Let’s make one thing clear from the off. I’m a fifth generation fair-dinkum Aussie and proud of it. My Great, Great, Grandfather was a free-settler. A Pioneer. He came out from England in 1836 and is buried in Australia’s oldest cemetery, St John’s Parramatta. Along with Samuel Marsden, assorted First Fleeters, bushrangers and convicts. My old man (who died last year) was a survivor of the Sandakan P.O.W. camp. I’m proud to be Australian. But I married a frog and I live in Paris now. This is where I washed up.
I like it here. It’s “sympathique”. But I spend most of my time in the apartment (“playing with my wing-wang” the rottweiler...I mean “the wife” says). I don’t get out much. Yeah, sad, I know. This is partly because my French is crap and I don’t have any French mates. In fact I’m pretty much “Johnny-No-Mates”. Stuff happens.
I get out a bit. I take junior with me to do the shopping at the supermarché or the boulangerie. At the supermarket I don’t have to talk much. Just “bonjour” and “au revoir” to the checkout girl. Or “bonjour, une baguette s’il vous plaît” at the bakery.
I can ride the Metro and the bus all day around this great Metropolis without having to speak a word to anyone if I don’t want to. Although lately I seem to be saying “pardon” or “je suis désolé” (“I’m sorry”) an awful lot - the young bloke has learned how to blow raspberries at little old ladies we pass in the street.
Last Saturday night I was bored or lonely. Maybe both. Her indoors was away. I’d been working on the computer all day and there was nothing decent on the television – a choice between a programme on the Cannes Film Festival on 1, something called “Fort Boyard” on 2 featuring topless dancers from the Crazy Horse Saloon and a resident dwarf playing some sort of ‘Gladiators’-type game. Channel 3 had a telefilm called “Docteur Sylvestre”, which from what I could make out was a medico going to nick and discovering his stir-crazy cell-mate was really a woman (giving a whole new meaning to the expression “doing bird”).
Channel 4 or ‘Canal Plus’ is a pay-to-view and I’m too tight to buy it. Channel 5, the Channel 2 of France, had a doco to do with the curse of the Incas gold - a right little gripper that had me on the nod in five minutes flat. That left Channel 6, kind of like the local Channel 10, which had “La Trilogie du Samedi Charmed” – some hocus-pocus with that stupid tart Shannon Doherty.
A lot of French television is dubbed from the original English or German. So listening to Sean Connery as James Bond, for instance, speaking French “Je m’appelle Bond...James Bond” is a bit weird. And when an evil Nazi Gestapo torturer says “We have ways and means of making you talk” somehow it doesn’t sound quite as menacing in a Parisian accent as the original Kraut.
And of course they never get the lip-sync right so every one of these dubbed movies ends up being like “Mr Ed – the Talking Horse”.
Last night I tried watching a Charles Bronson movie but his voice sounded more like something out of the Marais - the gay district here. I’ve had a few good laughs but it’s wearing thin. I long for the sound of English being spoke proper like. When Channel Five puts on an English-language movie I pounce on it no matter whether I’ve seen it before or not. The odd Aussie film pops up too. “Muriel’s Wedding” for instance.
That’s why I’ve been hanging out at the backpackers –“The Three Ducks” just off Rue des Entrepreneurs in the 15th Arrondisement. I need to talk my own language. I’ve become a bit of an “habitué”. Just about everyone speaks English and they have a bar. A pint off-the-tap of crap, flat Kronenbourg in a dirty glass costs €3.30 which is pretty good for Paris. You can pay €20 for a beer in a club here.
The other day in The Ducks I was talking to this young guy from Melbourne who’d been working in a London pub. After awhile the conversation went off the boil. We were down to “where are you from?” and “how long have you been here? Then a Yank joined us. He was from Alaska so we rubbed noses. No...I’m kidding. He was born and bred in Minnesota and had moved igloos north to Alaska. He was doing a PHD at a Irish university, to be sure, to be sure. Something to do with sports injuries. Well so he said. Whatever. I’m a rocket scientist myself. Anyway...it was hot and the beers were flowing and we bonded, as you do. Next thing I know I’ve invited him to dinner the next night – the Sunday of the Tour de France finish in Champs Elysées.
So getting to the point...I tell the French sheila (the one I married, remember?) when she gets home Sunday morning we have a dinner guest that evening. She goes off the Richter! Full dummie spit. Who have you invited to dinner?! How do you know him?! How dare you invite him into our home! Where did you meet him?! What do you know about him?! Then she chucks the Mother-of-all-Tantrums and announces she’s going to stay in the bedroom all night. She doesn’t want to meet him.
You see, French people don’t invite strangers home. Home is the castle – the chateau. You invite people you don’t know very well to join you at a restaurant. Never at your home.
So suddenly remembering this, I suggest we take him out for a meal. “That means we have to pay for him” she says. I say “Well let’s go to the Lebo’s around the corner”. She says “Weel eet be o-pen?”
It’s as plain as fingers nose she doesn’t want anything to do with this guy. So I say “Fine..I’ll go out with him..over to Pigalle..we’ll find a girlie bar..have some fun..remember fun?”.
“Maybe I’ll ring Smithee and Mountjoy...see if they want to tag along. Live a little. After that we might push the Deux Chevaux over to E’s place...take her some Absinthe...interrupt her knitting...beat up her bikie-type boyfriend...throw up on her shrubbery.”
In the end the Seppo came to dinner. Right on time with a present for the raspberry-blower and a very nice bottle of Chateau Rothschild Bordeaux ’99 or some such.(I’m no wine buff so don’t even try picking me up on it.)
His manners were impeccable, his socks didn’t smell and he’d ironed his cargo pants. I made a chicken caesar salad. We drank cold beers and rosé. Had a few laughs. He showed us photos of his time in gaol. No...I made that part up.
We finished the evening with a cigar on the balcony. I was reminded of a quote from Marx. No not that Marx. Groucho Marx:-
“A man’s only as old as the woman he feels”...ah hang on...bit confused...went off the medication...”A woman is an occasional pleasure but a cigar is always a smoke”.
Written & directed by lambe, paris.