Monday, December 19, 2011

Monster in my Living Room

There is a monster in my living room. It is our Christmas tree. 

Remi picked it out this year. 

This makes the seventh Christmas that we have bought our tree from the Mountain Man of the Ardeche. Yes, we have our faults but we are ridiculously loyal. It seems the very least we can do for his efforts of filling up his rusted white van full of sapins de Noêl in the middle of the night and making the five hour drive so as to arrive in time for our Wednesday market. He never disappoints, neither the man nor his trees. His face is as craggy as the mountain that he comes from and is nearly covered with hair, his teeth have been worn down to daggers. But he was so pleased to see us again! He clapped his hands together and smiled. It always feels so good to be remembered, doesn't it? 

And his trees! Well, this year Remi had suggested, wisely, that we get a smaller tree as we have less space in this new apartment so we headed over to the "small" section, a bargain at only 30€ a pop. I ran to get cash while Remi selected carefully. After promises of "à l'année prochaine" and a wave, we carried it home between us. With Ben trotting at our side, I felt very much the little family out of a JCrew ad, something I highly doubt I will ever feel again. 

Imagine my surprise when we brought the tree into the apartment and it fit under the ceiling with barely an inch to spare. Wasn't this supposed to be a smaller tree? And then we opened it up and it is as skinny as a Czech supermodel. "I like it," Remi said, clearly proud of his choice, "it is different, very Zen." Different it most certainly is but that is also why I call it a monster. It is, poor thing, quite simply the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree...on steroids. 

*For the following little epilogue, for those you that are wanting to stay in the fairy dust land of the holiday season, please feel free to skip it. I won't blame you in the least. Ditto if you are simply too busy!*

And while vaguely on the subject of cultural differences, I had a conversation this morning while I was out on my morning walk with Ben that was odd on so many levels that it is worth repeating. I was in a great mood, the sky was blazing blue and I had my camera out, ready to take some photos. A man stopped to compliment me on Ben but I quickly realized that he had confused him with a dog that is similar in appearance but actually belongs to the Roma or Gypsy camp outside of town. This dog is very sweet and makes the rounds to the shops for attention and scraps. I said that it is surprising that he is so docile and well-trained. The man puffed up his chest and said, "Not all Gypsies are dirty you know. Where are you from?" When I replied that I was American (curious to see where this was going) he responded, "Well, that is the difference between your society and mine. Here in France we do not make such gross assumptions about people as you Americans do, where black is black and white is white." Now, I knew that I should have stopped this exchange right away by explaining that I am not in the habit of confusing people with their dogs but I couldn't help myself. "Excuse me, but how can you say such a thing when France remains an incredibly racist country? We are in a region where nearly 30% of the population votes for the FN (the Front National Party) which wants to sweep all of the immigrants out of the country..." I paused, stupefied and also because I realized that I was raising my voice. "This is not about racism!" he yelled, now also angry. "You see? A good conversation turned ugly," I said with a shrug as I turned my back and continued down the street. For the record, I don't have a problem with the Gypsies but their dogs are often aggressive as they are trained to guard the camps. Sheesh. Why is it, after so many years of living in France that it still makes me so very angry when someone makes a gross generalization about the United States? Every single time I hear "you Americans" my skin crawls. My country is so huge and holds such a wide range of religions and cultures, styles and modus operandi. Please don't put us in a box, that is unless you are willing to wrap it up with a big bow to put it under my Monster Tree. 


  1. What a great story/Blog post!!!

    I love the tree.

    One year, a few years ago, after my divorce (amicable after many many years) and I was living in a loft which housed my studio and art gallery all I had was one of those dorm-like palm trees; I decorated it.

    It, too, was Charlie Brown-like, but all that mattered was the light. Let there be light.

  2. I love the tree. It represents my scrooge-ish ambivalence to the holiday season. Were I to come home with one like that, however, I'd never hear the end of it.

    But you've made it look beautiful in all its Twiggy-like splendor. Even a skinny tree deserves to be loved.

    Happy Holidays!

  3. Hello Heather:
    Your tree, and yes it is on the slim rather than the fat side, looks most elegant and fits the apartment beautifully with a rather regal presence. Indeed, seeing it has made us a little wistful as only today we made the decision not to have a tree this year. But this is really because we are with different friends for each day of the holiday and so, hardly at home, it really does not seem to have very much point.

    Oh dear, how well we know these altercations which spring out of nothing and always leave one feeling somewhat shaken. In such situations the insult is usually aimed at our being foreigners, rather than at our country. But perhaps people think that America is a more direct, and thus a more effective, target. But you always have the satisfaction of knowing, Heather, that had it not been for America, then there would possibly be no modern day France as we know it. And pernicious right wing groups, in the ascendancy, then look no further than here.

  4. Your tree has an altitude issue!!! Love the independence of it! As an American I do not liked to be lumped into categories. We are the most generous, friendly and genuine people on the planet.

  5. Monster Tree...........divine!Great for that man let it go!We know better.Us Americans here or abroad we know how we are.His loss..........and how on earth could he mistake BEN for a roaming four legged mutt!

  6. Wonderful tree. I like the fact it is not conventional and your decorations are perfect for it. Elegant and lovely!
    As for your encounter with the Roma, I have studied and been interested in Gypsies for many years. I am certainly not an authority on their culture, but do know the dogs in their camps are for protection and to sound the alarm for approaching strangers. The book entitled "The Gypsies" by Jan Yoors (1967) refers to this several times, along with photographs.

    You were not being assumptive in your observation. Such a basic, innocent comment should not have been met with hostility.
    There are plenty of people that would judge him harshly, he just happened to over react to the wrong person. Have a wonderful Holiday Season! Look forward to your posts in 2012.

    Laura in Santa Fe, NM

  7. I love your tree Heather and think it's perfect in all its tall, slenderness. I actualy prefer a Charlie Brown tree over the perfect trimmed ones there's something endearing about them.

    As for the gentleman you passed words with his loss for not actually getting to know an American and her faithful dog!

    Enjoy your gorgeous tree!

  8. Hello everyone and thank you so much, as always. I just came back from my evening walk with Ben which was delightfully less eventful than this morning albeit cold. I had been thinking about my discussion with my Mom on the phone earlier and she said yet again that I have the most interesting, intelligent people commenting on this blog. Voila la preuve! The proof!

    Bruce, hallelujah! Let there be light indeed!

    Judith, it is always so good to hear from you but please go take a nap and feel better as soon as you can. ;)

    Oh no, Jane and Lance, not even a Christmas shrub? My Sister and I would often result to that if we were going away for the holidays but then again, if you are going to be with friends every single evening, WHO could complain? And yes, as always you said it perfectly. I have yet to pull out the "you wouldn't be here if it weren't for us" card and hope that I never have to (especially as the Americans did bomb Van Gogh's house here in Arles. Oops). And I am so very sorry that you are also under the gun of the right wing. I marched with Remi in Paris against the FN the last time around and will do so again if need be.

    Anon, I completely agree--except maaaybe the Balinese. :)

    Contessa, as always giving me good advice--I will definitely let it go!

    Laura, thank you for your insight. The man I spoke with was not at all a Roma but a wealthy shop owner, I should have made that more clear. That is what especially blew me away! I actually have a good contact with one young woman that is Roma. We talk, I help her when I can and when I can't we still talk. It is an unusual world to me but so are we to them. Wishing you a lovely holiday season as well! I have always wanted to visit Santa Fe at this time of year.

    Debra, as I said chez toi, YOU have the right idea! A potted tree that you borrow and then send home to grown. Perfect. Hugs to you too, friend.

  9. I love your tree! I bought the same size and shape! A tall and skinny "zen cedar tree!" Mine is alive; so we can plant it in the garden. I think Christmas trees are very chic when they are tall and skinny!

    And you have done an absolutely fabulous job on this apartment!

    It is gorgeous, warm and cozy!

  10. Oh Penelope, really? Thank you so much! You know, as gorgeous as our last place was, we feel so much more comfortable here.

    And if you say so, then it is time for the Zen tree! I can't even imagine how you could have found a skinny tree in the States. :O

    Wishing you and yours (and yes that includes the ducks) a very Happy Holidays!

  11. Well I should have been shocked and horrified at your epilogue, but instead I was guffawing all the way through it Heather.

    I think, in this world, there are those who travel, who love to experience new things, new friendships, new cultures & new discoveries, and then there are those who always live in the same house, or the same town, taking the same holiday each year, carefully selecting friends who share the same outlook. They are the black and whites, as I call them. There is no challenging grey, let alone colour, in their weighing up of judgments. While the first group (to which you and I belong, of course!) I call the coloured ones. One just seems to be born with either outlook.

    And it always seems to be the black and whites who box other people according to their race. As you say, the US is SO large a population, even if one hadn't travelled there, it isn't logical that everybody could possibly be of the same ilk. Too silly. And the same applies to every country in the world, and every race, I think. So his loss...

    And the tree...oh I am SO jealous because that is exactly the shape I was looking for this year, but have ended up with the silly thickly branched variety which is more procurable. Funny how fashions change - I think you are just ahead of the curve. And the amount of decorations are just perfect - not too many, not too mean. Must be showing your (and Remi's) coloured sides, haha! Virginia xx

  12. Oh Virginia, what would I do without you? And your amazing point of view. I am reading this just before heading off to sleep but isn't it so true? When Remi came home after a long day of photos he said much the same thing. In our travels, I learned to try and not judge people anywhere. That dude in Ethiopia who cut open his cow to drink its blood? Well, he acually had a good reason to do it, even if it nearly made me faint to watch it. I will think about what you wrote, will literally sleep on it. Bisous--glad you are home!

  13. my tree is like me, 5 foot tall and 5 foot round
    it is like a jolly green dwarf
    not that I am green

    yours does look elegant
    more the Snow White

    and no, people should not generalize about folk from other countries/cultures
    there are good and bad everywhere one goes

  14. Yes, I completely agree with you Mouse. I certainly have seen that in our travels--good and bad eggs no matter what the country, religion, etc.

    And I love that we have such different trees! To each his own. :) This skinny tree is starting to grow on me.

  15. Dear Heather,
    I'm terrible sorry - but I love your tree! Although he might be a bit "maigre" he has its own personality and character! And coming directly from the forest, over night, by your Christmas-tree-man - what could be more authentic!
    Your Remi made the right choice!
    And the way you placed and decorated the tree - simply lovely with a natural feel to it. It looks wonderful!
    I always love toll Christmas trees and used to by our ones in Germany, schlepping it down to France :) :) There were just no trees available here in our region, only during the last few years they import some, but rather small ones and not the real good quality I find in my 'homeland'.
    Anyway - because of Oskar's "case" we'll don't have a tree this year which I'll miss. Especially the real bees wax kindles the tree is decorated with which light up the whole room. Just old traditional and magic!

    The work you did on your appartement is brilliant. What a change! And sorry for not commenting for a while, but you know.......

    Thank you very much for your lovely comment and your best wishes for Oskar. Told him and he's sending a big purr to you and your dog as well. Although he's extremely unhappy to live in a cage which I had to have made special for him, he's recovering slowly but surely.

    Now, best wishes for you and Remi for a stress-less pre-Christmas week, will be in touch again.
    Amicalement and warm greetings from the Périgord,

    Oh, by the way - regarding your conversation:
    Knowing - more/less - the French mentality over 25 years, in general French people don't like to be "told" or criticised by foreigners, no matter about what so ever....and no matter how long ones live here. Well, understandable in a way.
    So, don't take it serious. And, knowing some gipsys who are living (camping) in our region for ages, they are not too bad at all. And also, in general, the French are no bigger racists than in other countries of Europe or the world. It is just that when times are getting tough that people became 'funny', especially of all the new immigrants. It's normal human nature. France has still a very good and large social system were we all have to pay into.

    P.S. Sorry about my English!

  16. Karin, your English is excellent! Truly, no need to ever apologize for it. And secondly and very importantly, I am so glad to hear that Oskar is getting better, even if it is taking time. I am sure that you have made him a very comfortable and stylish cage. Yes, it is so worriesome but in a few months, it will behind you all.

    I really appreciated your thoughts on my odd conversation and thought it especially worth remembering that such behaviour does indeed flair up in times of economic crisis. And yes, I am very grateful for the French social system!

    I am sorry to hear that you won't have your tree this year. I have never dared to have candles! It must be so beautiful. I hope that you will find your own, unique way to celebrate this year and then you will have next year to look forward to as well!

    Also, no need to worry ever about not commenting.
    Wishing you and yours and Oskar a very Merry Christmas!

  17. Next time a Frenchman starts with "you Americans" you should remind him that thanks to "you Americans" he is speaking French and not German...

  18. you have such a elegant christmas tree, so pure and simple beautiful, lovely

  19. Dear Heather,
    I'm still thinking about your tree with much envy. Here's the thing, we still haven't gotten our tree. We usually do it last minute, but this year I have a special concern: our 14-month old puppy is a real chewer.

    I don't know how old Ben is, but I don't even remember if it was ever an issue with our beloved yellow lab who died last year at the ripe old age of 15.

    Any thoughts/suggestions?

  20. Thanks again everyone! Who would have known that this tree would be such a hit? Remi is going to glow with pride when I tell him!

    Judith, I do have one idea because oh my, you certainly don't need a puppy chewing on the Christmas tree lights!! Now this might not be feasible but what if you bought a shorter tree and put it on top of a table or stand of some sort so that it would be out of the puppers reach? My friend Frederique did that this year and it looked great. Either that or totally dose the base and bottom branches with Bitter Apple spray?

    How wonderful that you were able to keep your lab for 15 years. Ben is curled up smack dab against me while I am typing--they mean so much to us don't they?

  21. Apologies for my silence - I'm finally getting around to playing catch up with my favourite blogs.
    Your Christmas tree, c'est parfait. I love its height and torso and the fact that you can look through the tree. It doesn't crowd the room.

    As for the flâneur.........Gross generalizations and ignorance breed fear and allow the masses to be manipulated...............ugly business. The fellow you met appears to have run a one sided, preconceived dialogue. The fact that you were from the USA just pushed his "on button"!
    Bisous et Joyeux Noël heather, Remi and Ben.

  22. I love your Charlie Brown - on steroids - Christmas tree!
    We have decided to skip the big tree this year & just have a mini one plus a few simple decorations. This year has been crazy busy & I'd rather spend any time I can scrounge up with loved ones :-)

    Wishing you & Remi a most wonderful Christmas!! Ben too!

    ~ Clare x

  23. Your tree is lovely - so much character and personality. The ornaments look so elegant hanging from it's branches.

    I'm so sorry that your conversation with this person turned into a confrontation - the worst is that this sort of encounter tends to stick with one and color the rest of the day. Hope you've been able to let it go and that it isn't bringing a shadow to your celebrations.

    Enjoy your lovely tall tree!

  24. Perfectly said Elizabeth. And not to worry--especially as I still owe you a more proper response to your last lengthy reply. And yes, that is why Remi chose it--anything else would have completely overtaken the room. True, 3/4s of my ornaments had to stay in the box but there is always next year! Joyeux Noêl à toi aussi!!

    Clare, it looks like you have your priorities in order. There is nothing and I do mean nothing more important than time with loved ones. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas!

    I Dream Of, thank you so much for your sweet response. Yes, you were perfectly right, I did have a hard time shaking it, despite its being so ridiculous. Happily, today is another day and it has been a great one so far. I have been loving all of your posts--wishing you and yours a very Happy Holidays!

  25. When dealing with people such as the shop owner who say "you" anything, I actually find it enjoyable to go along with them and have a happy banter or two. Half the time people who talk this way or really interested in seeing your reaction-- I think more so than wanting to offend you. So, if someone says to me you Okies are all the same, I normally respond with yes, we are aren't we and see where it goes from there. Probably some American, or two or three, have offended him in the past and so he lashes out to all Americans now. Given half a chance I bet you would find him redeemable. Perhaps not though. :)

    Honestly, I love your tree.

  26. What an absolutely brilliant response, Rubye. Brilliant and spot on. And I could see that the more he got a rise out of me, the more he wanted to! Ah, so next time I will try your approach and I can't wait to see what happens!

    I love my tree too. Took awhile but now I do. :)


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