The Secret Cevennes - articles by Samantha David
I think I've cooked my goose over here on the list-making fronts: I've actually been writing them in my spare time. I got set off by a website and have become curiously addicted. This one is "Iconic French Experiences":
1) Doing the vendange: picking grapes as the early morning sun glances through the pale leaves, trampling them with your bare feet, eating lunch at a long table. This Iconic Experience would probably also combine nicely with riding a bicycle through the market with onions hanging off the handlebars. (The fact that grape picking is backbreaking, sweaty and dusty should be ignored in this context. Filthy or not, it's definitely Iconic.)
2) Driving a 2CV through Paris, rattling over the pavé with the roof down so that workmen can whistle at you. Parking should be done at a crazy angle, half-on half-off the pavement - and a cheeky little scarf round the neck is de rigueur too. When you get out, you should skip through Montmartre à la Amelie Poulain and drink coffee at a zinc.
3) Moodily smoking a Gauloise in a late night bar. As previously discussed, in spite of the ban on all smoking in bars this is still allowed in bars which sell cigarettes - which is good for Iconic Experience hunters. If you can find a darkly brooding Frenchman to lecture you on philo rather than le foot, you're probably in a time warp or a Hollywood film. But it would complete the iconicness of this entry...
4) Buying a fresh baguette on a Sunday morning. The correct attire (for both sexes) is sloppy, pale blue jeans, crew neck top with the sleeves rolled up (stripes or plain white) and deck shoes with no socks. Hair should be suggestively messy, the eyes half-closed and the smile should be exceptionally broad. (Even if you did spend all Saturday night filling in CPAM forms.)
5) The medical visit for work. At this rendez-vous, you should have the minimum actual examination and the maximum chit-chat so that back at the office you can suck your teeth and say it's a miracle you managed to persuade the doctor to allow you to continue work... how you will manage, you just don't know, shrug, shrug, shrug...
6) Receiving a billet doux, not quite the same in Paris now the pneumatique no longer functions, but nevertheless the secret affair (known of course as the cinq à sept) should involve the maximum amount of pouting, monosyllabic phone calls and (naturally) rumpled sheets.
7) Attending a countryside bal and fête on July 14th at which you get carried away and find yourself shouting "A bas les aristos!" Or possibly (and very iconically) "Allez les Bleus!"
8) The argument over water rights Experience is crucial. Without this one under your belt, you really haven't Experienced France at all. If you don't own any land you could always try suggesting a ban on washing vegetables in the village fountain. Or try paddling in the fountains at Versailles. That should guarantee a good long water-related argument. You might even possibly enjoy another iconic French experience: a few days in the slammer to calm down.
9) Poison pen letters are common in France - denouncing your neighbours to their wives (or their tax collectors) is a long-established method of getting even with an enemy. The writers are called crows and although naturally no-one ever admits to writing one of these missives it is quite a badge of honour to have been the victim of one: you could always try claiming to have been denounced, even if you haven't been, but it would probably be a bad idea to claim to have written one.
10) Join a demonstration somewhere. Don't worry what or why. Just as long as you can wave a placard and shout "Non!" If you get really desperate and find yourself short of manif opportunities, make a date to join in the anti-New Year strikes next December.
11) Arrange to eat couscous at a North African restaurant one night when French football team are playing. Try and choose a night when they win...
That's as far as I've got. Can you think of any more? If so, send them in!
Next column will be uploaded around 1st May.
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