"Europe 2004-05" story # 44

Gorge of the Verdon, France           April 7, 2005

Bonjour!!! for the last time. It was sad to leave France and its people.
     I'd had a great time going out with fun Aude in Mazamet. The central streets of Mazamet featured buildings new and glossy and sharp-edged and proud, and they shone bright white under street-lights. It looks like I might visit Aude there again in July. For now, though, I had one last week to see France.
     One last week to see a country in transition. Poor France seems to be changing for the worst. We people of the world seem to be allowing most places to?
     I stopped in and visited English Irene and French Bernard, near to a very old town called St. Hippolyte. Its stone, light-brown buildings owned bizarre architectural structures like deep tunnel walkways and second-story trapezoidal arms; bushy tree walls carelessly guarded small pockets of people's lawns. Bernard, a farmer with emotions strong like Napolean's, told me France must soon vote on the new European Constitution. Prime Minister Chirac is encouraging the people to approve it. However, it will allow many Europeans from poorer countries to come in, take the French people's jobs, and set back the local Workers' Rights Movement. Meanwhile in the poor countries, the small-farm-owners will soon find themselves desperately unable to compete with the Western European big farming enterprises. Bernard will vote against it. Boo, globalization!
     Later, a lady named Claudia picked me up outside the fancy town of Nyons. A Virgin Mary statue balanced on an icycle-fragile crown high atop a Nyons church; it climbed the sky as did surrounding pre-Alps highlands, and it glistened in the sun. Claudia drove a purple, beetle-y, Chitty Bang Bang-type car with flowers painted on it and the name "Banana Moon" imprinted on the back. She thinks France is going downhill, too. She blames the government and the commerce it pushes which serves to separate the people. We need to "reagir" (fight back), she said, but nobody does. We need to "arreter de consumir" (stop consuming), because our consumption empowers the government.
     My final day in France, a guy gave me a ride and introduced himself as "Jack." We drove the sides of small mountains inhabited by pine trees fluffy and comfortingly tall. Jack was forty-two with a moustache, and he was sad. He usually worked in a small-town bar or restaurant during tourist season. This year, he'd so far been unable to find work. The owners have told him he's too old. Jack said that young employees can often be convinced to work extra hours and not be paid for them. (The same thing happened often in Andorra, a touristy place with a young and unschooled workforce.) Jack doesn't work for free.
     OK, already. That just above covers our politics, schmolitics section for the day. Now, it's time for the subsequent life, schmife chapter. But, be careful. If I hear anyone - ever! - pronouncing MODERN ODDYSEUS' TOP 5!!! with a disrespectful "schmuh" in front of it, I'm gonna come to his house with a guillotine. I'd like to see him make a "schmuh" sound when his lips are attached to his head which is in a basket. Ha, ha! I'll eat quiche and sing, "France, rah, rah, rah! ... rah, rah, rah, rah, rah, rah!"
     The Top 5 Worst Things About France! come slicing at you, watch out!

People are beginning to need people less. Some have already fallen in love with their power to consume. A car culture has developed in the countryside. A few snooty-looking people have bought big SUV's like those common in the U.S. Others speed like dangerous maniacs or accelerate loudly for kicks. My theory is that cars project solo drivers into personal worlds which are disconnected from others. My other theory is that I have a lot of theories.
     France has less jobs for its people than it used to. Since the country changed from francs to euros, daily life has become a lot more expensive. The French have much less money than Americans.

Almost everyone who hasn't learned French tells me he hates French people.


While hitchhiking the small roads of France for two weeks, I had a strict plan I tried to stick to. I saw everything I wanted to see, in a timely manner. But, I passed beautiful villages and old castles which I didn't stop to see. People invited me to coffe, and I said I had to keep moving. People invited me to go out of my way and stay at their homes, but I couldn't. It would be nice to go with no plan at all. I'm "Mr. Plan," maybe not as free as I think.

This product is made in France, though I saw its TV advertisement elsewhere. It showed heavy people wiping some cream on their waists. Then, they tightly wrapped cellophane around their bodies. How could this be efficient at giving people slimmer waists, for pete's sake!? Does the tight wrapping push their fat to their legs and chests? Why does such a potentially valuable resource, television, show product advertisements?

     I don't think my guillotine blade came down to sharply on that one. You see, I really liked France. It was full of pleasantness. The Top 5 Best Things About France! will testify to that. "France, rah, rah, rah!"

The friendly French always want to talk. They're interested in and quickly warm to strangers. Being with other people makes them happy, makes them smile. They're not closed like Swedes. They're not self-absorbed like many Spanish. They behave like South Americans, not Europeans.

Okay, here's one last theory, I promise.
     I talk a lot about beautiful girls, yeah. Perhaps I'm a bit superficial at times, perhaps more than a bit.
     But, I believe every person is born beautiful. For as long as they make healthy decisions, they respect themselves, they laugh regularly, and they care about others, they will remain beautiful. They will have a sparkle in their smile and a song in their voice.
     But, if they eat too much, drink too much, love themselves too much, have too much meaningless sex, do too many drugs, use others, judge others, or seek too much wealth or power, then this beauty fades. Some societies take care of their people, show them love, and keep them healthy and beautiful longer. I find a very high percentage of French women to be "jolies" (beautiful).
     Perhaps they're treated more equally. Perhaps they're given more confidence. Perhaps they're treated more respectfully in girl-boy relationships. Perhaps they're smiled at more often. Perhaps they feel safer. They're like birds. They're trusting, and when they meet you they expect good things to come. They love life with a confidence. They're delicate and chirping, sweet things meant to be touched.
     Girls and guys both touch you more when you're in France. The guys are relaxed and funny and very warm with friendship.


Fresh bread, wine, and cheese go with every deliciously-prepared meal. My roommate in Andorra, Cyril, made an appetizer called "chevre-chauds" (hot goats). He stuck soft, white goat cheese on fluffy bread, toasted it, and poured honey on it. "Behhh-ehh-eh-eh!"

My average wait for a ride was under fifteen minutes. 27% of the rides in French-speaking countries were from all-female cars, and 10% came from couples. Many who picked me up offered to let me stay with them. People told me female hitchhikers find France safe.

Yes, it was a great place. And, there's more! Once you've finished reading this story, you can print it off, glue it to your stomach, and tomorrow you'll have a story glued to your stomach! HM offers: DARK FEATURES ON GIRLS (who also wear black clothes); LITERATURE; SHORT PATIENCE FOR THINGS DONE WRONGLY (the over-passionate French can be funny at times); and the FRENCH LANGUAGE.
     Did I ever tell you about my one other theory? The "Language Theory?" If the language is pretty, the people will be happy. Brazilian and French people have the cheeriest personalities I've seen.

Hitchhiking the small roads of France was a terribly enjoyable activity. I persistently felt friendly warmth surrounding me. The small villages were precious, the nature surprisingly rich, and the people romantic.
     Some villages were as tasty as pumpkin pie. Concrete, connected houses wore morning-pink, peach, and bright milky-orange colors. This was near Toulouse, a.k.a. "The Pink City."
     The Gorge of the Verdon was magnificent. It ended at a lake. A blue of cartoons - a blue of hopes clear and noble - battled dragon-green to create a grand hue. Upstream, the Verdon River was a snake the color of the most brilliant outer-space green. High mountains climbed straight up, leaving only a very thin hallway between. I hiked the gorge bottom with the fun, older German couple who'd picked me up. There was a feeling of power there: power in the mountains, power in the trees, power in the clear-green river that augmented during our rain-soaked hike.
     The last French person to give me a ride was Ervet. He was thirty-something, he wore a cool pink jacket, and he managed a dance company. He was married to a fashion designer. He'd met nice people while hitchhiking in the U.S. years ago. He invited me to stay at his family-decorated, trendy apartment in Nice on the Mediterranean Coast. He loved his city and its white, classic, art-deco architecture. We saw a dance spectacle at the university; the city had style.
     I'm gonna miss the French people greeting me with "Bonjour."
     France, don't change, baby! You're great as you are.

au revoir, Modern Oddyseus

Thanks to Mischel; Mustafa; Pascana & Jacques; Isabelle; Lors & Alexie; Eliane; Chaouche; Iva Pradilla; Carlos; Auphelie; Eric; Flora & Marie; Cristof & Jacques; Patrick; Myriel; Eddie; Gail; Yallmos; Annie & Tristan; Isabelle & "Fiji"; Uber; Claudia; Elliette; Jean-Pierre; Mark; Dominic; Remy; Mathieu; Sherry; Sandrine & Lilly; Jean & Francoise; Elene, Audette, & "Scot"; Dieter & Doris; Arthur & Zabina; Jack; Sandrine & Nulan; Marie; and Ervet for the rides!
Much thanks to Irene, Bernard, & Cristof; and Ervet for the places to stay!

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