Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Miracle on Ménilmontant or ya win some ya lose some.

A couple Thursdays ago was L'Ascension - the day the Holy Ghost rose to join the Father, I believe, but I - Mom that is - was not brought up a good catholic. My Sunday school was done at Unity...

In France, on the Thursday of l'Ascension there's no school for school children! For four days straight! Some Thursday, huh? (Be quiet Miss Crankypants, we all know what you think of the secular French school system...)

To occupy Malcolm and Henry during this long weekend, I agreed to accompany them to a place down Pyrénées called Cash Converters. It's a pawn shop basically. Every now and again, Henry and Malcolm have dreams of saving up their weekly allowance of 2 euros a piece to buy this season's lastest video sensation - meaning the console and as many games as possible! This time, they want to buy a PS2 and they've come within close enough range of their dream to know that used versions of it are available at Cash Converters for 59.99 euros... They've been saving for a couple weeks now and on Ascension Thursday they had some 10 euros in the piggy bank.

The evening before, they'd waited up for me to get back from work to ask me if the next day I'd take them to PS2 heaven. Nil the river was also saving up and his Dad had agreed to take him so Henry and Malcolm figured we should make it a neighborhood outing. That's what we do here.

This time, the three boys had decided to sell and THEN buy. They'd gotten all their old educational CDroms together (Arthur's ABC's, Math with the Wizards, Sam Pyjam...) in a bag with Henry's old tennis racket, one half-finished series of mangas and a couple old DVDs too. They were psyched to sell!

After breakfast, Stella took me aside and whispered "Mom, try to make them understand that they might not get very much for that stuff." I told her not to worry, as of 8am, I had been putting a seriously wet blanket on their hopes. Stella said "I remember when I was little and I used to have wild dreams like that, that I'd sell my stuff on ebay and buy an apartment in the XXth..." The girl is not yet 15, but her dreams of some day hitting oil already seem wild to her... (That's French education! "Down Miss CrankyPs! Down! Sit!")

Well, we set off for Cash Converters, a relatively heavy bag over Malcolm's shoulder and Henry with only his tennis racket lashed neatly across his back. When we got there, only one man was at the counter. We had the waiting area to ourselves. The boys were anxiously trying to guess how much they'd get for their stuff. I bet 12euros for Nil's goods; he had some pretty recent PS2 games in his bag and... Well, we'll see, for H and M's.

Nil got 12 euros for his stuff and H and M...well... At the last second, Henry wisely pulled back Malcolm's 1/2 manga collection, realizing they could probably get more for it at a used book store or at a sidewalk sale. Smart kid! Even if it did lower their total takings from 10.50 to 8.50 euros.

On the walk back, they were grumpy. A small herd of grumpopotomi still lugging a 1/2 manga collection back UP Pyrénées... By the time we got home, I was so sick of their grumbling that I sent them to the park without a snack! "GO OUTSIDE and PLAY BADMINTON!!! NOW!!!" They went, grumpily. Then, after about an hour they came home again, grumpily.

For some odd reason which I no longer remember, about two hours later, I realized they had forgotten the badminton rackets at the park. This made me mad and I sent them off to bring the rackets back if they were still there. I too went out on some errand or other. As I was coming back, I passed Malcolm going off on his rollerblades. "Where are you going?" I asked. It was getting late.

"Oh, I'm just going around the block." Malcolm answered.

"At this hour? Does Thierry know?"

"Yes, he said I could go."

"Mmmm. Be careful," I said.

When I got up stairs I asked Thierry if Henry was back. He wasn't. I asked why Thierry had let Malcolm go out for a ride around the block rather than sending him to the park with Henry. Thierry said he HAD sent him to the park!We were getting a bit worried. Then Henry came back. Grumpily.

"I didn't find the rackets but I found this." He held out a small black nylon wallet. Malcolm came back and got a talking-to by Thierry... Henry and I were already rifling through the wallet trying to find out whose it was. That became clear very soon.

It belonged to a Frenchman man who lived in Jerusalem. There was no French address nor telephone number but there were several numbers in Isreal. We began by calling the three numbers listed in the Parisian phone book for people called Sam Cohen living in the vicinity of our neighborhood.*

*editor's note : in this true story, the names have been changed to protect privacy.

The first number didn't answer. The second was a little old woman who was the mother of a Sam Cohen. When I announced he'd lost his wallet she was quite upset and her husband finally got on the line. I tried to reassure him, saying it wasn't very serious, we'd give it back, I promised, then I realized it was perhaps not even this guy's wallet. I asked the man when his son's birthday was and MUCH to his credit he knew it. It was not the same birthday as the guy who'd lost his wallet. Their son was five years older than our guy. We said our good-byes. Mr Cohen's mother was quite releived. I could hear her cooing happily in the background. Mr Cohen's father was quite relieved too and also slightly exhilarated by this small excursion into the adventure of someone else's life. The third number didn't answer.

Then we decided to call Jerusalem. A lady picked up right away and when I said I was trying to contact a certain Mr Cohen she said "Oh, he's in France!"

I said "Yes, and I think he's lost his wallet!" She turned around and cried out "Sam's lost his wallet!" and a man in the background groaned.

"I'd like to return it to him. It's got his driver's license and things in it."

"Sam's lost his driver's license," she cried over her shoulder. I could hear her dragging on her cigarette.

I asked if they had a number for Sam in France. They did but SHE didn't so HE had to go and dig it out of a drawer somewhere. Henry and I waited... then we finally had a number. It was not a French number though. It was a number to be dialled from Jerusalem in order to call France.

I sat and looked at the number for a while knowing it was not one I could use, trying to pick out which numbers I should keep and which I'd have to throw away in order to get through to someone in France. It looked something like this :


which is not a French number. Then lightning struck! I took off 003303 added a 0 in front of the 6 and got a valid French cell phone number.

"Bonjour, je cherche à joindre Sam Cohen."

"Oui..." very tentative, "C'est moi...."

"My son found your wallet, at the park."

"Yes, my wallet was stolen."

"Well, my son didn't steal it! But if you'd like..."

Sam Cohen was actually just one street away. Ten minutes later, he was on our doorstep, a tired man, ten years my senior. He thanked me. I said it was nothing. He thanked me again. I said it was nothing again. Then he told me HIS story.

"C'est incroyable! I'm staying at my mother's. She lives on an impass off the rue Boyer in a two-story house."

It was incredible. I know that house well and that impass. That's where I did my last series of all-day study periods before my final midwifery exams. I passed. It was a minor miracle! I didn't tell him.

"This morning," he continued, "when I came downstairs I found my passport, my cigarettes, my lighter on the table. I asked my mother 'Did the chair fall over?' My jacket was on the back of the chair. She said 'No, last night your brother came in and took something from the pocket.' I looked through the pockets and found my wallet had been taken. The strangest thing is, I work for a travel agency and I had an envelope with 1500 euros in that pocket given to me by a client to reserve a rental. Last night I took the envelope out and put my wallet in. I went up to bed with the envelope in my pyjama pocket. My wallet had my papers in it but hardly any money. Now I've got my wallet back too!"

I was pleased for him. Then he said "I'd like to give you this." He handed me some bills folded over into a small wad. I, of course, refused. It was nothing. Then he said "For your son. I'd like to thank him. It shows good education to bring it back." Now that I could not refuse!

"Thank you! It will make him very happy!" I said.

Now, if this were fiction or Hollywood that wad of bills would be exactly the amount needed to pay back the lost badminton rackets with just enough left over to pay off the desired PS2, right?

You know I'm right!

But this is real life!

Now, I'm very tempted to say "TEN comments will get you the end of this story..." then wait and see what you do... I could do a Scheherazade... leave you wanting more... Kind of like when I used to read to the kids at night and just at the most exciting part of Harry Potter I'd tease them, "And now it's time to go to bed!"... just like Omi used to do to Monique and me, reading The Pink Motel... but actually, I kinda want to finish this tonight. So no fooling around. It's shorter than Harry Potter anyway.

The guy gave Henry 30 euros.

As I pocketed the money and headed for the elevator I had several thoughts : I could just keep this money for myself... He should have come down with me if he really wanted this reward (before calling the numbers in the wallet, Henry had - yes, I admit it - evoked the possibility of a reward which I, always the wettest blanket on the beach, poopoohed) ... Henry's going to be sooooo happy! I hope he doesn't make his brothers and sister too jealous...

When I walked in and gave him his 30 euros he was THRILLED! And I was THRILLED! The first thing he did after gasping was grab his brother Malcolm in a very heart-felt bear hug. Then the two of them began dancing around the apartment, throwing the three bills in the air, watching them float to the ground, rolling on the bills when they reached the floor, waving them in front of their faces like a lady's elegant fan, then waving them around like ostrich feathers... they called Nil who was floored. They were very upset that Max and Stella were not immediately present to witness and enjoy the miracle!

Watching their shenanigans, which went on and on and on, I thought to myself "Thank God Sam can't see them now! Rolling in money like it was catnip! What would he think of our good education if he could see this?!!!"

Well, tonight, on the 26th of May, as Henry fell asleep after a hard day - he probably will not be accepted at the special school for athletic and artistic children; the interview was this afternoon and he came out feeling worthless - he told me "We're just 2 euros away from the PS2!"

Remember, our wildest dreams can come true!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Le Fish's Ultimate Disappearing Trick

We didn't want to spoil the fun and joy of announcing Jerry's arrival and we didn't actually know how to break this to you gently (we couldn't very well tell you Le Fish was out on the roof happily playing with a ball when...*) so you can imagine how very grateful we are to Omi for giving us this title (which we took from her comment to Adopting Jerry)and this opportunity to tell you that...

...Le Fish, the most beautiful betta splendins we've ever had disappeared for the last time at around 1 o'clock a.m. on the very morning of Jerry's arrival. While Jerry was travelling toward Ménilmontant in the night train, Le Fish, the Trickster we should have called him, was vanishing for good. Ironic, no? This is the last photo taken of him. We think it's rather appropriate in a ghostly fashion.

Le Fish's disappearance is actually a rather long story. It began about a month and a half ago when Le Fish suddenly stopped eating. For about fifteen days he'd eat one grain every few days or so. Nothing at all like the 4 x 2 he used to eat back in his early days with us. Then, finally he stopped eating entirely. This disturbed us although we observed that besides not eating he looked totally normal, swam high and low in his tank, hung out in his rock tower or in the hole in the fake grecian vase, shimmied up the bamboo pole from time to time... He even continued fighting with Stella's finger when she put it up close to him. He seemed fine. He just wouldn't eat. Mom kept promising she'd go to the fish store and find out what they thought might be the problem, but Mom's promises sometimes take a while to become reality.

Meanwhile, we had all sorts of hypotheses : Le Fish was getting older so he didn't need to eat as much, like older human beings; he had lock jaw; he snubbed the grains because we, well, perhaps I -Henry that is - should say "they" meaning everyone but me, of course, had somehow befouled them with their grimy human hands; Le Fish was sick and tired of always eating the same old grains every morning, every evening, same old, same old, the terrible grind of routine...; we imagined perhaps he was feeling lonely, if not for a male sparring partner (which he surely would have made mince meat of in no time) then perhaps for a cute little female betta and a string of sweet little baby bettas...

Mom finally went to see the fish doctor. His first question was "Does he have white stuff on him?" Mom said "No. Why?" Doc : "That would be a parasitic growth caused by stress, brusk change of temperature, being chased by a bamboo stick, being hit by a falling grecain vase..." Mom went home to make sure he had no white stuff on him. He didn't. He was his usual healthy blood red color, his long fins flowed freely, not a spot of white anywhere. Mom went back and reported this to the doctor. So the doc admitted he didn't know what might be bothering Le Fish. He said they could go for weeks without eating, that when Le Fish merely approached the grains he was probably eating tiny little bits. The doc said we could always try live food...

As Doc was serving other fish buyers, Mom sat by the female betta tank and watched them flit this way and that happily. Her decision came during that 10 minute wait : we would buy Le Fish some female companionship. And also the live bait the doctor thought might interest him more.

When I came home from school that day Mom announced we were going to the fish shop. I had invited a bunch of my friends over for a snack after school so we all went to the shop together...

...Vincent and Cledo were there...

...Valentin too, as well as Quentin, Louis (of Easy Cut Coconut fame) and Nil the river... It was kind of a neighborhood affair. We were really careful too. See how we let the new fish get acclimatized by leaving them in their bag so they'd get used to the temperature of the water before freeing them into the tank? We were becoming fish experts!

We loved the three new females and had found very neat names for them :

This small white one with the big black eyes we called Hepburn...'s Calamity called thus because she seemed to have had a hard life already, she was slightly bent in the middle and she seemed quite expert at finding the neatest hiding places...

...this little lady here...

...we called La Foudre - meaning Lightening - because she was so fast and because we think Le Fish fell in love with her at first sight which is called a "coup de foudre" in French. In any case, from the moment she was introduced into the tank, he was always after her.

What a beautiful fish, huh?

That guy up there we called Ajax, he's a window cleaner fish. I was so pleased to have him! The fish doctor said they could live for ten years and grow up to thirty centimeters. They have a huge old fella at the store which is really impressive. We were worried our tank would not be big enough. Cledo's Mom Sylvie said "Oh, in ten years Henry will have a big apartement of his own with a big tank..." The entire neighborhood was dreaming about our present and future aquariums...

Which is another reason why it was such a shame when the very next morning - the day Papy came - we found Ajax dead in a corner! He had not survived 10 hours in our tank! Not only were we just plain sad but now the whole neighborhood was going to have to be told that we're fish assassins rather than fish experts!

Mom figured we'd been badly advised so she went back to the fish doctor and got two new female bettas for the price of Ajax

We let them acclimatize...

...we called them :

the Indigo Tigress and...

...Madame Staline.

For a while, a very short while, something like 36 hours...they all lived together in a bright fish tank! Le Fish had never seemed happier in his life! He swooped around after these females trying to... to... well, kill them I suppose. AFTER Mom had bought the fish, the doc told her Le Fish would chose one female he liked, then try to kill the others. Then he'd make the one he liked pregnant, then, when she had laid the eggs he'd kill her then kill the babies... A betta holocost, basically...a kind of depressing scenario...

Anyway, the Dreaded White Parasite got them first. The Indigo Tigress was found deep down in the rock tower covered by a thick, white film. Madame Staline sprouted the stuff the next day and vanished in just a few hours. Calmaity went next, well hidden at the bottom of the grecian vase then finally, Le Fish...

When we saw him covered with the floating white spider-webby stuff on his left fin, we went into action. Mom found out from Doc that putting a tiny bit of salt in the water could burn the stuff off him so we put him in his original bowl with one grain of rock salt and waited. No improvement. Stella sat beside him, lifting him up to the surface every now and then with the sieve so he could get some air, she tried to scrape the stuff off him with cue-tips, it was agonizing... I became strangely detached and kept asking when the cat was arriving. By midnight on the 20th, Mom could stand it no and went to bed. At 7:15, when Jerry arrived, Le Fish was no longer.

Today, only Hepburn and La Foudre are still with us...

...but will they survive Jerry???

*This was the beginning of a joke that Opi once told Omi when Mom was about five. Mom was listening and she didn't get it right away, then, when she finally did get it, it imprinted on her brain and became the only joke she could ever remember...To this day!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Adopting Jerry

Today Jerry arrived!

He's our new kitten. He's extremely cute...

...and sleek! He arrived very early in the morning. At 7:15am because his previous mistress brought him by night train all the way from the Drôme where he lived with his momcat until today. We think he's adjusting well...

..he first said hello then good-bye to all of us when we had to go to school, then, Mom told us, he...

...thoroughly explored the living room floor...

...all the while...

...cleverly avoiding the guest trap (he's not a guest after all, this is his home now)...

...then, he discovered all on his very own, the smiley-face ball on the piano which he knocked down and had a good half-hour's fun chasing after!

He was quite tuckered out after that...

...and found a spot to rest on...

...Luckily, Papa was there to save him because those purple benches are not the most comfortable seats to curl up on in our house!

Yes, Papa, after refusing for years even to discuss the idea of a pet, was now touched to the point of accepting to SMILE for a photo he knew full well Mom was bound to put on the blog! Mom tells us he not only smiled he even said " I'll be a mother to you little Lord Jerry!" Then Papa... aloud to him from Joshep Conrad...

...then, after announcing that Jerry was going to be "his" cat...

...Papa fell asleep!

And Jerry too!

Well, almost.

Luckily, I - Henry that is - came home from school to give him a bit more fun!

Jerry and Malcolm found the warm, sunny spot on the couch and Malcolm tends to think Jerry is HIS cat...

...he sure enjoyed taking a catnap on Malcolm's bed as we played Game Cube in any case.

Still, Mom thinks he might actually be HER cat...

...he does seem to enjoy her computer...

And he even napped on her desk, on her...!

Welcome Jerry we already love you!