Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hachesse (and a glimpse of Menton)

"Ca va? You look completely wiped out."

My husband looked troubled by my apparent exhaustion as we started winding back down the streets of Vieux Menton. Like many villages on the Côte d'Azur, the old part of town is perched on a rocky hill well above the sea. With le Petit on my back in the Ergo baby carrier, we'd climbed up to where we had an impressive view of the cliffs of the Moyenne Corniche above us, the Mediterranean beyond the rooftops below us, the first capes on the Italian coast to one side, and the first high-rise apartment buildings of Monaco to the other.

At the summit we wandered among the graves of the international aristocrats of a century past. The cemetary was densely packed with tombs, many ostentatiously marked concession perpétuelle to remind future generations that the bereaved had paid enough to prevent their loved one from being unearthed and moved to make room for new graves, a common practice in France. Some of the marble headstones were cracked and their letters indecipherable, but the view was still the very best money could buy. Even in death here there is fierce competition for choice real estate.

As we started back down between the brightly-colored houses that clung at all angles to the hillside, I started to drag my feet and my husband worried about me out loud.

I was a bit tired, but still alert enough for an epiphany.

"Oh! That's what that means! Hachesse is really H. S.!"

I'd suddenly realized that the French term for 'wiped out' that my husband had used was an abbreviation of hors service, or 'out of order.' No matter how fluent I think I am, I still have moments when I realize that I've been hearing something completely wrong for years and I have to adjust my mental subtitling.

Now that I know what the word means, maybe I'll dare to employ it myself. I had hesitated all this time because I figured the "esse" at the end made it a feminine adjective and I wasn't sure what the masculine form could be. It couldn't possibly be haché (ground, as in steak haché), after all. . .

(More on our trip to Nice shortly!)


Isabelle said...

Very funny about haché and hachesse, Parisienne!!
I LOVE Menton, my grandparents used to have an apartment there, where they would spend most of the year.
It's such a beautiful place (except for the crottes de chien, that are even more numerous than in Paris lol).
I've visited the cemetery you are talking about, so peacefull and moving, with all the graves from russian aristocrats who had come to sunny Côte d'Azur in the 19th century in hope to cure their tuberculosis, and who have died in a foreign land...

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

You're right about the crottes de chien. It's a terrible problem there, since unlike in Paris, it doesn't seem to rain enough to wash it all down the gutter.

I didn't realize that Menton was a retreat for tuberculosis patients, but that makes sense, with the dry climate. That explains why there are so many people who died young.

Did you notice that the inventor of rugby is buried at Menton?

Isabelle said...

No, I didn't know that the inventor of rugby was buried there. He probably found Menton more pleasant than England!