â€œPutain, he is a â€˜pied noirâ€™, what can I expect. They are all machistes, they think the woman is their slave, like all menâ€¦.â€
Nadine stares at me for supportâ€¦we have had several political discussions about such issues and the attitudes of the Pied Noir Â (white Frenchfrom Algeria). Bernard, her husband, being a Pied Noir.
Across the table Bernard sits slumped in his chair, his face a mixture of resignation and a beseeching invitation to me to come to his assistance inÂ his hour of need. This is the twenty-third instalment in this discussion.
I look at Bernard and Nadine â€“ it this point they are a bit like the archetypes of Men are from Mars and Women are from Venusâ€¦and decide toÂ take decisive action.
Together at the Med
â€œIsnâ€™t that the mountain that Cezanne often painted? I say. I didnâ€™t realise that you could see it from hereâ€¦.â€
Both stare at me. This is betrayal of the highest order. For Nadine it is a political betrayal; one cannot be politically correct unless one is preparedÂ to support her against the idleness of the Pied Noir and the general uselessness of all men around the house. For Bernard my failure to defendÂ him deserves expulsion from the loyal society of Martians (Men). He is no doubt thinking that he will rescind his offer to record several CDs forÂ me from his large CD collection.
Silence descends. A sullen fug in which the three of us are trapped. I ignore it, take another slice of bread and Camembert, top up my glass ofÂ excellent Bordeaux, refill my plate with chicken, salad and ratatouille and relax back in the Provencal sun. A few minutes and the sun, food andÂ wine will have buried this discussion for a few more days.
Aix-en-Provence lies just a few kilometres from Marseilles separated by scattered suburbs. This is the heartland of Algerian immigration and ofÂ right wind reaction. My friends Nadine and Bernard, with whom I shared a week in Safari Cottages on Gili Air, in Lombok, are part of the politicalÂ left. This is the usual scattering of leftists of all hues, who hate Le Pen and George Bush, but not as much as they hate the Trots, the Maoists andÂ the Anarchists, of course.
Algeria and the issue of Les Corse (the Corsicans and their demand for independence) remain two of the popular topics around the dinner tableÂ especially since many of the often-assembled groups are either of Arab parentage or are Pieds Noirs. This is very important because when all elseÂ fails one can have a heated conversation about Algerian politics, involving the all-important element of personal abuse.
Lunch and dinner, in this company in Southern France, is dominated by politics, football, sex, and French culture. No one else has any culture,Â needless to say, and they all enjoy the Gandhi joke when he was allegedly asked: â€œwhat do you think of American culture?â€ and he allegedlyÂ answered â€œIt would be a good ideaâ€). There are many versions of this statement of Ghandiâ€™s and you can insert your preferred substitute forÂ â€˜Americanâ€™, e.g., Western, British etc.
Food, dance/sex and bullfighting..southern France
Politics whether it be religious, racial, social or international and wine and smoke are all consumed in equally large quantities. â€œYou donâ€™t like myÂ smoke? Then I blow on youâ€¦you donâ€™t like my politics? Then I spit on youâ€¦.You donâ€™t like my wineâ€¦.Then I take pity on youâ€¦.â€
George Bush is an object of vilification and scorn, the US and Britain almost equally so. The objections to the war on Afghanistan and theÂ simplistic idea that a war against terrorism can be won this way, that have been expressed in the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, are echoedÂ here, more strongly if anything.
Australians and New Zealanders are relatively rare in this part of the country and are viewed as vaguely interesting. There are lots of Americans studying atÂ the University but they are viewed as separatists who do not mix with the locals.
Bernard tells me that many of his friends express interest in visiting Australiaâ€¦
â€œBut the Australians they hate us, no?? Ze bomb, Ze Rainbow Warrior. Ah putainâ€¦.But yes we will beat you at ze rugby when ze Australians comeÂ to Marseilles in Novemberâ€¦.ha we beat ze All Blacks in Marseilles last timeâ€¦â€¦and Zidane he will score four goals against the useless AustraliansÂ when we play you at ze soccer in Melbourneâ€¦
Hanging with friends
I assure him that this is not true, that Australians are all lovely people, who welcome foreigners with open arms (lovely rest homes in PortÂ Hedland, Nauru etc), love the French, thought the bomb was a great idea (saves on fishing boats and netsâ€¦just collect up all those dead fish) andÂ that we never really liked the Rainbow Warriorâ€¦.it is much better off as an artificial reef, non? And as for sport that we were all hoping that thatÂ nice Marie Jose Perec would beat Cathy Freeman at the Olympics in Sydney.
In the same way that Tasmanians, Queenslanders and West Australians, see themselves as different from other Australians, the southern FrenchÂ view themselves as a race apart from the frigid northerners. There are two types of French people they say, the German French (the northerners)Â and the Latin French (starting a couple of hundred kilometres south of Lyon). The former are the ones that every foreigner loves to hate, theyÂ sayâ€¦..â€Tres froidâ€¦.comme les Anglaisâ€ (very coldâ€¦like the English).
Itâ€™s true that southern France resembles Spain, in many ways, more than northern France. Catalonia, at its height ruled large swathes of southernÂ France and in some of the southern French towns there are bullrings and tapas. Just across the border from Spain, the siesta still rules andÂ nothing much happens from 2 pm until 4.30 except food and sleep.
From Marseilles and Aix the landscapes of Cezanne dominate the country, including the famous mountain he painted so often. Cezanne grew upÂ in Aix but there are none of his paintings here. The Aixoise thought that his painting was shit so they didnâ€™t buy any. So you can follow the lovelyÂ Cezanne walk around ancient Aix, seeing where he lived, where he ate, where he tripped over and grazed his knee but want to see his painting? NoÂ chance, theyâ€™re all in Paris or New York.
Marseilles at one million people is Franceâ€™s third largest city, Lyon, being the second largest. The Marseilleise are very proud of theirÂ traditionsâ€¦.â€Ah yes, Paris was a village when Marseilles was already a cityâ€¦.â€ And, of course, the national anthem comes from Marseilles and wasÂ adopted from the battle hymn of the Marseillesâ€™ warriors who defeated and beheaded the king.
Aixois see themselves as being separate and different from the residents of Marseilles even though the two towns are only marginally separate.Â Aix is a university city of 100,000, and so several tens of thousands of its population whom are university students. Tiny streets and plazas full ofÂ street cafes dominate the entire city. The nightlife is vibrant, with all types of music including much African and South American music.
There are several salsa clubs in which one can pass the night watching videos of Cuban and Brasilian music and dancing the Salsa (or comparedwith the Cubans and Brasilians, sadly, a pale imitation of the Salsa).
If one pauses between dances long enough to prevent oneself from drowning in sweat, you can sip slowly on the single exorbitantly priced drinkÂ which you can afford (perhaps a Pina Colada) and marvel at the style and rhythm of the many north Africans in the club, who are clearlypractising, judging by body position and movement, the vertical version of the two backed animal.
For me the next day (a long-long lunch in the Provence Countryside) brings more success than trying to dance the salsa. This is when, like allÂ visitors to southern France, one must be initiated into the rites of Boule or Petanques. For the uninitiated this involved tossing a very small ball,Â that no normal-sighted person can hope to see, and then trying (playing in two teams) to get your larger balls nearest to it. For each ball between the opposing teamâ€™s nearest ball and the target you get one point. First to thirteen points, two clear, wins.
However this is not the main point of the game. The principal goal of the game is for every member of your team to give you (and in turn everyÂ other member of both your team and the oppositon team) very loud, very unnecessary and completely contradictory advice as to how you shouldÂ throw your ball. Having done that one must comment on the parentage of said player, (or his/her lack of sexual prowess), if and when that adviceÂ is not followed.
Most importantly the period spent verbally abusing others must take up at least five times the actual time one spends actually playing the game.Â This allows plenty of time for drinking and for abusing the opposition and, in particular the complete incompetence of their performance. TheÂ better the performance of ones opponents the louder you must sledge, especially if the opponents are winning.
Having been reluctantly accepted onto one of the teams (surely no Australian could play Petanque well?!!), I proceed to demonstrate thatÂ Australians can play just as well as the French. At no point in the game did my verbal abuse of the opposition ever let me down. Despite aÂ crushing defeat on the scoreboard (13-5) honour was upheld as our team clearly had the better insults. After all is the point is not to win but to beÂ more abusive than the opposition.