Global Mom Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One Family
By Melissa Bradford
Familius Copyright © 2013 Melissa Bradford
All right reserved. ISBN: 9781938301346
Hanging out the windows of our apartment that sits in an upper floor of a corner building one block south of the Seine river in Paris are two men. In the narrow street below stand two more. All four are bellowing at each other. Part of me could join in, I guess, but I’ve decided to save my energy. I’ll need it.
This morning I’m managing the shipwreck rescue of my life: there’s this massive plank of timber bobbing like Moby Dick on dental floss outside my window, so many ropes taut and creaking, sweat drizzling in rivulets down my back, four Frenchmen sodden with perspiration in this summer’s round-the-clock sauna, all of us hoping for a breeze to cool us off. Or better, to puff this leviathan a centimeter or two closer to our fingertips so we can pull it to safety, to the middle of our living room, the only place where this piece will fit in our new place.
This new place: a part of Paris called the rive gauche
, which refers to the left (or south) bank of the Seine which traverses the city, dissecting it nearly into two, and where you are as close to the river and its former fishable waters as you get in these parts of Paris. This road where our building sits, in fact, used to be an open market which took in the daily catch directly from the boatmen who would dock on the banks of the Seine and drag their nets or wheel their carts right up the street. You bought real fresh from the fishmonger in those days. That was before World War I.
Now you’d think we are deep in World War III, with this moving crew of ours maneuvering as if already in the throes of battle. Okay, it is only kind of a battle, but a battle for today’s catch, which isn’t fish but pine, and a whale of a piece at that. It’s our ten-foot long, three-foot wide, four-inch thick Norwegian table, our monument to five years spent living there in an island idyll.
We move nowhere without it. Not when we moved from that Norwegian island to the Île de France
(“France’s Island”, the term used for the suburban periphery of Paris), and took up residence in Versailles, a comfortable jog from the château. And not now, either, when we’ve decided we are done with island hopping and are instead jumping feet first into blue blood. We’ve decided to move (but only if the table can come with us) to an apartment parallel to the Rue de l’Université in the distressingly tony seventh arrondissement
of a city, which is, at least for the coarseness of this moment, way too genteel. Look lively, maties,
I coax inwardly like the longshoreman I’m trying to be in order to get my table up a couple of storeys and through this window. Quit your quarggeling and heave-ho.
No question I’m feeling more Norwegian than Parisian this morning, more hard-boiled than high-heeled, more rogue than vogue, sure of my sea legs and fit in a flash to shiver anyone’s timbers. I’m gaining muscle mass by sheer mental exertion and might sprout a beard if things don’t go my way and soon. Parisian delicatesse
I dropped a while ago when they nearly dropped the table the first time. That’s also when I dropped the corners of my beguiling smile and my vocal register, presently at bass baritone. And sinking.
“You couldn’t have left this thing in storage?” the guy with a red handlebar moustache, the one who reminds me of Yosemite Sam, says in French, heaving cables with raw, freckled hands. He’s slimy with sweat, his bulbous belly spilling over the window ledge we are sharing. He is about five feet tall and five inches to my left. I can smell him well.
“Or back in Norway?” his colleague with the cigarette snorts with half a laugh. Then he sees I am not so amused, so he busies himself by ripping down on a green rope coming from way above our heads, a rope that is threaded through the pulley contraption on the top of the building, a remedy they’ve had to rig for today’s move. For the table. He adjusts the blue blankets padding the windowsill. This guy, (we’ll call him Guy), is stoic, surly, and growling at the oppressive August heat that has moved in over Paris like the bad breath of a forest fire. Which heat he combats, naturally, by smoking like a forest fire.
They’ve assigned street watch to what must be their youngest crewmember. This boy, (we’ll call him Garçon) stands on the cobblestones directly beneath where I am keeping window watch. He is gangly, angular, with inky hair plastered to his forehead. His T-shirt is transparent with sweat, glued against ribs that roll and twitch as he moves like a backstage puppeteer coordinating strings, and I have never seen such leglessness under jeans in my entire life. It’s as if nothing but empty pants and a neon green fabric belt are holding up his torso. He whistles Bon Jovi’s, “Livin’ on a Prayer, the irony of which softens the tension in my neck. I have this maternal urge to feed him.
The chef de l’equippe
, or crew leader, is pacing our narrow Rue du Colonel Combes in a black cap. He is bulky and smelling of bourbon already at 11:45 a.m., fine for un vrai Breton
, an authentic piece of Brittany, the westernmost region of France. But he’s not from just any old place in Brittany, mind you. This gent is from Finistère,
he reminds me, while wagging his scarred index finger and enunciating: “Feen-eees-taaaaaaiiiiiiirrrrr.” He’s proud, and should be, since that place is absolutely as far as things go, as its name says: End. Of. Earth.
And now he’s acting like this is the end of the world, this table hoist. They’ve tried and tried, since before 8:00 a.m. they’ve be trying. Up the narrow stairway? No way no matter how you angle it. With an automated mont meubles
or furniture escalator? No. Far too big. Far too heavy.
“’Elicopter?” someone whispered, and everyone chuckled, except the chef, who waved off the idea only because the road is too narrow for landing anything wider than a kite.
“Madame,” he had suggested after all this, eyes half-closed, looking crafty, “We might try . . . taking your table . . . apart. . .?”
“Not on your life, monsieur,” I had answered, eyes wide open. And craftier.
Thing is, I remember too well when another crew in yet an earlier move tried that one, taking the massive top from the just-as-massive pedestal, and how, once taken apart, it was nearly impossible to pound the pieces --- the wooden pegs, the custom made fittings --- back together again. This thing, this table, was like a body to me, practically a living organism. You couldn’t just chop it up and not expect lots of pain. Even if the pain was all mine.
So here I lean, aware in my peripherals that my Parisian soon-to-be neighbors are gathering, eyeing the spectacle either from behind their curtains or from where they are standing, some of them now, on the sidewalk, wondering, as I am, how on earth this show will end. My orange T-shirt was a wardrobe choice that was supposed to exude resolve and energy, which isn’t quite doing the trick, I don’t think, as I negotiate between cultures, languages, genders, and between cables red-green-and-yellow. Same time, I also navigate through a blazing heat wave and a time limit, not to mention the newly-sprung Franco-Furniture war, hoping only to snag and drag to shore 350 pounds of inanimate but invaluable family memorabilia.
I press my palms to my temples. The noise of the men’s barking gets the attention of the Portuguese gardienne
(the woman who lives on the ground floor near the entry, whose job it is to police all the building’s comings and goings). She has been silent till this moment when things have reached a certain pitch. Wringing her hands in her faded green and pink floral apron, she shifts in her black orthopedic sandals from one arthritic foot to another. I’m surprised when she suddenly steps forward – hobbles forward --- out of the entrance of our building and honks like a goose being throttled:
is a question of life and death!” she warns in French with a pronounced Portuguese accent. Her words ricochet in an echo down the street. The neighbors stare. Garçon drops the Bon Jovi. The man we are calling Guy, flips his cigarette from his bottom lip and it ends up on the sidewalk, spluttering next to some steaming fresh dog droppings.
“The table survives, so do you!” she threatens. “Does not survive? Alors
. . . I’ll personally throw you into the Seine!” Her face is pulsing with just enough to draw attention away from her hands, which are shaking a lot, I can tell even from up here. I give a double Girl Power fist pump to the air and let out a gravely “Yessssir.”
From where he’s standing next to me, Yosemite mutters something about “les Norvegiens barbars”
. But honestly, I’m neither really
Norwegian nor normally
barbaric. Normally I’m your friendliest American mother-of-four who sings Schubert and Sondheim professionally, pumices her heels, and hoards secret stashes of dark chocolate in places like. . .everywhere. A woman who uses an eyelash curler and a laptop every day of her life, so hardly barbarian, but a woman who also happens to have a fair amount of living invested in a certain table. That’s it.
So right now I’m channeling a few Vikings. For effect. Because when provoked, I can show better bicep than any one of these seasoned sailors. And if it will help get my pine table through this pinhole, (and only if
it will help; I don’t ever go this far on a regular basis, trust me), I can undoubtedly compete with even the most piquant moving crew in the body odor category. Oh, yessssir.
So I release a barely audible growl, slap my hands on my thighs, and swing my full attention to Yosemite: “Well, monsieur
, I can see it will take a barbarian
and not a Bréton
to save this table!”
From the side of his mouth without the cigarette, Guy mutters, “Oo, lah-lah-lah. . .”
And you know? It does the trick. With one eyebrow cocked, this man with facial hair straight from Looney Tunes emits a faint, soaring whistle, slaps his meaty hands together, rubs them vigorously, plants them on his thighs like a lumberjack all set for log-throwing, and says, “Bon, alors, on y va!”
(“Alright then, let’s go!”) And with that, we enter into a formal bond with one firm, eye-to-eye nod.
“And not the slightest sign of damage, messieurs,”
I yell to the street, my orange T- shirt taking the lead. The Chef grouses. Garçon salutes. Guy lights up another clope
and flicks the match down onto the street.
I do not for the life of me know how this happens, but in a heart beat Yosemite becomes a gargoyle. A red-moustached, Merrie Melodies gargoyle. He’s stretched out nearly flat over empty air a hundred meters or so above the sidewalk, clawing the oxygen like he’s playing an air harp, teeth bared, veins bursting as he expels the slow, raw yowl of someone being impaled with a lamp post.
I clamp my eyes shut and hold my breath. Then I stretch my arms as far as I possibly can without pulling my shoulders out of joint and, with our combined twenty grappling fingers, this little man and I pluck then yank the biggest cable, pulling it to us like we mean it. The plank groans. Then it leans forward. Leans back. Then leans toward us. Like it’s shifting in bed. The whole Rue du Colonel Combes stands transfixed. Our gardienne
is down there crossing herself, and trilling a dozen rapid-fire Portuguese Hail Marys. Garçon folds nearly in half, a praying mantis with boney limbs bent over his head, legless still, waiting for the whole thing to plunge on top of him.
And Chef, the one normally sporting the back cap, is sporting it no more because he has ripped it off and is holding it to his heart, mouthing something to the clouds. Then cramming the hat in a back pocket, he wipes his hands on his pant legs and sinks into a deep knee bend. Arms outstretched. Prepping himself for the solo catch.
Guy looks on. Cigarette dangling in the right corner of his lips, gaze opaque, he folds his arms across his chest. His head he turns once left, once right, in a grim, slow, “Non”.
No? No thanks to him, we grab the cables, and tug them just gingerly enough so that in one seemingly seamless sweep this table comes right to us, right to our ledge, where we grab its sides and pull it halfway through the window. Once its weight is more inside than outside of safety, Chef and Garçon are running, I hear them, in clodding bounds up the entry steps. Guy saunters over. He untangles the ropes with the fatigued whip of a jaded lion tamer, bundles the ends of their red-green-yellow into a braid, and flings them back out the window.
Taking a side, a corner, part of the pedestal, whatever, we all guide the table to its new home. And with one exhale, we plant it safely, right in the middle of the parquet floor.
All five of us stare at it. Panting. Then laughing.
Yosemite drags a cotton kerchief across his brow then mops his moustache. And tucking the wad into his chest pocket, extends his other hand, stroking the table’s grain politely. “Elle est belle, votre p’tite table norvegienne.”
(“She’s beautiful, your little Norwegian table.”)
And he pats her beveled edge, checks the base for stability, inspects her ends for rope burn, then leans on her with both arms and shakes lightly as if to verify her sturdiness. (Yep, she is plenty sturdy). Then he walks away tisking, shaking his head. Continues...
Excerpted from Global Mom by Melissa Bradford Copyright © 2013 by Melissa Bradford. Excerpted by permission.
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