Out of I'm-leaving-the-country-forever-tomorrow necessity, for lunch I threw together some pasta with whatever scraps were hanging out in the fridge: some bacon, two tomatoes, and a spoonful of pesto sauce. I'm taking the same approach with this blog post, which I hereby entitle, The Leftover Bits.
So, remember when we talked about the subtle (or not so subtle) sexism that exists in restaurants in France? Well it appears that not only is sexism alive and well in the restaurant industry, but it is also running rampant in that other great French cultural institution, the outdoor market. While browsing the stalls with Hervé on Sunday, picking up the this and thats required to cobble together a picnic, we happened across a table selling homemade pâtés and foie gras. "I probably should bring my family back a little present," I said, and so I selected a duck pâté and a wee jar of fig confit. "Excellent choice," said the man running the table. "And you know these are all homemade on my farm. It's a family operation." I smiled my approval. "That comes to 6.50, monsieur," he said, looking at Hervé. I giggled a little and shrugged my shoulders at Hervé, and reached in my wallet for the money. The man accepted the money from me while simultaneously handing Hervé the bag. "Merci, monsieur," he said, looking at Hervé all the while. "Have a good day, monsieur." I very maturely refrained from throwing the can of pâté back in his face.
And speaking of gifts, I had been puzzling for the last two weeks over what kind of present one gives to one's French boyfriend before returning to the United States forever. I wanted something that would say, "Hey, it's been real, thanks for the last three months, and now enjoy the rest of your life. Kisses!" After trying and failing to think of something appropriate, I finally stumbled across the perfect idea: I cleaned his refrigerator and his kitchen cabinet. I sorted, I organized, I threw out, I lathered and scrubbed, and then I put it all back together again. I played Guess the Expiration Date on This Thing, a game which Hervé positively adored, all while he was trying to concentrate on grading copies of the BAC. (The uber-important exam students have to pass to graduate high school). Ok, so maybe he did not derive nearly as much pleasure from this game as I did, hopping up and down saying, "No, no, really, you'll never guess!" And, "Yes, ok, but which year?" In his tiny, dorm-sized fridge were no less than three opened packages of butter. One of them had expired back in...wait for it...March! No, really! I poured juice down the sink that had congealed into a moldy, gelatinous plug. I did the same for his cabinet, throwing away expired rice (did you know that rice can expire?) and protein powder and tea. (Yes, apparently even tea can expire!) When I finally finished hours later I took a step back and admired my work, sighing contentedly. I even took pictures of the finished product, and then kicked myself for not having taken pictures before, too. But honestly I think the before pictures would have been just too embarassing. In any case, check out my handiwork!
The picture of the fridge was taken after it was re-stocked for the get-together he was having that night; after I had finished cleaning there was hardly anything left. Also, in the cabinet you will see five boxes of tea. They are actually stacked on top of six more boxes of tea. Also I would like to point out there are four cans of green beans and six boxes of rice. Just in case anyone has a tea, green bean, or rice emergency. You can never be too careful. So anyway, then I patted myself on the back right before kicking myself hard for having done all this mere days before I was leaving the country (and thus his apartment) forever, when I had been living with that filth for months. I basked in the clean for as long as I could, and then I said goodbye to his apartment this morning for the last time.
I stopped by the boulangerie in Hervé's neighborhood last night to pick up a baguette for dinner. The boulanger smiled when he saw me, used to seeing me with Hervé. It was just before closing time, and he didn't have change for the ten euro bill I offered with an apologetic smile. "Take it," he waved. "You can pay me later." Yes, later, I thought to myself wistfully, as I scrounged through my wallet for change. I gave him a handful of coins, coming up ten cents short. "You can just give it to me tomorrow," he said cheerfully, waving goodbye. I thanked him and left. "I owe the boulanger ten centimes," I told Hervé as I came in the door. "So the next time you see him, can you just...?"
I wonder what the boulanger will think when he never sees me again. I wonder what the grocer will think, the one who always greets Hervé with a hearty, "Le patron!" and who has taken to calling me "la patronne." I wonder if they will ask, or if they will keep quiet out of politeness. I wonder what Hervé will say.
I think about a vendor at the market, calling out, advertising his wares. "The two lovebirds!" he yelled to us. "Hand in hand, aw, that's beautiful!" We smiled at each other and kept walking.
Over dinner I talked to Hervé about my job dilemna. Out of all the resumés I sent out, I only got one interview. And I got the job, but it is only a part-time position with no benefits, and the pay is for shit, and the school is in the middle of nowhere, otherwise known as upstate New York. Hervé is mostly for it, although he can't understand the fact that it doesn't offer health insurance. "But that's normal," I told him. "It's a part-time job, that's the way it is."
"Well, yes," he said, "I know it's normal for you, but I still can't understand it." And then we started talking about the health industry in America, and what a travesty it is, and I told him that he has to watch Michael Moore's Sicko. "And what if," he said slowly, "an American marries a French man. Would she be able to have health benefits in France then?" Well, yes, I said. "Well, then, that's what we should do," he said shyly, embarassed, joking or perhaps not.
I paused for a minute and then I responded in kind, smiling and saying lightly, "Well, if I ever get sick I'll give you a call." Then we smiled ruefully at each other and buried our noses in our wine glasses, drinking the pinot blanc down to the very last drop.