The American Files is the blog of someone who describes himself as… “A Stranger in Paradise exposing the daily grind of living in the South of France. Real life angst amidst the wine and cheese, berets and baguettes that you’ve become woefully accustomed to.”
Interesting stuff, eh?
It is the real life story of Checkers who is “An American who wakes up one day to find himself inhabiting someone else’s paradise”
So, where to start?
Why not start with work?
In the vines….
Working in the vineyards might sound nice and romantic but, as we learn in It begins again, it can be far from that.
Checkers says… “I was in the vines to work, and though the grape harvest can conjure up romantic images, which do still exist, the overall reality of it is much different. The fact of the vendage in the time of mass production is that it is all day, low paying, stoop labor in unrelenting sun.”
Even on Bastille Day, when the rest of us have the day off work, Checkers is hard at work; starting at 6am and working through till lunchtime – when it is too hot to work anyway.
And every day, the sky is the show. The Vigne Sky – with the descriptions of the weather sometimes sounds like poetry.
….the vigneron stretched out beside me, pointing up. “Look at the clouds, they are like the sand on the floor of the sea.”
And you fall in love with passing clouds that you’ll never see again.
And then, before we know it, it’s Harvest time and… “The grapes are falling off the vines. The local streets are black and slick with spilling juice.”
And when you are broken in body, if not in spirit, you just push on….
“When you are busted from work, one of those pleasures is your day off. It’s just one day, but a day non the less.”
Everyone has a dream; And when you are an American peasant in the South of France, the place of people’s dreams; a day’s work might bring in 45 euros that wouldn’t even pay for a meal for two in a half decent tourist restaurant. Of course, it does help if you can say… “I am beginning to get a reputation as a worker who is usually available, and cheap, one could almost say easy.”
French Village Life……
In La Roquette, there is a fountain and across the road from that, a bench which… “is inhabited with a rotating cast of the local senior citizens from this village.”
Oh no. Not another feast. Central to French village life are the feasts where the best produce is consumed and if you’ve just made a resolution to never eat Foie Gras again (on grounds of cruelty to the bird), perhaps it’s time to resolve to stop making resolutions?
Especially when the Foie Gras is served with truffles!
The South of France, Languedoc Roussillion, l’Herault. Layers of human history
“Le homme de tautaval. Greeks romans and carthegians, visigothsand vikings, sarecens, cathars, inquisitions and crusades. Crossroads. Castles and keeps, artists and troubadours, knights, sunlight and seas. It all sounds so romantic, and I guess it is.”
And, just as people came, in those days long ago, people are still coming to l’Herault.
Le plus ca change?
They came to this location… 43.66° north latitude, 3’ 75” east longitude where… “circa 9c. – 12c. A.D., the viticulture had already been active in this area for more than 1500 years. It still is, and it is breaking my back.”
As did Checkers who realises that … “Just a different spin of the wheel while driving my cab on the streets of Chicago and instead of picking up, and then marrying a French woman, it could have been someone from Ohio. And my lament of expression would radiate from Cleveland.”
A small, good thing…..
Some days there is nothing to do; so you go High on the mountain to pick mushrooms….. “Cepe du chataigne, not the top, but not too bad either, and they were plentiful, lightly toasted brown colors, sometimes with streaks the color of dried blood red.”
And then “the ride down (the mountain) is like a private carnival ride of grand scale. There are moments when we forget ourselves, and the petite psychological pains we nourish.”
Life may be hard but you can always find some small good thing to put it all in perspective.
For you might even qualify (due to low income) for a free transit card – a free Limo ride, one might say?
Or, as Checkers said… “I was now holder of an all access, free pass on all modes of transit in the department. All grace of an aside from a stranger at a party on a Tuesday night. Long live les fetes. Vive le republic. I am full of dreams.”
And there’s even more luck – a gift of cherries…. “Cherries are the first real taste of the light and heat of summer. We just picked our fill. Our hands are stained with the blood of another fallen winter.”
So, summing up…
This is a tale, beautifully told, of living in the South of France and going through a financially crippling divorce.
It is the tale of an American peasant toiling in the fields; an American peasant from Chicago rather than Mexico.
It may not be a pretty as some blogs about Life in France but it has the heat of the summer sun embedded within it and the stink of sweat as its perfume.
It is the tale of a man who may be poor in money but is, as one of his commenters says… “You are indeed a rich man – for you have enough of many things and more than enough of most everything else.”
I would implore you to come and visit The American Files. There’s a poetry in the posts that is hard to find on many other blogs.
There’s a truth in the posts that, whilst it may often be bitter and sour, is always true.
And there’s some humour as well – take a look at Romance and the Town Dump!
In fact, why not spare an hour or so and have a good read of The American Files?
And me? Well, I’m going to read Les Temps des Secrets – but Checkers’ version, rather than Pagnol’s.
And then, perhaps A little vacation romance?
Care to join me?
All the best