Frehel Diaries: Laissez Faire-The French Art of Eating and Parking
At five, the Sauvage gathered up all of us girls, and we schlepped to the car. Or rather they walked briskly, and I schlepped rather inelegantly behind in my bikini. We dropped off Chunk and after a round of kisses, we were off to the hotel. The Sauvage told me he was going to drop his daughter off and return a bit later. I took time showering, changing, and making myself the little trollop we all know and love. The Sauvage returned and whisked me off in the car.

It has been noted that the French have a fairly creative attitude about driving. While many complain about the French driving on the sidewalks, there are actual sidewalks in Paris that are designated for driving.(Another example of French logic.) Still, outside the city attitudes about what constitutes a road or a parking space are even more casual. Spaces that no American driver would even contemplate, like say on some stairs, do not phase French drivers in the least. This behavior is accepted and not even remarked upon. It seems that in the same way that colonists decided that "landing" on a country was "discovering it", even if there were people alreayd living there, the French have decided that if a car stops on it, it is "parking." While the Sauvage was not one of the more outrageous parkers, I don't think we ever parked in one legal, designated parking space during the entire trip.

After redefining a small raised cement embankment as a parking space, we got out of the car. We were by the water, and the street was filled with tourist stores selling "sailor" tops that reminded me of the one time I saw Marcel Marceau in person **and salt caramels 1 as well as some cafes busy selling both Breton food and "American" cocktails like a Long Island Iced Teas and "shooters."2 The streets were crowded with tourists and for the first time in days I heard English being spoken by a couple of drunken British tourists. They were just college kids having a good time waving around plastic cups, but the Sauvage shook his head. "Tourists" he muttered.

The Sauvage had a deep dislike of tourists and ranted about them at once or twice a day, whether we were in Frehel or Paris. While I understand his attitude living in a city that has a fairly booming tourist trade myself , I don't complain about them that often. But more disturbingly, I wondered what he thought of me. As the guest of a "local", I guess I wasn't really a tourist, but I certainly WAS a tourist when he met me. The way I rationalized it at the time was his disdain of tourists was really about legitimatizing his own marginal existence. His friends didn't consider him a local (living in Paris-and clearly indicated by their jokingly greeting him as the "Parisian"), by disdaining the tourists he was affirming his identity as a Breton rather than as a visiting Parisian. (The reverse would be true in Paris. Rather than wanting to be seen as some twit who came from a little beachtown, he would prefer to be seen as a Parisian.)

Maybe I was thinking too much, but always feeling like an outsider is something I understand and I was looking for all the common ground I could find.

We walked down the beach for a bit in the twilight and finally settled on a little cafe by the water looking out at the boats and the lighthouse. We ate, and the Sauvage smoked leisurely and profoundly, not the hurried, hidden smoking I see in NY. For dessert, he informed me, he had brought us a treat. Out of a bakery bag, he took three large pretzel-like pastries. They were thinner, crustier and sweetier than a croissant, but fairly close to the same type of dough. Because much of Breton cooking is based on epic amounts of butter even by French standards, I was filled by half a pretzel. But when the Sauvage took out the pastries and put on the table, I felt a wave of anxiety. We were going to get yelled at, scolded, insulted in French. It's one thing for me to be insulted in English, it allows me to vent some of my rage and cut the person down to the size of a well used pencil eraser, but in French I wouldn't even be able to understand the insult nevermind defend myself from it. And yet...nothing happened. Waiters walked by, they saw us, yet no French obscenities were exchanged. I tried to explain that in the US, you would never be allowed to bring outside food into a cafe or restaurant. He seemed to regard this as "typical American insanity." And I have to say that on this count, I think the French are right. It is infinitely more civilized not to get all hissy over a contraband pastry or two.

We sat by the water, with our bellies filled with butter, too tired yet to fight our way through the energetic flow of tourists. Instead we smoked slowly watching the smoke swirl out onto the ever darkening beach.

**The link is not to the show I saw, but rather a youtube link to his appearance in Mel Brooks' Silent Movie. Marcel died last year, and I miss him. If you want to see a bit more of Marcel's work, check out this youtube link. And yes I really did see Marcel Marceau perform, but I was five years old at the time so about the only thing I remember about him was his outfit.

1 Brittany is known for its salted caramels. I love caramels, even more than chocolate. I can attest that the caramels are the best I've ever tasted.

2 American cocktails and shots are catching on more and more all over France, which is shame. Brittany is known for its cider (which is alcoholic) as well as its apple and pear eau de vie (which I am bitter I never got to taste).

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Frehel Diaries: Beach Blanket Bunni

After his parents house, we go to yet another house. The Sauvage doesn't explain. He tells me and Nana to wait in the car. When the Sauvage talks to me in English it's the way one would talk to a dog-one word commands "Wait" "Come" "Stop." I know it has more to do with his ability in English than anything else, but still it grates on my nerves and I wish I could give him a bit of a taste of my rapier wit. As soon as he is inside, Nana slips out of the car. I stay for about ten minutes in the car reading. Finally, I follow Nana's lead. She walked around the side of the house. I can hear two girls giggling and laughing. I find Nana on a swing with a chubby little blonde girl, Chunk.** The Sauvage is talking to a handsome man who stands up to greet me as soon as he sees me coming around the corner.

Peter Mayle described the problem of kissing in France. While 2 kisses seems to be the standard in Paris, your problem whenever you greet anyone in France is somewhere between 2-4 kisses. The dark man gets up and kisses me twice, and there is an awkward silence as I try to figure out if the Sauvage has explained who I am. Finally the dark man, Jean, introduces himself, and I stumble out an introduction. And yet again the Sauvage has to explain not only who I am, but my utter inability to communicate.

Jean invites me inside, and his blonde blue-eyed wife who looks like she should be a professional tennis player, Teresa comes down stairs and greets the Sauvage by calling him the "Parisian" jokingly. I understand this exchange very well. Much like how my relatives regard NY, these people were born in this town and have never lived anywhere else. They can't understand how anyone can choose to live in a city-the stress, the cost, the crime. Another common point between us revealed. Teresa kisses me twice just as two more friends drop by. Again the kisses, this time four times each with a bit of a laugh at my expense when I stopped after only two. The friends are here only briefly to pick up Jean and Teresa's teenage daughter. More kisses before they leave with the beautiful long haired teenage girl.

We sit at their kitchen table and smoke. I take out my notebook. They chat brightly amongst themselves, while I jot down notes about lunch with his parents and await some kind of sense of what we are going to do next. Finally, the Sauvage gets up, and we say good-bye. Chunk and Nana get into the car with us, and I realize that we are taking both girls at least for a while.

The two girls sit in the backseat and talk. "Who is this girl?" whispers Chunk. Nana responds quickly. I only pick up one word "mother" or at least it sounds like mother, but the rest is too fast for me to follow. Her friend begins to whisper another question but Nana hisses at her to stop. At first I think it's because she has noticed that I am paying attention, but my failure to understand the language is pretty clear and certainly has not escaped her attention. I realize it's that her father is also suddenly paying attention to the conversation. It's fear of how he might respond to her characterization of me. This is how helpless I am here, at the mercy of a nine year old girl whisper.

At this point, I give up on the phrase books and portable dictionaries I have been lugging around with me. They don't have any of the words that I want. I try to simplify my word choices, but even then no luck. Nouns and phrases I can translate "toutes les hommes" and "dix heures", but they pile up too quickly When strung together and are compounded by the many words, mainly verbs, that I don't recognize.

The Sauvage stops the car, and we walk to the beach. I hadn't known we were coming here, because he didn't bother to tell me. Or maybe he did and I didn't understand, but I know the words for beach and ocean in French and have a hard time believing I would have missed something like that. I have discovered in my seven month affair with the Sauvage that he often expected me to read his mind. I'm not sure how he expected me to pull that off since on top of being psychic I would also need a much better grasp of French to translate whatever muddle of thoughts were in his butter-addled brain. I'm a little bitter than I won't be able to go in the water, but I walk, as I always do, silent and uncomplaining. The run ahead of me and walk far in the sand.

Sand presents me with a unique challenge. The way it alternatively shifts and clings exponentially increases my difficulty walking. It wasn't long before I was left in this distance cursing in the sun wondering why we had to walk that far anyway. The beach wasn't that crowded. Finally, I saw them set up camp. The two girls quickly shed their clothes and ran for the water. The Sauvage asked me about my bathing suit. I explained I hadn't brought it. He told me about his parents and not the beach. He asked me where they were. I told him exactly where in the bureau at the hotel. He told me to wait with the girls, and he would be right back. So I sat on the blanket and hoped the two girls didn't do anything that would require me to communicate. Fifteen minutes later, the Sauvage returned with two of my bathing suits and 3 of my beach wraps. He told me that I could change on the beach if I wanted. I told him no way, and he said "Oh yes, you Americans are such Puritans."

It's not often I get to be called a Puritan. I do actually come from Puritan country, although I have shed many puritanical ways. 1 Instead, I proudly march off across the beach all the way to the bathrooms. I change into a bikini and a wrap.

I had not been confident about the bikini, but in France it is apparently the right of every female land mammal to wear a bikini in the same way that every male wears a speedo. This was definitely the place to have my first test run in a bikini.

As I walk back to the blanket, I look around. There are adults playing boules. This seemed to make about as much sense to me as playing croquet at the beach, but we shall deal with the subject of French logic in another post.

Furthermore, I notice that the majority of French children don't build sand castles or bury each other, they delight in....ditch digging. No explanation, no reason, they just like to dig. The beach is pockmarked with holes of a variety of widths and depths.

I am informed upon returning to the blanket that we are moving to an even more remote part of the beach where the wind isn't as strong. Once resettled, I notice two women are topless. The two girls go to pick wildflower, and I contemplate topless sunbathing. These women are flat and I far from that, but still. I decide to test the waters by lying on my stomach and unclasping my bikini top. I immediately decide that I am uncomfortable with being this naked in public. Unfortunately, I discover that reclasping my bathing suit is significantly more difficult than unclasping it (clearly the work of male designers male designers). The Sauvage sees me struggling to reclasp my top. "It's OK" he says and so I lie face down. I feel the breeze on my naked skin. It feels lovely. I wonder about turning over and feeling the sun and the wind on my naked breasts. I decide to test this idea by turning over, but leaving my unfastened bikini draped over my breasts.

Once on my back I notice yet another topless sunbather, but then I also notice a family complete with children has spread themselves out next to me. I decide against it even though if they were really against nudity they would settle someplace without so much of it. Just as I come to this conclusion a naked 7 year old girl walks by. The Sauvage notices the look on my face and re-affirms that I am a Puritan. I'm not sure why I am so shocked by her nudity, but it seems odd to me.

I lie in the sun next to my boyfriend. I want to go in the water, but for today I am happy to lie in the sun. He periodically reaches out to touch my arm or leg. I'm surprised how happy I am just to lie here. The sun and the wind are the perfect mix. I am both warm and cool at the same time, the two temperatures playing with each other on my skin.

** Although this name may not seem affectionate, it is a reference to the character in the film the Goonies. As you will read, Chunk was one of the best people I encountered on this trip, and one of the people I still miss. So her name should in no way be taken as an insult, but rather an attempt to capture her garrulously endearing nature.

1 Those who doubt that I was ever a Puritan should remember that at the age of 16 I freaked out because I kissed a guy with whom I did not have a "significant emotional connection with." Furthermore, I didn't have sex on top until I was 23 because I was so inexperienced I was convinced the guy would immediately know that I had no idea what I was doing.

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Frehel Diaries: Meet the Parents**
It had been a long day. After dropping me off at the hotel, the Sauvage took Nana home to his parents house. By the time he got back, I was dozing, which didn't keep him from rousing me for a bit of sleepy sex.

The next day he got up early and after yet another bout of sleepy lovemaking, he went to take his daughter to her horse back riding lesson, but not before he told me that we were going to have lunch with his parents.

I select my outfit carefully as today-a black v-neck t-shirt and a black skirt. It's simple, classic, subdued. I figure they are going to have enough shock dealing with me that I should at least demonstrate some restraint in my choice of outfit.

I am applying make up, nothing over the top or glittery, just some subtle enhancement of my features, when he returns to pick me up. He sits on the bed and tells me that he lied to his father about me. He told his father that I teach at the university in Paris. I look at him. “He knows I don’t speak French well, right?” I ask. “Well, your french isn’t bad, and this is just your first year.” So his father is supposed to believe that I, who can barely express myself in French, am actually a professor at a university in Paris. Even I’m not THAT ballsy. Still my lack of language protects me. The Sauvage is the one who is going to have to do all the talking, so I can defer to him to perpetuate the lie. And if we get caught, well, I can always say I didn’t understand.

His parents house was lovely, surrounded by flowers and roses with a vegetable garden in the back. The Sauvage introduced me to both his parents who spoke to me quickly in French and it became immediately clear to me that he hadn't told them that I do not understand French very well, and certainly not when it is spoken to me quickly. They looked at him searchingly for an explanation. "She understand if you speak slowly," he told them. I began to wonder what, if anything, he told them about this strange girl he had invited with him on his family holiday.
Did any of them, even him, have any idea who they invited into their lives? This strange little girl with the notebook. Did they think of me as an annoyance? Did they have any idea how dangerous I could be?

We all have a drink of kir in the living room and toast before heading into the kitchen for lunch.

While breakfast is not a big deal in France (it's catching on now thanks to American influence), both lunch and dinner are three course affairs. While lunch for Americans is often a one plate something most likely prepared in a microwave, the typical French lunch left me overwhelmed. Where do they find the time to make this food? And then to enjoy it? This lunch was to establish what all the lunches with the parents were to be like.

We eat at a table in kitchen. The father offers me a glass of wine from a box of wine, yes a box of wine, on the table. I politely turn him down. The mother remarks that I am eyeing the fish frying on the stove “like a cat.” Actually I am eyeing the fish on stove like a person who doesn’t eat fish. The French are big on eating everything. I am aware from the Sauvage’s behavior that my lack of appetite and my inability to eat everything served to me is surprising to him.

The lunch begins with a salad of lettuces from their garden, which is tossed with a light almost not there vinaigrette and crottin. Next, were the fried fish and boiled red potatoes still steaming.

In Brittany, they eat potatoes strangely. Boiled potatoes are served steaming hot in a bowl with the skins still on. Each diner than takes a potato, deftly peels it, and then slathers it with butter. The French demonstrate a dexterity and facility with a knife that would set a neurosurgeon’s teeth on edge with jealousy and are so carefree when they handle a knife they would give my mother an aneurysm with anxiety contemplating severed fingers on the lunch plate.

Pretty quickly everyone essentially forgets about me at lunch. It shouldn’t surprise me. As someone who has used my ability with language to form a career (such that it is) not to mention a rather unusual internet persona a little bit of street justice to some of ex-boyfriends-it shouldn’t surprise me that without language I essentially fail to exist. To that end I have my little notebook in which I jot all my notes in English. So that I don’t fail to exist all together. When the others chat brightly with each other as if I am no longer visible, I take out my notebook. The notebook does seem to attract some attention and the Sauavge explains that this is normal for me. The language barrier thankfully prevents me from being able to give any detailed explanation of what I'm writing. The Sauvage joking calls the notebook my Bible to his parents and explains I always have it with me. I have enough language to respond to that, “I am a writer, I write.” "Naturally" he responds and smiles. He has no idea what I'm writing, but he seems to rather like that I am a writer. For me, it's that familiar retreat, it’s reassuring to still have one language that I express myself in precisely. And to have some activity to occupy me, an excuse, as it is, for not speaking.

After a homemade apple tart, with thinly sliced apples that melted on my tongue, and the cheese and coffee, we sit at the table. The father goes into the living room to watch television, Nana goes into her room to change out of her riding clothes, and the Sauvage and his mother begin to chat.
The mother attempting to banish my uncomfortable presence as well as to speak freely with her son about what insanity provoked him to bring me with him to Frehel invites me to explore her garden outside.

I wander out to appreciate the roses and the small vegetable garden in the back. There’s a clothes line and recognize my two shirts. The Sauvage had asked for my laundry the night before and I handed it all to him, panties included, without thinking. And there, balled up on the line-affixed with a wooden clothes pin-are my black satin panties with the rhinestone cat glinting in the Brittany sun. And I realize that nothing I could worn or said or done was going to make his parents like me, no matter what I do-they never will.

**I feel like I'm turning into David Foster Wallace with these footnotes, but when I got back from Frehel this was the first story I told the Doberman. He loved it, and already his girlfriend knows the story. So this post is for him, so he can simply forward this post for the entertainment of others.

Frehel Posts: In The Moment

Nana and the Sauvage walk ahead of me-hand in hand. I’m forgotten now, an after thought. As I walk, I see a bird floating in mid-air. Hovering really. Using the wind itself to stay suspended in place. It shifts, occasionally flapping its wings. I stand watching it amazed at how much effort it takes in order to stay in place. How much manipulation and sensitivity it takes to be, as they used to say in acting school, in the moment. To be free of the past and not thinking about the future. To simply feel the cool air rush past me and hear the crashing of the ocean. Not to think about getting back to Charles de Gaulle or the States or even writing about this moment, which will happen almost half a year from now. But I don't know that in that moment. Nor do I want to know about it. Or reflect on events that have not happened. Nor do I think about the past, about my father, my tireless conquests of unavailable men, the old friends abandoned, the memories that I feel obligated to keep alive, for if I don't they shall become lost. Standing on that cliff in the twilight, everything falls away. Time, Language, Emotion. The two of us are beings trying to stay in place, in the moment.

The Sauvage eventually calls to me, to follow him. He has noticed my absence. I take a picture of the bird. I know I shouldn't. The moment is already gone and now I'm living in the past again rather than just accept the flow of Time like the wind over my bare arms. Again I'm clinging to memories and fearing the loss of this moment when it's already gone.

I slowly scramble up the cliff. By the time I reach the top, they are already in the car still in their world of two. And me? I'm just trying to stay in place.

Frehel Diaries: Bed, Toilets, and Love
“The human sewage system is the world’s greatest invention. And you invented me and I invented you and that’s why we don’t get along on this bed any longer. you were the world’s greatest invention until you flushed me away.” beds, toilets, you and me by Charles Bukowski **

According to Jill Soloway, one of the writers of Six Feet Under, in her book Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants she claims “According to Hebrew belief, a relationship doesn’t really begin until you think, for the first time, “This is never going to work out.” For me, from the moment a guy says, “Hello” or “Want a drink” or “What’s your bra size” I know that it won’t work out. It’s the simplest math in the world. If I’m a part of the equation, I know in advance that whatever happens from this point on is going to hurt. Luckily, because of the life I’ve lived, my pain tolerance is so high that I’ve never let pain stand in my way.

I’ve also never my knowledge that my relationship was ultimately doomed stop me from pursuing it.

Optimism, in terms of my social life, is simply the hope that it will hurt him as much as it will hurt me.

However, for me the moment that the "relationship" began was our little sidetrip to Mont St. Michel.

By the time we arrived at Mont St. Michel, I was nauseous from the heat and on the verge of a migraine. And this was just the beginning.

For those of you who have wanted to see Mont St Michel, and I know at least one woman for whom it was her life long wish, don't. It should be labeled the world's smallest steepest tourist trap, for literally the entire "town" is dedicated to swindling tourists out of money, whether it is from the crappy souvenir stores, the overpriced biscuteries, or even the little cafes that sell bottles of water as if they had cornered the market. Once you see the thing in the distance, consider your mission accomplished.

But the Sauvage wanted to impress me, so he parked the car and I dutifully trailed him across the marshy sand and baking asphalt to the crowded entrance to confront yet another climb. And yet again I was confronted with the thought "This guy just doesn't get the whole disability thing." On the other hand, my father, who was an orthopedic surgeon, never quite got the whole disability thing either. Rising to impossible demands is a house specialty and so I slowly trudged behind him up the steep spiral walkway making it only as far as the Eglise St Pierre.

And it is at this point that I must remind you that I was on my period. The first day of my period I either become irrationally enraged to the point of murder with household objects or so depressed that I cry hopelessly for hours over a hangnail. I shall leave you to judge which emotional extreme I was experiencing.

Because the Sauvage was not a "tourist" in this place, being very familiar, we didn't stop at any of the cafes or stores even though I was almost on the verge of death from dehydration. I was covered in sweat, but he kept walking up looking back occasionally to make sure I was still making my way behind him. Finally we reached what he wanted to show me-the Eglise St Pierre with a gold statue of St. Michel. After looking at for a minute or two and taking my picture being properly reverential, he walked out. I wanted to kill him. He dragged me up all these stairs for this? Now it's not a nagging thought, it's a definitive fact-he doesn't understand how hard this is for me and seems completely dedicated to ignoring my panting trudging, which I would think MIGHT alert him to my discomfort.

After I walked out, we were indeed returning to the car after this thrilling sweatfest. I stopped at a cafe and bought a bottle of water, since no offers to prevent my imminent death were forthcoming. By this time the migraine was almost fullblown, but I had a Tylenol PM in my purse. I figured if I took half a dose I could at least sleep until we reached the hotel, and I might even be able to prevent my brain from exploding long enough to murder him.

Slicked with a scummy layer of sweat, he looked at me and proclaimed "You are a lucky girl." "Right, lucky me," I thought. "If I am so fucking lucky, I would have a body that works and boyfriend who understands, and I certainly wouldn't be here looking at this grinning moron on the side of one of the most ridiculous tourist traps I've ever been to. However," my inner monologue continued, "I am going to use this man. I’m going to ride him like a mechanical bull and squeeze him for every last drop of material, and when it’s all over, I’m never going to look back.” In a way it’s the perfect solution-I get what I want-sex, material, and experience I don’t even have to feel guilty about it. I mean, really, he’s the lucky one. He gets all the hot sex, and he doesn’t even have to worry about my rapier wit. And he can’t read English so, when I write all this up, I won't have to worry about hurting his feelings.

Once back in the car, I’m dizzy with my migraine, but I still take a moment to be amused that near Mont St. Michel there is another tourist attraction....Alligator Bay. I was so amused I took pictures of the roadside signs, and there is a part of me that was curious what else Alligator Bay offered aside from, you know, alligators. This is why everything in France seems surreal. It's not like the moral schitzophrenia of Las Vegas, but even the roadside attractions have a dream-like logic. I can just imagine telling my therapist "So I'm at this medieval abbey and then suddenly I'm in the middle of an alligator preserve, but I'm still in France." What's the symbolic content there, I wonder.

I want to stay awake, but with the heat I find myself sleepily rousing myself briefly to look at the sights he points out, like Gallo-Roman ruins. I wake soon before we get to the hotel. I can feel the difference in the air. Now instead of hot sluggish air, it’s cool as it rushes in through the window.

The hotel ends up being one star. One. While I'm not a five star hotel girl, usually 3 is the number I am for. 3 means an elevator and a private bath. One is barely better than a hostel. Lucky girl, my ass. He carries my suitcases up two flights of winding stairs. Stairs that I climb with difficulty. The bedroom is exactly that, a bedroom with a sink. The shower, in the hallway, is shared with the other people staying on the floor as is the toilet.

At this point the relationship isn’t dead, the eulogy has ended, the mourners have left, and the gravediggers, having patted the dirt in place are enjoying beers while leaning on their shovels. In a matter of hours, it will be pushing up the daisies.

But the bed is comfortable and private. I can lie down and feel reasonably confident that nothing in my suitcase will be stolen, which makes it better than the hostel I stayed at in Amsterdam. He promises to return, and I fall mercifully asleep unable to find the energy to even wonder how I am going to survive the rest of this now seemingly disastrous trip.

Two hours later, they return with my dinner in a bag-potato salad, apple sauce, a Panache (which the Savage describes beer with sprite) some cheese and 2 bananas. The nap as refreshed me as well as banished my migraine. He takes me to the beach and as the sun sets, I eat the dinner.

Afterwards they take me up to Cap Frehel. This is the first time I have seen Nana since I left May and the first time since I've arrived that he has showed a preference for someone's attention other than mine. While he walks hand in hand with her, I follow at a distance, struggling occasionally in the twilight with the rocky terrain. It makes me sad to be with them, to see their closeness and be outside of it as I clearly am walking unacknowledged behind them. Following in pained silence, I want to grab her and say, “Your father thinks I’m a lucky girl, but you’re the lucky one. A girl with the real love of her parents. Real unconditional love.”

Love. The real nature of love is sacrifice. I sacrificed a familiar world to come here and follow behind a man and his daughter. He’ll sacrifice me in order that she have everything she wants. And her? It’s possible that from his example she’ll become a selfless, loving, supportive woman. And anything in France is possible. More likely, she’ll grow up to be a monstrously manipulative ball of endless needs. And because she’s beautiful, she’ll get away with it.

If I had the choice, I’d rather be lucky, like Nana, as the Sauvage thinks I am, than smart. Unfortunately none of us get that choice. So I follow behind silent and uncomplaining knowing that as soon as I get back to Charles de Gaulle that this relationship is over.

Lucky, lucky me.

** Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, Blogger does not want me to reproduce the original spacing for this poem. Apologies.

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Frehel Diaries: The Beautiful Hippo and Fear of a French Toilet

We don't rise that early. There is, despite my period, significant love making, although it is a bit more delicate, for he admits that the blood scared him a bit. Eventually we rise and shower, him getting in behind me I suppose to make sure that my breasts were properly clean.

We quickly load the car, and I notice he has a bag of assorted snacks that he puts in the back, which put me at ease that I won't starve to death on this unknown drive across France. As we begin our trip to Brittany, the Sauvage asks me if I know a word in English saying it slowly, "Hip-o-pot-a-mus." At the time, it didn't occur to me to ask where he would hear such a word.** I repeat the word quickly with my American accent. "What?" he asks. So I repeat it again quickly. "That's really pretty in English. Say it again." So I say it again and giggle. Out of all the words he has heard me say, he thinks the word hippopotamus is pretty. Then again I like the word for umbrella in french "parapluie." (Audience participation time: what word in another language do you like just for it's sound? Even if you don't know the meaning?) Still for all the musicality of the French language, I think there is a beauty to English; it hurts me, just a bit, that this language that I so excel in doesn't appeal to him. That he can't hear the beauty in my words the way I hear the beauty in his.

But there is much to see, out the window, the French countryside with French sheep and French cows on French farms. While those who haven't grown up in the country might think that farms look like farms, there is actually a distinct look to farms dependent on location. And, of course, there are even different types of cows-whether it be the shaggy Highland Kine or the fawn colored Guernsey. I take pictures, which the Sauvage doesn't comment upon. I've never explained that I come from a small farm town (which Bakerina has dubbed, with great authority, the Most Depressing Town Ever), and so, despite living in a thriving metropolis, I do love farms. And the farms here are still rustic, still looking like they haven't changed in the last 150 years. They aren't ugly like most of the farms I see when I visit my mother, with a variety of tractors in different stages of rust carefully scattered around the grounds. I try and stay awake to contemplate these farms and the life that must go on inside them, but unfortunately because the car has no AC I keep falling asleep from the heat.

After a few hours, we stop at a roadside picnic table and W.C. The lot is filled with cars, not just the French, but families from the Ukraine, Switzerland, Germany, are here, some in large campers, others piled into small cars. In Europe, renting or owning a camper and driving to another country or even far distances across the continent is still popular and doesn't carry the social stigma it does here in the states. Furthermore, the art of picnicking, not eating in the car, but spreading out a blanket and having a full on meal, is still alive and well in France, even at roadside stops. The amount of food and the kind that people brought with them was dazzling, fresh breads, salads, roasted chickens, bright colored fruits that you know hadn't been engineered in NJ, and stinky cheeses. These foods hadn't been bought, they had made. But was really overwhelming was that to the French, this was just lunch. Looking out at all these families, sitting in sun, brightly chatting in a variety of different languages, children playing, dogs snuffling in the brush, open dishes being passed, at first struck me as a little Grapes of Wrath. But there is really no America equivalent, for we have lost this spirit. A communal love of Nature. Even in Central Park, people are more content to speed walk and listen to their ipods. The picnics are purchased from Eli's or Citarella, and there is nothing spontaneous about it.

I discovered upon waking that I was absolutely starving. We found a small uninhabited patch of grass, which was no easy trick for almost all of the grass all the way back to the entrance to the "highway" was taken up with families and food, and the Sauvage took out an assortment of food. He cut pieces of fresh melon, opened a tomato salad he made the night before, cut hunks of baguette, opened two store bought containers of celeriac and potato salad, and finished the meal with a few cheeses. I ate my fill, being sure to taste everything, and finished off a bottle of water before finding my way to ladies room.

The most adventurous thing a woman can do in France is go to the toilet. In the July chapter of Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence, he takes time to write about French toilets and specifically a toilet "a la turque", which is essentially a hole. In 1989, the year of the book's publication, Peter assured his readers that "turque" style lavatories were still manufactured and purchased. I, fortunately, had only come into contact with this "style" of bathroom once before at Polidor, the restaurant where Rimbaud and Verlaine used to hang out. Apparently the "toilet", which I'm sure is the same one Verlaine used, is all part of the homage to these writers, and it certainly keeps one from getting swept away with some romanticized ideal of the Paris of the past. But getting back to my point, my general experience with French plumbing had been pretty good, and they certainly had better water pressure than the English.

But not for long.

I was waiting on a very long line as there were only five stalls to serve an entire parking lot filled with women eating lunch. I noticed while I was on line that there were two stalls that some of the women avoided, even if it meant waiting five minutes for another stall to open up. It should have been a warning sign, for if the French fear a toilet it must be something to be feared indeed. But when one of the "mystery" stalls opened up, I was too tired and out of it to question. I went inside.

I'm one of those crazy motherfuckers that once I commit to something, it doesn't matter what it is, I am not going to back down. I may take a long time to deliberate, but once the decision has been made, that's it. No matter the cost, to myself or others. So when I discovered that I was facing a toilet a la turque, I was not going to admit my mistake and go back out. After all this was an adventure, this was about pushing my limits, even in a nonglamourous way. Furthermore, my mother has always taken great delight in proclaiming that "Bunni's idea of roughing it is a hotel without room service." So I thought I could finally silence her as I carefully crouched.

And that is when the lights went out.

Certain toilets in France have a timer that starts when the door closes. This is to prevent "lingering" in the toilet. (For example, the toilets on the grounds of Versailles have such timers.) Whoever sets these timers has a pretty low threshold for "lingering" and most likely doesn't understand how much arranging of clothing has to go on before a woman can relieve herself. I mean, the last thing I wanted to do was hang out in toilet a la turque, which was from my way of thinking a step down from an outhouse.

However, being a hyperaware person, I was able to relieve myself, locate the toilet paper, and get myself all sorted out in the dark. I was my hands and applied lip balm fairly proud to have vanquished the toilet a la turque.

Still, there was no way I was ever going to use one of those things again if I had the choice.

I rejoined the Sauvage and hopped in the car, and we quickly got back on our way to our next stop Mont St. Michel.

**On my most recent trip to Paris, I discovered the cause of his question. There is a chain restaurant in Paris that serves French food called Hippopotamus. I have no idea why they chose this name, but then I still don't understand the Las Vegas Strip Club Chain named Spearmint Rhinoceros.


Frehel Diaries: Sex and Death by Celebrity Guest Writer Henry Miller**

“I believe in sex and death, two things that come once in a lifetime, but at least after death you don’t get that nauseous feeling.” Woody Allen in Sleeper

He lights the candles in the living room. I change into the the yellow and pink Italian lace slip that I brought.

One does not get a petname like the Sauvage for one's gentle and romantic lovemaking. One gets a name like the Sauvage for tearing off a woman's underwear with one's teeth and ravaging her with such passion that one leaves bruises that last two weeks. Of course, if you are a girl like me, your relationship with pain is such that you don't trust anything that doesn't have a bit of a twinge to it, lovemaking included. And perhaps this makes me perverse, but I rather like being left bruised after lovemaking, particularly on hidden parts of my body. I relish the sudden surprise of soreness followed by a quick half smile of remembrance that accompanies such marks.

And so our lovemaking on the living room couch, in front of an unshuttered glassed in balcony was as rough and brutal as I expected. But as we changed positions, I looked down and noticed dark marks on his body. It wasn't until I touched his skin that I realized it was blood, my blood, for I was covered it in as was the couch. I ran to the bathroom and began to wash myself off. I wasn't scared, it was either a slight tear or a very early period, I was merely embarrassed. The Sauvage came in after cleaning the couch. He only had a few streaks of blood on him. After cleaning up, I managed to confirm that this was indeed my period.

On top of all the others issues facing our trip, I had now gotten my period about two weeks early. Just in time for a long roadtrip and two weeks at the beach, not to mention what this was going to do to my brilliant plan of two weeks of relentless lovemaking. And I began to wonder if God really wanted me to take this vacation or if I was in for the most nightmarish two weeks of my life.

I returned to the living room after cleaning up, a bit sheepish, to be rather surprised that he still wanted to make love. I wasn't quite in the mood, and I'm not sure he was entirely either, for after a bit of half hearted effort, we both decided to go to bed instead. Still I was impressed with the ease that he simply accepted what had happened and moved on. There are many men I know who would have needed to shower in 20 mule team borax for a week as well as receiving counseling 2 or three times a day before recovering from such an event.

I fell asleep easily enough, but woke at 3 am. The Sauvage was snoring and the bed, which was wide enough for two was not wide enough to dull the sound. I went into the living room and tried to sleep on the couch, but I was just in time for Mimi Secour, le chat de Sauvage, to have her nightly crack freak out. After trying to put up with the French cat jumping on my head for about 20 minutes, I took half a dose of tylenol PM and returned to the bedroom where I was able to sleep. I knew that whatever lay ahead I needed all the help, and sleep, I could get.

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