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The first thing you need to know, before I even get into the subject
of this week’s column, is that since the last time I wrote, I have
graced my entire left arm in, what is known in tatooese, as “a
sleeve.” Moreover, my sleeve (meaning that my left arm — from shoulder
to wrist — is entirely covered in ink) consists of nothing but
fish
. Fish, which, incidentally were taken from a wonderful book of
drawings (now out of print) entitled “Fish Worship … Is It Right?”

Yes. …

I leave you to figure out the significance of why a 50-year-old guy
would do this to himself. Suffice it to say that I think my arm is, well
… beautiful (but then I guess you’d have to be as enamoured of fish as I
am in order to share that sentiment).

Obviously, you know that, in addition to my sleeve, in the last
month, I have elected to leave the United States of America and move to
France. At this moment, I sit upstairs in a lovely little flat, looking
through the window at the grey French sky, listening to the
shouting of the French kids in the schoolyard behind the house
during recess, as well as to the pleasant sounds of my stomach gurgling
from the French bread and cheese and wine that is my daily repas.

Ah, yes. This is the life.

And now … on with the show.

The French are a dour faced lot. In addition, a good portion of them
smell, ah, let us say strong. Ah, hell — they stink!

I say these things — the negative stuff, as it were — only to get
them out of the way, because, on the whole, I have fallen in love with
the people of this country.

I know … I know. They French have taken a bad rap in many areas.
Areas like that of excessive snobbery, underarm hair, incessant smoking,
and lots of other stuff as well.

But, all this notwithstanding, I have, in my short stay here, found
the French people to be extremely kind, giving, respectful, and — as
far as the average guy on the street goes — much more culturally aware
than the average American.

Take that, all you John Wayne addicts! (And, no, I don’t like
Gerard Depardieu.)

One of the coolest things to do when you’re in a new country is
simply to sit and watch people. Obviously the French themselves — who
spend untold amounts of time simply siting in cafes working on tiny cups
of coffee — like this as much as I do.

But the thing is, I just can’t get enough of watching French people.
They are, well, so … weird. It’s not just the haircuts and the clothes
(French people dress much better than we do). It’s something else –
something that is difficult to put into words. It has to do, I’m sure,
with the fact that these are people who have made a lifestyle out of an
appreciation of the smaller things in life.

Take food, for example.

Eating is a major deal here. Here, all the stores — bar none
– close promptly at 12:00 p.m. (screw making money) and don’t reopen
again till 2:30. During that time, the restaurants are packed. If you
don’t hurry, you won’t find a place to sit. The French love
their meals, not just the chewing of the food … the talking, the
laughing, the smoking … each and every single part of it. And though
there is a McDonald’s on the corner in the main part of town, the idea
of fast food is absolutely unthinkable.

The second biggest thing that leads to culture shock (and it took me
a while to figure this out) is the pace at which life is lived in this
country. These people, to put it simply, are living much more in the
present that we are. For all the New Age blather that we’re subject to
in America, most people are off somewhere else in their heads — that is
to say, people live in either the past or the future.

Not so here. Life is lived daily. Hour by hour, moment by moment.

It took me over two weeks to actually begin to even be aware of this
change, so ingrained was it (not to live in the moment) in my system.
And I’m telling you, folks, it ain’t easy!

Put on top of this the fact that there is virtually no violence in
this country; by that I mean, there are no gangs, no road rage, no
serial killings. No, I kid you not! The rate for violent crimes in
France is miniscule compared to the U.S.

Sorry, we don’t have time to get too deeply into the discussion of
why (guns are not sold to the public, and though the cops have them,
they are rarely used).

Think of it! Think of what that means!

For me, it meant a total detoxification. I am someone who has packed
a gun daily for the past five years. Even though intellectually, I
realized that I didn’t need one here, I still had all my instincts up
and running. Walking down a street in Paris at 3:00 a.m. I kept waiting
for someone to try to roll me. I didn’t have my piece, true, but I had a
very nasty blade tucked inside my sock.

When I told him, my friend Dominique just laughed. “You don’t have to
worry. You are safe here,” he said. Dominique told me that maybe
a woman alone — and that was a big maybe — should take care
walking at night. But other than that, nobody here thinks about getting
attacked. Nobody has alarm systems … there are no bars on windows. I
am still, to be sure, in shock.

That fact alone makes for a totally different mentality. In fact, I
would even venture to say that because of that fact alone, I now
recognize that America is totally and completely mad. Oh, I knew it when
I was there, but when you’ve lived in someplace for 30 some years, you
get used to it.

Worse, you accept it.

But of course, you really don’t. Somewhere inside, you know it’s
crazy. But long ago you’ve copped out; so that you can live there (for
God knows whatever reason), you’ve given up and joined the rest of the
madmen.

I tell you now people — I speak to all those of you living in O.J.
Simpson Land — there is a better place. And if you’ve got anything
left inside you telling you to get the hell out, I say, do it now,
brother, before it’s too late!

That is the message of this column. And that will be, I am sure, the
message of many columns to follow.

In closing, I’ll simply say this. I spent much of my youth traveling
around Europe and frankly, after I’d settled in California, bought my
first house, all that stuff, I thought I’d never move again. What did I
want with those smelly people? With all the inconveniences? Nah, I loved
my comfort too much. Too bad if I woke up every night at 3:00 a.m. with
the cold sweats.

It’s so odd. Because now I see with absolute clarity that if God
hadn’t led me out of that hellhole called America, I might never have
had the opportunity to see it for the polluted, evil place that it is.

Not that evil doesn’t exist elsewhere. I am quite sure it is here
too. But I tell you friends, that even in one short month here, I am a
changed man. I have detoxed. I can daily feel myself going through a
complete mental and physical rejuvenation. I am born again.

And these are not mere words. This is a reality.

I’ll close now. Tonight I am off to the cinema. Having just sat
through that most ludicrous piece of dreck, “Virgin Suicides,” by Sofia
Coppola (undoubtedly one of the worst, most self serving films I have
ever seen), my brain needs some respite. I think I’ll go for an old
rerun of “Gaslight,” (the French love film noir). After that, no doubt
we’ll spend another few hours sitting in one of the many wonderful
outdoor cafes drinking abominably strong coffee and watching the magical
parade of humanity pass by.

Hey man, when there ain’t a Starbucks in sight, you know you’re in
heaven!

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