The Butter Is Better in France

Another day of birdsong. It is a lovely way to transition by degrees from sleep to wakefulness. The canal, the river and the swath of vegetation running parallel to the water make for a perfect habitat, and the birds make good use of it.

Mornings aboard the barge are busy as it is important to get underway and move on to our next mooring. Sometimes we anchor alone amongst the greenery in the company of waterfowl; other times we choose a public mooring complete with water, electricity, and a town. That said, many of the “towns” in rural France are little more than hamlets. The towns, like small town everywhere, are dying. All the youngsters have “followed the money” and moved to the city.

No building is too old to house a beauty salon.

More than once we’ve been looking for a market and been told that “We used to have a grocery but now…” If we can buy a baguette, we are lucky. In the smaller villages, only the bakers and the beauty salons have managed to hang on. Based on the number of beauty shops, I suspect no French woman shampoos her hair at home.

We can do without electricity and water for a couple of days but we cannot do without butter, baguettes, cheese and chocolate… of which I have eaten more in the last month than I have eaten in my entire life. Not that there is anything wrong with vegetables, but when you have eaten your full of butter, baguettes, cheese and chocolate, you are indeed full. I have a better understanding of gluttony now. You could say that I’m a well-rounded person. Many a day we don’t move past the local wines and appetizers.

An early mooring affords us plenty of opportunity to cycle and walkabout: to visit markets, churches, historical sites and local attractions. In my case, I’m always keen to see the local cemetery.

In addition to a headstone, French cemeteries have a stone… I call it a casket sized stone slab (there is probably a more technical term) that covers the surface of the grave. These slabs are close together – below the slab, everyone is rubbing elbows. The surface of the slabs is covered with smaller marble pieces placed by children, grandchildren, friends, co-workers and veterans’ organizations. The mementos say a lot about the giver and the recipient. Hunting and fishing are common references as are mementos that reference farming. I love the translucent plastic tractor.

Some gravesites include photographs of the deceased. Pictures of their younger selves are more attractive, but pictures taken during their elder years tell a better story. The men always look younger and more vital. The women look unhappy and worn. Pinching pennies, hard work, and birthing innumerable children take a toll.

Many of the plaques read “Regrets.” I found the word a bit odd. I would expect the plaque to read “Miss you” or something similar. But… regrets? I checked a French/English dictionary to see if “regrets” in French was the same as it is in English. Apparently so. Regret: remorse, shame, pang of guilt, pang of conscience, mourn, bemoan, to be disappointed, and to grieve over… to name a few. The colloquial choices are much more colorful: how about no way, I’m sorry, or calm down?

I really like “calm down.” It is the perfect choice for my grave marker: it’s a reminder to me in the here-and-now and a message from beyond the grave to anyone who might grieve.

As for “regrets,” there shouldn’t be any… on anyone’s part.

About timeout2

I have lived 100 lives. I write essays, short stories, poetry, grocery lists and notes to myself. If I am ever lost, look for a paper trail, but be careful not to trip over any books that lie scattered here and there. I am a reader. I am a reader in awe of writers. When I don't live in Westcliffe, Colorado, I live in London where I am a long-time member of Word-for-Word - Crouch End.
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2 Responses to The Butter Is Better in France

  1. The Scribe says:

    A Google search for an explanation for why a lot of the gravestones I saw at a cemetery in Paris had “regrets” on them. I was baffled as well about why they’d use that. Regret is a horrible and useless emotion. But if it also means “to grieve over” I get it.

    I don’t know why, seeing the word regrets on the gravestones made me profoundly sad, still does actually.

    Thank you for writing this. (:

    • timeout2 says:

      I agree that we should live without regret. As for gravestones, it would probably be a good idea to think about what we might want on our own stone. Something to think about. I think that I’ll just stick with my name and the dates that encompass my life. I do, however, plan to have an Egyptian-style send off at the gravesite. I want everyone who comes to bring something for me to use/treasure in the next world. Hopefully, someone will remember my computer and a Snickers bar.

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