Sylviane met me when I got off the train at Chambery (just at the bottom of the French Alps), wearing her workman's cap, workman's trousers, and prosthesis. I don't know of a good word for this last; it's not really a strap-on, because it's not hard; it just gives her, um, a good basket. I didn't tell her that I don't think it makes her look as much like a guy as she thinks. The whole outfit just gives her a slightly butch but not really dykish look, like certain movie stars. Unfortunately, the only names that come to mind are Lili Taylor (in "I Shot Andy Warhold"; too dykish) and Marisa Tomei (butch? in what movie?)
Anyway, it turned out that I had happened to arrive at just the time for a reception for the local chapter of Restos du Coeur, a charitable organization founded by the well known French comedian Coluche and dedicated to providing food and other necessities for the needy, and where Sylviane worked for several weeks as an intern in connection with the accounting course she's been taking. What makes this especially interesting is that she has also been one of the recipients of the benefits of this organization.
As she predicted, we managed to find a guy there to offer us a ride back to her little two-room apartment at Challes les Eaux. A photographer --- he seemed like a really nice guy.
Challes les Eaux is a small resort village. People go there to benefit from the waters. Primarily by drinking them rather than by immersion. For immersion, one goes to the nearby town Aix-les-Bains. Challes les Eaux also has a small casino, but we never went there, so I don't know what it's like.
That evening, I got to meet her two main current boyfriends. Max, a very nice easy-going guy who was spending the weekend with her, and who was quite agreeable to sleeping on the couch Friday night, which in practice meant spreading the pillows from the couch onto the floor in the kitchen/living room, while I shared the bed with Sylviane in the bedroom where her four-year-old daugther also sleeps. The other boyfriend was (is) Hervé (I later learned that an alternative spelling for his name is R.V.), a truck driver who I guess is nice enough, but tends to be more possessive than Max. Later on, I also got to meet "La Petite Suzanne," as Sylviane usually referred to her, who is not really all that small, certainly not in comparison to Sylviane herself, and who is, I guess, at this point more than a friend and less than a lover.
Anyway, after that night I moved, as planned, into a hotel down the hill from Sylviane's apartment. 32 Euros per night for a fairly nice room with bath, so that wasn't a problem financially.
Saturday night Max drove us to a local night club, if one can use that word for it. Max, Hervé, and Suzanne were all there, and Sylviane was dancing with all of them, as well as with me. The baby sitter needed to return home early (1 AM), and I was tired, so Max drove me back to the hotel and went back to the apartment to baby sit, leaving Sylviane dancing with Suzanne. (I think Hervé left to go somewhere else.) Eventually Suzanne drove Sylviane back to the apartment and they spent some time together, but without quite resolving the question of exactly what relationship there is between Sylviane and Suzanne. (Max poked his head around the bedroom door and asked, "What you care for any help?" and they told him to go back to sleep. All this, of course, I learned second hand.)
Anyway, if Suzanne is going to make a more definitive move, she'd better hurry, because Sylviane is leaving for Australia for good at the end of April. (But not to join her husband, at least not immediately.)
Obviously this would get rather long if I were to go through the whole experience on a day-to-day basis, although not all of it was that complicated. So I'll just skip forward to the following Friday (Good Friday, so it was a holiday for Sylviane's daughter), when a truck driver and singer named Pascal came to pick us up and take us to his house in a little mountain village called Moutier for the weekend. Or no, that's not right, we went to Moutier on the train and he picked us up at the station. I just had my small brief-case size carry-on bag with me, and at the last minute had remembered to stuff in a couple extra pairs of undershorts, but forgot to put in socks, so I spent the whole four days from Friday to Tuesday wearing the same socks.
Pascal has a son a couple of years older than Sylviane's daughter and the four of us managed fairly well in his small house. (His eighty-year-old parents live on the second floor. We didn't see much of them.)
Like many musicians, one of the things Pascal likes best is to spend an evening playing the guitar and singing songs for his friends, so we had a very nice evening. Pascal's current main musical interest is in restyling the songs of George Brassens in a more conventional, jazzy manner.
Most of you guys won't know much about Georges Brassens, but he's a singer I first encountered when my French teacher in college showed us the film "Porte de Lilas," and I immediately went to the local record store and special ordered a George Brassens album. A major expenditure for me at that time. Anyway, a major part of the Brassens charm comes from his very individual singing style. His voice has a range of about half an octave, and he tends to go just outside his range with his voice breaking as a means of emphasis. One of the world's really great singers, but unfortunately unavailable to those who don't know French. (It's also worth mentioning that all his songs are written in classical French poetic forms: Alexandrines, etc.) Pascal is not the only French singer to do his own version of Brassens songs, but really, all versions are notably inferior to the originals; of course I didn't say that to Pascal. We did get an opportunity, though, to see that Pascal can sing a lot of other things besides Brassens. Sunday, when the rest of the people showed up, we went down his studio in the basement for a while, and he played quite a bit with electric rather than accoustic guitars.
"The rest of the people" consisted of two guys, also musicians, although not professional ones, and their three kids. They arrived Sunday morning, for a more or less traditional French noontime dinner. In addition to being Easter, it was also the birthday of Pascal's son. The gathering consisted of three fathers, one mother (i.e. Sylviane), five kids, and me. Everybody slept at the house overnight, which was something I would not have thought possible. The original plan had been to put the five kids in one room, me in the adjoining room (which was not really a separate room, but separated by an accordian type folding divider), and the other four adults in Pascal's bedroom. After thinking about this for a while, though, people started to realize that putting five kids with no adults all in the same bedroom was not going to produce a lot of sleeping. So people were rearranged in a way I never quite understood, but which resulted in Sylviane and Pascal sleeping down in the basement studio and me having Pascal's bedroom all to myself. (I think this was a result of Sylviane's judgement on the loudness with which I snore.)
Anyway, on Monday everyone left, and Pascal drove Sylviane and her duaghter and me to the train station in Moutier (just down the road from his house) and we took the train to another village almost all the way back to Challes les Eaux. We were picked up picked us up at the train station in this village by another of Sylviane's friends, named Nicole, who I had previously met in Challes. We spent the night in Nicole's apartment. I think that her daughter slept in the same bed with Sylviane's daughter; they're roughly the same age.
Then on Tuesday Nicole drove us back to Sylviane's apartment, where I'd left my big suitcase, and I was quite relieved that everything was apparently going to work out. I didn't know whether the bus from Challes to Chambery would accept my suitcase on Wednesday, when I was scheduled to return to Paris, but if worst came to worst I could take a cab, although that wouldn't be cheap.
But things weren't to be that simple. We walked down the hill from Sylviane's apartment in Challes to the village bar to get a drink, and I said something or other about that evening (probably I suggested that I could take Sylviane and her daughter to dinner), and Sylviane said, "But we're having dinner with Suzanne and Florence at Florence's place in Menilmont (part way back up the mountain again). That is, if I can ever get a hold of Florence. She's a hard person to reach. I want you to meet her, because she speaks good English and so you and she can have a conversation."
But Sylviane never did manage to reach Florence. So we decided that when Suzanne arrived at Challes les Eaux to pick us up, we'd all get a pizza at the village pizza shop. But when Suzanne arrived, it turned out that the pizza shop was closed, because it closes on Tuesday so that it can be open on Monday when most other places are closed.
So we decided that on our way to Suzanne's village in the country, we'd stop at the supermarket on the highway and get some food to eat. But we arrived at the supermarket at 7:30, just as it was closing.
Suzanne now had both my suitcases in the car, which was reassuring and we were still not all that far from Chambery, where the train for Paris leaves from.
So we wound up eating at a tiny little country cafe near Suzanne's villages, where the proprietor knew Suzanne and was very happy to see Sylviane again, who he remembered from the time she used to live there. (With Florence, a few months ago when she had just come back to France from London when her husband went to Australia and she survived by picking grapes in the local mountain vineyards. Not at all pleasant work; I take her word for this. She showed me one of the vineyards.)
So that was a nice dinner, and then we went to Suzanne's to spend the night, the logic being that this way we could all go to to Chambery on the train the next morning, along with my suitcases, since the train station in Menilmont is just a short walk from Suzanne's apartment.
But before going to bed, we first stopped by Florence's apartment, which is in the same complex as Suzanne's. So I finally got to meet Florence, although contrary to expectation, she didn't speak to me much in English. She and Sylviane had a lot to say to each other, and they said it all in French, some of which I occasionally could follow.
Sylviane and Florence have been friends for about fifteen years. Sylviane had stayed with Florence for a few months after she came back to France from London (while she was picking grapes in the local vineyards).
This was after she moved out from Serge's place in Grenoble, which had been her first stop after leaving London. Don't do a backward search for Serge; he hasn't been mentioned before. He is someone Sylviane had got to know when he was living with Sylviane's old college chum (female) Zoubida. And Serge is also the next-door neighbor of Max, who appears at the beginning of this account.
Furthermore, Florence is the ex-husband of Pascal, the singer, and when we arrived at Florence's place, we re-encountered Pascal's son, the birthday boy, who lives with his mother most of the time.
It's actually all very logical, if you just take the time to diagram it. Everything branches out from Florence and from Serge (and thus, before that, from Zoubida, who unfortunately I didn't get a chance to encounter again on this trip), except that Hervé seems to be an isolated point in the diagram. And maybe Nicole doesn't quite fit in either. I think Sylviane knows her from Restos du Coeur.
Sylviane said, "Florence is a really nice person, with a good heart. But she has some very silly ideas. For instance, she believes that you can't have sex with a man unless you are in love with him, which is of course not true at all. And she can't add. She really can't add at all." Meaning that she can't keep track of money, and in particular spends money that she only hopes she's going to get, without being sure of having it.
I think that this expression "She can't add" is probably jargon/slang Sylviane learned in the accounting course she took. Anyway, someone who is planning to go to Australia and is adamantly determined not to contact the one person she knows there (at least not right away) and plans to stay in a youth hostel with her four-year-old daughter until she gets a job on the basis of her one-semester course in accounting is not, in my opinion, someone who should cast aspersions on others for not being able to "add."
However Sylviane does have a good track record for being able to survive in arduous circumstances. So perhaps being able to add is not everything.
Tuesday night we slept in Suzanne's apartment. (In the same apartment complex as Florence's, remember.) I slept in her son's room. I don't know where he was, although I suppose somebody told me. I had thought that Sylviane and Suzanne would sleep together, but for whatever reason they didn't. I suppose because it was so late at night, and Suzanne had to get up early the next morning for work. Or rather for her class, since she's going through training to be a bus driver. I think that Sylviane and her daughter slept in the room of Suzanne's 14-year-old daughter, and Suzanne's daughter slept on a couch.
I realize that keeping track of all this would be a lot easier if I had some skill at graphics and could provide you with a diagram.
Anyway, the next morning, Sylviane and her daughter and Suzanne's 14-year-old daughter and I all walked down the hill to the village train station. (Suzanne's daughter was coming along so they could all go shopping together in Chambery, which I guess is a big deal when you live in a village that size.) It was about 10:30 in the morning, and my TGV left Chambery at 1:38 that afternoon, and Sylviane assured me that the train only took 10 minutes to get to Chambery.
What we hadn't thought about was the fact that this little train station was the sort that most trains go through without stopping. The station agent told us that the next train was at 1:15 and got to Chambery at 1:30.
Would there be time for met to get the TGV to Paris? No, there was no "correspondence" (connection) at Chambery, the station agent said. We all looked unhappy. "But that's okay. I can just make him a new ticket with a correspondence at Aix-les-Bains."
And so she took my ticket and made out a new one, with no extra charge at all. Quite why changing at Aix-les-Bains worked when changing at Chambery wouldn't have is something I don't understand, but that's the way it was.
And thus I did indeed get to Paris.
I suppose that Sylviane will manage just fine in Australia. But I'm glad I'm not going there with her. I'd be a nervous wreck before the experience was over.
Love & kisses to all,
||Cassiopée ||Sylviane's daughter||Hervé ||One of Sylviane's boy friends||Max ||Sylviane's other boy friend
Next door neighbor to Serge in Grenoble
|Challes les Eaux||Suzanne||Sylviane's friend
Neighbor to Florence
||Challes les Eaux or nearby
||Pascal||Truck driver and singer||Moutier||Florence||Friend to Sylviane for 15 years
Sylviane stayed with her after returning from London
||Serge||Sylviane stayed with him
on return from London
Former lover of Zoubida