The arrival of the Americans was a real event, the Europeans were all curious about those from this new continent.
This experience was important, not really for her children who had allready been and lived in America for a while but for all their friends, those with the everything is stupid attitude and lovers of pop and folk music in the area. They could talk to those who were the origin of such cultures. It also helped their English.
The despondancy of the Americans is much greater than that of the Europeans, their roots in purtian values and capitalism have been forced onto them since birth. They feel a huge disgust which renders them dangerous or lazy. It is a necessary part of their lives that they be made excessively aware of politics, but very few are. Their socialism shows sign of Christian charity, their communities are church going. Christ is a fashion in the USA, one which Marie does not think will take hold in Europe. She thinks that the old world countries have had enough of the old religions. Last year the children brought back the record Jesus-Christ Super Star and listened to it for a week. After which they had finished analysing it and declared that it was rubbish. It followed the same hit reciord route as Love Story.
Drugs are a big issue in America and Canada. Nina spoke to Marie once about a conversation she had with her father in Montréal She said that her father insisted that there would be no drugs in his house even though he had eleven kids. Nina however knew that her sister of eighteen was dealing from the floor above every afternoon for the past three years. Her father did not seem to realise.
Another time Emily recounted a story that happened in a small village of Ohio. Emily is tiny in size with soft browns eyes with long and (wisely) braided hair. Not far from where she lived a kid of twelve injected without his parents knowing. One day the parents left their daughter looking after their baby whilst they went to the cinema. As soon as the parents left the girl took her drugs and went on a bad trip. She hallucinated and took the baby and covered him in butter, and seasoned him before putting him in the oven. The parents came home to a roast baby. It was in all the local newspapers. Emily thought it was funny.
During the time when the Americans were around Marie often just wanted to shut out the immediate banal reality in order to not make herself ill. She realised her moral and esthetic values were deeply conditioned in her. In this last aspect, the Anglo-Saxons were more free than the French. It seemed to her that the English dressed how they wanted. In America she noticed too the total freedom in the way they dressed which did not shock anyone there. She saw a young woman walking around in wet snow in a mauve, silk dress wet and stained up to the knee, huge clumpy shoes on her feet, a huge lumberjacks jacket and a silly red wollen hat on her head. No-one seemed to take any notice of her. Marie thought she had just escaped from an asylum. She believes they often try to mingle with everyone else by disguising themselves. Often she passes obese, or deformed people in the street, that does not bother her but what does is that everyone treats them as usual, they are not bound by the iron collar of esthetics.
In the cake shops they have extraordinary cakes, shaped like love-hearts, grand pianos, chairs, inscripted with sentimental messages. Certain displays were extordinary, conatining thingsthat you would not normally see in a shop window, horseshoes in a hairdressers, placards showing obese people in a shoe repair shop. Imagination is much more free, many flaunt their extreme tastes without shame. In France, esthetics is not original and inspired.
As regards the Americans in the house, she found it hard to judge them. She was deeply against this care-free, inconsistant attitude but she did not say anything. The children benefitted from their previous experience of America. They recounted lots of stories of their travels, Marie's favourite being one that Grégoire told.
He went for walks in the Niagra falls region with a couple friends. One evening they had got fed up of walking and since no farmers had shown up in their trucks, they camped out in a field. A broken down car came driven by and old man like the ones seen in the novels by Faulkner. He jumped out and asked what they were doing. They replied that they were fed up of waiting for cars that never turned up and so were going to stay in the field. He took out a gun and told them that if they stopped on his land he would shoot them down. He marched them off the land at gun point. Worked up as he was then, he could have easily shot them by accident. He could have done anything. Fortunately nothing did happen.
The Americans started to recount their adventures. It seemed that Easy Rider was a reality.
The favourite story of Charlottes was when they were in Pointe Escuminac, a fishing village in New Brunswick which was a real dive. about forty wooden houses each with a television antenna along a route that led to the a seaworn coast with not a tree in sight. It was flat coutryside, houses stretched out with kilometres inbetween all around the 'village'. At the end of the route there was a lighthouse and a small bay with a deserted beach strewn with wrecks and debris, beyond, an infinite ocean. The space was welcoming after a long car journey. They decided to camp there. It seemed as though they had reached the end of the world, no-one had laid foot there before them. They had left Gaspésie becuase the water was too cold, they went south to fnd a good place to camp. Jean-Pierre seemed to have a knack in ending up in some waste land or some cheap council run site. That day this was not the case, but the place was very sinister. They stayed at any rate as they were tired out and the water was great. For one evening. they set up the tent and bathed in the sea, they made a fire and lunch. It was really wild, Marie cooked a huge side of beef. Night was falling when the saw a truck full of lads between fifteen and twenty five years old, at least a dozen with cases of beer. They stopped about fifty metres away from them even though they had over a kilometre of empty beach, as if they did not see them. The evening wind picked up. They shouted and jeered things that Marie and the others did not understand. they lit a huge fire with the jerry-cans of petrol they had brought with them.
Marie and the others decided to move the camp off into the dunes as it was going to be impossible for them to get to sleep. They would wash the dishes which where in the hamper, in the morning. As they started to move the tent and put out their fire, the lads came over to them. They definately seemed to be being unpleasant and obnoxious. They walked on into the dunes, Jean-Pierre infront, Marie behind and Charlotte and the others inbetween. They hurried into their tent and fastened the door. Jean-Pierre said it was the last time he would bring the girls out without Grégoire. Marie had the money safe. The lads drove up in their truck, the headlights shining into the tent making it seem like daytime. Until dawn they continued to shout, drink and vomit, until finally they left when day broke. They could not find the crockery and hamper and so concluded it had been stolen. they were never going to go back to there again.
Marie started what she described as a guerilla warfare against the Americans as she could not allow things to deteriorate further. She waited for the deteriation to happen itself before acting. She watched unflinchingly as they cut blankets into two, break chairs after swinging on them. There were no glasses left, no toilet roll, no sheets. The toilet, bathtub, sink and bidet were all blocked up. The table clothes left down the rubbish chute wrapping the dinner rubbish. The washing up was building into a montain. All the mugs being dirty, they drank out of vases or jamjars. She wass not bothered about loosing these objects, but what did worry, even distress her, to the point of sleepless nights was to see her children there amongst it all. She was unsure of what their reaction would be, she having being fed up for some months now. She also wondered whether her action was the best thing to do. Her words were having no real effect but she reasoned that the best way to combat this degradation was to allow it to go all the way, hopefully the children then realising.
Alone Dorothée was against all this, she stayed in her bedroom, independant of the others. She did not hide her condemning of these actions. Marie knew that the fact she was the youngest played a part in this but also Dorothée had a retained a certain degree of reason and strict conduct in this chaos, which she believes comes from the education of modern mathemeticians. That may seem absurd but Marie believes that it is necessary to look for the cause of this incredible strength of reason from a child at this age.
At the end of her third trimester, Dorothée had thought out her world well. She knew that her maths teacher gathered with teachers in the sixth year, who gather with the teachers from the lycée, who gather with the national education body, who inturn gather with the French government etc. Thus starting with her, you have a logical gathering of the world.
The generation of Dorothée to which they taught the real modern maths do not get taught the same way as Marie did. She remembers an exercise in maths that Dorothée did. correct the following if there are any errors: the number 2345 is badly written, 57 is a natural number with two digits, When counting the pupils in my class I found there was 24 Marie was looking out for one of the painful exercises where you calculate how much time it takes a tap to fill a barrel. Saying that it was that you had to put a point inbetween the two and three but she was corrected by Dorothée as this was not necessary. What was wrong was the amount of children in her class. Marie believes that Dorothée is an excellent maths student Now she is in her Troisiéme Marie feels sure that Maths is Dorothée's niche in life. She has no interest in politicians but knows what role a politician plays in national and individual life. She is very aware of being part of a huge group of people. As regards the Americans, she does not regard them as fitting into a group of people, either above, below or at the same level as her, therefore she felt she needed to reject them.
Marie took her aside one day and explained that she too did not approve of the Americans but for Grégoire and Charlotte's sake she was going to let them go all the way. That is was a situtaion that could get out of hand and that she could help her by not making the bitter-sweet remarks which only started the whole process again.
It was impossible to sleep for the noise, morning and night. When it was not the record player it was someone on the guitar or banjo. They never stopped making tea and coffee.
Marie had doubts about her decision to leave the bourgoise life and the discrimination between the classes. It was because of this that the door remained open. She wondered whether it was just a settling of scores between her and her family and was she dragging her children along. Is it that they did not like this way of life and it was their way of rebelling against her? Because this group of kids did not have any ideals, they were unfortunate drop-outs. Some of the Americans begged in the road for amusement they thought they were doing acts of humility. They just ended up confusing everyone.
The lack of sleep caused her to loose her head. She took her car and parked next to the Champ-de-Mars. She dozed off a bit but gave special thought to discovering her roots and beginnings, that is reflecting on past experience. Why in your infancy do you resemble the people who you have most recently spent time around?
In Algeria, the home turf of Marie's Grandmother, to end the grape harvest Marie's family organised a big celebration for the workers. Her parents and their invited went on a tour of the slopes amongst the grape farmers. After the greetings, thanks, inspections, the presentations of children, the endless discussion, the throaty laughs, and the pitying they went back up to the glasshouse. The servants had opened it laying a buffet on the dining room table. To start they served champagne and the new wine. Outside the workers were excited, there were severeal hundred of them preparing for the celebrations which was famous for being the the best in the region. Some were coming and going, there were shouts until nightfall.
The spectacle commenced, unsteady fires were lit burning the old grape crop roots, the tom-tom drums and the sparks exciting the mass of workers who were dancing when they detached themselves from the crowd to show approval of the celebrations under their window. they danced with their head held high to show respect for them, their mouths wide open with laughter and the thrill of dancing. At the risk of straining themselves they beat out the rythm which was speeding up by stamping their feet, the audience clapped along.
Marie found a stool to see better by. Her family and the invited guests rested their elbows against the window. Aoued took a box full of packets of tabacco and rolling paper, combs, packets of Bastos, penknives, toothbrushes, tubes of toothpaste, small round plastic mirrors and other small items and threw them out of the window to the workers and especially to the dancers.
The music never stopped, sometimes it quietened a bit but the rhythm still remained. Dancers followed singers followed by more dancers. One excited worker took burning vines and extinguished them in his mouth, everyone howled with laughter or fear. Those that did not get anything gestured to the window and more goodies were thrown to them. Her mother explained to her that it was especially necessary to give to the most poor. She knew all the families and which were the poorest. SHe pointed out a man who had lost his wife, a girl who had lost her mother, another who had lost two fingers in the cellars. She also pointed out the dirtiest, a family whose children had rat like faces and long limbs, loking like grasshoppers. She had hardly seen them arrive before she was showing her disdain for their mangy short cropped hair. She got the others to throw them soap and toothbrushes and toothpaste towards them saying that they needed to be educated, to learn to be clean. Its because of this dirtiness that they are so weak and always ill. She also said that she had never seen the wives, that is where she would start by teaching them how to be clean, then by going to their guru, it would take a full day on mule-back to get there, she said that when Marie was older she could help her. She saw it as it was her role to teach cleanliness.
Marie listend to her in admiration, her kindness and charity moved her. At her window thinking about all she saw and how she wanted to mix with them as she wanted to take part in their dance and music. She consoled herself in that her place was not with them down there but there, up above, giving away presents and because the mark of a good rich family was sharing with their subordinates.
They could not change that. It was fate. She did not know the roots of richness (a divine gift from God perhaps for good actions?), but she knew the roots of poverty. For her ease of living and respectability mixed, you could not be respectable in rags or in a hovel, or without learning or hygiene, without knowing the rules regarding property and the rules of upper class society. So the poor folk were poor because they did not work well at school, because they did not wash, because they were more open about their bodies, because they did not know how to conduct themselves. In brief the poor folk were pityable but not respectable.
the poor people who she rubbed shoulders with on a daily basis, those that her mother treated with devotion and abnegation were Arabs. The forgotton race of the world abandonned by God, that the French had found wondering stray like packs of wild dogs on a leeched terrain. They did not even bother to try and cultivate crops, just moving from water-hole to water-hole, exhausting the countries resources one after the other.
With the Arabs it was more difficult than the rest of the poor with whom you could talk about Virgin Mary, Jesus, Joseph, Cain and Abel, and many of the Saints. All of these had been born into or chosen poverty and were now in paradise. They now had statute at which they laid white sheets and flowers. they had halos of gold and hand clapsed thanking their Guardian. For the poor this was a hope, a consolation because with the love of God if they wanted to pull through then they would. But with the Arabs and their laughable religion and silly beliefs, there was only one thing to do, show them the error of their ways. To lead them along their path and morals towards a deity who would help them understand and solve all their problems.
At twelve, Marie understood perfectly the hierarchy of the world. God above all, then the rich, the aristrocats highest, then the upper bourgeoise then the lower bourgeoise then the traders and businessmen as they did not know so well the traditions and the beauty of the gestures of the class, then came the poor, then foreigners, then at the bottom of the ladder the Arabs who were indistinct, although there were exceptions who were attractive in some ways with marvellous rugged hair, huge cloaks andemboidered boots. There were some like that on the farm.
Saving the Arabs was as much on Maries mind when she ws young as the next game of hide and seek in the forest or the next time swimming.
The state of richness binds you with a certain seriousness which is why she felt a little ashamed to be wanting to go and dance with the workers down below. She felt there was something bad within her. Her mother said that she had to go to bed as it was getting late and the weight of her cross was heavy. Marie did not feel the weight of her cross, she was ashamed.
Maries bedtime had long passed when the youngest worker came up to the window where she was. It was a child of twelve like Marie. Quite small and meagre but all his movements showed he was happy to be alive. He had a large mop of frizzy black hair, he wore a grape vine crown and a loincloth covering filthy raggy shorts underneath. He danced well. Her family had often talked about him at the table, it seemed he was courageous, funny and a good worker. In the evening he would return with the men stood in his pastière clinging to the edge sticky with grape juice and proud to be a worker. He would roll a cigarette and strut about with it between his teeth inhaling deeply hopping amongst the other workers who would be squatting or stretched out resting after their days work. He was inexhaustable.
This evening again, with his grape-vine ornaments he was uncontrollable. The small plastic mirrors had caught his attention in particular. He wanted them especially, they had thrown two or three to him allready but he wanted more. He considered them a treasure to be taken back to his place in the scrublands. Kader claimed he had nothing to eat during the festival other than grapes, he wanted to save his money to bring back home. He had found in Marie an accomplice. Because of her age and her blond hair for sure. Her mother had told Marie that the Arabs are very keen on blonds. He stood just below her at the window his face fixed and arms behind his back he danced to the beat from the waist up, not moving his feet, or nearly not moving as he stamped the rythm following the tom-tom with his hips. His crown fell from his head.
He was funny so she threw him another mirror. He wanted another. He gestured with his arms from time to time to throw more whilst dancing, the others picked up on what was going on and started to clap in time inviting a song. Miss is blond, she likes to dance, Miss is blond and has the mirrors, Larouilla, Laruoilla... Marie was laughing like a lunatic, she had forgotton her reserve. In the house they had not noticed what was happening, they were speaking entirely amongst themselves, they had had enough of these primitive pastimes, they were uninterested and weary. Marie however threw out mirrors from time to time, all the time concious of her appearence, pretending not to have any more then going back to get some. The young worker had eyes shining with amusement and pleasure.
All of a sudden he collapsed to the floor, Marie in fits of laughter thougt it priceless what he would do to make people laugh. He laid there as if in a faint then he arched his back so he was balanced on his shoulders and heels and started to shiver, then suddenly it became more violent, his finery of grape vines detached itself. Marie saw beneath his rags his twelve year old genitalia, like the ends of tripe, she thought. It was not very pretty but somehow fascinating. Marie thought he was crazy, not knowing when to stop, but then all working class were like that, but it was funny and everyone was laughing and she threw more mirrors. She then saw that his mouth was wide open, a thick stream of frothy saliva was coming out like cotton. Marie then realised that he was sick, she leaned over to get a better look. She threw a handful of mirrors but he still did not take any notice, he was still spasming, his heels tearing under the strain of his backwards stretch. She shouted through to her relatives that he was dieing, they grabbed by the arm and dragged her out of the room, her mother next to her. her mother scolded her for being up so late and told her that the little worker was proabably just being an idiot like usual and rather scolded Marie for amusing her self with the workers. When asked if he was ill she said not at all, he is just playing Arab games.
The next morning was fairly ordinary, a bit quieter than normal as everyone had stayed up late. There was not a word of the little worker in the family, it was only at around noon when Marie was sat by the side of the pond splashing that she learnt from the other children that the little worker had died the night before. Dead and already buried early that morning on the other side of the forest in a hole where the workers buried their children and parents in a bare bit of earth. A large headstone at the top, the corpses aligned with Mecca. You could mistake it for a field of rubble.
Finally the situation with the Americans came to and end. Upon returning one day, Marie sensed a moroseness about Grégoire and Charlotte was in a bad mood because she could not find her favourite shoes. They said that the Americans always picked at and made fun of their affairs, but when it came to theirs it had to be taken seriously. Marie then went on the attack. First of all as regards drugs. She told them they could do what they wanted except drugs, then instead of being passive, she started to ask questions, such as where they came from, why they lived like they did, what they liked and whether the had an political views. They did not know. To begin with they all expressed a disgust of their family backgrounds, not necessarily their parents but rather the surrounding in which they lived. They were positive about nothing.
Marie insisted that they open the windows, do the dishes, tidy, clean and wash. It did not last long, in fact it was very quick, one evening she left and when she returned there was no-one there. Maire had vowed in her childhood to help all children of the world, to make sure that there was no child up above doling out mirrors and food to children beneath them. Yet thirty years on she kicked out youths who were in bad health and unhappy.
She thinks she did this maybe because she holds her own children above others, but also because the Americans were only feigning poverty. She thought that this was an unbearable form of snobism. Even if they were sincere, even if they were were unaware of the scandal they caused by pretending to be poor in the face of genuine poor people.
the fact is that to rebel against their family background they become attracted to the opposite. Bourgeoise is pathetic, therefore poverty is great. Marie says that they think that by wearing their dad's old underwear they are poor, as if being poor was just how you looked.