Monday, September 19, 2005

why i will never own a green trenchcoat

Dedicated to my former co-workers at a store that shall remain nameless

Today's soundtrack:
Melancholy Melody by Esthero
Un día de enero by Shakira

The other day, on my leisurely walk to my office and I noticed this woman - mid-40s or 50s - ever so slightly hunched over and walking with fierce determination, her green trenchcoat covering everything but her ankles and standard bob haircut. I staggered back in fear as this woman - this green-trenchcoated dominatrix - passed me without a second glance on the crosswalk.

Dear lord, has Crazy French Lady followed me here?

I looked at her hair. Brown. A nice, normal brown. Not magenta. Thank the gods, I have been spared.

To those who have encountered the wrath of She of the Green Trenchcoat, my relief need not be explained. But for the rest of you lucky lot, I shall attempt to do this tale, this mythic battle, justice.

She was simply known to us as Crazy French Lady, not to be confused with Crazy Chinese Lady who would catch the bus in from the other town and talk to her imaginary friend in Mandarin or Cantonese, occasionally getting into huge arguments with said friend in the middle of stores and restaurants. Crazy French Lady did, tragically, speak English as well as French. You may well ask what she did to deserve such a name. Well, she's crazy, French, and a woman. That about sums that up.

Crazy French Lady would come into our store once a month and reduce staff members to tears. Oh yes, tears. You wouldn't think it possible for a woman that barely cleared 5' to drive anyone to distraction, but she did. She would pummel you with questions, angry and cursing at you in French. If you managed to sell her something and didn't place it with the utmost care on the table, she would grab your arm, shaking you and tightening her grip, yelling about how stupid and useless you were. It's always the small ones, the ones you least suspect (this is part of my larger belief that the Ewoks of the last Star Wars movie are only waiting for the right moment to turn rabid and start gnawing on people's ankles). Well, Crazy French Lady decided she wanted to by a fondue set. She made my sister go through every set, making sure that each and every piece was perfect. If my sister even bumped the box on the way to the till, Crazy French Lady would start yelling in French and storm out of the store.

It got to the point where if we even saw a green trenchcoat, we'd all race to the back of the store and leave the new kid to deal with her. We didn't need to learn more curse words in French. But inevitably, one of us would be working alone and she would come in for her monthly visit. I was the only one working and, unfortunately, it was a very slow day and no one else was shopping in the store (re: no witnesses to what I could only assume was my imminent death at the hands of this green-trenchcoated, magenta-haired miniature Stalin). Up and down the ladder I went, fetching every single fondue I could. Then, I had to go through every single box and carefully package everything back up (after all, it had to fit in the box perfectly again). But when I walked over to the till and set the box down, there was a clink. Just one, but that was all she needed. All of a sudden, she's grabbed my arm and gesturing angrily, yelling in half-English, half-French. I stood there, silently saying goodbye to my ankles.

Then, just like that, she left. I put the fondue set that she wanted in the backroom with her name on it. I gave it an extra kick into the corner - for good luck.

Since that point, I've noticed this same trait among all women who own green trenchcoats. I can only imagine that this trait applies to men with bad bowl haircuts as well. I think that if they had caught the gunmen on the grassy knoll, they'd have been wearing green trenchcoats.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

a room with a view

Today's soundtrack:
Sympathy for the Devil by The Rolling Stones
Step on my Old Size Nines by Stereophonics
Sinner by Neil Finn

I know that the list has not even a hint of Italy, but I have been nursing a feeling of nostalgia for Florence this evening. It may have started with the comment made by a certain professor that E.M. Forster was boring, or it may have been triggered by the familiar old, hot sewage smell coming from a house I passed by on my way home yesterday, but I have an overwhelming urge to sit back and smile about la dolce vita.

Do you see the bell tower in the picture. Built in the 1890s or so in the Neo-Gothic style so that it would match the rest of the Santa Croce. The Santa Croce is still the home of Franciscan monks and so bells ring out at terce and none, calling the old women to mass and the rest of us from our beds. I was the only one in the apartment with a room that faced the Santa Croce; everyone else faced the Red Garter, an American bar that seemed to be the stop for every Contiki tour that come through that month. So as a result, I was the only one to wake up with the bells. I would roll out of bed at an hour that seems ungodly to me here, quietly make my porridge and open the shutters of the windows in the dining room. If I sat at exactly the right spot, I would be able to watch the sun hit the Southern Gothic features. You see, this photo - this exact scene - is what I woke up to every morning for five weeks.

Later that morning my Edwardian Sister - the very dignified but somewhat constitutionally delicate Lady J - would make our daily commute to our seminar on the other side of the old part of the city. Down a side street, dodging the streetcleaners and men pulling their stalls of t-shirts, being careful not to breath when another alley linked up because of the sewer smell, until we saunter into the Piazza della Signoria. The Uffizi, the Palazzo Vecchio, and the Rape of the Sabine, but not a single tourist in site. The entire city was only just waking up. A small round stone, completely out of place with the rest of the irregular cobblestones, marks the spot where Savonarola was burned. We continue on a wider road, reading wall plaques that quote Dante, walking and walking until we see the Baptistry. And then, the Duomo. We pause. Sigh. Take a deep breath and realise the entire piazza smells like a horse. But it's only Lady J, the cart men, and me in the piazza. Bells toll for the next mass.

"Children, I have to tell you. You have no idea. You just don't know".

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

of dr. phil and vampires

Today's soundtrack:
Spain Intro & Spain by Michel Camilo and Tomatito
La Tortura & Para Obtener Un Sí by Shakira
Everyday is a Holiday & Wikked Lil' Grrrls by Esthero
Nautical Disaster & Scared by The Tragically Hip

I am waging a battle against the boys who live upstairs. It has not yet turned into a holy war, but I think it is only a matter of time. It started not long after they moved in. One of them owns a guitar. He also enjoys singing. He does this directly over the hole drilled into my ceiling by various men in toolbelts who, I can only assume, knew what they were doing. Mi compañero thinks that there might be a bass guitar up there as well. Boom boom boom and the sound of Matthew Good (drunk) meeting Ben Harper (stoned) during a catfight.

But I have an effective defense. Dr. Phil. I know, it may sound crazy, but I think it may just work. They seem to start up around the same time each day, which is (oddly enough) the same time that Dr. Phil is on. The music starts up, and Dr. Phil just gets louder and louder. It seems that only Dr. Phil's Texan truisms are enough to silence these boys. Days of Our Lives and Oprah have failed. CSI didn't have a chance, and I think we all watch the Simpsons.

So I left my supposedly-soundproofed suite and went for a walk. When I came home, I discovered something new about my neighbours. They seem to be deathly afraid of vampires. This and only this can account for the massive amounts of garlic they seemed to use this evening in whatever it was that they were cooking. Now, I'm sure these boys are perfectly nice gentlemen. One day, Mr. Guitar Man might be famous. Perhaps this house will be saved from an attack of zombie vampires thanks solely to their prophetic use of garlic. Yes, indeed all these things could happen. But right now, that seems as likely as me finishing my proposal tonight...