Friday, August 7, 2015

Contrasts in Provence, Part 3



I had something else entirely planned for today but thought it appropriate to share something with you instead. One of the things that I have always tried to do consciously here was to share the good along with the "bad"about my life in Provence. This post will be leaning towards the latter, possibly, so if that is not your cup of tea I understand and will look forward to seeing you at the beginning of next week...


To say that I have a temper, well...it isn't an understatement but it isn't something that defines me either. Not these days...although when I was younger I used to point to the color of my hair in explanation. Such a redhead. But if you do push me over a certain line on certain subjects, I will explode.

When you live in a big city such as Paris or New York, there is always a cushion of anonymity in your daily interactions. Even in Arles, there is such an enormous influx of tourists that it took years for folks in our neighborhood to really pin us down. Not so here, in this tiny village that is very proud of being "off the map."


I have never lived before in such an environment, having grown up either in the country or smallish towns or big cities but a village is an entirely different animal, one where I will call out "Bless you" thinking that Remi has sneezed only for him to call up, "It wasn't me!" Oops. "It takes a village..." Yes, it can, when everyone sees eye to eye. But when things devolve into petty differences, they can quickly escalate into disproportional arguments. Especially when you are the new kids in town.


We are extremely fortunate in that the neighbors en face or across from us are discreet. Mr. M, the retired coiffeur, is barely at home and is delightful when he is. The other house that overlooks our courtyard is lived in by an elderly man and his son, who, since they don't have a landline, talks on his cell phone outside in order for the signal to pass. It echoes like a rocket chamber and we hear every word. We have been patient - save for on one of our first nights at this house when he sat on our front steps to talk - but it is tiresome.

Yesterday evening, after a nearly two hour long phone call spoken at high volume, Remi stuck his head out of our gate and politely asked if he could keep it down a bit. Fifteen minutes later, our bell rings and the young neighbor is back with his visiting twin brother. Remi is a Libra and a champion diplomat. I sensed already that the brothers were looking for trouble and so, confident in Remi and less so in my temper, I receded into the house as it was time to open up the shutters and windows after a long, hot day.


My instinct was right and I heard the brothers voices rising despite Remi's insistently calm tone. He would later tell me that threats were involved, directly and indirectly, all because we had asked him to speak more quietly! But no, it wasn't about that finally, not really. It was about the fact that we aren't from here. For as I reached the top floor windows I heard one of them declare that they were pur race or pure blood of long date from this village, implying that they could do what they wanted.

Am I proud that I came downstairs at a run and shouting? No, I am not. But I can't abide by such language, especially in a country which was controlled by Hitler not so very long ago. I made my point that while a foreigner I had every right to live here despite that the village had voted Front National in the past elections. "Je suis FN!" the twin brother responded, "I belong to the Front National!" I told him that I didn't doubt it and then finally respected Remi's heed for my swift return indoors. Amazingly to me, Remi was able to forge a verbal bridge and the brothers left him with a handshake. But I was still shaking with rage.


And yes, as Remi would later wisely say, a confrontation between us has been long in coming. The tension started on that night a year ago. Their family has never returned our "Bonjour" so I have stopped trying. There are others in the village that are cold to us, making it clear that we are unwelcome - and my strong reaction undoubtedly came off a recent series of rebuttals - but happily, there are many, many more that are kind - the amazing folks at our local garden being just one example. But still, last night's interaction made me well aware that there is an undercurrent to keep in mind and a balance to be found. I doubt we will have any other such interlocutions with the twins as in the South people explode once and since we didn't retreat, it will be dropped and we will politely ignore each other.

So, all of this is to express as I have said before, it isn't always La Vie en Rose when one lives overseas as an expat, even in such a gloriously beautiful region as Provence. It is a learning process. And while I don't regret sticking up for my (very American) ideals, I still have much to learn.


I have written a few other posts in this series, some having to do with the FN, some not.

If interested you can find them at:
http://lostinarles.blogspot.fr/2014/05/walking-blind.html
http://lostinarles.blogspot.fr/2014/03/contrasts-in-provence.html
and
http://lostinarles.blogspot.fr/2014/04/contrasts-in-provence-part-two.html


Have a wonderful weekend...


...and may the light shine bright for you wherever you are.

50 comments:

FlowerLady Lorraine said...

Bless your heart! I would have raced down the steps and did what you did too. :-) I'm NOT a redhead. Sometimes, you can only take so much 'guff' and have to speak your mind.

I hope you have no more heated words with the neighbors.

You live in such a beautiful and peaceful place, keep enjoying it and the friendly people of your village.

FlowerLady

Bill Facker said...

I'm a Haole in Hawaii, Heather .. believe me when I tell you I completely understand your feelings of hurt and anger. One begins to comprehend prejudice .. whether it is because you are the "outsider" or because of the color of your skin. May I suggest the harder one fights negativity, the more power we give it. Negativity thrives on any energy sent its way .. good or bad. I know it's cliche', but as we purposefully ignore the negatives and continue to center ourselves and focus on the positives within, these negatives dissipate .. they can't survive in a state of happiness and self contentment. In fact, as your smile grows broader and that unreturned "Bonjour" continues from your heart .. miracles will happen .. positivity cannot be denied. Keep on smilin' .. pull your energy in .. love the good parts and allow those angry beings to steep in their own juices .. as they see your happiness and feel your humble self, they will want to be part of it. If not .. well, fuck 'em. :-)

Aloha,
Bill

www.kauai-to-paris.com

Joan McKniff said...

If I had the talent, and the desire to break the peace in my retirement, ruin my health and sanity, as well as taking time, energy, and effectiveness in trying to get my fellow Americans to support the Iran Nuclear Deal, and after more than 30 years living and working overseas, from Peace Corps Volunteer to US Diplomat, I could write a multi volume book on this topic, including examples in USA. So I work for a Foreign Policy of Diplomacy while I take great joy with the arrival of my new potting bench, the good neighbors, the beauty of life. Wishing you such joys as well.

La Contessa said...

WELL,Giampy ALWAYS the diplomat.
ME.................would have done exactly what you did!!!!
GOOD JOB REMI..............give them the FINGER as you walk by............would they know what that means?MAYBE NOT!We have to think about the dogs now.................be civil.........BUT NO SMILE!
XOXO

Ann Mah said...

Wow, wow, wow, Heather. You are very brave and I admire you. Like all living, breathing entities, France is flawed -- and it's shocking and painful to experience it. (In fact, I've been writing about these very issues in my new novel -- and was afraid I've exaggerated them, but you've confirmed that they run deep.) Thank you for your honest post. Wishing you a moment of peace this weekend. xo

Judith Ross said...

Thank you for speaking up. Some things are too important to keep quiet about. Sending love and hugs from the land of Donald Trump.

Judi of Little House said...

Beautiful "pearls of wisdom!"

Rowan said...

I believe that what you have encountered is not just in France alone, but smaller towns/villages the world over seem to harbour resentment of outsiders. In my early childhood, we lived in a country town in Australia, having moved there form Sydney (the big smoke). While I was happy and wasn't particularly aware of any issues, I remember my mother telling me years later, that the locals still referred to people as newcomers 20 years after they had moved there. My parents' friends all seemed to be people who had moved to the area from elsewhere.

People don't like change and I guess, coming from a city, Remi, or worse still from America, (you), you represent a threat or could be that they believe that you might think of yourselves as superior. It's basically fear or insecurity, that makes people act that way. Unfortunately, it makes it unpleasant for you in your everyday dealings. Do you continue with a smile as you pass by, as if nothing has happened? Do you freeze them out and ignore them? Dealing with neighbours can be a precarious thing. All the better if it is respectful and cordial. Unfortunately, they have not been respecting your boundaries!

Wishing you happy days and a peaceful solution. So glad that you have your gardening fraternity to depend upon!
Cheers,
Deborah in Melbourne.

Sarah Elizabeth said...

I know exactly how you feel. Living in a small village can be so idyllic and yet so very hard. It's easier for me only because my husband is from the village where we live so people must show me a certain level of respect. However, I will always be to many of our neighbours 'the foreigner'. And I'm often made to feel like I don't have as much right to be here as the people who have lived here for generations. Luckily so far we haven't had cause for any confrontations as our direct neighbours are pretty easy-going people. Well done to you though for standing up for your ideals.

Emilia Tremante said...

Good morning dear!
I completely agree with Bill (comment above) he expressed my opinion from the first to the last word.
Anyway:
In our roman dialect we have an expression : " quanno ce vô ce vô!" That is: sometimes it
is NECESSARY to react! WELL DONE Heather!
Have a nice weekend dear!

At the beginning of next week I am writing an e-mail to you dear.



Babycakes said...

I have to say, your encounter is not unique to a small village. I live in Montecito, California. A suburb of Santa Barbara. Our next door neighbor is the same way, cell phone conversations near our bedroom window, at full volume. We try to be patient but seriously, it's just bad manners.People are people wherever you go. I think you needed to express yourself, and now the know you aren't a pushover. Walk tall.

RebeccaNYC said...

the FN is a frightening group, and we understand that it is gaining strength in the South. You know we are planning to live in France (at least for a while...) when I retire in 4 years...this is one of the things that frightens me. And Steve is Jewish. We will have to choose the town very very carefully. Good for you for standing up to those bullies. I'm sorry they are your immediate neighbors, that is sad.

Gillian Longworth McGuire said...

This is a fantastic post Heather. Our upstairs neighbors are still angry with us for using the communal roof once over FOUR years ago. I hadn't realized how tiresome they were until they left for the summer. Being the outsider can be a challenging thing, but ultimately worth the trails and effort.

Karena Albert said...

Remy is indeed a diplomat, not that I wouldn't have done exactly as you Heather. That's the point isn't it though for all of us to try and live in peace, kindness and harmony all over the world.

xoxo
Karena
The Arts by Karena

Jackie and Joel Smith said...

When looking for our home in Greece one of the conditions I imposed was 'distance from the neighbors' as many homes are built on spacious stretches of land right NEXT to at least one other home, sometimes two. I could envision the phone conversation or music playing or laughter or fighting, whatever the noise might be. We ended up with space and lovely neighbors but I can understand the situation you described so well. We have been welcomed in our village as Americans are few and far between here - a novelty, we are. I suspect there may be some who don't like the idea of newcomers to their area, but we have yet to meet them. I too will tell the story on our blog of both the good and bad of the ex -pat life. An interesting look at your life there.

rosie said...

Heather,you are one of the few writers who is actually open about the good and the bad to living overseas.. Thank you. We, of course have plenty of our own problems here in the States - at least we are honest about it.

I live right outside of Manhattan & I am in the City at least 3x - 4x a week. I still love this City even with all its craziness. However; over two years ago, the current Mayor (deBlasio) was elected by ONLY a 24% turnout. That's it. Since his election, crime is going up, the city has gotten dirtier, gang violence is up, violent crime is up. There is also a large increase of homeless people who need help & need help fast. He is doing nothing.

We are going back to the NYC of the 70's & 80's and I cannot go through that nightmare again. I moved to a nearby state then for my sanity & safety.

So, when people get ambivalent about politicians, refuse to do their research on who is running & refuse to vote, this is what you get. Essentially a politician that really no one wanted. Even our Governor who is in the same party as deBlasio, will not work with him or basically have anything to do with him.

My parents came from Europe as small children. They assimilated & my granparents had a very hard time. A lot of prejudice was shown them. . They persevered and did well & never regretted coming.

Heather, I do not like confrontation. But if I am pushed - I push back. So, I would have been down those stairs in a NY minute. You did the right things - you cannot let bullies be bullies.

I wish you all the best

Rosie





Things can change this much in only two years, that's all the time it took.

Kerry O'Gorman said...

Unfortunatley your neighbours come with the territory and you have no choice...except to move. Of course not really an option! I am constantly amazed at how self centered people can be while A: on their phones and B: in their cars. Seems that they figure it's their right to act anyway they choose. I try to be mindful of others and honestly dont want people to hear my private conversations. I have also had to struggle with my temper (coming from Irish blood!) but sometimes it just has to spill out! Bon chance with all of this. You have my sympathies.

simpleimages2 said...

I didn’t realize France or in France, especially local village people, is not free of prejudice. Very sad.




Heather Robinson said...

We do love it here! The house, the space, the land for the doggies, our garden, its hidden qualities. :) Lots of good to focus on. :)

Heather Robinson said...

You are amazing, Bill. Thank you. Truly, truly, merci.

I got through my years in NYC by staying positive and being positive with people that I met no matter how challenging that was at times...It did make changes...in me and in others. Thank you for the reminder.

Namaste,
Heather

Heather Robinson said...

Duly noted, applied and appreciated, Joan. I was hoping that you would respond to this post.

Heather Robinson said...

I did think about the dogs and of course I will be civil! I love that Giampy is a diplomat too. What are they doing with such hot-headed women?? ;)

Heather Robinson said...

Nope as its the "Fete du Village"! heehee But thank you for that wish - I am finding it in the responses here, so inattended. And I am super psyched that you are writing about this in your new novel!!! A subject very dear to my heart and the one thing that shocked me the most upon moving to France.
As for their running deep, never forget that "France" started out as "Gaul" and that "my tribe against your tribe" very much exists!

Heather Robinson said...

Don't get me started!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Heather Robinson said...

Super well-expressed Deb, thank you. And yes, I am definitely aware that this is - unfortunately - not a local problem but more about a very old-fashioned mentality...a closed way of thinking...but boundaries? Yes, they do need to be respected, merci!

Heather Robinson said...

Ah, a sister in expatness! And a gorgeous one at that. I just popped over to see your wedding photos with your handsome husband and will look forward to reading more about your life in Umbria. Very much so. Is your husbands family all there or in the region too? As Remi and I are both "newbies"...well...let's say we don't carry much weight yet, save for amongst the kind people at our community garden who give us credit for trying and working hard. But yes, it is an odd feeling to be looked down upon just for being ourselves, isn't it? I am grateful that it doesn't happen terribly often.
I don't know if I have said this already but for years they called our neighbor Mr M "the English" because he had worked many years in England...and he is French! *sigh*
Glad to have you here. :)

Heather Robinson said...

I will look forward to your email, lovely Emilia.
And it makes me smile that you agreed with Bill's wise words, as I did. I am so grateful to have such wonderful, smart, funny and all around great people such as yourselves here.
Hoping you are having a lovely weekend too!

Heather Robinson said...

That is exactly what my friend Anthony said - he commutes between work in Paris and the village and has had his share of experiences here too. In France it is considered really low class to lose one's temper in public (of course especially if you are a woman - grrr) but it needed to be done - hopefully only once!

Are you a friend of Ellie's (from Have Some Decorum)? From what I have seen of Montecito it does kind of seem like a (very upscale) village in terms of proximity. What a shame that your neighbor doesn't understand the intrusion they are making - but I find that to be especially true of phone use in the States. And I thought that we had passed that stage already?

I love your profile photo. I grew up with horses as my Mom had Arabians. Just a few and for fun - she showed both English and Western (Dressage? you rock!) - it was a great part of my childhood.

Heather Robinson said...

Rebecca, my email address is listed below - but I think that you have it already? When the time comes, we will really need to talk...

Heather Robinson said...

Four years ago? Sigh. I know that I "dug my grave" permanently with this confrontation but so be it. But yes, of course it is worth it. :)

RebeccaNYC said...

I'm hoping for a visit next summer Heather! I know we will have a LOT to talk about!

robin said...

A few thoughts: a. I back up my sistah. b. There are some wise, wonderful comments on here! And, c. that silhouette of the potted plant is a new favorite (and the one of the white flowers beneath it). LOVE YOU

Heather Robinson said...

Absolutely Karena, a worthy goal.

Heather Robinson said...

Your house is amazing - you couldn't have chosen better! And I love that you are a bit of a novelty!! As there are many Americans in Provence (even one other in this tiiiiny village), we definitely aren't. Plus, many blame us for raising the house prices, so there is that too...

Heather Robinson said...

Wow, thank you for this. While I read the online version of the NY Times everyday, I had no idea that the state of things had fallen so much in my beloved former home town. And I was there - in Hell's Kitchen no less - at the end of the 80s and agree with you - while the city had "character" it was quite dangerous.

And well said about bullies. I agree.

Heather Robinson said...

Thank you so much Kerry! It isn't that bad really. We are well aware that things could be much, much, much worse in such a tiny village and there are times when I am walking through the streets and here a stereo blasting loudly and think, "Thank Goodness we didn't pick a house here!" And while American, I have Scotch-Irish blood in my veins, so I am right there with you alas... ;)

Heather Robinson said...

A ton of prejudice, a ton of racism, a ton of homophobia and anti-Semitism.

Heather Robinson said...

I love you too!!! Everybody: I have an awesome Sister and am super lucky. Just wanted to throw that out there.

Naperville Now said...

the more I reflect on the words of your "neighbors," the more furious I become. Pur race? Unbelievable. Fought a world war about that, jerk. and my Dad and thousands of others fought to free France...Okay, I am trying to breathe now.

Silke Bauer said...

Oh Heather, I was so upset to read that you had to go through such a situation. You and Remi with so much love for that country involved in one of those situations that we know rather from the french press but not from real experience, espescially not as a tourist.

And Heather, I am a Libra too, but I felt rage crawling up my throat reading this. Though I am afraid there may be no point arguing with those kinds of people. There is that dangerous mixture of lack of education and political infiltration-that famous powder keg-

Two things came to my mind:
First, a line of a Brel song: "Chez ces gens là, on ne cause pas..." The rest of the lyrics is also pretty interesting in this context.
Second, I just read " En finir avec Eddie Bellegueule" of Edouard Louis. A stunning portait of a person who is just a little different than the rest of the community in a small village in the Picardie. A book very much worth to read! I think translations exist. Lets say a "ton" of prejudice is not enough. Its "tons" of prejudice.

It seems that "race" debate is all over the world. It is so very absurd. By the way, the people from the south of France origin from Greece, Persia and Celtic Tribes. In the sixties there came Italians and People from Spain. And we ALL origin from Africa... - But stop, didn't I say there was no point arguing?

Unfortunately, your neighbours don't draw the connection between their absurd statements and the european history of the last 100 years. And as being German that is to me so unbelievable, something I cannot retrace.

Heather, stick to your wonderful garden people. They make wonderful things and veggies happen! I loved that post about it!!!
Gros Bisous, Silke

Silke Bauer said...

And by the way I remember the story of your coiffeur neighbour who lived in GB, having his rose petals torn! So awful, so absurd...

Heather Robinson said...

I had the EXACT same thought...it was part of why I was so mad! Breathe, NN, breathe!

Heather Robinson said...

Yes - if people tried to chase him away and he is French well, it isn't a surprise that not everyone is delighted to have us here. As Deb said above, change is threatening to a lot of people.

And you also hit the point that - when I am not so angry - always makes me laugh -"pur race"? In the South of France? Good Luck with that one!! ;) heehee Don't forget the Visigoths, the Franks, the Saracens...

Will add your book suggestion to my list....
Gros Bisous my wonderful friend.

D A Wolf said...

What is going on with the FN is frightening. Then again ignorance and hatred are frightening wherever they are found in the US is no stranger to either. I suspect that I would have done exactly as you did Heather though my hair is dark brown. And I too would be shaking with rage and indignation.

Sandy said...

I think your readers have said it all. Personally it's not your red hair it's having scary neighbors! But I must comment on your photos. While reading this upsetting story I was entranced by your beautiful photos. Gorgeous!

Heather Robinson said...

Pssshh...forgeddabout it! The guys are not invited the first time we meet!

Heather Robinson said...

DA, what has been so wonderful about this post is the response that it created. It was a small incident actually but it seems to resonate quite a lot.
Bisous.

Heather Robinson said...

Thank you so much Sandy! When I do these "contrast" stories, I especially try to include photography that shows the beauty here - that too is part of the contrast, plus these photos actually have a big contrast in light too. :)

Tara Dillard said...

Happily not your circus not your monkeys applies !

Next time, use the blanket Southern USA, "Well, bless your heart." Covers everything about stupid people one encounters.

Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

Heather Robinson said...

Oh how I loved this, Tara. Thank you for the laugh. It is perfect!