Tuesday, June 13, 2006

from Pierrerue: easy going

It’s irresistible, that Mediterranean is. Two-thirty, I still have some free Internet time left but what the hell, I can work off line. And so I pack a folder of papers and speed to the coast.

An hour, that’s all it takes to put me on the nicest of the great beaches. And it’s a pleasant hour of passing the known to me by now villages of the great St Chinian wines. “Village en peril,” reads one big sign. Villages that depend on booming wine sales. Villages that are no longer seeing booming wine sales as the global marketplace has flooded stores with cheap alternatives to the French stuff.

Why does Puisserguier (just east of St Chinian) have an extra big sign before it saying that it is dying? -- I ask people from around here.
You know, the militant defenders of French agriculture, they come from here, from the south. But that village is no different from the rest. We all depend on the wine markets. And we, here in the Languedoc region, we don’t know how to market ourselves abroad. We don’t know how to show off our wines.

The struggle to succeed. The desire to define success differently.

The daughter of Celine tells me: at the University where I work (she does research on autism), my colleagues, they give 40% of themselves. When I worked in San Francisco, I gave 120%. It was exciting!
Her mother protests: people work hard here. You see just one corner of the world over there in Montpellier. Here, they take time off, but when they are working, they work hard.

The young measure excitement differently.

The daughter of Marie Rose comes to see me this morning. She is a nurse at the hospital. Her fiancée is a computer guy. They are going to California for a while. She wants to know what it’s like to have a baby in America. As so many others here, she intends to get pregnant before getting married. Are there nurseries for small ones, like here?

Here, school starts at the age of two. It’s free, but even before that, subsidies make nannies and nurseries completely affordable. It is both good and not so good that it does not pay for a mother to work when her children are young.

Celine chose work anyway.
I had my mother and mother-in-law help me and the nurseries here are good. I never slowed down.

But her fast paced job at the Wine Cooperative still allows her long periods of time at home, for all meals, for long holidays, for five week vacations.

I talk to my neighbor, the artist. Why do young people want to travel to America? To make money?
No, I don’t think so. It’s for the adventure. You earn more there, but everything costs more. My cousin lives in California, I visited her. I could not believe her housing costs, the food costs! But then, everything is so big there! I never saw such large refrigerators before. And the bottles inside –huge! You know what gave me the biggest surprise though? That people ate inside their cars. I saw it, they took out foods and beverages, just like that!

Marie Rose’s daughter plans on keeping her house, here in Pierrerue. No one lets go of their village house. Nothing is ever for sale here they say.

I drive to the beach, with my stack of papers and several bottles of water. I pass these villages and the vineyards around them, I listen to French radio: two French songs, one American and an occasional Italian, that’s the ratio. Commercials for Citroen, for Splash Park, updates on the World Cup. Tuesday is the big day – France plays. The men will watch, the women still roll their eyes at the whole thing.

Sixty-one minutes later, my road curves and runs parallel to the water. I pull over and walk onto the sand. I spread my towel, take off all but what’s necessary to remain respectable and lie down.

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watching the disappearing ice cream cone

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watching the waves

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...and what they leave behind

I stop by my neighbor the artist’s house this morning.
You are home? I thought you were going to Spain for the day.
No, a change of plans. My husband wants to watch the game tonight.

Oh, too bad. Maybe you’ll go on the week-end?
The week-end?
She smiles. For us, everyday is like the week-end.

It’s evening. The breeze on the beach becomes cooler now. Time to head back. Bread, sautéed veggies, cheese, wine. White peaches, sweet melon and a tart filled with pine nuts. A day like any other.

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empty in the early evening