13 January 2007


There are effectively two grocery stores here in Commercy within a reasonable distance (the third being over a bridge and on the far edge of town if are curious). While Match is centrally-located and downhill from the school where I teach, helpful when I realise in the middle of my 11 am lesson that I have no food in my flat and *everything* in town closes for two hours at lunch time (ah, la France profonde), it is a rather unfortunate place to shop. I could probably tolerate the rotting produce as I prefer to buy it from the local fruitivendolo anyway, but I draw the line with the security guard that not-so-clandestinely follows me around the store while I shop. Intitially, I thought there must be something sketchy about my behaviour - I admit that I don't have the most logical method of trolling the aisles, and on top of that, I have a ridiculous bicycle basket for carrying my groceries around in. Although I have since realised that they extend this treatment to anyone who appears to be under the age of 30, I prefer to shop unmolested.

Unfortunately, to get to the good grocery store, which FYI is Intermarche, I have to cycle up a giant (ok, sizable) hill.

I went there the other day specifically to procure a replacement water filter for my Brita water jug as the water had begun to taste like death. I was thrilled to find them at this grocery store, as I'd already exhausted the other potential vendor in town. Bear in mind that this is France and certain environmentally-conscious products are not readily accessible, particularly in a rural town. I cycled home feeling triumphant, thinking perhaps life wasn't all bad.

This lasted for approximately five minutes. Upon my arrival home, as I was pawing the box open with the fury of a moderately-dehydrated person, I realized that I'd bought the wrong kind. I'd even say I was crestfallen, especially since I'd spent the better part of the preceeding week putting slices of lemon in my water to try and mask the awful taste of chlorine and heavy metals when I was too sick to venture into town.

But being familiar with the reality of French refund policies and not wanting to get stuck with this box of useless filters, I immediately trek back up to the hill to the grocery store in hopes that the less time that passes between purchasing and exchanging the filters, the better. After explaining to the woman at customer service in my halting French my error (who has first ignored me for five solid minutes while chatting with a co-worker, greeting the random people who walk past her counter and filing her nails), she takes pity on me, and allows me to exchange the filters, for which I am elated. As I go to pay the price difference between the filters, (the ones I actually need invariably being more expensive, although I did know this when I left my house)...

I realize I left my wallet on the counter at home! 'Oh for the love of God', I think to myself. I turn to her, feeling like a putz and explain 'I've forgotten my wallet, I'm afraid', and realise that my erratic behaviour is beginning to look like a clever scam to I've devised to score some filters on the cheap. I assure you there was nothing clever about my unfortunate situation.

Anyway, feeling that perhaps it's not my day, I am about to ask the kindly lady to refund my money so that I can come back and try this all another time, when I'm a bit more together and instead she says 'I'll hold onto these for you while you go get your wallet. N'y a pas de souci.' And I realize it's too much trouble to explain en francais that I'd rather return another time, so I get *back* on my bike

Cycle home *again*.

March upstairs to my flat. (All of this requiring me to shut and lock every door behind me around my building so as not to upset my disagreeable neighbour, which is indeed the last thing I feel like doing when I'm in a rush.)

Get my wallet.

And cycle back up the hill which now feels like Mt. Everest on my third ascent.

I return to the customer service counter where the woman assured me she would be waiting when I fled, and naturally she isn't there. So I take up my usual position of standing there, hoping that no one else will try to help me while I wait for phantom lady to return. The one time I actually want to be ignored... but no, this is the day an eager employee rushes to help me. So I have to explain the entire situation en francais once more to another lady who eyes me wearily. "I bought the wrong filters for my Brita, and then I came back to return them but I realized I'd forgotten my wallet so then I had to leave again. Receipt? Oh, the receipt is with the boxes" (which are clearly not visible on the counter where I left them)...

In the end, it all got sussed out. I got the filters, and I got some well-needed exercise, and I am no longer drinking water that is likely to poison me. But it makes me wonder, how do tasks that should be simple turn into *that*?

09 January 2007

Bonne annee 2007!

Happy New Year.

Over the past month, I've galvanted in Paris with Hayden, a friend I only get to see on an annual basis, each time in a different major city (NYC, London, Paris... where next?); gluwein-ed it up in Bonn at the fantastic Christmas Market; cycled-en-masse around Brussels at nighttime admiring the architecture and the gorgeous displays all over the city; spent a jovial Christmas with Edd and his lovely family, the festiveness then being relocated for a subsequent week in Meribel (the Alps). It was hands-down one of the best months I've had in quite some time, and yes, I do know just how fortunate I am to have such opportunities presented to me....

... However, the diversions of the past month have made resuming my life here in Commercy all the more difficult. I know the 'January blahs' are ubiquitous and that I am certainly not alone in feeling a sense of disappointment that the holidays are over. Still, this brings minimal comfort as one of the characteristics of self-pity is to focus solely on one's own situation while choosing to ignore the trials of others who indeed may share the same feelings. Selfish at that is, it's how I feel at the moment. Everyone tells me how lucky I am to have the opportunity to live in France, and despite my current state of melancholy, I still see the merit in my being here. But I've been back four days and I've probably spent 3 hours of that maximum with other human beings. It's quite a shock after being with people 24 hours a day. Granted, I have the flu and it's for the best I'm not with other people so as not to infect them, but this is temporary and when I've recovered, I will still be alone...