Saturday, November 1, 2014

Autumn Aromatique'

            Another day, another chance to lead the carefree life of a vineyard owner. Ah! The smell of the vines as they go dormant. I’m well aware there is no smell associated with the dormancy of vines. Well that’s not entirely true. There is indeed a smell associated with the process in which the vines slip into a slow slumber. Not the smell you would imagine, not a breeze infused with the rich soil and crisp autumn breezes of maples drying their leaves.
            As a matter of fact the aroma is at the exact opposite spectrum, somewhere in the neighborhood of a horse’s ass. By which I am referring to the animal, not the writer of this…anyway.
            The horses at Petit Clos were getting a little tired of walking up their mound of Merde’, in order to get to their favorite sleeping spots. I was approached by the man who has a few horses here. He asked if I were free to help him relocate the pile of aged horse manure, not too dry, not too wet. Aged just right.
            “Where would we be relocating it too?” I asked.
            “Why that is being the beauty of it,” He said as he pointed in the direction of my Sauvignon Blanc vines. “We would be spreading it amongst the vines, la bah!”
            Point of topic…the French have a saying. They will point vaguely, never precisely, and say. “la bah.” It translates roughly into: in that direction, in the vicinity of, but not next to, or next to but not in the vicinity of.”  You divine the application by inferring the remainder on the sentence. The one exception is if it is used by solely by itself and accompanied by vague pointing, in which case the person is using it thusly so that later they can argue that they never meant it to be in that area.
Well, that would be nifty. The vines have been looking a bit peaked, and after the rough year it might be a welcome treat for the little dears. A nice layer of fertilizer for the long cold winter approaching. So I sign on, nod at him and say “La bah.” Pointing at the vines. He crooks his head as if to try to understand why I might be vague about the location of my own vines.
Well, my part of the bargain is to ask a couple neighbors if they have one of those manure spreading trailers. The man with the horses schedules it for the following Friday.
Thursday arrives, and so does the man with the horses.
“So have you managed the simple task of asking to borrow one of those manure spreading trailers?”
“Funny you should ask. I went by one neighbor’s house and it wasn’t the right kind. And another neighbor I didn’t ask.”
“So you’ve essentially done Jacque Merde’.”
“Pretty much.” I answered.
“Alright, I’ll be back in the morning. I will find one to borrow and you can then be asked to do as little as possible.” He smiled and shook his head as he glanced to the ground. Well at least that’s what I inferred what he said. He has a dialect…an accent so thick in the countries dialect that even my French Electrician had to have me translate for him. That actually happened, as a side note.
The next morning arrives and I’m drinking my coffee and notice that his van is parked, and his smaller tractor is gone. It’s 8 a.m. and I start looking around for him. Turns out he had to drive over to one of his neighbor’s house to pick up the special manure spreading trailer. He arrives a short while later towing the trailer. He parks the tractor trailer rig and proceeds to load it with the aged horse manure.

 The back of the trailer has two rotating flails. On the bottom of the trailer is a conveyor belt set-up. It conveys the aged manure to the two flailing rotating blender like wheels. They in essence spread the manure out behind the trailer. Only in essence. In reality it accelerates the manure to light speed in all directions, even the direction of the clown driving the tractor. Insert my name here.

Well we finished all six rows of vines. And I must admit that it was the most efficient machine for the job. I had entertained loading our small trailer and having my trusty Peugeot tow it. We would manually rake it out as it drove slowly down the rows. But this was definitely the way to go.

Experiencing life allows you a perspective. It allows you to verify the adages that others have passed down into lexicons of our language. You know, like “Never look a gift horse in the mouth.” Or “When one door closes, another opens.” Stuff like that. I enjoyed verifying the adage that “We all gotta duck when the shit hits the fan.”  Or in this case, a  flailing hyper speed manure spreader.  

Sunday, September 7, 2014

No good deed goes unpunished


            Every evening at around 8 p.m. the sound of sheep bleating wafts over the meadow to our little farm in Southwest France. The cool evening air is scented with the lavender of Cindy’s garden and as I lift my glass of red wine and its aroma blends in the breeze, it’s at that time that I stop and give pause. I think of those little sheep, lambs really. Cute in their cottony cloaks, and never further than a meter from their mother. And the mothers, surrounded by the other proud mothers, chewing slowly on the straw as they await their next meal. And the farmer that walks the rows of feeding troughs, spilling out the grain mixture that the sheep love so. And I think of the farmer and I fucking thank God it’s not me. Been there done that. Never again!
            Little extreme? maybe. Let’s go back a few weeks.
            My good neighbor dropped by and announced cheerfully that he and his wife were getting vaccinations. He seemed real happy about this. I was trying to figure out the reason for his apparent glee, when he then described where they had to go to get the shots. Some camping area.
            Yeah, I figured it out quick enough, he was going on vacation, not vaccination. Although; if you were vacationing on certain south Pacific Islands, you might need vaccinations. Something about leprosy. Anyway, what he was angling at was he needed me to volunteer to feed the little darlings. And all things being French, there was a specific method to this chore. I had fed them last year, and I didn’t have any negative memories of it. So I accepted his requirement that I volunteer.
The next week, I went over to his farm the morning before he and the missus were to leave for their vacation. I’m invited into their house and enjoy a cup of coffee as he draws out the floor plan of the various livestock buildings. He walked me through the floor plan, and the sequence. Next we meander over to the enclosures and he indicates the buckets used for the two blends of grain. Green for the mommies and kiddies. (I am well aware a kid is a baby Goat, just go with it.) And white is for….crap, already got it wrong. Green was for the small enclosures that held the adolescents, and white was for the moms and young kids. You could also use white for the enclosure with the four male rams. (I know male ram is redundant.)
There is a round half silo grain bin in the furthest barn. Next to it is a smaller square bin full of recently harvested beans, kinda like brown lima beany looking things. Beside the square bin is a high speed, high voltage crusher, high pitch noise maker. It’s so powerful, when you turn it on you flip the switch once to the right and wait a few seconds, then you flip it again to the lower right. When the noise it makes starts to hurt your ears, you add three bucketful’s of the brown lima beans. The shrieker machine spits out a Quaker oats looking product and you gather it in four buckets to add to the regular grain later.      
            Next you go over to the half silo looking thing that stores the grain. You get on the old tractor with the grain blender attached to the rear of the tractor. It’s like a concrete mixer; so much so that when I arrived he was washing out the last batch of concrete that he had poured as I drove up earlier. You back the tractor up to the silo. There is an 8 inch tube sticking out of the silo, so you park the mixer under the end of the chute.   You unplug the shrieker, and plug in the electrically activated grain extractor. Very important. You keep it plugged in for exactly three minutes. Then with the grain added to the mixer thing, you open a small opening in the bottom of the mixed and dole out four bucketful’s of grain in White buckets. You walk them over to the closest pen and leave them there. This of course indicates to the sheep that they should now all start bleating as loud as they can. If you stop for a second and listen you would swear they were all yelling “Mmmmerdeee.”  (Merde’ is French for shit.)
            Then with the little darlings spreading the call for all the other sheep to express their lot in life, and the crescendo of “Merde” surrounds you and mixes with the odor of merde’, you make your way to the main holding area. The sound is deafening. Silence of the lambs my ass.

            Once you have driven the old tractor to the main sheep dorm, you dole out seven White buckets of regular grain. Then you dole out another seven White buckets of the regular grain to use at the 8 p.m. feeding.
            Then you add the four buckets of crushed brown beans to the mixer and it combines the grain with the beans. Eh Viola! You dole out 8 buckets of the mix into the Green buckets. And then comes the fun part. This is where the system really pays off. You walk down the aisles placing the full buckets of grain (or the mixed ones) next to the troughs so when you start to pour them, it’s done in a fluid manner, and you don’t have sheep getting laryngitis while they wait.
            Then you do the walk of life. You pour the buckets evenly down the troughs and end where the next bucket is awaiting the frenzied clients. When you’re done, the next chore is to check that the auto watering devices are devicing. Then to finish it off you look outside at the balls of hay. If one is done, you get in the new tractor with the hay fork on it and place a ball of hay to replace it.
            Alright, so he’s fairly certain I’ve got the hang of it so he nods. Yep I’ll do.
            One last thing, I tell him. There is a medium small sheep body lying in the third stall. He looks at it and nods. That reminds him luckily,
“Henri, you are going for to be needing to give that sickly one a few shots. There is syringe, take from this bottle.”
“How much do I use?”
“To being this line here on syringe, Henri’.”
“So, if any of these other tiny majestic little creatures pass onto the next bye and bye, where should I place them?”
I looked around for a suitable enclosure, and saw none. He responds by pointing vaguely to the back of a nearby area where there are pallets stacked.
So like the idiot I am, I presume the little nipper will be removed by tomorrow morning when I “Start”.
            The next morning I awake and have a quick cup of coffee, thank you Cindy.
I drive over to Death Valley Ranch and Noise Making Farm and well who would have guessed it? Little dead, starting to stink smiley sheep face is lying their looking to be taken for a drag.
“Fuck me!”
            Then it went from depressing to morbidly surreal. As I’m dragging the Bambi sheep equivalent away to the next beyond (next to the stack of pallets) the other sheep start bleating, (I kid you not)
“MMMMMaaaa, MMMMaaaa.”
            I get them all fed and watered and then look at the sick one. It was easy to identify, as the farmer grabbed this waxy red crayon and made three red stripes down the sheep’s back. I take the syringe and pierce it into the magic sheep curing elixir, withdraw the required amount and make my way over to the little one. I jab the needle in and depress the syringe and retract it. Eh Viola!
I come back that night, repeat the procedure. No problem. Next morning another sheep is lying dead. I get a wheel barrow, after feeding the noise makers, and cart off today losing contestant. Then I administer the last dosage of cure-all to the little red striped one. This time the shot didn’t go so well. As I’m inserting the needle, the sheep moved, and I felt the needle hit the neck bone. So I withdrew it slightly and gave it the shot. It was fine, and still alive today.
I took care of these animals; this pack of little intelligence, these poor creatures that deserved better, for a week. In that week three died, carry the one that was left for me, four all told. Every day there was something waiting for me. A corpse, the smell of the previous dead carcasses, the futility of their existence, their lack of any quality of life. I don’t think I’m going to be available next year for slaughterhouse five.

 I think I will stay across the dell, in the garden Cindy cultivated. Smell that lavender, eye the beauty of her garden. Watch the kestrels as they flutter in flight, perched skyward. Maybe lift another glass of the regions red wine. Take a last look at our small holding of vines. I just know in my heart of hearts, that I sure the fuck won’t be over there.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The scars we carry through life.

            Here’s a little pointer I want to share with anyone ever thinking of moving to France. If you make an appointment over here…keep it. We learned this lesson from Caleigh missing a couple doctors’ appointments. She was then instructed to find another doctor.
            I had swelling in my lower abdomen…knock it off!....from over exerting myself… behave!...while working with large heavy stones. I made an appointment with my doctor and had an appointment for the following week. Well a week passes and the swelling is gone, but I don’t want to annoy him by missing the appointment, so I show up. After waiting the hour in the waiting room, I am ushered in.
            “Good afternoon Mr. Petterson. What seems to be the problem?”
            “Good afternoon Doctor Biamou…well I had swelling here (points) and it’s gone down.”
            “Let me see…(Unrobes) …Ah you had a hernia….you will need an operation.”
            “Um…O.K. good thing I didn’t skip my appointment.”
            “It is a very serious condition…if you don’t have this operation…it could be catastrophic if anything happened.”
            Then he calls the Marmande Hospital and sets up a screening for me. I attend two different observations and the operation is set for the following month. The surgery is a great success…as is proof as I am still sucking air, and not taking a dirt nap.
            After recovering for a few weeks, the bandage is removed and a scar is in the place where there wasn’t one before. It was my first real scar. I got smacked next to my right eye socket once playing Ice Hockey when I was younger, my own team mate as a matter of fact. But we all have scars…every single one of us.
            So I check out my scar and notice how irregular it seems. It’s serrated almost. I can’t help but imagine the scene during the operation.
            Picture two tables set up in a hospital operating room. One has a nice red checkered table cloth on it, the other is a white spotless ironed cloth. The doctors enter and start placing Cheese, bottles of red wine, and baguettes on the pristine white cloth. I am wheeled in semi-conscious and placed on the picnic table cloth. The anesthesia’s inserted and I’m out. The doctors then wave in the half dozen medical students and they commence carving up the baguettes. The doctors take note of how each student carves off a piece of baguette.
            “Why Claude…your knife work is being exquisite…I have drawn a line on the patient…please make the incision.” The doctor turns to fill his empty wine glass as Claude starts the incision. He turns and laughs and says.
            “No Claude…although it is being a very nice cut…I think you are to be using one of those very sharp pointy surgery knife thingy’s….you are not to be using the baguette knife…really…we have to eat with that.”
            Well, it does look as though a few apprentices had their hands in the incision; because it looks as straight as West Hollywood. But the surgery, the prescriptions, and nurse visits cost us a grand total of zero euros, so I really can’t complain.
            To finish on the subject of scars both visible and otherwise, it has to be how you look at them and not others. I remember one of my most memorable scars. I was 25 and had just moved to Southern California. I got a job as a construction superintendent in high end estate building. It paid well, but being young and going out it didn’t seem to stretch as much as I would have liked.
A friend told me he moonlighted at this dance place called Chippendales. He told me to just show up and once the music started, start taking off my clothes. The money would start being tossed on stage because all the housewives were bored and this was an escape for them.
Well not knowing the area too well, I asked around and was given directions. I had to pay to get in, and it seemed expensive to me…but you can’t make money without spending a little.
            I make my way over to the stage and brace up myself…being naturally shy. Well the music starts and I try to get into it, and finally I get a second wind and it’s going pretty well. I look around and all these women are crowding the stage…there are quite a few one dollar bills by my feet and so I turn it up a notch and loose myself. There must have been fifty dollar bills about the stage. Then I hear it…some guy starts yelling.
            “Are you insane?....what are you doing.” The women drown out his heckling by yelling louder. The guy jumps on the stage and I yell to him.
            “You can dance after this song…that money is mine.” I go back to dancing but keep my eye on him.
            Another couple guys get on stage in these stupid outfits, and I’m getting angry. “Get off the stage until I’m done.” No effect. The guys start picking up my clothes and trying to hand them to me. Then this tall guy stands in front of me and says.
“Sha…sha…shows over…yuk, yuk, yuk.”
            Well I haul back and punch the goofy son of a bitch in the kisser, then all these cops from Anaheim storm the stage, and I’m escorted off. The housewives start grabbing back their dollar bills.
I remember thinking how hard I worked, and then I get pissed at having to dance to “It’s a small world after all” and how inappropriate the lyrics were. Well I’m escorted out of the park and was astonished how many families’ brought their kids to a Chippendale s’ Adventure Park for adults.

(I should note that the above was fiction…other than the odd serpentine scar. And that I never danced topless or otherwise at the Disney park…located in Anaheim California. And Goofy and I have partied many times. Don’t get him started on he and Minnie…that’s a joke for the Disney brand lawyers as well.)