Monday, February 7, 2005

In the Loupe, Chapter 16

The problem is that the first thing I want to tell you about is one of the single funniest things I've ever seen, and I can only hope that you're all good at visualization so that you'll see it too.

As you know, I get hit on a lot here - a lot. Well sure, you're thinking, I'd hit on you too; you're a stone fox. Which is nice of you to say, but actually it's just because I'm discernibly female; I've seen some pretty hideous women get whistled at, which obviously let the air out of the Tire of Overconfidence I'd been steadily inflating since I got here.

However, my no longer being flattered makes the attention no less constant, especially as I'm white, "blond" (I swear I've been described that way more than once - I love this place!) and often walking alone. From construction sites, leaning out of cars and trucks, down the grocery aisle, in front of the church - everywhere, the men whistle and make kissy noises and hiss this hideous "tssst" sound that makes me turn my head every time, an infuriating reflex. They invite me to the beach, for a drink, to bed. They tell me I'm beautiful and say I've bewitched them with my mermaid eyes, or - and this is obviously my personal favourite - they lick their lips and tell me they like "round" women. (Next guy who says that one gets it in the nuts, are you with me?) So I figure I've seen every possible wink, heard every comment, witnessed every display of ridiculous machismo, until:

I'm walking home from school when a 20-something guy passes me on a motorcycle. He "tssst"s at me and then looks so satisfied with himself that I laugh a little, which he apparently interprets as "yes, I'm interested." Understandable, as only a fool would try to resist the power of the "tssst": so subtle. So original. So... romance.

He circles back at the next roundabout and stops across the street from me. I couldn't help but notice, blah blah blah, how about a bit of dinner tonight, blah blah blah. I politely decline, then less politely when he insists, and I move on my way. And this is when the magic happens.

Whether determined to go through with the seduction or just to make sure I realize what could have been mine, our young hero comes through with his one-two-three punch, knock-out pick-up strategy, well thought-out and brilliantly executed.

First he shows me that he is persistent - perhaps alluding to his stamina? - to the point of creepy, by coming back up the hill for a third go. Second, he shows that he is sensitive, eloquent, a man of this century, by yelling "nice ass!" A key move. Finally, his moment of glory, he displays his mature, adult side by pulling his bike up into a giant popper-wheelie.

Unfortunately, unfamiliar with the physics of uphill-biking, this giant among men overshoots said popper-wheelie, falls backwards onto the road as traffic screeches to a halt behind him, and watches the tail end of his bike crash into the pavement and shatter, motorcycle parts flying in every direction. It happens so fast -- by "nice ass" he's already solidly into the popper-wheelie - and is so fantastically, hugely stupid, that the entire street freezes in shock. Eventually a couple of people step out of their cars to help him to his feet and to reassemble the bike parts, and I duck into a side street so that I can fall to the ground and laugh. By the time I have recovered (and wiped the tears from my eyes), my sweet Romeo has left the scene - probably walking his bike to the nearest mechanic - and it's as if nothing every happened.

Another story, not mine and not very funny but pretty amazing: Franck leaves work last Thursday and hitchhikes, as per usual, to get back to Basse-Terre. Everything's going fine until the policemen doing a routine road check find bags of crack, cocaine and whatever else in the glove compartment, as well as thousands of euros in the guy's pocket. Man, thinks Franck, this is as bad as it could get. Little does he know, however, that the policemen, looking under the blankets in the back of the truck, are going to find half a dozen Haitians being smuggled into Guadeloupe. Ka-POW.

Franck spends eight hours in jail as the police check his story and call various employers to make sure he's not an accomplice as they thought. He's released into the night at 2:00 a.m. and told to come back as a witness when it goes to trial. How wild is that? Wild, let me tell you. WILD, even.

Meanwhile, back at the bat cave, Carnaval is now in full swing, including kiddie parades on the last day of school. Karine's daughter Eva invites me to join her school's parade, so I don the carnaval crown she made me and dance down the main street of Saint-Claude with the four neighbourhood schools. Needless to say, it is mass chaos. It "starts" at 1:00, so it starts at 2:45, and the sun is whack down on our head: hundreds of little kids wearing heavy cardboard costumes and marching in the afternoon sun? Yes, please!

They start all peppy and excited, showing their fish/turtle/coral/whatever cardboard cut-outs proudly and shouting along with the music. As the arm straps cut into their skin, though, and the music from the huge speakers in front of them starts giving them headaches, and the same three songs play in a loop for 90 minutes - a Creole version of "Brazil," this annoying helicopter song that includes backsteps and all sorts of complications, and the highly irritating "Dominique-nique-nique" on trumpet - and their make-up begins to melt in the heat, and other kids are stepping on their heels because they're all bunched together despite renewed and useless efforts from the teachers, well, there's a lot less pep by the end.

The standard intro to every song, and then it happens a few times throughout, is a "ba-da, ba ba, ba-da da - oué!" The drums do the ba da ba ba part, which I realize means nothing in writing, but kind of follows the rhythm of the sentence "tigers don't like molasses." Then everyone shouts "oué," which is "yeah". (Pronounced "way" but without dip-thongs.) By thirty minues in, the "oué" is already half-hearted; by an hour it's a group groan.

There are kids falling over from exhaustion all over the place, with a bus driving behind the parade to pick them up. I see one boy who gets to the parade late, already a funny pale green colour, his mom explaining apologetically that he was sick and it was hard to drag him out of bed. Slap on a costume and some glitter and he's good to go: she pushes him in through the "rows" until he finds his "spot," then hisses something in his ear about doing Mommy proud, before heading out with her camcorder to capture the magic. Ten minutes and he's passed out in a fellow turtle's arms.
Ba-da, ba ba, ba-da da - oué!

My favourite things in the parade:

1. Two women are up in front leading the dance moves, and can they ever move. Then I look to the children themselves, stumbling along in confusion and trying to copy this sexy hip-swinging, inaccessible to six-year-olds at the best of times, not to mention with large pieces of cardboard strapped to their tiny selves. When they try to turn around, costumes crashing into each other and always at least one kid falling over, it's my favourite thing in the world. Kiddie bumper cars.

2. A roped-off group of pre-schoolers leads the parade to set the pace, adorable in their little insect costumes. Every single one of them is bawling by the end, most of them carried by their irritated parents, and this crazy lady who is walking with them, dressed in an outlandish fairy costume - and too small, as she has a formidable bosom - is generally displeased and keeps yelling "mais c'est de la MERDE, ça!" over the little guys' heads.

3. One little bumblebee, the first to reject the parade, sits down in the road and has a tantrum while the hundreds of kids stop behind him to wait. He does this three times and is finally taken out of the parade, inspiring other bumblebees, ladybugs and dragonflies to follow suit. The group quickly disintegrates as tired little insects go home: a successful coup d'état.

4. Teen-agers show up along the parade, I assume to mock the event and try to sabotage in some way. I'm wrong, it turns out, as they dance along and shout encouragement at the kids to tell them they're doing great. All thugged out, chains and hair-combs and pants with crotch-at-the-knees, and they're unsarcastically cheering on the kiddie parade.

5. Rather than block the road, management lets people discover there's a parade once they're stuck behind it. Snaking up behind the pass-out bus is a long line of frustrated traffic, moving at a hot three-year-old's walking pace and stopping every four minutes when the parade pauses for a child down, a rebelling bumblebee, what-have-you. The parade lasts an hour and a half; that's a whole lotta slow driving!

There's a parade on the street as I'm writing this, a warm-up for the big parade tonight, and the place is hopping. All of a sudden, people in Basse-Terre: amazing.

Ba-da, ba ba, ba-da da - oué!


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