A month in the merde…

by katiclops

So it’s finally the weekend.

I have felt like I’ve been setting my mind to alot of heavy subjects and heavy books the past few weeks…voraciously reading. After finishing MAUS I couldn’t even bear to make it through the last 60 pages of In the Realm…no. I need(ed) something light, funny and breezy to take the relaxing part of my mind for a bit of a stroll, and allow the rest of my subconscious to push along processing the rest. And so, I turned to my bookshelf.

My partner and I recently moved into a studio downtown. It’s fairly big (900 sq ft), open, with lots of light. Despite the fact we were initially drawn to it’s emptiness, we have made short work at creating a functional, fairly organized and full home.  “My” bookshelf, is actually nothing more than a section of the wall.  A thoughtfully placed ledge, about a paperback wide runs around the main section of our studio.  It’s conveniently placed at about the same height as a desk, and slightly higher than a couch or armchair.  In our bed-area it serves as a bedside nook for glasses, lights, cups of water, however the rest of the space it’s our stand in for pictures and books. I started with a handful, but after the yearly legendary booksale, where I shamelessly admit, *after* discovering they accepted debit purchased no fewer than 23 books and now line the wall quite healthily.

I am slowly working my way through the collection. The booksale was trying.  Evrey time I’m at a booksale, like a really good booksale, where they actually * have*  dozens and dozens of nice copies of books I would actually consider buying, I have to exercise extreme amounts of self-restraint just to suppress my urges to repurchase all of my major tombs to have on my bookshelf and to foist off on friends.  I own no fewer than four copies of the unbearable lightness of being (three English, one French), three copies of The World is Flat (one hardcover) and another three of Crime and Punishment. Not having a copy of No Logo on my current shelf creates a certain level of anxiety for me, and the fact I haven’t a single Michael Ondaatje book is another matter of pain.  Nonetheless…we soldier on.  (Bookshelves as time-sensitive polaroids? who are you *right no*? what can we see? where is the rest of you? how well do you know who you want to become?

A psycho-analysis of this shelf would find an equal divide between fact and fiction, and a depressingly small number of upbeat novels. (Far too many revolve around the economy and tech sector development). Which at long last brings me to today’s book: A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke.

Merde caught my eye at the booksale for it’s canary yellow cover and cheesy typeface.  Typical French folio design, published by Penguin, and an über animated map of a beret-wearing France on the cover. I *had* to smile (how the French would hate that! Smiling!!).  The book was in good condition, and seemed to scream “beach book” so I stuck it under my arm.  Trapped between The End of Poverty and Tin Drum twenty minutes later, there I was at a POS machine, and the book was mine.

The tag-line on the front reads, in the form of a disclaimer:

There are lots of French people who are not at all hypocritical, inefficient, treacherous, intolerant, adulterous or incredibly sexy…They just didn’t make it into my book.

I laughed.

This is actually one of the first books I have read in a long while that has made me laugh out loud.

Yesterday I picked it up partially because I have been reflecting alot on Europe (i.e., Holocaust/First/Second World Wars and France) and also on the idea of home, and culture.  I perhaps should elaborate on that a little further and mention that war and France is particularly deeply entwined in my mind because I used to work at a war Memorial site there for almost a year.

I have always had a bit of an unusual reverence (and distain…appropriately? ) for France.

My hometown neighbourhood was a stone’s throw from the city’s University.  I was in French Immersion.  Easily 1/3 of my friend’s parent(s) were professors at said university, and consequently, once every four years it was common that they would pack up their houses and ship off to some exotic location abroad.  I’m not sure exactly how, but a large number would head to Provence, where in the Southern French sun they would bask their children (i.e., my pals) in olives, wine with lunch and lavender.  I would receive strangely postmarked letters written on thin airmail paper and cutesy postcards that looked like they may have been lifted from a strip mall in the 80s…Upon their return my friends would now twitter away in unstilted European French (often less accented than our teachers), write strangely loopy cursive, and sigh, excessively with rolled eyes about how they missed the food and they are losing their French and the culture here… and on and on.  Needless to say, my early impressions from my ten and eleven year old counterparts was that it was a magical place, that may brainwash those who enter.  Once inside the change was irreversable.

My second major encounter with the French came while I was living in Mali.  Foreigners in the country in 2004 were few and far between (I was there with a group of about 14 Canadians, and we represented about 14% of all Canadians in the country).  On the rare occasions where I would leave town (two foundation shades darker, dirtier and 30 pounds lighter than I arrived) we would travel by djbouti (overstuffed van), I’d wear flip flops and stumble along in Bambarra.  But the French…the misfortunate instances where we crossed paths I was treated as the only other civilized person in the area, often treated to long rants about how awful the country was (despite normally being in the presence of other francophone Malians, who often spoke better French than I) and normally covered in elaborate jewellery, expensive clothes and fancy cars. It was the kind of opulence that is easy to hate in any circumstance, but physically nauseating when you live in a place where basic needs are challenging. I swore up down and backwards during my trip that I had zero to no desire to visit a country populated with such arrogance.

Cut to 2007.

And cut this post! Bonne nuit à tous!