Thursday, June 30, 2005

In the Loupe, Chapter 29

In life, we must count our blessings. Take me, for example: Wednesday, I am woken at 5:30 a.m. by the fact that I'm so hot I can barely breathe, and as I tear my way desperately out of the mosquito net and into the shower, I think "I will never be hotter than this." I walk out through the muggy haze and toward the main road, as I have to go to Point-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe's big city which is on the side of the island called Grande-Terre) to exchange books with the Irish from last month.

I'm lucky and find a hitch-hike before the bus comes, but then I have to hold half a dead tuna on my lap for most of the ride, bought along the side of the road and the size of an adult pig, which sounds like a funny experience but in fact is not.

We get to P-à-P, and here's where I thank my lucky stars: I step out of the fish truck and almost pass out, it's so hot. No air, zero. It's so hot (how hot is it?!!) that the big block of ice on a vendor's "snow-ball" wagon (shaved ice packed in with syrup on top) has completely melted. It's so hot that I see someone's sandal left in the middle of the road, MELTED INTO THE PAVEMENT. (Possibly an old accident due to newly-laid tar, but these roads aren’t looking very new; I think it’s the heat.)

Gasping for air as we have a cold drink and exchange books, I realize that all the times I was bloated and red-faced and dreaming of winter, the poor bastards on Grande-Terre, where there are no mountains and few trees, had it worse. And the six of them who were in P-à-P – holy God that could have been me! I would have lasted two weeks!

My ride home was the first time I’d seen a movie played on a bus, and luckily for me it was a bad-guys-in-Tokyo shoot-up, starring (and written by, which accounts for the stellar script) Steven Seagal. There was a bad guy with a Johnny Depp vibe and a sexy cowboy hat, but then he killed the girl and I felt torn about my admiration. I don’t like girl-killers, and that’s a fact. (An example of Steven’s excellent turn as a wordsmith: the girl has been slashed by Johnny Depp’s Japanese sabre and is slumped against her car, alone in the night, dying in the misty rain. Her last words: “I love you, Trevis.”)

What I loved most about the movie – and let me tell you, it was hard to choose – was ol’ Trevis’s ankle-length black leather jacket. This is a ridiculous clothing choice to begin with, even more so around the streets of Tokyo, and wouldn’t you know there’s a cherry blossom scene. There’s the girl, wearing a pink kimono and looking very lovely, there are the cherry blossoms, floating softly down onto the bridge, and there’s our Steven, sitting on a bench beside his soft pink lady, wearing his ponytail and his stupid shiny jacket like The Matrix gone awry.

And now, I don’t know much about martial arts – there was a morning tai chi club in the mall where I worked, and that’s about it – but I know you aren’t supposed to wear a long, heavy leather jacket buttoned right up to your neck while you’re chopping and kicking in a warehouse. All the locals are wearing silk pyjamas or comfy t-shirts; take a hint, Seagal - lose the leather.

But the one that had me laughing out loud – which, in turn, had my neighbour shifting uneasily in his seat – was the love scene. First she’s doing a traditional kimono dance for him as he, jacket-clad, sits and watches her from the bed. Then she’s letting her kimono fall seductively to the floor and he’s reaching out to touch her arm, still sitting, still wearing the jacket. And then he’s laying her down on the bed, she’s naked as the day she was born, and he’s leaning in to seal the deal – only HE’S STILL WEARING THE LEATHER JACKET! During the sex scene! Steven. Please. It’s embarrassing.

Although the Japanese dialogue was neither dubbed nor subtitled – they obviously realized that most Steven Seagal fans in Guadeloupe are fluent in Japanese – filling in possible lines was never too tricky, based on the ones that Trevis himself provided. “This is for Saku,” [stabs him in the stomach,] “this is for my partner,” [stabs him in the chest] “and this is for America!” [brings the sword down on his head.] Type thing. Spending a hot and bumpy bus ride with gunshot and screechy car sounds blasting through the overhead speakers? In retrospect, the dead fish on my lap wasn’t so bad.

I find it funny that just this past Saturday I was thinking of Steven Seagal – something that doesn’t happen often – as I was at a pub concert and saw a tall man with a widow’s peak and ponytail, wearing a black linen pyjama-type ensemble and hitting relentlessly on a foxy young woman who wasn’t having it. What a sleazy Steven Seagal type, I thought to myself, which may have been unfair; I know nothing about Steven Seagal and he could be absolutely delightful. (Though after the leather jacket fiasco, I doubt it.) A funny coincidence nonetheless, and as things happen in threes, so they tell me, I’m waiting for my final S.S. encounter. Perhaps the man himself will stumble into my life – hopefully with enough time for me to get to my scissors and chop off that godawful ponytail once and for all. A-men.

Meanwhile, my move out of my apartment and into the shoebox Franck calls home is going okay. We’re on day four and haven’t killed each other yet, though we’ve each found helpful little suggestions for the other, such as my not getting so worked up over little things, or his not doing little things like leaving wet towels on the floor to get even moldier than this tropicana humidity has already made them.

The biggest moving problem was the cats, whom I brought to Franck’s house pending placement in a permanent home. I must have touched my eye with a fur/spittle-covered finger at one point, because while they were clawing and scratching and fighting their way out of the box on my lap, my right eye swelled up to an impressive size, turned bright red and painful and had a kind of film over it. (The vivid red apparently brought out the green in my eye, turning it into what Franck called “electric green” – kind of like Christmas in Ugly Town.)

The cats didn’t sprint out of the box as we feared and have adjusted quickly, romping around, exploring and bullying Hervé’s dogs. The dogs in question were crunching on something last night during a power outage (they happen a lot) (really – a LOT) and I couldn’t find Chisel anywhere. My flashlight wasn’t strong enough to show me what the mangy dogs were eating and I was convinced that I was listening to our little Chisel being eaten. I was about to start the official grieving process with Sprocket when Chisel popped out from a bush and attacked his favourite of Franck’s shoes; apparently I’m the one who’s having trouble adjusting. The cats are fine.

I made the mistake of getting myself involved in one of my school’s end-of-the-year parties, as two classes wanted to sing an English song for the event. This meant hoofing it up to school on my afternoon off and spending three hours in the sun and in the complete mayhem of an outdoor school concert. It began with the principal, a particularly uptight woman, giving a bizarre farewell address, as she is changing schools. She used her speech to tell the parents that their kids were the worst-behaved of any school in Basse-Terre, which is not necessarily standard party speech behaviour. Interestingly, she then did nothing throughout the next three hours to encourage any kind of discipline, but let the kids run around yelling, the parents talk and laugh in the audience and the teachers stand and smoke along the stage while no one could hear a word from the children who were performing. (Except for one little girl who got impatient with the one-kid-holds-the-mic set-up. She grabbed it away from the girl who was singing heartily into it, and everybody heard her say “you can’t sing” as the mic was passed to someone else.)

You could also very clearly hear the music that some hooched-out ten-year-olds danced to as part of a Culture in the Schools initiative in Guadeloupe. “Do Me Like a Rockstar” was the song of choice, so I’m assuming – I’m hoping – that the dance instructors didn’t understand the lyrics when they decided that this was the best way to present the girls to their parents. It was a shame that nobody could hear my sweet little grade two-three split sing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” as they had worked it to perfection and sang like angels. Grade three’s “Mellow Yellow” (with extra colour lyrics from my Terrific Tots days) was less of a success, as the kids were distracted by the glamour of being onstage and hardly sang at all. But then, I spent the whole song struggling to play the guitar and at the same time keep my wrap-around skirt from blowing open – apparently to no avail, from the comments I heard afterward – so I wasn’t so tuned into our performance either.

More sexy dances, kids doing rambling skits that got carried away by the wind, a head-smashing incident that resulted in broken glasses and wild hoots of laughter from the parents, some Creole storytelling and a lot of screeching feedback from that infamous microphone – and finally, mercy me, it was over and my school year had come to a close.

Teaching: check.

So as I count down my final two weeks here, a countdown towards good ol’ Canada with its functioning shower, laundry, no mosquito nets and Baskin Robbins – take me home, country roads – I seem to be staging my final revolution. I’ve told the school inspector about the principal who spanked a kid so hard that he broke a big yellow ruler over his bum and about the other principal who back-handed a kid and left a big slit in his cheek. (The kids don’t want to tell their parents because it’s admitting they were in trouble for something.)

I’ve also become so fed up with the hissing and the disgusting comments from men, everywhere, all the time, all year, that on Tuesday I snapped. Some guy walking towards me said “salut, ma poupée,” – hello, my doll – and though it’s the tamest of all the things I’ve heard, I turned around and yelled, actually screamed, “I’M NOT YOUR DOLL, ASSHOLE!” I have a feeling I was more of a freak show than a shining example of women’s independence, as I had my feet planted and my hands in fists at my sides like a cartoon of someone getting really angry – I must have looked like a total nutter. What can you do – I feel better for it, and I think it was a good precedent. Look out, men, I’m on the rampage and I take no prisoners.


Wednesday, June 22, 2005

In the Loupe, Chapter 28

I’m going to write even if I have nothing to report, because I think it would be very exciting to get to thirty chapters in this Guadeloupe story. (Exciting? or self-indulgent? Never you mind.)

And besides, I do have things to report, namely the appearance in my life of two lost friends. The first wasn’t really lost, since I never had it in the first place: on June 17th I received, in an envelope ironically marked “urgent,” my health card for this year. We have health coverage, you see, which means that since I got here in September I have paid hundreds of euros out of my pocket in health fees that nobody seems to have any intention of reimbursing. (Case in point: I called a few weeks ago to follow up on my filed-in-March refund requests – your only option when they haven’t given you the card that you were promised in September – and discovered that I am not even registered in the system.)

So I completely understand their use of the word “urgent,” as they are obviously highly concerned with ensuring my health and welfare. I guess the fault lies largely with me, as I made the callous assumption that I was to be medically covered while I was actually employed, rather than for the last nine days of my contract. There I go again, the idiot, jumping to conclusions. So now I’m going to buy out the pharmacy and go to the doctor’s twice a week, to really get my money’s worth. HA!

The second little friend is actually a reappearance: reading under the mosquito net one evening (after doing crosswords under the mosquito net and before eating under the mosquito net, sleeping under the mosquito net and, presumably, dying under the goddamn mosquito net – seriously, this place is paradise and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise), Sprocket came trotting through the bathroom and into my room. This is strictly illegal and I was about to scold her, when who do you think followed behind? Wait for it...

Chisel! Bigger and even feistier, still fuzzy and now a bit world-weary, definitely our funny little Chisel with the ringed tail. I think Sprocket kept him out of the way of the toms in heat to protect him, which makes her a much better mommy than I gave her credit for. The only sad thing is that Chisel is afraid of me. Of me! Kathryn! I think he might remember all the times I pulled him out from under the dresser/behind the couch/behind the fridge and tossed him outside – gently! of course! – and he thinks I’m out to get him. Little does he know, I was only doing that to keep him and Sprocket on the same side of the door when I leave, since I obviously can’t leave them in the house. (Because of fur and because of peeing on the floor; you saw how uptight I was about the Irish leaving some sand under the table.)

I imagine he also didn’t enjoy when I prodded around his little “zizi” – if you’ll pardon my French – once on my own and once to get Franck’s opinion, to determine his gender. I had been positive he was a girl, you see, but then I noticed some suspicious action down there when I was pulling burrs out of his fur (from wherever Sprocket was stashing him in the bushes.) Plus, his face has broadened a little into a tom face rather than the sweet little girly one from the beginning, so I wanted to check out the situation. It’s hard to tell at this stage, but two votes: male. The result is that Chisel shrinks away and tucks his tail between his legs when I approach. What can you do.

And then funny Franck: Sprocket, as Mom and Bronwyn will surely confirm, is a beautiful cat – really very pretty, all delicate markings and Egyptian eyes. Chisel, on the other hand, is pulling off his looks for now because kittens can’t help but be cute, but he’s one weird-looking little dude. He’s grey-white and fuzzy with these round blue eyes and looks essentially like Dobby the house elf (is it Dobby?) from the Harry Potter movies. Cute for now, but good luck finding a mate, my friend. And Franck thinks he’s way better-looking than Sprocket. (The kitten, not himself.) Unreal! And highly unsettling, because he’s always telling me how pretty I am – now I know that he just has no idea.

Meanwhile, the year is winding down and most of the kids don’t show up at school anymore – I had ten out of thirty-two yesterday afternoon – so I’m just hanging around with them, playing hangman and outdoor games and singing songs. Sometimes we talk about movies we’ve seen, sometimes the girls braid my hair.

An exciting exception was going into Karine’s schools for a day to do my Canada presentation (with all the pretty pictures of things I’ve never seen, but I act like it’s all in my backyard) and sing some songs with them, to give them a native speaker for a day, and it was like the beginning of the year again. I was mobbed in the school yard, I signed autographs for a good twenty students – though that turned out to be a tradition, like yearbook-signing, rather than my being the biggest star in their sky – and I was begged to come back. It was excellent. I guess that’s all.


Friday, June 17, 2005

In the Loupe, Chapter 27

My heart is broken. It was inevitable, here in the Land of Infidelity, and now I, too, know the pain of a cuckold.

Sprocket’s been cheating on me. I noticed her trotting out to meet me from my neighbour’s front yard, in which she looked very much – and suspiciously – at home. I hesitated to ask because it’s my Jehovah’s Witness neighbour and our polite conversations always head in the same salvation-from-heathenism-before-it’s-too-late direction, which makes me highly uncomfortable. But Sprocket was looking guilty and trying to distract me, all big eyes and whatever, so I knew something was up.
Up, indeed! JW has been feeding Sprocket the whole time! She gives her a plate of her own meal and she has a big bag of cat food. And apparently the family up the hill feeds her too! Sprocket’s a total hussy!

While it’s obvious that Sprocket loves me best, since she follows me around, sits with me when I’m reading outside, moves to the doorway of whatever room I’m in – including the bathroom, which also has a door leading out to the garden – and brought her kittens to me for help, I realized it was an inappropriate point to make and could work against me in potential future legal battles. I held my tongue.
So that Sprocket! I’m moving earth and sea to find her a home, I’m making transportation arrangements with my students, I’m pulling allergy gunk out of my eyes rather than stop feeding her so she’ll go away, and this whole time she’s been getting it from the neighbours. Why You Wanna Break My Heart, Sprocket?

And there’s MORE. Sprocket-based trauma is taking over my life. Are you familiar with cats in heat? It’s loud and miserable and right outside my door all night, because three large toms – each a different colour and fur length, in a pleasing nod toward diversity in the community – are hot for Miss Sprocket. This also means that they’re peeing all over the place, marking her as property, and I’ve found two piddle puddles on my floor. (I asked Franck to mark a line of his own in front of the doors, a male-to-male challenge, to keep the toms [and their fur] out of the house, but he said no and has been acting nervous around me ever since. What? WHAT?)

She hangs out near me for protection, as I chase the bastards away with a broom in a show of female solidarity, but then she eventually wanders towards Henri, the ginger one and her apparent boyfriend, and shakes her tail suggestively. Here’s how it goes (the prudish among you might want to skip this paragraph): he chases her a few times and she gets away, playing hard to get. Then she sits and waits and he pounces, grabs her and bites her neck to hold her steady and positions himself while she squirms. It takes him ages to make it happen – or what feels like ages to me, standing by and waiting for a signal from Sprocket to whack him with my broom – and she lets him hump away without making a fuss, then suddenly HOWLS, this ear-piercing, I’m-being-tortured-while-you-stand-and-do-nothing scream, and scrambles loose. As he paces around and licks his chops, she throws herself to the ground and rolls around, madly twitching – in pain? to ensure pregnancy? – and then licks herself for twenty minutes and growls if he comes near.

Needless to say, I am traumatized and guilt-ridden, having stood by and let my comrade be assaulted by a ginger tom, and give her milk and all the love I can give while she recovers. And then? She goes back and they do it again. Sprocket, I say. If it’s that awful, why do you keep going back? For the babies? This boyfriend of yours is probably the one that killed the first two! And he’s biting you the whole time! Have some pride, for God’s sake! And Sprocket gives me a look that says “back off, chica, and save your feminist raving for someone who cares. Just shut up and keep giving me those ‘boulettes de boeuf’ twice a day.”

So she obviously has to make her own choices. I counted nine times on Wednesday – NINE! – and that’s just when I was around to hear the awful scream at the end. Who knows how many others, plus the one I woke up to at 5:30 in the morning in the doorway of my bedroom. Sprocket, Henri, I thank you. They’re serious about baby-making, these cats – all day and all night, it would seem. And when big ginger left? She moved onto the next one, whose resemblance to my old cat Minouchka makes my hostility difficult to justify. When he leaves, will she shack up with the third one? I’m getting her a copy of The Women’s Room.

What you didn’t know when I last wrote, as I chose stoically to suffer in silence, is that it was so hot here that I had mostly lost my will to live. To note: 1. La Soufrière, the volcano that people go jogging around because it’s always cold, was so hot that the plants turned black and died. This has never happened. 2. The number of people brought to the hospital for dehydration was four times that of the same period last year. 3. My students finally stopped wearing sweaters to school. Guadeloupe had gone wild!

Now has come the rain, in great, house-shaking storms that last three or four days, keeping you cooped up in a house where everything’s muggy and wet. Matches won’t light, laundry won’t dry, sheets smell unhappily like cottage cheese. The rain stops for a day and you’re smothered with a big, humid blanket, and then the rain starts again. Needless to say, I’m puffed up like a blowfish from the humidity (I dare you to find someone who retains water better than I), I’ve lost my tan and I have a heat rash on my forehead and – somewhere else. Plus, as an extra bonus, the mosquitoes are out with a vengeance, thriving in the rainy weather and focusing especially on my bum. They seem to have moved on from the child’s play of ankles and calves, collectively narrowing in on the parts that can’t be scratched in public.

Fortunately, there’s a garbage strike until they – whoever “they” are – agree to fix up the awful dump, and so there are mass amounts of garbage strewn around the streets in first the torrential rain, and then the Soufrière-melting heat. Sure smells nice.

I spent a week-end with Franck’s friend Hervé and his babies, at the beach during the two hours it wasn’t raining and then hanging around at home the rest of the time. And oh, that soft baby skin – why didn’t I get involved sooner? The problem is that I can’t stop taking pictures – and of someone else’s kids. What will I do when they’re my own? I need to face that I’m going to be a camcorder mom and that most of my friends will stop coming over to see me, for fear of having to flip through Album Number Twenty-Nine: Baby Turns One! Friends, let’s the make the most of these baby-less years, so as less to regret the inevitable fall-out.

I had what may be my last piano lesson with Steve, as he’s going back to Dominika. (They spell it with a “k” because Dominica is the Dominican Republic, for those of you who thought I was just insisting on a wrong spelling.) Last week they invited me to stay for dinner and it was delicious, this fish and potato boiled thing, and Steve felt that my wild dislike of everything to do with cooking could be cured by coming early the next week and making the thing myself. (Mind your own business, I said. Aren’t free piano lessons enough?) (No I didn’t, I’m a wuss. I said okay.)

Remember, a few minutes ago, about the heat? Wasn’t that fun? Their apartment is small and wooden-walled with the sun coming in from 10:30 on, a veritable pressure-cooker by 3:30. Lessons are miserable enough, listening to “Ding Dong Dell – Pussy’s in the Well” on repeat as I watch the humidity puff my hands into Pillsbury Doughboy mittens, so standing in front of a gas flame, stirring stew – let’s just say I’ve been to hell and back, my friends. It isn’t pretty.

Sometimes our different English is fun, like when he uses arcane-to-me phrases like “how do you do?” or when he calls potatoes “Irish potatoes.” (Plus, he doesn’t say puh-TAY-does like we do, but PUH-day-does. Irish PUH-day-does.) But mostly it means that I make endless jokes (my annoying habit when I’m in an unhappy situation) – and let’s tell it like it is, some of them are really funny – and Steve doesn’t get it. Doesn’t even get that I’m making a joke; no sympathy laugh or anything. Now, laughing alone, as I’m sure you all know, makes you either very sad or very giddy; with the head-spinny heat and the stupidity of the situation, I obviously opted for the giddy. I even got all giggly about sexual innuendo that he wasn’t picking up on - though this is possibly because he chooses to act like an adult. Really juvenile, like in grade five when we’d all freak out if Mr. Arnold said “let’s do it”; has my life in Guadeloupe come to this? Giggling helplessly through the haze of sweat and cooking steam every time the guy holds a dumpling a certain way? I’m not proud, I’m just reporting.

The damn thing finally got done – after I butchered my knuckles by kneading the dough to Steve’s satisfaction (I still can’t feel my arms) – and I was even able to taste that it was delicious despite the raw fish smell lingering on my fingers. Steve was all, see? cooking is fun!, which is the dumbest thing he could say. Cooking isn’t fun, Steve. Eating is fun. Just think how much better an afternoon I’d have had if you had cooked the stupid thing yourself. So if anyone wants to taste yummy Dominikan cooking, I’m your girl: I’ll tell you exactly what you have to do, step by step, and I’ll even set the table.

Hey, did you know that cockroaches can fly? Well, they can. Another fun effect of the garbage strike is that I have seen roughly a 600 per cent increase in the number of three-inch cockroaches flying around my home. Yes, please.


ribbit ribbit

p.s. the beginning of a Gordon Lightfoot review by James Adams, and possibly the worst-chosen opening quote I’ve ever encountered: “A famous critic once described jazz as ‘the sound of surprise.’ There wasn’t much jazz at Massey Hall last night or much surprise. But there was much pleasure and not a little pathos as Gordon Lightfoot…”

Friday, June 3, 2005

In the Loupe, Chapter 26

Needless to say, the big recording day never happened. It turned out there was nothing wrong with the microphone, but rather the lady had forgotten the recording cds (and lied to me.) When she didn't turn up after lunch (she was photocopying things for the meeting - WHILE the meeting was going on - doesn't one do these things ahead of time?), some guy took me up to the recording room and said we'd just use their cds and then replace them later. Except that the room wasn't available; she hadn't even booked the recording space!

She showed up at 3:30, as Karine and I were leaving, and tried to claim that I had some duty to stay and do the thing. The fact that I'd been there since 8:15 that morning to do her a favour and she didn't even have the material ready to go, showing a complete lack of respect for my time and the time of all her colleagues who were sitting in the meeting, nothing to do, waiting for her to come back after lunch, swiftly erased any sense of obligation I might otherwise have had, and Karine and I got out of there and bitched about her the whole way home. I’d probably be really mad about a big wasted day, except that it kept me out of my awful school for the afternoon, so I have nothing to complain about. Let’s hear it for nothing-functions-properly-in-Guadeloupe!

I then had a week-end that made me realize why I’m anti-social and absolutely right to be. A couple of Irish assistants live on the other side of Guadeloupe and wanted to hang out in Basse-Terre for a bit with their visiting friend. They camped for a few days near Deshaies and then the plan was for me, the only one of the four with a driver’s license, to rent a car for the long week-end at my cheap place, drive out to meet them and do some of the mountain/jungle things around Basse-Terre. They would stay at my place on Friday and then we would take advantage of having the car to drive us all to Le Moule, where they live, to see a concert on the beach on Saturday night. Lovely.

Heading into town on Friday morning I realized that things might not go so smoothly, as there was not a car or person or dog in sight. It was the Abolition of Slavery holiday and Guadeloupans take it very seriously, so obviously no one goes to work. My car place was closed – the whole city was shut down – and I wandered around wondering what I was going to do about the Irish three being stranded out in the middle of nowhere on a day with no buses and nobody on the roads. One car rental place was open, if unofficially, as the woman had gone in to wash the cars on her day off, so I rented from her and paid double what my little white twingos cost.

I found the Irish on the side of the road with huge back-packs and frustrated faces; nobody would pick up three tall tourists with huge bags at the best of times – the cars just aren’t big enough – not to mention when the roads are blocked because of YET ANOTHER bike race, and so there isn’t a single person driving by. Things were fine for a while, driving through jungles and swimming in freshwater basins, me understanding most of what they said but not all (whether due to pronunciation or Irish lingo, I’m not sure), and we were all in fine spirits when we pulled into my driveway. Little did I know how much my anal retentiveness would be tested by these sandy, dirty, muddy, smelly campers, as they swept into my home in a whirlwind of wet towels and general mess and I had to stay outside as much as possible to calm my heart palpitations.

When it’s rainy and muddy and your shoes are filthy, TAKE THEM OFF! When you have a shower and flood the bathroom because you can’t keep the spray to yourself, MOP IT UP! Fascinating, the amount of dirt three people can generate in the time it takes to make some pasta-and-tuna salad. Fascinating, and very difficult for me to handle.

We had a fun evening wandering around town and watching the badly-organized and not-much-really-happening Abolition of Slavery presentations, ate some crepes from seaside food trucks and headed home for a late night. I couldn’t sleep, though, exhausted as I was, and was up by 5:15; am I that uptight? Is it because of the mess, haunting my dreams as I went over and over various mopping fantasies? I think I may need help.

Saturday we rented from the cheap place, hung out with Franck and ate delicious lentils, went to my favourite bathing spot and then headed out towards St François, the Easternmost point of the island, for the concert. About half an hour from our destination, I looked at the gas and discovered that the four lines full I had seen five minutes ago had all disappeared. Completely empty. What could this mean? Obviously a mistake, as four bars are not to be scoffed at and can not drain so quickly – was the mistake in saying there were four bars when there weren’t, or in saying that we’d run out? What to do? All the gas stations were closed (after 6 p.m. you’re pretty much on your own, especially in the countryside like St. François) and the panic was rising, and Victoria really wanted to try and make it to the concert. So are we going to be stranded by the sea in the pitch black? Is that really the best plan? There was also a party going on somewhere and the boys thought that was a better idea – no one agreed with my Safety First plan to get the hell home, since we were only minutes away from their place, and at least have somewhere to sleep.

Victoria gave up her fight when she had to admit that she didn’t really know exactly where the concert was – and I refused to go hunting around when the gas could run out at any time – and we ended up going to the party, which was not far from their house. Maybe a nice idea, to have blankets and little cushions spread out on the lawn with lanterns, all very dreamy and chic, but I’ve never been to a more pretentious gathering in my life! People lolling around on each other and air-kissing, calling out to each other over people’s heads – am I in high school? I wondered as I looked around at all these thirty-to-fifty-year-olds acting like it was their first time at an adult party and they couldn’t stop posing and looking at themselves in the pose. What a lame bunch. I wandered around the road, watched a huge pig pace back and forth and grunt, and then fell asleep in the car.

When we finally went back to their place and they had trouble clearing a space for me on the floor among the dirty underwear and crusty dishes – on the living room floor, you understand – I at least realized that their slobbiness was not disrespecting my home so much as just their way of life. A bike parked in front of the fridge, every table overflowing with junk… and my heart palpitations were back. I was awake again by 5:30 and after finishing my book and cleaning out the car, I headed out to get gas. It finally ran out en route and I had to hitchhike to a station, but it was such a relief to do the deed and be able to get out of there that I wasn’t fussed.

I thought this year had made me laid-back and ready for anything, but apparently this is not the case: I mopped like a crazy woman when I got home, scrubbed down the bathroom and table and stove and microwave and fridge and mirrors and anything else I could get my hands on, and THEN I was able to sleep.

Please. I need help.