Friday, June 01, 2007

City life, country life

I used to live in the city. I was in NYC before I moved to Paris. In my apartment building, most people knew each other and said hello if they passed each other in the halls or in the elevator, but that was it. In Paris, we hardly spoke at all. I lived in my Paris apartment for three years and never saw my neighbors. In Lyon, it was a much more friendly. We had dinners with our neighbors, our kids walked to school together, and the mothers left the strollers in the nook next to the elevator. The apartment in Lyon was a big complex, with a pool, a park, and a wonderful view over the valley. Unfortunately, my husband couln't find work nearby, so we moved back to the Paris region.
We found a small house in a tiny village. I was used to city life, so I didn't rush out and knock on my neighbor's doors to introduce myself. My daughter, age 5, had no such qualms, and knocked on Everyone's door, so soon everyone knew us. I was used to a friendly nod as I passed a neighbor. Here, you stop and chat about the weather. I was also used to not knowing anyone, and not really paying attention to the poeple around me. What was considered polite in the big city was considered rude and stand-offish here. I had to learn to 'chat'. It was not easy.
Some of the people in this village have been here for generations. Their grandparents and great-great-ever-so-great grandparents lived here. Some just arrived, like us. The locals are friendly, but seem to have a rivalry between themselves. There is a veritable war going on between the two egg farmers, for example, and between the people on the hillside and the people on the valley side there is a sort of constant snipping. It's a war that has been going on for ages, I suppose. The village is divided into clans. The village fĂȘte commitee, for example, imploded because of the clan war, and they had to elect a whole new village fĂȘte commitee.
It may sound trite, but the people who live here and whose families have lived here for centuries, remind me of goldfish in a bowl sometimes. They peer out at the world, but to them, this village is their world.
For someone who has moved from one hemisphere to the next throughout her life, it's very strange. I can't imagine being so rooted to one place.
Recently the war escalated into a nasty graffiti written on the walls of a new house. The house was new - the family in it was one of the village's own. But the house was built on a spot of land that for a long time had been declared non constructable, the law (somehow) changed, and the house was built, which angered more than one person, obviously. Someone wrote a nasty slogan on the wall. The mayor issued a bulletin. People clucked and shook their heads. But for me it's obvious that the war is simply continuing along age-old lines. The hill people against the valley people, jealousy sprouting from a building permit and a covetted peice of property.
Does it make me wish I was back in the city?
No. Not at all. The villagers have drawn their lines of battle, but I'm not a villager. And most of them are caring, wonderful people. Graffiti is cruel, and the words were mean, but not harmful. And I'm pretty sure things will be smoothed out. Perhaps another building permit on another peice of land. We'll see. Life in a small village is never boring, despite what you may think.
I just have to be careful to buy my eggs from both farmers.


John Nez said...

I lived in a small Italian village once... Dobbs Ferry, New York. A sleepy little town on the banks of the Hudson, populated largely by homesick Italians. They'd sit out on their stoops all day long, apparently longing for their lost Napoli. They all had tomatoe gardens out back.

Some of those people would only go into New York once a decade.

And it really did matter who you bought your groceries from. But the odd thing was if one store ran out of something, the proprietor would just walk across the street and buy it from the other store... so now it was for sale in his shop.

It was a happy day, the day we packed up and drove out of Dobbs Ferry! It was too bogged down in timelessness. And not nearly picteresque enough to make the tedium worthwhile.

Verilion said...

Buying your eggs from both farmers. Is that like not keeping all your eggs in one basket?

Oopsy Daisy said...

I lived in a small town in Wisconsin for 8 long hellish months. I swear it snowed every day. And the locals were mean as snakes. They kept screwing us over by over charging us and not correcting the problem. The towns 1 police officer would follow us in his car as we would drive through town to our house. Don't want to ticket the locals you know, gotta get the money from the rich outsiders. They all thought we were rich because we had a new car. I hated that place. We swore no more small towns after that experience. And we have never set foot in Wisconsin since then either.

Speaking of the fishbowl, I know exactly what you are talking about. Most people in that town had never been more than 50 miles away from it and would get in a panic when they were out of the town. we had friends there and would go 25 miles West to Green bay once a month to the mall. They would be jittery the whole time wanting to go back home to their little town.

That town was full of the most narrow minded bigots I ever met in my life.

Bernita said...

Small towns have different rules for outsiders who are "from away."

Kay Richardson said...

I'll tell you one thing for free. London is whack.

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