Making an exhibition of myself

I don’t know anything about art do you? This week I was invited to an art exhibition put on by Michel, the neighbourhood’s local artist.

Keen to lick off the lid of life, I threw a jumper over my shoulders, perched some sunglasses on my head and popped along.

The retrospective was, and I suspect because it was handy for the wine and cheese, held in the local �picerie - best described as a p�t�, cooked meats, cheese, wine and things in jars shop. I discussed with a lady called Annalise the use of colour, perspective and something else which I couldn’t understand so I smiled and agreed in case she had an inkling I had no idea what I was talking about.

Anyway, the nibbles were lovely and Michel was kind enough to explain in layman’s terms a little about his work which had been executed over his career in illustration.

I had an enjoyable time and as a result of smiling and agreeing with someone else during the evening I think I’ve been invited to a morning of contemporary dance.

Not a week goes by without a strike in France and this week it was the turn of the transport system.

The union concerned, however, had kindly sent me an email, in elegant French, warning of the strike.

Most Read

The email said: “A national expression of feeling is expected to take place from 1.30pm onwards on Tuesday. The upheavals are expected on the network of the centre of the town. Thanks to this social movement the bus service will be lightly affected. Other networks will be functioning normally.”

As a result of this expression of feeling my journey to work included sitting on a replacement bus service for some time while it got lost in the suburbs. This was an event which prompted a bus-wide conversation, which at times was quite heated, about the best route to take. The controversy, which threatened to engulf us all, was only resolved when the bus driver declared he knew what he was doing after all and said he would take no further suggestions. Clearly having had enough of everyone’s advice, he decided to drop us all off about half a mile from where we were expected to be deposited before carrying on to Carcassonne - the ultimate destination of the train that never ran - which he said he definitely knew.

It’s been a weekend of excitement in my neighbourhood with the much awaited Vide Grenier - or “empty attic” as it is roughly translated on Sunday. It can best be described as a car boot sale with a proper lunch hour.

The traffic was stopped in Rue De La Concorde - a street which has the local caf�s, and shops including a delicatessen - which proudly announces on a board outside that it only sells food of French origin, an unbelievably expensive florist, a tobacconist which is so rarely open it’s a wonder anyone ever gets addicted to smoking, a stationary shop in case you get short of paperclips and, strangely, a shop which sells only soap.

Anyway, I popped along to the Vide Grenier for a mooch as I was in the market for anything gorgeous and French. Instead I found a mix match of things which included, dangerous looking light fittings, a broken globe and a potty - objects which I strongly suspect were returned to the attic at the end of the day. In a few weeks time we have the Repas De Quartier - neighbourhood meal, where the road is closed again, tables are set up and everyone brings food to eat and wine to drink, one of the local bands plays jazz and it lasts all afternoon. I’m expecting quiche.

After my sort of mooching I went to see my friend Irene, who enjoys yoga and is friendly with a Lama, for a bite to eat. Irene invited six of us for what she described as a picnic lunch.

The picnic turned out to be a four course affair which included delicious cured ham with little tomatoes and melon, cold roast chicken, salad and homemade mayonnaise, Cantal cheese - from Cantal, banana and chocolate loaf and a pastry based apple cake. Wine goes without saying and everyone immediately lit up cigarettes and thin cigars the minute the coffee was served. I had a very pleasant time.

During the afternoon we discussed, in French I hasten to add, a wide a variety of topics including the role of this area of France in the Spanish civil war, great French films - of which I know very little, and some of the stranger street names of Toulouse, where I have an apartment with street views (immediate) and ceilings (high).

Rue Fourbastard is perhaps one of the more obvious ones that can raise a smile among the English though it isn’t anything to do with unpleasant old men, apparently it is something to do with ovens and short baguettes.

Irene also informed us that not far from the Garonne - the huge river that runs through Toulouse - there is another street called Rue Malcousinat - which translates from the local dialect into Bad Cooking Street. And not far from that there is Rue Maletache - perhaps best translated as Bad Stain Road. I thought the least said about that one the better.

As regular readers will know I am having French lessons with a lady called Lucie who recently bought a flat and spends her weekends painting.

This week we discussed lying.

Here in France there is a phrase I have now committed to memory for those little white lies we all so often use.

These little lies are are called “pieux mesonges” - which sort of, badly, translates as lies of pity. It is, Lucie tells us, a phrase which sort of contradicts the truth but not too seriously. Things like “Your hair looks nice”, “You’re children are so well behaved”, “I’m 42/28/just coming up to 60”, “It wasn’t me, officer” and your last tax return.

Lucie asked the class, and I thought this was quite brave of her, if we ever lied. Obviously I lied and said I didn’t.