Friday, September 7, 2012

The Window Up Above

It really has been far too long since I've posted here, but I have the same old excuse: the book  proposal I thought I'd have out of here in June has dragged on and on and, although I'm about to move on to another part of it, it won't be finished any time soon. This isn't the sort of thing that demands frequent appeals to the Muse and transfigurative blasts of inspiration, although there are times I wish it did. No, this involves dull, hard work, assembling pieces and putting them together just so, and then finding more pieces to assemble. Books cover the tiny work area I have here in The Slum, and other documents come and go. Odd Web pages lurk in tabs on my browser until I realize I don't need them any more and then click them away.

Personal life? Not so much, even considering how little I had before. I sit at the desk and e-mails come and go. Not long ago, a friend in Texas, a dozen years younger than myself, died while at the dentist's. Last week, a friend here tried to commit suicide. These things, I figure, are better left unshared in the details because there's nothing edifying in them, just sad. One pleasant thing was seeing E and J again after a summer that left us all prostrate and uninspired, and we celebrated our first car trip by duplicating part of it, going to the Tomato Festival in Clapiers, a suburb to the northwest of town. Eric the Tomatologue was there, as usual (he'd done an earlier one this summer in the square by St. Anne's church here in town), but he didn't have any tomatoes for sale, for some reason, just a bunch of peppers. No problem: I picked up a kilo and a half from a woman I recognized from the Tuesday market and made an astoundingly delicious gazpacho out of it, some of which still exists in the refrigerator. And there was a fresh-tomato pizza last night which could have been better if I'd used more acid fruits than I chose. Ah, well.

No, mostly, this is my day:

A window. It's across the courtyard my windows mostly look out on. But there are stories there, too.

As I noted in one of my very first posts here, there's a 19th century former hôtel particulier, or large private house, across from me. As I noted recently, there have been some changes. A couple has moved in on the ground floor, which has been unoccupied for ages and ages, and have been renovating the huge apartment there, as well as putting out a bunch of potted trees to sort of mark off their territory from the violin-makers' area. Upstairs, a couple with a daughter have taken over the former Alliance Francaise, and heavens knows where that's gone. There is, however, one window to the right of that large space, and that's what I look out on.

When I first moved here, there was almost nothing going on there. Then a rather melancholy-looking young woman moved in, and I'd see her from time to time, opening or shutting the shutters. After a while, she acquired a boyfriend, a wiry, Spanish-looking guy with an out-of-control explosion of curly hair that verged on being an Afro. He looked like a nice guy. Maybe he was: after a while of his being around, they vanished. The next regular visitor to the apartment was a guy who looked like a really unpleasant minor French bureaucrat, very pleased with himself. He brought women there, and, in a reversal of how these things usually go, the sex noises coming from the window were all his: "Ouiiiii, ouiiiii, ouiiiiiii, OUIIIIIIII!!" He sounded like the little piggy, going oui oui oui all the way home, actually. But that wasn't the worst thing about his sexual encounters: he liked to do it to music, a mix-tape of the Gypsy Kings and Queen which he played loudly. I felt sorry for his women, except that the fact that they were with him already signaled they had serious problems with taste.

Then, for the longest time, there was nobody. At one point, Mme Merde's young son was pitching a fit, which, in his case, usually also involves pitching some toys, and he threw a couple of metal cars out the window at amazing speed. One of them went through the upper right-hand window, which finally got patched up with what looks like paper. And then, this summer, there was somebody. First, two Algerian-looking women opened the shutters and the window to let some air in, and after a while I could see them cleaning the place. After that, several young women in their 20s appeared. And, the following Sunday, disappeared. Then the Algerians were back, and then more young women, speaking Spanish, and hanging their underwear in the open window, since they'd washed it in the sink. And then, on Sunday, they, too, disappeared and the Algerian ladies were back. Finally, I got it: either the melancholy young woman or the sex maniac had the lease on the place and was renting it out as a vacation apartment.

This was confirmed by the next batch in there, the oddest ones yet. I actually caught them moving in, six young gay men and one young woman, who turned out to be from the rental agency, because I didn't see them until the day they (finally) left. These guys seemed intent on disproving every stereotype that gay men get saddled with: that they have taste in clothing, that they have taste in music, that they're sensitive... But there was something else going on, I realized one evening when the one black guy (who had a goatee bleached white) was moving something across the floor. It was one of those stands they use in hospitals to hold sacs of fluid which are administered intravenously. I thought I was seeing things, but there's a no-smoking rule in the apartment, and one by one, the boys would appear, shirtless (you could hardly blame them: it was during our heat-wave and it was in the 90s), on the windowsill to indulge, and one day I noticed one had a brown elastic surgical bandage wrapped around him, which clearly showed the outline of a tube leading to his stomach. They'd sleep late, go to the beach (they, too, washed their stuff in the sink, and beach towels and bathing suits hung on the windowsill), then, about 10pm, go off to the bars, returning at about two or three in the morning, apparently deaf, because although their talking to each other was never quiet (and the room does echo), it was louder in the middle of the night. The heat made it much harder to get back to sleep after they finally settled down.

And then, on a Sunday, after an all-night party, they went, the Algerian ladies were back, and the next day a guy and a young woman who might have been his daughter and might not showed up, saw me typing, shot me looks of total disgust, turned the lamp on, and never showed up again. The lamp was on for three days and the Algerian ladies showed up again. Next up were a huge, disheveled woman and her daughter, a carbon copy 30 years younger than her, who talked to each other in a language I couldn't identify. And now there are two middle-aged French couples who stare at me from time to time. One of the guys actually smiled. And one of them went berserk last night when some drunks were making a hell of a racket somewhere and yelled at them to shut up. The courtyard is actually the negative space defined by a bunch of different buildings on four different streets, and although I, too, was awakened by these clods, I couldn't tell exactly where they were. And what is it about French guys that makes them sing -- or attempt to sing -- when they get plastered? There are two bars on my street (but The Slum has, as one of its few selling points, the fact that it doesn't face that street) which specialize in binge-drinking students, and every night a song -- sometimes "Happy Birthday," but just as often not -- gets bellowed into the night air at maximum volume. It's worse on Fridays and Saturdays, of course, and, if the presence of medical students trying to sell candy pills and the number of broken eggs on the ground yesterday is anything to go by, the centuries-old traditions of the start of the school year are upon us.

Of course, that also means that the winemakers are harvesting the grapes (tiny crop this year, which could mean good wine, but higher prices), the tomatoes are getting harvested, too, and soon the markets will have different stuff in them, just like always. Fall lasts a long time here, and it's always a nice time to wander around the countryside. But I don't mean to rush things: I'll happily enjoy a few more weeks of summer now that the heat's broken.

And I won't just be doing it here: Wednesday I head off to Barcelona for a couple of days to cover an art show for the Austin Post, and I'll also be blogging my art and food adventures in the city and seeing if Gaudí really does rub me the wrong way, as Robert Hughes' book Barcelona makes me think might happen. No matter: there are some frescoes I've been waiting to see since 1967 in a museum there, and some grocery shopping to do. And yes, I'll have my camera along. So the pace will pick up some, promise.

And then it'll be back to this:


  1. Barcelona, helluva food town from what I hear!

  2. Good One Ed. Paul Body is in Barcelona now. You may overlap. Hudson

  3. Don't think I know him, but if I eat as much as I'm hoping to there, I'll be overlapping LAMF. Tell him I'm at the Aparthotel Silver.

  4. Entertaining post, as usual. Regarding Gaudí, I seem to remember you mentioning Hughes before (and him calling Sagrada Familia kitsch, perhaps?) but this suggests that Hughes quite likes the guy and his work -- at least Hughes circa 2007 --

  5. There sure are a whole lot of comings and goings there to keep you entertained.
    And I for one am not sure which I find more disturbing, the little piggy noises or the Gypsy Kings/ Queen mixed tape.

  6. Dear Ed,

    Herve and I have spent the past eight Mays in Barcelona. It's by far my favorite European city that isn't French.

    Which of Hughes's two Barcelona books are you reading ?.....the big, fat one, or the slim (and much less politically-detailed) one? It doesn't really matter; hey're both among the five or so, best "travel" books I've ever read.

    I was genuinely sad to hear, the other week, that Hughes had died. I've greatly admired his (and Christopher Hitchens, for that matter and for the same reason) take-no-prisoners writing/criticism for decades.

    Just for the record?....I can't stand Gaudi (the work OR the politics), but I could (and have) sit in the Placa del Rei for days.

    My good guess (particularly after reading this most-recent post of yours) is that you would greatly enjoy Colm Toibin's stories....the ones set in Barcelona. He and Hughes are the only two writers-in-English who've captured the Barcelona I love so much. There are several very solid reasons that Herve and I have so regularly said that Barcelona is the only major European city we would even consider living in.

    Well, it'll be good to think of your being there.....staying there always gives me a lift for weeks afterwards.

    Level Best as Ever,
    David Terry

  7. If your neighbours want to make love to a mix-tape of the Gypsy Kings and Queen played loudly then that is surely an expression of perfect love (or, if not, a severe lack of taste and one wonders if they should be allowed to be breeding anyway?)

    All the best


    P.S. Whoops.... just seen that Sarah Louise also finds the whole Piggy noises/Gypsy Kings/ Queen mixed tape thing slightly obscene - and THAT DOES SURPRISE ME!

  8. Oh, Ed. About an hour ago, I very profitably spent a good twenty minutes cleaning out gutters on this old house while listening to your most recent (perhaps I'm behind on the times and doings) segment on "Fresh Air"...concerning "American Studios" in Memphis?

    I learned a, thank you once again.

    I probably should emphasize that my family (on both sides) has lived in the same Tennessee county since the 18th century.....but we're from far Northeast Tennessee and, thus, traditionally (which is to say OBLIGATORILY) regard Memphis as something one doesn't even mention, much less visit or discuss or marry-into. I grew up knowing that, like Nashville, Memphis is chock-a-block with foolishly expensive horses, whiskey, cards, "fast" music, and too-slick politicians.

    Oh well....

    Thanks again for your always good work; I sent the link to your segment on "Fresh air" to Herve...who's away for a long while on business, but is also a great admirer of your commentaries.

    David Terry

  9. Since you are fortunate enough to be living in France How about an homage to the terrific French girl pop singers of the sixties? I love listening to France Gall,Sheila,Francoise Hardy,and several other French girl singers.

    I think many other people would enjoy hearing and learning about these girls who in my opinion are more enjoyable to listen to than most of the American girl singers of that era. And they were a lot better looking!

    Personally I'm really tired of hearing about obscure and mediocre Rockabilly,Soul,and Blues singers who were from what I have heard of them on your features obscure for a reason. They just weren't very good.

    There was a whole lot of good music being produced in the 1960's That did not originate in the United States. How about letting people learn about it.

  10. Well, gee, that would assume that 1) I know anything about them; 2) I had a decent selection of their stuff, and 3) most importantly, that I enjoyed it. None of those things are true. Most people I know find the yé yé scene cringeworthy, although I grant you there are a couple of good records there. And surely you must realize that the "better looking" won't show up on the radio. I'm sorry you don't appreciate America's great heritage of popular music, and wish you a speedy recovery.

    1. What I find "cringeworthy" is listening to yet another Blues song (which all sound the same) or some Redneck abusing a guitar belting out another inane Rockabilly tune. Blues,Rockabilly,Motown,and throw another American contribution,Jazz into the mix as well,They all stink!Give me the "Ye Ye girls and throw in some German Schlager music as well to all that noise.By the way,all the singers I mentioned have a huge fan base. Just check out YouTube.

  11. Interesting. You prefer the imitation to the original. Nearly all the producers who made the music you admire were hoping to equal the standards of American pop music, and have their native-language vocalists sing as well as the Americans they so admired did. I can't speak for the French, but I have known people in the Schlager industry, and they all admire and copy Anglo-American popular music and always have, be their models Perry Como or Cher or Joe Cocker, all of whom have careers on the Schlager circuit. But your criticisms are little more than name-calling, with no substantive support for your "They all stink!" attitude. I have no idea why you hate your own country's popular music so when the rest of the world admires it, but that's your problem, not the world's.


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