There is a monster in my living room. It is our Christmas tree.
Remi picked it out this year.
This makes the seventh Christmas that we have bought our tree from the Mountain Man of the Ardeche. Yes, we have our faults but we are ridiculously loyal. It seems the very least we can do for his efforts of filling up his rusted white van full of sapins de Noêl in the middle of the night and making the five hour drive so as to arrive in time for our Wednesday market. He never disappoints, neither the man nor his trees. His face is as craggy as the mountain that he comes from and is nearly covered with hair, his teeth have been worn down to daggers. But he was so pleased to see us again! He clapped his hands together and smiled. It always feels so good to be remembered, doesn't it?
And his trees! Well, this year Remi had suggested, wisely, that we get a smaller tree as we have less space in this new apartment so we headed over to the "small" section, a bargain at only 30€ a pop. I ran to get cash while Remi selected carefully. After promises of "à l'année prochaine" and a wave, we carried it home between us. With Ben trotting at our side, I felt very much the little family out of a JCrew ad, something I highly doubt I will ever feel again.
Imagine my surprise when we brought the tree into the apartment and it fit under the ceiling with barely an inch to spare. Wasn't this supposed to be a smaller tree? And then we opened it up and it is as skinny as a Czech supermodel. "I like it," Remi said, clearly proud of his choice, "it is different, very Zen." Different it most certainly is but that is also why I call it a monster. It is, poor thing, quite simply the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree...on steroids.
*For the following little epilogue, for those you that are wanting to stay in the fairy dust land of the holiday season, please feel free to skip it. I won't blame you in the least. Ditto if you are simply too busy!*
And while vaguely on the subject of cultural differences, I had a conversation this morning while I was out on my morning walk with Ben that was odd on so many levels that it is worth repeating. I was in a great mood, the sky was blazing blue and I had my camera out, ready to take some photos. A man stopped to compliment me on Ben but I quickly realized that he had confused him with a dog that is similar in appearance but actually belongs to the Roma or Gypsy camp outside of town. This dog is very sweet and makes the rounds to the shops for attention and scraps. I said that it is surprising that he is so docile and well-trained. The man puffed up his chest and said, "Not all Gypsies are dirty you know. Where are you from?" When I replied that I was American (curious to see where this was going) he responded, "Well, that is the difference between your society and mine. Here in France we do not make such gross assumptions about people as you Americans do, where black is black and white is white." Now, I knew that I should have stopped this exchange right away by explaining that I am not in the habit of confusing people with their dogs but I couldn't help myself. "Excuse me, but how can you say such a thing when France remains an incredibly racist country? We are in a region where nearly 30% of the population votes for the FN (the Front National Party) which wants to sweep all of the immigrants out of the country..." I paused, stupefied and also because I realized that I was raising my voice. "This is not about racism!" he yelled, now also angry. "You see? A good conversation turned ugly," I said with a shrug as I turned my back and continued down the street. For the record, I don't have a problem with the Gypsies but their dogs are often aggressive as they are trained to guard the camps. Sheesh. Why is it, after so many years of living in France that it still makes me so very angry when someone makes a gross generalization about the United States? Every single time I hear "you Americans" my skin crawls. My country is so huge and holds such a wide range of religions and cultures, styles and modus operandi. Please don't put us in a box, that is unless you are willing to wrap it up with a big bow to put it under my Monster Tree.