What can I say? It is serious. Grave, even, as they say here, although they don't pronounce the e. I have been here for a year and three quarters and I have witnessed the most terrible, outrageous, frightening and perhaps even dangerous addiction known to human kind.
The French are generally a happy people. However, in this part of the world, other French say that there is something wrong with the locals. They are not alone in their perceptions. Many Anglo-phones (to be polite about it) constantly bang on about the sullenness of the shop assistants, the waiters who are slightly aggressive and arrogant, and the really unhelpful policemen (see previous post).
Even my Arab and Magrebian friends tell me that the French in this part of the world are terrible. I must point out that an American Journalist friend and I don't share this view as our experiences have been unique,( but I will remark that I see a lot of women dressed up to the nines in the supermarket or in a café, who would be very beautiful if they stopped frowning and used less energy and decided to smile).
Well given what I saw this last Easter I think I know what the problem is. No, it's not cultural. It's not even as I was previously postulating, that there is something in the water. Neither is it an inherent racism or the strong urge to tell all the foreigners to piss off back home and let us drive our cars on our broken up costal roads like a crazy Ferrari driving German some of you might have heard of.
I promise you after the spectacle that was Easter, when addicts practically jumped on one another to get the last of their fix, pulling hair, eye teeth, and even false wooden legs in order to get that last hit, that last tablet that would make life worth living, I never thought I would see the day when I would wish for the Berlin Wall to go back up so I could run and hide behind it.
NOTE Please those of who live in this part of the world and don't understand "in general", well let me say this, if the following view doesn't seem to be anything you have done or witnessed, get down on your knees and thank God, Allah, Yahweh, Rory Gallagher, Jimi Hendrix, Shiva, Breeda, your next door neighbour or anybody (ok no.......not George W, I draw the line there.)
This is what happens in general. A French man, woman or child, and sometimes all three get up early, let me just use the man as example. He puts on the coffee machine, rummages in the cupboard, pulls out a piece of old bread and smothers it in Chocolate paste, he then washes this down with a few milligrams of concentrated caffeine. Now for the Americans let me put it like this, coffee in France does not have the consistency of tea. No coffee here,.....well I have seen hoards of mice running through kitchens and using the liquid in a coffee cup as a springboard to evade the local cats of which there are many. I digress.
Madame then saunters downstairs having dressed and washed her husband, and child, (yes it is that old fashioned here in some parts. I have heard say French men in the south stop growing at the age of 18 but have no firm medical evidence of this yet. Suffice to say I was not surprised). She makes more coffee or reheats what is there, rummages in the cupboard and pulls out a bar of 90% cocoa, chocolate so dark you need a fusion powered blow torch to see where it is, if it isn't the brightest day, and even when it is bright.....? Well, I have seen brighter looking black holes. She breaks of a huge chunk of this solid mass and while sucking it, opens her eyes to the world and can suddenly start her day. I am sure some brainpower is lost in this early morning process and perhaps it might be up for discussion and some conference in the near future. The child who was sent to bed with Chocolate milk has a bowl of chocolate cereal dumped in front of him and maybe some hot chocolate too, accompanied by pain o chocolat (choclate with bread wrapped around it, and of course a tartine, crisy bread with chocolate paste, and so the French wake up. At 11 o clock they have coffee and a chocolate. After lunch the have a coffee and a chocolate. In the evening the have an aperitif with crisps(chips), just to delay the gratification I think, and then after a late dinner, of which one of the desserts will certainly be chocolate cake (homemade) or chocolate mousse, (shop bought) they will have a coffee (optional) and some chocolate(imperative).
At Easter they have the egg hunt. Children are told that Bunny rabbits will leave eggs in the garden and that Chickens will hide them in holes. (no wonder I am so confused here). Demented Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Aunts and Uncles, neighbours and general friends of the family, spend the morning running around a garden big enough to host a political convention, while two, often only one, parent strives to keep the crazed bug eyed child occupied for a number of hours, while kilos, and I do mean kilos of chocolate are hidden. Then balloons are hung up showing the least perceptive child where in fact the chocolate might be and so, it really is a complete waste of a morning. Although honestly it makes life worth living to see the joy on a childs face. There is no talk of religion or going to church, that only happens at Christmas.
So where do the kilos of chocolate come from? There are dedicated shops here, like a barber, a hairdresser, an electrical goods outlet, and the chocolate maker/artist on ever street. Yes ladies, every 200 meters there is a shop dedicated to chocolate. Every type of chocolate imaginable, every shade from white to jet-black, every texture, sweet, sour, every flavour imaginable, and even some not so.
If not, every baker, of which there are just as many, not to be outdone, usually has a fair supply as well. I have passed by shops of this nature thinking they were museums for sculptors of fine art, only to realise the exhorbitant price was for something so good to look at, it would be a shame to eat it.
So imagine it is what Christians call Good Friday. You are standing in front of a selection of chocolate (if you can find one that late in the year) when suddenly, the granny brigade, the weightlifters union, the bimbo's for Barbie, and drivers against indicators, suddenly realise you are going to buy the one egg they all had there eyes on. Let me explain by saying the weightlifters don't always come off best. If you have ever been hit in the crutch by a crutch you will understand. But imagine the brawl that ensues, or perhaps, it is better if you don't.
I am convinced a small portion of French taxes and a huge amount of their appetite is what keeps the Brazilian or Venezuelan economies ticking over, however ill they may be. And that the resultant melee is also why there are so many pharmacies, doctors, and magicians knocking around these here parts.
So this is what I think, if you find yourself confronted by the frowning, aggressive, road rage incensed, sullen, down in the mouth, full of negative attitude, swaggering down the street, looking like the world has fallen on their heads, I don't get paid enough, French people, perhaps it would be astute of you to assume that they are perhaps just lacking a bit of chocolate. So for your human safety and sanity, give them some. Imagine how different the political spectrum would be if George W, instead of Calling the President of France an enemy, had sent him a few Hershey bars instead, actually no don't, that would have started a nuclear war because Americans know about as much about real chocolate as Irish do, But imagine he had sent him Chocolate, or vice versa maybe. We would be living in the type of world I see every lunchtime, smiling laughing beautiful people enjoying life (with all its trials) and a piece of rich dark succulent chocolate. Unfortunately the effect does seem to wear off once they get back to work. I hope you all had a cool easter.
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