A computer at last! So what has happened? How do you like France? And so on… those are the questions that many of the Frogs have asked you while you were in the Ardèche.
First of all, you have told people that you were slow to form your opinions. In Ireland, it was a different story; you loved the country immediately. France is much different, and the cultures do not mesh as well.
In your time here, you have been surrounded predominantly by non-native French people, so learning to comprehend the language when it is spoken to you has been difficult, because these people either spoke English to you immediately, or spoke in their own respective accents. Furthermore, you discovered that Honoré does not merely have a thick accent, but in fact cannot pronounce the letter ”S”, making it all the more difficult to decipher whatever he said.
Your experience in the Archèche, as a whole, was quite varied. There was some good: learning farm skills, experiencing French food culture, gettting tan, hiking, swimming, kayaking down the river Thines, getting scoops of ice cream, and getting to know (for a week) a dazzlingly intelligent German Wwoofer.
Then there was the not-so-good… Ronna and Honoré both drove you crazy in their respective ways. On the very first day, speaking to Ronna, you realized she liked to talk more and listen less. Ok. No problem, as you yourself have been known to be overly talkative (what can you say? You love to hear yourself talk!). But, she had a tendency to interrupt, to interject comments that lended nothing to the conversation, speak in a painfully slow cadence (sometimes it took her a week to get out of a sentence), and lend more time to tangential and utterly useless information than to the point at hand (thereby taking a year to tell a story). Furthermore, she spoke brusquely, directly–rudely, at times. At first you thought perhaps she was simply asking for things in a manner literally translated from French, but later Melia told you that Ronna did in fact lack a certain conversational lubricant. Fine. You’re just bitching about the little things because you are annoyed by the more important things, such as her habit of misplacing things and then asking you about them in an accusatory manner. She was high-stress and had anger management issues. She was so high strung with her list of rules (two pages long) and so emotional(ly immature) that you found yourself tiptoeing around the premesis in a manner you haven’t maintained since your days in middle and high school, when you feared for your safety around the angry woman living with you and your dad. Literally, you were terrified of fucking up.
At the end of your second week, Saturday morning at 6:38am (market day), you were peacefully eating breakfast. Honoré and Ronna entered the room. Honoré, in his incomprehensible manner of communicating with you, says something-something ”deux minutes” (two minutes). You said, in broken French, ”We’re leaving in two minutes?” Ronna says, ”Twenty to,” which sounds EXACTLY like ”twenty-two.” Well, if it is 6:38am and one is going to leave in twenty-two minutes, that would desigate a departure time of 7:00am. You ask this: what was unreasonable about assuming you would leave at 7:00 rather than 6:40?! Nothing. Silly mistake and a RIDICULOUS COINCINDENCE involving language (this would never have happened if it had not been exactly 6:38am).
Seven minutes passed, and then Ronna started yelling at you. Yelling. What the fuck for? Realizing your mistake, you tried to explain it and grab your bag all at once, but Ronna was SO ANGRY she was nearly in tears (yes, she cried several times over absurdly unimportant things; that is, unimportant in the grand scheme of things about which one can worry and thereby significantly shorten their lifespan, and add ten years’ worth of premature age lines to one’s visage). After receiving enough of her verbal accosts, you manned up and yelled back, ”Jesus, my DEEPEST APOLOGIES!” God Almighty, you meant it, beacause you were SORRY. Sorry to RUIN MARKET DAY (though you unloaded the truck in record time). Sorry to realize that if you were to shove a lump of coal up Ronna’s ass, she would surely crap out a diamond. You have a problem with angry women–put up with enough of them to last you a lifetime. Well, turns out Ronna seemed to realize that her reaction MIGHT have been inappropriate. For the remaining week, she treated you much more cordially, seemed to listen more, keep herself calm, and made your last week on the farm somewhat pleasant. But she bugged you, you (are ashamed to?) admit. First, she loved to preface things with ”consider the source,” but had an extensive history of taking as true many blatantly false things with little thought, such as the notion that BANANAS ARE BAD FOR YOU. She also loved to correct your casual English (the grammar of which, truly, has begun to slip as a result of modifying your speech patterns to communicate with non-native English speakers), but failed to recognize her own mistakes. You’d be damned if you had to guts to point them out to her.
Honoré was a different case all together. The very first day, he started abusing your name, “Ma-ri-a! Marr-iiii-ah!! Marr-eee!! Marr-eee! Ma petite, Marie!” Enough! Also, he liked to touch you… a lot. No, really. A LOT. Fact number one: you are American, and Americans like their personal space. Fact number two: you don’t like to be touched–by ANYONE–and if you must be touched, it better on your terms. Fact number three: because you don’t like to be touched, naturally you don’t enjoy any of the following from strange old men–hand-holding, hugging, arms that link with yours, arms that serpentine around your waist, kisses on the hand, kisses on the forearm, upper arm, shoulder, or cheek. On the second day, you said in French, “Honoré, I don’t like it very much when you kiss me all the time.” He said, “It’s just that I like you so much. You’re so sweet, so kind.” You didn’t fucking care. Knock it off, old man!
Well, you continued to put up with that bullshit or a few days, thinking that it just must be a “French” thing, but you noticed he never touched eccessively when Ronna or anyone else was around. Finally, Melia entered into the picture. Pint-sized, just 18 years old. You asked her privately what she thought of Honoré. She tried to remain diplomatic, so you got the ball rolling by mentioning the touching first, and she agreed whole-heartedly. It was creey, not to mention gross, having that wet, toothless mouth slobbering all over her all the time, and having his weathered, dirty, gorilla fingers carressing her every chance they got.
It did not take her long to say to him quite fiercely, “Honoré, stop touching me! I DON’T LIKE IT AT ALL!” Amen. But he didn’t stop. He said he touched all the girls because he wanted them to have a good time; he wanted them to feel good and happy because Ronna could be quite mean. Riiight. “Honoré, do you touch the boys?” Melia asked. “Oh no,” he said. “It’s not neccessary. Plus, the boys might get angry and try to fight him.” Oh, DUH! Clearly because you were girls you would not mind an old geezer’s hands all over you! Surely the girls don’t care; Honoré, when you drive with your hand resting snugly toward the middle of an upper thigh. Gender prejudice, at its best! When Honoré playfully tried to touch Melia again, she grabbed his hand, threw it off her person, and nearly hit him. She stormed off. You took a moment to mediate. “Honoré, I know you are just trying to be nice, and I am patient. I can endure the touching because I am not threatened by it. I’m bigger, older… but Melia is quite young and very small. The touching sends a very different message.” He started settling for handshakes after that.
So maybe he wasn’t some dirty old pervert. Maybe he really did have the best intentions. It was clear that he loved having Wwoofers around, since Ronna was insufferable and, without fail, screamed at him every night over something stupid. Hence, Honoré always drove home at, hmmm, approximately seven miles per hour, or insisted on wasting time here, killing time there… ANYTHING to not go home to her. With each scream Ronna directed at him, you would jokingly say to Melia, “Awww, I feel sorry for him. You know what, I’ll sit in the middle of the truck tomorrow and let the poor guy grope my leg all day, just to balance out this injustice!” He was just a lonely guy with a verbally abusive wife. Or, as the pornographic fiction Melia discovered in his truck would suggest, he really is a dirty old perv…
As for Melia… she was a godsend. You don’t know how you would have survived if she had not arrived to break up the monotony. 18 years old. Spoke four languages fluently. Wickedly intelligent for her age. The two of you talked for hours and hours, every day. She earnestly indulged your philosophical explorations. The two of you discussed language, politics, history, meaning, reason, body language and gender expression, identity, self-perception, the concept of time, the definition of boredom, epistemology, dystopic worlds, the aesthetic quality of art, the zen-like existence of cows, self-preservation, ethical food choices, and so on… you actually gave yourself a headache from all the thinking. You were in awe of her whenever you stopped to consider whether you in fact could have ever formulated the arguments she did–at her age. Answer: hell no. She shared a few bits of her wisdom. First, one of her favorite quotes from Einstein, “Human stupidity is endless, but I’m not sure about the universe.” And, in her own wrods, “Don’t take yourself so seriously.” You really ought to devote an entire entry to that revelation alone.
Thank you, Melia, for all of it. Oh, except when you said, “Maria, two or three times I looked at you and thought you could be a mom with three kids.” Wait. WHAT? A mom? A MOM? How old ARE you, Maria?! Oh god. Melia, you are forgiven–but barely. 😉
You take away from the Ardèche fond memories of the skies, the green mountains, the chamber pot, the amazing organic food… fond memories of being EATEN ALIVE by mosquitoes (way to face your fears, Maria!), of fearfully ducking out of the room when Ronna entered, of watching Honoré hug a loaf of bread against his bare, sweaty chest and cut slices from it, the way bread crumbs would dangle from his chest hair like moths caught in a cobweb… good times. As someone once said to you about ‘tolerance,’ it “teaches you patience.”