Sunday, August 06, 2017

Quelle mouche l'a piquée

Friday, August 4th

I won’t miss the flies. 

Four or five of them are cruising the living room as I type, landing on my fingers, knees, and the top of my sandalled feet. As Paris empties in July and August, rural flies wait in ambush for urban vacationers with as much as anticipation as the proprietors of seaside souvenir stalls, or so I imagine.
Our family took three weeks of vacation this summer.  The normal duration in France, or precisely enough to make my father in America roll his eyes over FaceTime.  The first week we spent in Ile de Ré, a flat island of salt marshes and sandy beaches halfway down the French Atlantic coast.  There are pine forests and whitewashed villages with hollyhocks lining picturesque lanes, and a healthy population of flies.

I often dream of abandoning our (sub)urban apartment life and moving to the country.  I’d have a stone farmhouse and a vegetable garden, and a patio with a giant table to host the sorts of wine- and food-fuelled joyful gatherings one is supposed to host on a patio in the French countryside in the summer.  There’d be a grapevine winding up a trellis and most likely a small fountain. “But you don’t know what life in the country is like in the winter,” my husband tells me, claiming cold and damp and loneliness.  And anyway, our jobs are in the Paris region, our kids’ beloved school is in our neighborhood, and the logistics of giving it all up to negotiate a full-time work-from-home contract with a slowish internet connection make me readily accept reality.

It isn’t Ile de Ré I dream of anyway — good thing, too, since the house prices are enough to make even my imagination seem too dear.  No, I imagine a stone farmhouse in the southwest of France, at the end of a winding road, nestled between meadows and forests of chestnut, beech and fir with a view of rolling hills in every direction.  We spent a week this year in the Tarn and another in the Aveyron, and I got to try on my dream for size.

Complete with flies.  And horse flies, spiders, wasps, hornets, mosquitoes, giant moths, and crickets, to cite merely the critters who made it inside.  My 6-year-old daughter started begging us to accompany her to the bathroom in our vacation rental for fear of the “bêtes” she might encounter.  I’ve been waking up lazily at eight-thirty or nine to chinks of light coming through the shutters and flies landing repeatedly on my shoulders and back.

“Why don’t the French believe in window screens?” I asked my husband.  “After all, other modern technology has made it out here to the country; you’ve got washing machines and iPhones.”  Occasionally butcher shops or bakeries will have a swinging curtain of velvet snakes in front of the door presumably to confound insects, or a humming blue-light insect trap in the back.  But houses never seem to have anything to keep the outside world outside, except flyswatters, which are standard equipment.  In the last rental I failed to find them at first, and sent my husband to the grocery store with instructions to purchase some.  “Two-for-one!” he announced proudly when he came back, but the Made in China plastic started disintegrating after a few swipes.  I’m pretty sure the flies laughed.  Back at the store today, our last full day on vacation, I noticed a different model.  “Made in the Aveyron, in Brusque!” Brusque is the village closest to where we are staying, and despite an gravel quarry, a café, and a grocery store, it hardly seems prosperous enough for such an operation. Did I somehow miss a flyswatter factory amongst the shuttered garages and disaffected furniture workshops?

“…bought one of those, she told me it is merde, starts falling apart as soon as you use it.” I overheard the two guys behind us in the checkout line talking and gesturing toward the Aveyronnais flyswatter display. 

“Yes, but you’ve got to support local businesses, right?”

“When I have my house in the country, I’ll have screens,” I explained to my husband when we were back in the car.  “I’ll make them myself,” I clarified when he sounded doubtful, since a hypothetical improbable country house must be protected from insects in a credible fashion.  “Just like the ones I made back in Levallois,” remembering the ersatz screens made with nylon netting and adhesive velcro that we briefly installed in our old apartment.

“You mean the ones that I made?” He corrected.

“Yes, to my specifications.” 

We both agreed that our current apartment, though lacking a fountain, a patio, a vegetable garden, a sweeping view and a grapevine, at least is remarkably free of mosquitoes.  

“I’m ready to go home,” I had declared earlier, almost believing myself.  We leave tomorrow, so starting tomorrow night I will sleep in my own bed, bathe in my own bathroom, and live once again without quite so many insects. Maybe that’s the true purpose of the flies of July and August: to convince us city-dwellers that heading back isn’t all that bad after all.