Saturday, October 22, 2011


My French hosts took me out for a special meal at lunchtime. The gent sitting next to me was explaining the specials, written on a chalkboard; "And zis wan ees le poullet - zee chicken - served weeth zee pommes de terre wheech ees zee patoto - and zees wan is le bif-thtek served weeth le croquettes, and zees wan ees a delightful mash of zee meat served weeth zee hash . . ."

I said "Yes, I can understand the menu."

"Oh well een zat case," he turned around.

"Of course, the second I said that, I can't understand a thing that's up there."

"Oh, well zees wan ees a kind of a paste, served weeth au gratin, and zees wan ees a lovely gruel served weeth bat wings zat I haven't had seence zee boarding school so I weel be having zat wan . . . what weel you be having?"

"Le poullet."

"Ah, bien sure, zee cheecken."

A basket of French bread was placed on the table and I took a piece, broke it, and created some excitement when I lifted the lid off the mustard pot and started spreading it on the bread.

"Alors Sean, zat ees le moutard."

"Yes, I know."

"But you are putting eet on le pain, eet ees not le burre."

"Yes, I know."

"But eet ees le moutard."

"Yes, I know. This is the way they do it in Africa. The French people down there taught me this."

"Les francais? En Afrique?"

"Oui, les francais de quelle vivens en Afrique. Les pied-nois." - the 'Black-feet' - the French who live down there, the ones who remained in Africa; remnants of the French Empire (which never really went away, just sort of changed in nature). The Colonials. As a Colonial myself, I always had an affinity for my fellow Colonials.

"Ah, zey use le moutard, instead of le burre?"

"Exactement. It makes more sense in the tropics, and it's really good avec le vin rouge."

"Ah, bravo! Le moutard au pain avec le vin rouge c'est bon!" and they all started spreading this intense horseradish mustard all over the bread, and washing it down with flagons of good French red wine. And it IS good.

"C'est bon! C'est bon!" I think I just started another fad . . .

I love France. I am a total Anglophile, and I understand that the French are supposed to be the enemy, but I can't help it there are some aspects of French culture that I really enjoy.

When I say I love France and the French culture, I'm talking about this kind of lifestyle:

NOT this:

The French to me are not my enemy they are my friends - they have a certain savoir faire - and we must always remember that without France there would have never been an America, n'est ce pas? Maybe I have a love-hate relationship with France. Whatever. At the height of the Franco-Americaine anxieties of 2003 in the lead up to the Iraq Invasion, my boycott of all things French never extended to their wines, and I could never bring myself to ask for an order of 'Freedom Fries'. To me they were always "pommes frits". Of course I was living in Germany at the time so that was an easy one to get away with.

Later that night, after updating STORMBRINGER, I took off for a stroll around the streets of Paris. My second - and last - night in town; no time to take in the sights, no Tour d'Eiffel or Louvre for me. The least I can do is lurk around like a refugee from a Victor Hugo novel, and do my bit to add to the local color.

Using an old area reconnaisance technique, I started walking in ever-expanding circles; pressing out a further city block every time to fully explore my little quadrant of Paris. The cafes were full of boulevardiers; I quickly covered at least a sixteen-block area before falling back on a quiet cafe in an ancient building marked "l'Hotel de Chevallier" - chevallier is French for knight and I am a knight so that is the cafe for me.

"Bon soir!"

"Bon soir. Est ce que ton couisine ouvert?"

"Oui bien sure! Nous avons le poullet avec le pommes de terre ou le bif-thtek ou le croquettes ou un souffle de bat wings avec eye of newt et tongue of toad. De quelle preferez vous, monsiueur?"

"Le biftek."

"Ah, bien sure, le biftek."

"Et du vin."

and he starts going into the whole procedure where you have to taste the wine - something I didn't expect with the bottle of house plonk. I learned how to do this right with the correct nod years ago from a Yugoslavian friend down in Aussie; I keep it in my arsenal right up there with the quintessential Gallic shrug which I perfected during the Evacuation of Yammousoukro.

Apparently I was pulling it off; blending into the local scenery that is. My host the barkeeper was blabbering on and on and I speak French but that doesn't mean I understand it. I learned le francais in Africa, and the Africans speak French like they speak English; slowly amd correctly and they pronounce every word. The Parisians speak French very quickly - not as bad as the Puerto Ricans and Cubans speak Spanish which is faster than an MG-38/42 Spandau machinegun - but they speak from the backs of their mouths and they intentionally slur all their words and I'm half deaf from a quarter-century-plus of working with explosives, firearms and heavy machinery, and quite honestly I can barely understand what people are saying to me in English half the time, let alone le francais with all those ooh's and ah's . . .

Suddenly it occurred to me I just closed a loop in my life that began when I was about thirteen and I first learned about Ernest Hemingway . . . my mother was hosting a bridge party and I was obviously getting in the way so my sainted Auntie Helen stationed me on a stool at the bar and explained to me that I was Ernest Hemingway having a gin and tonic at the bar on the left bank of the Seine . . .

"Who's Ernest Hemingway?"

"Oh he wrote a few books, he was a kind of an adventurer, and he lived in Paris in the twenties, hung out in those cafes and wrote about everything he did on the battlefield . . .

"What's the Left Bank?"

"Oh you know it's that part of Paris where all the Bohemians lived."

"Who are the Bohemians?"

"The artists and the writers - you'd fit right in . . ."

Silvia Beach, Ernest Hemingway, and friends outside Shakespeare and Company, circa 1919.

Over the next few years I read every Hemingway book I could get my hands on and like many young men he inspired me and I idolized him. Then as I grew up I came to realize he really only wrote two or three books that were worth anything and a lot of what he wrote is pure tripe and I'm not going to turn this blog into a some kind of a shrine to an egomaniac. Still, he was a man's man, and he revolutionized the writing style - the whole stream-of-consciousness thing - and I use this style when I write so you've got to give credit where credit is due I suppose.

My pursuit of the Hemingway-esque lifestyle continued throughout my adventures in Africa . . . a long, drawn-out saga in Mauritania . . . an encounter with le 13eme Demi-Brigade, Legion Etranger on a battlefield in Cote d'Ivoire . . . my post-retirement activities as an 'independent contractor' . . .

And then it strikes me - I'm here enjoying la vie boulevadier because a lot of good men that I stood next to paid the ultimate price, gave all so I could make it to where I am now . . . what can I say? You get some good ones, you get a lot of bad ones . . . one thing I can say is I paid my dues, and I enjoy every waking hour on behalf of those who cannot enjoy anything any longer . . . and I never forget to honor them at every war memorial I pass by . . .

War memorial in London, the inscription reads below:

. . . I SEEK OUT war memorials and I am not ashamed to admit that the tears well up when I stand in front of them because I am so unworthy . . . this is the TRUE meaning of the cliche: "It's a rough job, but somebody's gotta do it . . . "

All the people out there who understand what a Survivors Guilt Complex is all about - and you know who you are - you understand this . . . I've got a Survivor's Guilt Complex so big you could photograph it. I swear to God - I attended a strangers funeral in Chicago - a kid I never knew, never even met - got himself kia'd in Afghanistan, and the whole town of Joillet turned out to the high school gym - I heard about it at work and it was on my way back to the hotel so I showed up to pay my respects and I swear I cried like a baby . . . couldn't stop the tears, they came down like water . . . PTSD is REAL . . . that's why I live every moment like it is a precious gift from God - because of the fact that I'm here because better men than me are not . . .

With these poignant thoughts in mind I make my way back to my hotel . . . tomorrow morning was coming up fast and that big ol' jet airliner . . .


Today's Bird HERE



  1. Hemmingway is relatively obscure these days, but his short story The Battler still merits reading.

  2. Nice post.

    Tried Madrid?

  3. Sean: No way is that photo from 1919, with that double-breasted coat, those short skirts, and EH's receding hairline. More like 1935. Didn't know you'd crossed paths with 13 DBLE; that's a reference even more "obscure" than Hemingway. As to obscurity: with Bell's Two Hearted Ale as popular as it is among IPAs, there must be a few of us around yet.

  4. Great post.
    Well done, and much appreciated.