The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I'd Been Afraid to Mention This Before Now

When I was a kid my family lived in a turn-of-the-century house in Charleston, SC. Many of the buildings in Charleston, being elderly, low-lying, and slightly (or very) run-down were infested with palmetto bugs, and our house was no exception. Palmetto bugs are to regular cockroaches as timberwolves are to shih tzus--technically the same thing, but bigger, meaner and significantly less welcome in your kitchen. Every month the exterminator would come and fog the whole house; we'd sweep out the victims and try to get the chemical smell out of the house, and a week later they'd be scurrying across my bedroom floor again.

When we moved to Charlotte later on, we presumably brought some eggs with us, because I remember making a game of new ways to kill roaches--dart guns, hair spray, a toilet plunger, etc.

When I grew up and went off to college, I lived in a row house in Pittsburgh's notorious South Oakland neighborhood ("Do not live in South Oakland unless you are reasonably proficient in hand-to-hand or small arms combat," read the unofficial CMU student handbook). It was cheap, close to all the punk rock clubs, and godamighty it had the absolute worst roach infestation I've ever seen. My roomie and I bought Raid by the case, so we could have a can in each room and a personal can on us at all times. I drew a Raid DMZ around my bed each night in a futile attempt to keep the roaches off me while I slept. On one trip to the bathroom on a humid night I counted 27 different roaches during the time it took me to do my business and clear out.

My housing standards improved after I got a real job, and our house back in Chapel Hill contends only with the occasional smoky brown wandering in from outside, plus sugar ants in the kitchen when it rains.

This is an awful lot of background to get to a simple observation about our life in France, which is this: In our apartment, which is 150 years old, located 50 yards from a major river, and in a country where public sanitation is, erm, not up to North American standards... [looks around, whispers] ... I haven't seen a single bug.

Well, we got mosquitos in the summer with the windows open at night, but not Roach One. It doesn't make any sense to me. I was anticipating the absolute worst. How can this be? I can only assume that here in France they use some sort of deadly carcinogenic Agent Orange/Zyklon-B doomsday pesticide expressly forbidden by the Geneva Accords. Either that, or they have negotiated some sort of truce to appease our insect overlords, who are awaiting the critical moment to strike.

The steps to the basement of our building are sealed off behind a locked, ten-foot-tall solid oak door. What horrors lie within?

Speaking of distasteful vermin: I haven't seen a single mime, either.

Unrelated picture: Guys playing petanque on a Sunday afternoon, Place Sathonay. One scores points for every ball closer to the target ball (the little red one at center) than any of the opponent's balls. Players who are fairly skilled specialize in targeting opposing balls and knocking them out of the way. Remarkable when you consider that petanque is usually played with a woozy afternoon buzz resulting from drinking pastis all day.

I think I'm going to buy a set of petanque balls, just so that when I return to the US I can show up at cookouts with them and annoy the hell out of people with boring stories of how I learned the game in Frawnce, you know.


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