Ugly things in France

5 Dec

Today is a dreary one in Charente – Maritime, and as I’ve been wanting for a long time to do something about dispelling some of the American myths about France, I figure today is as good a day as any to do so. 

The majority of people I know, once they learned I was going to be spending 7 months in France, immediately found it fit to regal me with their preconceived notions of what life in France surely must be like:  slow, sweet, delicious, romantic, historically and aesthetically fascinating.  Predictably, all the facets of French life that tourists, in their sheltered portable bubble of expensive, enchanting, typically superficial impressions, experience. 

Any French person will be glad to correct this misconception:  la vie en rose isn’t always lavender, coffee and kisses.  Between Sarkozy, taxes, les grèves (strikes), and paperwork for everything, down to buying a cauliflower at the marché (there are receipts for everything in France), life in France is pretty much just as annoying, boring, what have you as anywhere else.  To be sure, I have had my fair share of wonderful moments here ; but there are certainly some days when I wish I were back in Missoula, back in Bozeman, back in Yellowstone, where I understand the subtleties of the language, understand the street signs, and understand how the health system works (or doesn’t work, to be more accurate).

On that note, here’s a short photo essay on ugly things in France…I promise to post another essay on typically charming things in France, fairly soon…

Stunted, overly and incorrectly pruned trees in La Rochelle.

You can find this tragedy all over France:  philosophically, I’m sure it could relate to the warped relationship between man and nature, with the former yearning beyond all reason to control the latter. 

I took an urban forestry class last semester in Missoula, so now know that, when trees look like this, clubfeet and all, they may as well be dead…they’re ridden with disease, surely, and have been forever denied the ability to grow in a normal and healthy way…all because some French arborist thought it looked pretty.  An innocuous act :  “C’est juste pour faire joli.”  It’s just to make pretty.

I don’t think I need to explain the horror of this eyesore.  Apparently some kind of war memorial; why must history, even ugly history, be memorialized in ugly ways?


And just down the road from the most hideous war memorial in the world, a typical find in France:  advertisements on the sides of potentially historic, ancient buildings.  Granted, this house is nothing special in Saint Jean, let alone France.  But it’s old, it’s pretty…and look, a lovely neon advert for the French equivalent of Super Walmart on its side.  This is what   comes from having too much of a good thing:  we fail to appreciate it.

In addition, ugly things I didn’t take pictures of but which are  nevertheless extremely offensive to one or more of the five (six, seven) senses:

There are funeral homes everywhere.  Yes, it’s forward thinking and frugal, even considerate to others, to plan one’s own death — but a little depressing?  In Saint Jean, which has a population of about 8,000, I’ve counted at least three funeral homes already.

Perfumed toilet paper in various colors.  Mandarin spice is orange ; creamy yellow is vanilla ; powder blue is ‘marine,’ which I assume has something to do with the ocean.  There is also unscented toilet paper; you can choose between pink and green.  I do not like pink toilet paper; something about this concept seems perverse to me.  But for some reason, it’s much more expensive to buy plain white toilet paper here.  So I have found myself obliged to overcome my bias and buy the pink kind.

And finally, dog shit.  I would not deign to take a photo for this one.  I leave it to your imagination.  The rumours were all true.


2 Responses to “Ugly things in France”

  1. Isabel January 11, 2010 at 12:06 am #

    Please more ugly photo albums of France! This would be a great coffee book table idea, “Ugly Pictures of Romantic Places,” brilliant!

    • lindsayjae January 11, 2010 at 12:17 am #

      To appeal to the brokenhearted cynic in all of us. It’s a perfect post-graduation project for you—I see a fortune, in a foreign and more valuable currency, gleaming in your very near future.

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