An Education

France continues to confound, amuse, occasionally delight and frequently drive me nuts. I guess you could call it boot camp, for what I'm not exactly sure. It turns every assumption about the civilized world upside down - I used to think I was kind of cynical and worldly but I look back on those days of dewy innocence with a mixture of embarrassment and wonder. Four years in this place will do that to a person.

I remember how a few French words thrown together on a sign above a sandwich shop - Au Bon Pain - could add a touch of glamour and quality to a bagel in midtown or a cup of soup at a rest stop on the Ohio Turnpike. Just by association - "hey, it's French, it must have that something extra." I never thought I'd be in France wishing I could get anything as decent as an Au Bon Pain Chicken Caesar sandwich for lunch but that is the frequent reality here.

Today I was all excited because I finally visited a Leroy Merlin store and it was a lot closer to what I'd expected of France: style, color, pizazz. The main color, in addition to the bold black and white graphics on the outside of the store, was that "Play Misty For Me" late 60's/early 70's bright green that I love. The clerks were wearing tattersal-check shirts white with green, everything looking very smart. The prices were reasonable, the kitchen and bath displays weren't completely hideous, even the colors on the rows of paint cans had the depth and intensity of the vintage French fashion magazines I flipped for back at art school in the 70s.

The place had sprung up outside of Limoges in the last few months, alongside some other mall-type stores. Driving into the complex, we'd passed something called Cafe Madeline. A cafe, one would assume. It was next to a McDonald's.

"Why don't we go over there and have a coffee?" Eric said, after we'd bought some paint. We've been fixing the house up to make it more salable as it's dawned on us we can't make a living here without traveling at least twelve hours away.

"Isn't this civilized!" I said. "I mean, I know it's a mall but at least we can get what we need, have a snack and go home, without actually having to go into Limoges." A trip there usually leaves one or both of us deeply depressed or traumatized.

It wasn't looking good as I opened the door of Cafe Madeline. Where was the coffee bar part of the cafe, the one with the espresso machine? All I could see was a mall attempt at a fine dining experience - the decor was photographic murals of people eating in restaurants.

"Can we just get some coffee?" I asked the hostess who greeted us with menus in hand.

"No, it's a restaurant - for coffee, there's the McDo (Mac-Dough)." She gestured next door.

"But it says `cafe'!" Eric said. "We're in France, and you're sending us to a McDonald's for the coffee?" She looked bewildered so we left.

Emmanuel brought oysters fresh from Bretagne over last night. That was delightful. The crisp fall weather with bright blue sky is perfect. Recording is good, and writing. As long as I stay out of the stores, restaurants, garages, insurance offices, "cafes", Limoges - I'll be fine.

Oh and the library's okay - I like the library.