I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a bad day. A dear friend is ill. His daughter — let’s call her qvnr, for Queen Victoria Meets Nurse Ratched — has declared that if he sees me — any woman, but in practice that basically means me — without chaperone, he will never see his grandchildren again. The man is dying. He is frightened and alone. Teenagers have lives, so he doesn’t see them much anyway. And the rest of the time? SOL, Pops. You can sit there in solitary and think about your impending doom.
Well. As part of his farewell tour, he organized a day of presentations and asked me to talk. As I listened and waited for my turn, I couldn’t help but wonder whether French people, at least the ones I seem to have fallen in with, ever stop talking. A key presenter arrived late and spent a good ten minutes explaining why. Then he explained again. Then we all started again, with Mr. Late frequently interrupting. And this seemed to be expected. Absolutely no-one seemed surprised or annoyed. Finally, my turn, but my introduction was so complete that it may have taken longer than my presentation, especially as it included about half of what I planned to say.
Of all things, at lunch a woman leaned toward me and said, “That was fascinating. Could you speak at an event in July?” Of course I said yes. Why not? When in rural France….
I couldn’t help but think of Christmas dinner, when they went around the table and asked, basically, what have you accomplished recently and what is coming up for the next year? And we were expected to have major life events to recount. One guy received a national award for his work in physics. Another was graduating from one of the more prestigious French universities. It went on like that. If I had declared that I had just winter-pruned my roses, it would have brought down the tone of the whole event. So I told them about a paper I had agreed to write. By next Christmas I’d better have made substantial progress on the thing, too.
It looks like people are expected to make public presentations and that they are expected to be involved in public life. I’m amazed at the number of people I meet who are adjunct mayors, or real mayors. The painter that invited me to speak also has gallery showings at her house. At the last one, the mayor came, not for social reasons; it was part of his job. It was a public event and a medium-sized deal. Jean-Yves was head of a Europe-wide professional association. In the States that’s a somewhat unusual thing. Here, no, folks just do it. And when the presentations are done, everyone goes for lunch/drinks/dinner and they talk some more.
So here I am, several years into my blog, writing at length about people who never stop talking. Maybe I’m going native. Really, all I want to do is shut out the noise and wrap my arms around my wonderful friend. I want him to know that although he is going where we can’t reach him, until then, he won’t be alone.