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Susan Herndon: Blog

Heaven.  Hell.  Borderlines.  And stuff in between.......

Posted on November 19, 2013 with 2 comments

What is the definition of heaven?  

A French chef, a German engineer, an English policeman, an Italian lover, and a Swiss banker.
This was one of the only jokes I used to know.  
Brent in Switzerland recited it to me the other day and it was funny to hear it again after all these years.  I reminded him that I had told it to him a long time ago when i used to play my steady gig at Rick's Cafe Americain in Tulsa and they used to all come out on Wednesday evenings.
On the TGV now going back to Paris.  I've got a book with me, L'Alchimiste by Paulo Coelho.  Read it in English a long time ago, thought I'd read it again this time  in French.   It's the story of a shepard  boy who goes on a pilgrimage and in the course of his journey, learns of a treasure, falls in love, gets beat up, and discovers a secret:  the treasure has been buried behind his home in his backyard all along.   Something like that.
My French sucks right now.  Use it or lose it.  It's been good to be back in Europe.  The sanity of the Old World.  In Switzerland everyone i met spoke about 3-4 languages well.  And it was a great  way to end this trip.  I was very spoiled by my friend and his friends and the concert and dinner last night were a lot of fun.
But I miss my friends and family back home.
Several of my girlfriends before leaving playfully urged me to get a French boyfriend while i was here, (but in much more adorably vulgar terms.  :-)
For my first few days back in France, that would have been nice.  It was cold and rainy and I was depressed and tried to finish a new song .  My songs suck right now and writing is hard.   My mind is too focused on just plain survival and the hustle of getting from point A to point B that i haven't written a song I much like in about a month.   (Although we did write one that was kinda cool at the songwriting clinic in Sweetwater, Texas a few weeks ago.)  Still,  I preferred running away from such work and going to the Festival d'Amiens to watch the films.  I maybe saw about ten films this last week.  More than I've probably seen in the past three years altogether.

It was about a twenty minute walk from the Hotel St Louis where they put me up, to La Maison de la Culture where the Festival was taking place and where il y avait beaucoup de monde.  Close to my hotel, a guy busking in the streets played "Stairway to Heaven" on electric guitar.  I swear he got better and better each day I heard him.  There was the sound of another familiar melody line i heard but i couldn't place the song.....  I finally realized it was "The Star Spangled Banner" drifting down the Centre Ville from the little Cassio keyboard played by a guy sitting in the doorway of a shop at the other end of the street.  

I used to busk some in the streets of France a long time ago when I was first starting to play out.   There's a whole lot of freedom you feel when you're comfortable enough being a fool.  ("Unfettered and alive!" ;-) But you don't make much money.  ("And he played real good for freeeee!"). 
I dropped some Euros in both their cups.
The sun came out.  I went to a courtyard where I could soak up the sunshine.  Watched a bee buzzing and doing his thing around a bunch of wildflowers.  Figured this was probably the closest i would get to the action my girlfriends requested of me.

France, for the most part, is nice and quiet.  (Except for the guy on the train from Paris to Zurich who talked to his colleague the ENTIRE time.  I couldn't make out his French through his thick accent.  Was he working on building a small African nation, I think?  His voice droned on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on.....There was just an hour left of the ride when he finally got off at Mulhouse, THANK GAWD.)   Switzerland is even more quiet.  It's forbidden to make noise on Sundays there.   (Good thing that guy didn't live in Switzerland, he'd never make it.)

Europeans live in such close proximity to one another, they are firmly and gracefully socialized.  (And the smells are incredible.....)

Now, all of a sudden at this moment, the French Douane are interrogating and patting down the mec seated in front of me.  There are six of them.  They rummage through his affairs.  One of them asks me a dozen questions about why I'm here.  They're curious about my guitar.....   But really they're interested in the guy.  Is he Musulman?  I wonder about such harassment dating back to the Crusades and the Middle Ages, i suppose.  In Zurich, I was tipped off to how the Suisse are annoyed by the Germans.  Through the centuries, Germany has bullied the little country, which I'm told is about the size of Northwestern Oklahoma, with a population less than that of Manhattan, maintains its neutrality and controls 30 percent of the world's wealth.   (The Douane descend in Mulhouse.)

Years ago, in reading The Hidden Dimension in World Affairs, a little underground book of conspiracy theory, it seemed apparent and i was convinced that the world's countries and events were being puppeted by a few somewhere tucked back in that area, or maybe in Luxembourg or Belgiam.  Who knows?  I just know that the US and its politics look pretty ridiculous in the world anymore, that the dollar has lost all its prestige and much of its value, and that the US border police can be intense too, or so I've heard.

As the train makes its way just across the Swiss border and into France through fields and farmland, I can't help but think of my dear friend Marcel who along with his family escaped Nazi occupied France by hopping off a moving train as it crossed into Switzerland.......

People suck sometimes.  And man's inhumanity to man never ceases to amaze me.  As I, myself have recently survived narrowly escaping the clutches of vampires and a group of zombies and some awful monsters, it's also really surprising when I find how incredibly kind some people are.   On my way from Amiens to Zurich through three train stations, the RER and Paris Metro, up and down more than a  half a dozen flights of stairs and on and off as many trains and trams-- not once did I have to lug my big bag by myself.  Every single time someone was kind enough to come to my rescue when it got tough.  Bless them!  At one point, the doors of our RER would not open at their stop and the buzzers were going off.  People were frantic.  A gentleman and I look at each other in a sort of, "oh merde!" The lady looks at me and my big bags and my guitar, "ola! Et comment vous allez faire avec tous ca?!"   At the next stop, we all rush to get off and the lovely gentleman insistently picked up my big bag and carries it off the tram.  (But i also remember the time when I was moving to France years ago, traveling through the metro/RER to get to the train station and the buzzers went off and I was in everyone's way struggling to descend and i got pushed off the tram and they threw my bags and guitar after me!)
I witnessed about ten murders last week.   :-) 
If art copies life, you'd think we kill each other all the time.  Mike Hodges was honoured and was there and i went to a double feature of his films with Mireille.    Although i missed much of the first one because i fell into a deep food coma sleep after eating several crepes and drinking too much wine then eating desert and chocolate.  I did finally get to see The Terminal Man which was great.  Hodges introduced the film and said he had moved out to LA to write, direct, and produce the film and it was just after the Manson killings.  He was very lonely and paranoid at the time.......

But  I think my favourite film was Serie Noire which was in the group of films that made up the Festival's homage to Tulsa.  It's a French film adapted from the book, Hell of a Woman, by Jim Thompson who was from Anadarko, Oklahoma.  He also lived in Ft Worth for awhile before moving to the West coast.   He wrote The Killer Inside Me and The Getaway, etc.  And I had never heard of him.
Evidently, his writing was never really popular in the States, but the French discovered him and loved his work.  I could see why.....not too action-packed but lots of dialogue.  Patrick Dewaere plays the lead and it might be some of the best acting I've ever seen.

Et alors, what is the definition of hell?
An English chef, a French engineer, an Italian banker, a German policeman, and a Swiss lover.

M. Tim Blake

November 22, 2013

Great description of your journey, Susan. I love your narrative.

Scamperino

November 21, 2013

in the backyrd all along
for freeeeeee
bee buzzing
eating crepes
gracefully socialized
best acting i've ever seen