Friday, 29 April 2011

the thin veneer

Within the walls of the conference hall and on the tidy plaza that surrounds it there pervades a gentle and harmonious atmosphere.
People have gathered from around the whirled to share their joy in, knowledge of and commitment to naturally derived colour.
In the quartier St Nicolas it’s a little edgier. In addition to the usual grannies taking their Totos for a gentle outing and the gilded [but slightly younger] visiting matrons carrying their canine accessories in outsize handbags [a curious way for what was once a predator to be travelling] there are also a few less savoury elements roaming the streets.
In the square outside the Monoprix [a supermarket that seems to be the only place to buy milk but which I regret to advise smells like an open drain] two tribes of seedy-looking persons engage in a loud and pugnacious confrontation. I suspect they are saying unkind things about each other’s mothers. Each side is attached by sturdy chains to a selection of muscular and vociferous mongrels whose visible masculinity is clearly intended to endorse that of their respective owners who themselves are thrusting their chests out like cockerels in the fowl yard. The obscenities and provocations are loud and continuous. Perhaps they are able to breathe through some other orifice.

There is a bitter aroma in the air composed of urine [not just canine], sweat and adrenaline. It is not a brand of aftershave I shall be seeking out anytime soon. A few of the dogs belonging to the passing throng offer an occasional polite woof to the fracas as well. People edge nervously around the situation or stand at the edge of the square awaiting developments. We move on.

In the park a group of people are cheering and applauding. Perhaps it is a performance of some kind? No. It is an ‘organised’ dogfight. Again we back away.

Dusk falls, people gather at tables. We decide to test a local restaurant, having so far prepared all of our meals from fresh market produce thus far. After duly inspecting the various offerings we settle on one we think looks promising. We order a Kir Royale each [delicious] and elect to share a plate of langoustines. La Rochelle prides itself on the local seafood so we are doubly surprised when the long-suffering crustaceans appear, clearly in the last stages of exhaustion, having been [we deduce by the flavour and texture] cooked, frozen and thawed on their drawn-out journey to our table. They certainly hadn’t been coaxed from the net that day. On the bright side, the bread was delicious.

My daughter then had the salade calamars [also ex freezer and oddly bouncy] and I had a pastry-lidded fish stew. Not bad, if a trifle overcooked and thank fully free of winkles. Back in our apartment we wash away dinner with a gin and tonic followed by copious amounts of tea. In the streets below, people eat, breaking what sounds to be rather a lot of plates and glasses in the process and also wander off to their homes and hotels. Chatter rises and falls, gradually becoming louder. We expect it will peak shortly after midnight, as it has most nights except Wednesday, when the revellers were still singing loudly and tunelessly at 5.21am. I know because I looked at my watch. Blearily.

Back to the story. We repair to our respective beds and attempt to dispose ourselves in the arms of Morpheus despite the racket in the street. I doze fitfully but am called rudely back to uncomfortable consciousness by the sound of breaking glass. Lots of it. Someone is idly but repetitively tossing bottles at a wall. As you do when you can’t sleep. Some sound empty, others full. The noise of tinkling and shattering continues awhile until eventually it attracts the attention of a passerby who erupts in howls of very French rage, sadly unintelligible on the third floor [I might have learned some new words] and chases the perpetrator down the street. For the next twenty minutes howls and thumps and pounding feet can be heard in the empty streets.

There is more breaking glass. More howling. The whole thing continues like a ghastly groundhog day until the streetcleaning robotty thing comes and attacks everyone with a watercannon. And wins. I wonder if this is what hell might be like. Maybe La Rochelle needs a visit from Buffy.

I hired the apartment thinking it would be an interesting experience of life in France. I was right.


  1. things sound incredibly exciting in France!... and I'm still drooling at the sight of those cakes.. the French certainly know what they're doing when it comes to confectionary :-).. but maybe not lichen harvesting..

  2. Hmmmm yeeeessss. I have had many a night like this in france. in montpellier where the streets are narrow in the old city, and where the only window opens over the street. the party seems to go all night, and the glass - yes I remember that too - and the singing.

    was always so glad to get out to the country where my son lives. out from the villages and city noise and smells.

    we get so used to the quietness of our own country lives here in aus.

    great post india - brought back so many memories of four years ago in france.

    hope you get some sleep tonight....


  3. I'm not quite sure whether to say so sorry that the apartment's locale seems to be very inconducive to sleep or to thank you for transporting me there with you. A bit of both?

    Actually, mostly thank you for a magical post. The sound of glass breaking could be heard outside as I read.

  4. A very apt and visual image... -j

  5. places like these are essential ingredients for writing - anybody can go stay at the Hilton or equivalent for a totally cocooned experience...
    let's see if our last two nights can add to the already-rich tapestry!

  6. Oh how exciting/exhilirating yet scary at the same time... woohooo.. living life..
    Annette (in safeish, semi quiet Townsville) lol

  7. here tís only the pop of the corks, the clink of wine flutes, the cheers of the crowd , and the kiss of the couple to keep us awake.... and easily quieted by the click of the off button ....
    beaux rêves mes petits.!

  8. smiling at your story, you should write novels India.
    yes thats France as i know it and still i love it and look very much forward travelling there next week.............
    you should try another restaurant tonight though!

  9. my travelling is only done vicariously through thanks for leading me to a great (if rather stinky) destination (I hope someone cleans up the glass soon) take care.... I'm looking forward to the next installment!