Saturday, 31 July 2010

Weekend Noir

It's one of those special weekends in France (and by extension Belgium), where the whole fifty minutes of network news is devoted to TRAFFIC. French news is all about the local micro news story - the 'and finally' item in any right thinking news organisation - blown up grossly beyond the point where any normal human being could be interested. When we were living in Paris, the CFO and I watched with incredulity and delight as TF1 devoted a whole week of reports to the opening of a new viaduct. I have seen lengthy reports on cherry stone spitting competitions, dog fancy dress competitions in Larzac, the process for issuing school reports in Brittany and more reports from bakeries than seems feasible. I would never go to French news for any information on the world outside of France, but I sort of love the perpetual rhythms of it, the way that every year on a particular weekend there must be a report on the average weight of the cartable, or what facilities are provided for grape pickers in Bordeaux. You'll note I'm talking about French, not Belgian tv news. Belgian tv news requires a nuanced understanding of the current political and linguistic apocalypse that even I, with my potato aides-memoire cannot muster.

On top of this, add the peculiar fascination with holiday traffic jams and around now, the tipping point when the holiday traffic excitement outweighs all they other rubbish news stories arrives and it's totally acceptable to have ten minutes of images of queues at toll booths and interviews with the traffic police and families picnicking at service stations and the doom-laden pronouncement that "Bison Futé a classé ce weekend NOIR dans le sens du départ et du retour", black being the highest possible state of traffic alert. The French traffic information service is called Bison Futé - Wily bison. Because of all the animal kingdom, the bison is obviously both the wiliest, and the most interested in cars, cones and contraflows. I also like it when they talk about 'le chassé-croisé des juilletistes et des aoutiens" which makes it sound like some kind of highly choreographed dance fight between July and August holidaymakers, possibly set to music by Leonard Bernstein. I imagine the returning Juilletistes could brandish large pieces of local charcuterie sourced in the Ardèche, whilst the Aoutiens could perhaps throw their soon-to-be-abandoned pets (it's another peculiarity of French culture that abandoning one's pet at a service station as you set off on holiday is such a deeply engrained national habit that they have to run vast poster campaigns in May and June with big eyed pleading puppies, to try and discourage people from doing it).

I find this hugely entertaining. Well, I would if I weren't getting in a bloody car tomorrow morning to do battle myself. As a card carrying Aoutien, I will be accompanied by the weepette, though given how bloody much it has cost me to take him on holiday - €50 blood test from the Institut Pasteur, €45 of worming treatment, and a €46 Eurotunnel supplement (also payable, fact fans, for cats AND mysteriously, ferrets) - he will have to annoy me a very great deal before I abandon him at a service station. I will also be accompanied by the children, at last. It has been very peculiar seeing them so little in July and they are rubbish - touchingly so, but still rubbish - on the phone. I got a postcard from them today, which is a picture of a kitten, chosen by Lashes. The message reads, firstly in the CFO's writing:

"Fingers wants to say that he is sucking with his straw and it is leaving blood stains"

There is no further explanation of this statement.

Then Lashes himself has written:

"Maman miaou, aréte minou minou miao zip aïe maman on s'amuses zip". (sic).

They have been in the South of France, and on their return, for unfathomable reasons he is now regretting deeply, the CFO took them to a campsite in Ostende. I finally managed to talk to him this morning, and his voice had the haunted, hollow tones of one who has seen terrible, terrible things and will never be the same again.

"The shower block - seven showers - is only open between 9h30 and 11h00" he said, or rather croaked. "There are about 3000 of us. And we're right by the bit of the campsite where les jeunes hang out".

"Ooh lovely. Do they stay up all night listening to gangsta rap and smoking weed?"

A strangled affirmative.

"There there. You'll be back soon".

I want to be run ragged and forced to talk about Pokémon and have pointless circular arguments about stuff that doesn't exist, let alone matter. I want to have the relentless routine of small boys needing to be amused and fed and endlessly demanding that I buy them plastic crap that breaks within thirty seconds of purchase. I will be soon. I just have to wrestle that wily bison and the army of saucisson wielding juilletistes, find my way across three countries with only some handwritten post it notes for assistance, and work out how to open the petrol reservoir on this car. Wish me luck.


soleils said...

Bonne chance et vive le saucisson!

soleils said...

BTW, I greatly enjoyed reading this post - you are such a great observer of the quirks of people and peoples.
Enjoy the many cuddles that await you. Maman miaou indeed.

Xtreme English said...

Luck indeed....such a wonderful post. Have a swell time with the kids and the weepette, whatever that is. for a long time I thought it was one of the kids.

GingerB said...

Stinky sweaty sticky handed boy cuddles - hooray! Best of luck with the drive, though.

Wallfishwife said...

I was an in-the-closet ferret owner until the EU started including ferrets alongside dogs and cats on their pet passport airport signage, AS IF THEY WERE ENTIRELY NORMAL TRAVELLING COMPANIONS! There may even be a photo of me pointing at such a sign in a bid to prove something to the many many others who don't take a ferret with them wherever they go....

Betty M said...

Good luck. Mine have only been on holiday a week and I am hemorrhaging both money and patience already. It was the Transport Museum yesterday so today I am punishing them with a trip to the garden centre.

In other news they are opening a mystery cafe placed called Belgique on my High Street - in your honour presumably.

Jaywalker said...

Oh, Betty! The garden centre. How vividly I remember that particular torment from my childhood.

Wallfishwife - I also took several pictures of the ferret signage. They're probably used to that by now.

Veronica Wald said...

Ah, your sense of humor is back, full-blown. Thanks, I needed that :-)

(whereas American newscasts are obsessed with weather)

Lisa-Marie said...

Good luck, and have fun with your children. Having dealt with lots of parents who share their children and look on it as a chore, your attitude of 'hurray, I get them now' Is lovely!

I spent one New Years' in a cottage in rural Normandy, and the TV entertainment extravaganza was a 'which is the best animal' competition. The had LION CUB, and a dog won. It made no sense but was entertaining in a odd way.

Kath said...

Your hol sounds fab. I am spending mine with sister's in laws followed by own father in law. I have fear.

Betty we've got a belgique. The filter coffee is vile, the sausage roll has too much pepper and they bring your strudel 29 mins after you've finished the latte. Otherwise fine.

Invader_Stu said...

Do they do the same with the funny new story at the end? Have they ever dedicated a whole week of news to the a dog that can surf?