move. One thing this project has driven home to me is that I have to get out of this tiny apartment. There are still boxes unpacked from when I moved in because there's nowhere to unpack them to: a bunch of bookshelves stand, unassembled, gathering dust, in the narrow hallway, on one side of which are my CD shelves, out of order (and maybe with one missing, I've never been sure) and in the dark because I never could figure out how to install the light there. Fortunately, the price of LED flashlights went down enough that I bought one from the bargain housewares display at the supermarket one day, and now when I need a CD from the hall -- or the other batch in the corner behind the stupid pillar that makes a quarter of the office/living room inaccessible -- I can take a light. This is becoming rapidly untenable, and if this book project comes to fruition and I have to import some of my books from storage in Texas, I'm not going to have room to breathe.

I have no quarrel with the neighborhood, really, nor, at last, with my neighbors, of whom I've acquired a few new ones recently. The building across the courtyard is a fairly hideous 19th century pile, which, for some reason, is listed (the plaque calls attention to the beautiful staircase, but you have to take their word for it because you can't just walk in), and in the past week there's been some real action there. Upstairs, the apartment directly across from me seems to be a vacation-rental, since the tenants seem to change by the week. Next door and still upstairs used to be the staid, matronly Alliance Francaise, an organization partly funded by the government to teach French language and culture to foreigners that used to fill up with chubby American kids a couple of times a year, and, in good weather, I'd hear them chanting their lessons. This now appears to belong to a couple with two tween daughters who like to sing, more enthusiastically than accurately, but understandably because the big, empty rooms are great echo chambers. Where the AF has gone I can't tell you, although their plaque is still out front. And downstairs, they've been gutting the apartment next to the violin-makers, and decorating the patio. I snuck a shot yesterday:

These decorative ceramics may or may not adorn the outdoors. There are also numerous plants in pots, which were all added in one day. I can attest that the fertilizer used is from cattle. It was a lovely smell to have in one's house for a day, particularly at dinner. The guy also went and put up a screen over one of the windows in our stairwell, no doubt to keep us from squeezing through the bars and rampaging over his new patio.

But that whole project pales next to the one down the street. As long as I've been here, there's been a huge building, one side of which advertises Citroen cars...

...and around the corner, a hotel once had its entrance.

In recent weeks, a fence has blocked this off, further disrupting what traffic there was on this tiny one-way street, and a demolition crew has gone in. Whether their plan is to demolish the building entirely or gut and renovate it, I can't say, but this all happened fairly quickly. Thing is, you can't tell from these shots, but this is a gigantic building. Back when all its windows were bricked up with cement blocks, you'd be on a neighboring street and see the windows and make the connection. I guess I should check the Google Maps aerial view and see how far it extends. If they take it down, a major part of the block will disappear.

At any rate, the work on the book proposal has eaten up most of my time, leaving me drained and not feeling too bright at the end of it, capable only of cruising the web and reading the newspaper on my iPad. I've walked right past people I know in town without seeng them, forgotten to do things on my to do list, and skipped the last show at the PavPop, of emerging photographic talent, because I forgot it was there. And it's right down the damn street! Oh, but that's not the worst bit. For some reason I was walking down a street just around the corner from my house that doesn't have anything on it I really want to see or shop at except for the Korean place on the corner, and bingo: there was a new laundromat there! No more hauling my clothes long blocks down the rue de Verdun to the skanky laundromat the street bums use! This one's still sort of clean. And it costs just the same. My first thought, of course, was "how long has this been here without my noticing?" I pride myself on being able to note small changes in my immediate environment, so I felt like an idiot.

One brightish bit of news is that someone talked me into applying for Social Security, which I wasn't aware I was old enough for or could get living overseas, but, of course, I am and I can. I applied online and next thing I knew, they sent a letter saying the first payment would kick in sometime next week. This will take some of the economic pressure off, although unfortuntely the payment's not enough to pay the exorbitant rent on the slum here. People who know the rents around here act physically shocked when they learn how much this place costs: it's way above market value, which may explain why the other apartment on my floor, much smaller and less desirable because it fronts on the street, where there's now a very noisy bar, hasn't rented for nearly a year. Who would want to live here?

I've also continued to wonder if I want to stay in France, which is very interesting. Apparently studies of British people who move down here see a decided exodus after the fourth year: a huge number of them move back to England. I can't say I didn't have any expectations, but after 15 years in Germany I wasn't expecting much. But after nearly four years, I have no French friends, no connection to the community, and nothing really making me want to stay. I also have no particular place I want to go, so if nothing else inertia will keep me here, at least a while longer, although the four years will be up in November. We'll see what it's like when the penny-counting phase finally ends with the government checks rolling in every month, when I may again be able to afford a little travel and the occasional bottle of wine and/or restaurant meal.

Meanwhile, I'm doing like the alcoholics do, taking it a day at a time. Wake up, make breakfast, read the news, check the e-mail, and get to work. I do like having daily work to do, even if it takes away from doing this free blog. (The other blog, which actually pays me, has a post up this week about another thing that's been taking up my time, the sword of Damocles hanging over the head of the Well, the online community I've participated in for the past 11 years). This is my daily monastic routine, which I'll miss when this behemoth proposal is out the door and all I have to do is wait and worry until I hear its fate. With luck, it'll sell, and I'll have work laid out for me, and, perhaps, enough dough to make a decision about the future: move elsewhere in Montpellier? In France? Back to the States? At the very least, I hope someone will buy the guitar I have for sale at South Austin Music in Texas soon so I can pay some of this back rent and not get a visit from the police next month. That would be no fun at all.

See? Life in the south of France: it's exactly like life everywhere else, but with better food. And a downside, too, just like everywhere else.


  1. So I'm clearly some kind of freak (not that that comes as any surprise to anyone I should think) because I've been in France for almost exactly 20 years, and in Montpellier for almost 13...
    Can't afford to move back to Britain, don't really want to, no matter how much I miss my closest friends. I do have French friends, mainly thanks to having kids, but also from teaching. But none as close as those in the UK or US. And I have zero desire to take out French nationality - I don't feel French, don't even particularly like them as a whole (individuals, yes, but as a collective group - heavens, how some of their habits annoy me). So British I remain.
    Yup. I'm clearly some kind of freak.

  2. I've always known you were prolific and fast, but "...writing between 1000 and 3000 pages every day"! Now I'm impressed.

  3. Good Lord, Ed.....1000-to-3000 pages per day?

    Considering that, I've just thought up a solution to several of your dilemnas.

    Sache is an absolutely beautiful, large, and gracious, 17th century manoir (of just the right size...not too grand and not too rustic) by the Loire. It's about thirty minutes from Tours. It's where cranky Balzac retreated regularly, over the years, to avoid his creditors and get down to the business of pumping out HIS 1000-3000 pages per day.

    You need to write a letter to the owners (who run Sache essentially as a museum/shrine-to-Balzac nowadays) and tell them that they need to give you a room (there are plenty of them, all with wonderful views) and a stipend in return for your functioning as the resident Balzac impersonator. You're the right age and have the right "look".....all you'd have to do is wear a 19th century coat, grow a beard, sit at a big desk, drink endless cups of coffee, write-write-write, and scowl at anyone who interrupted your work. As you might know, Balzac was famously prolific and cantankerous.

    I think you could pull this off. What do you think?

    Not entirely incidentally?...I bought and moved into this 220 year old, relatively isolated house three weeks ago and wsimply haven't had the time to contact a single person from my 25 years in Durham (fifteen miles away, at most). I had a telephone messsage from a longtime pal last night, asking me "What's up? Don't you think you're finally carrying this Emily Dickinson impersonation a bit too far?"

    Best Wishes, and thanks as ever for the good blog. I've begun reading the EdWard Report, also; I was extremely glad to find that someone's as frustratedly irritated by as I've been for at least a year.

    ----david terry

  4. I fixed it: 1000-3000 words equals 4-12 pages.

    And I suspect Balzacian coffee ingestion would totally short circuit my blood pressure pills. Also: did he use a laptop? Didn't think so.


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