Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Hatfields and the McCoys ; “Or Les champs de chapeaux avec le maître des cérémonies coys” (French Version)

Out of the corner of my eye I caught what appeared to be someone leaning into the parked car down at the end of our driveway. Then the headlights flashed, the wipers started up, a blinker signaled, and the windshield fluid sprayed. It indicated that there was someone being tossed around the interior of the car, forcefully. I allowed myself a smirk and slowly turned away and proceeded into the barn. I would have to start readying the vine sprayer for the three hours of back breaking anti-mildew vine treatment. I certainly had a spring in my step as I savored the surreal imagery of the car jumping into that animated state.
When we bought our fifty acre’s of heaven in South-west France, it was a quantum leap for the family. We went through the whole French buying process, and it was at this point we met our neighbor. He was helpful and talked loudly so we could better understand him. He certainly was familiar with the property, and offered to look after things. He would remind me a couple times, “You know there are gypsies to watch out after”. It sure felt nice having someone so close to the property and someone who had our best interest at heart. The purchase included most of the furniture and a lot of agricultural items. So Cindy and I inventoried the house and property and prepared to return to the states.
Prior to leaving we were introduced to the man that kept his two Belgian draft horses and small donkey on the property. The arrangement was in exchange for boarding, he would help with maintaining the land. Ah everything in place, and thoroughly accounted for and then we returned to the states.
Fast forward six months, we loaded up the truck and we moved to….sure the hell wasn’t Beverly. Long story short, when we got to the property everything was gone. Well specifically anything worth taking was taken, and anything worthless was left. I have written before about this so I won’t repeat the tale other than to say that some enterprising soul had removed anything of value, to the point of grinding off items embedded into the centuries old stone walls. We squared away with the seller and were compensated to a degree. We learned over time that our “watchdog” neighbor should not have the word “watch” in front of this title. Over time the ever opportunistic neighbor ingratiated himself by bring me “Cadeaux”; presents as it were. These “gifts” were of little value to him and usually stuff from his jobsites that were removed for a renovation. It was always awkward when he would walk up the driveway carrying a three legged chair that only required a little work. There were some useful things, but the presentation was similar to a waiter lobbying for a tip. Luckily he had the added talent, of knowing everything. His depth of advice was staggering, even though I spent almost 30 years in the construction industry; he had the ability to correct any thing he saw me do. We were installing an arched window for the kitchen, and had hired a mason to do it. I was outside taking down stones as directed by the mason, and my neighbor runs up the driveway yelling. “Henri’, attention, tomber, tomber!” Essentially he was saying, “Hank, beware, its going to fall, its going to fall.” I had tired of his constructive help, to the point that I replied with my best glare and said. “Dit avec le macon, ami” (“Talk with the mason, pal!”) I jerked my thumb towards the kitchen. Thank God there was someone helping the mentally challenged American.
The man with the three horses has over time proved to be a man of his word. He helps with so much, and has such patience. He has a slight limp, and favors his left hand, the result of an accident that left his right side slightly incapacitated. We have over time discussed the migration of a lot of items from the farm. All roads lead to Rome, well here all departing items lead to our neighbor’s doorway. We believe he was hired by a relative of the seller. But what has always annoyed me was shaking my neighbors hand on our first meeting, and him assuring me that he would watch the property. Well in truth he did watch the property; he watched it all get loaded into trucks.
Just recently we had guests visiting from England, and the U.S. One day I left the house with a carload of guests to drive to Saint Circ Lapopie.
“ Ahhh!! an opportunity presents itself.” Someone must have thought as he eyes the abandoned house. So he has a couple friends drop by with a big van and they proceed to load it up with a half dozen spare tires and frame members that belong to the man with the horses. I wonder if you can imagine the startled look on our “Watchdog’s” face as Cindy walks down the driveway and inquires as to what they are doing. “Watchdog” didn’t pick up on the fact that Cindy didn’t go with us on the road trip.
Instantly he affects the animated posture of introducing Cindy to his two friends. He literally introduces them as Mr. Moustache and Mr. Glasses. (in French of course.) This tactic backfires as this makes Cindy notice their features. Then the “Watchdog” continues by telling Cindy that one is the Chef for the fete’ at a local town. He never even acknowledges the items he is removing as the stupid American has successfully been distracted by the information regarding the fete’.
A couple days pass, and I notice the “Watchdog” and ask, hey was that your stuff or was it the horse guys stuff? He replies that it was his.
The next day the man with the horses is working on his tractor and mentions that his daughter spare trailer wheels and trailer frame members have been taken. I fill him in on the events as seen by Cindy and my inquiry.
Later that day I see him again and he says that the “Watchdog” told him that I had given him the material. I look at him and laugh shaking my head, and say.”It is not mine to give away; he has told you a non-truth.” (That is literally the translation, I didn’t know how to say “fucking lie” in French)
Next day I’m walking non-stop between the house and workshop and I notice the man with the horses driving his tractor down the driveway towing a tank of water for the horses. He stops and notices “Watchdog” watching him from his walkway gate. I think my understanding of rural French slang was rusty but they were discussing the missing items. “Watchdog” comes out of his walkway gate without his shirt on and stands there hands akimbo. (Both of his hands are on his waist) not unlike a scraggly rooster. He has adopted the attitude that he is the alpha male and that the slightly handicapped horse guy should acquiesce. Then I hear the wife bandy about some verbiage. Horse guy drives down the driveway and attends to his horses.
Later that same day, the insults have been brewing inside the horse guys mind. The “Watchdog” drives up and parks his car at the bottom of the driveway to lob a couple more insults toward horse guy who is still working there………..
Out of the corner of my eye.

1 comment:

  1. Hank, it must feel wonderful to get that story told and off your chest. Just to bad "Watchdog"
    can't read a lick of English as I'm sure he would love to see his name in print.

    As usual the tale is well-told and wonderfully