Monday, 20 July 2009

Encounters during holidays

Frequently, when on holidays, you don't meet anyone, just grockeling around, sometimes talking to waiters, hotel personnel etc.

But I happen to be a camper whenever possible and the activity of paragliding makes it easier, too, to engage a conversation with strangers.

After grockeling around for a weekend in Pau (on video till 1.30) and deprived of sleep in the local camp side by a bunch of night-boozers and dedicated beer-singers we moved to Accous for more peaceful surroundings, the splendor of the mountains and for flying.

First encounter:Jean-Luc in his camping car. He was squatting near the glider landing patch, looking longingly at the sky. "Not today, he said to me, ceiling far too low". In the evening, after dinner, we had our first pow wow, no camp fire but a glass of Porto.

He had become a paraglider addict. Nothing else counted any more. He bought this camping car, kind of live-in truck and took a three-months-leave to travel from one flying site to another. He regretted his girl friend, met two months before, but that's life, he explained to us. Before hitting the Pyrenees, he had been to Greece, Spain, Morocco, Portugal. His son from an earlier marriage, living nearby, came to visit him for the week-end. "Papa has gone crazy", he told me. "What about visiting the Lescun mountain circus" (see also video, from 5.07 to 5.50), I suggested one day. "There is certainly no flying today". "No, no, thank you, he said, "the weather might turn at noon and then I am ready".

Second encounter: Pierre, the hard of hearing. He had booked a 5-day-session at the local flying school for about 450 € (about 500 US$) and camped right next to us. They start the real flying right on the second day but he didn't dare. On the third day he had a tandem flight but still was unable to do it alone. Did the instructor talk too fast? I don't know, I wasn't there.

I told him that to be afraid is normal. "Each time I decide to leave for a flight somewhere, I have to go to the toilet, every time. And this though I have now about 500 flights under the belt". He was afraid and I understand him. Each pupil carries a walkie talkie attached to his harness but Pierre did not fully understand the messages and probably only half of what the instructors told him. Who would dare to launch himself under these conditions?

Third encounter: Mister X, the smoker-boozer: He arrived during the bad weather period and was obliged to set up his tent when it was raining cats and dogs. We felt sorry for him. Next day he told us inside everything was dry. The first day he just sat inside his open tent on a low chair smoking cigars as thick as my middle finger and coughing from time to time. Late afternoon I met him again in the nearby little supermarket where he bought a bottle of rosé wine. When I came back to our tent he was already sitting on his chair, smoking, coughing, his bottle next to him.

Second day: no movement to report. Whenever we came back he was sitting there, steadfast.

Third day: no movement to report. Just smoking, coughing but the wine looked like red one.

Forth day: no movement to report. Just smoking, coughing but the bottle seemed to contain something else.

Fifth day: same as before. I was a bit uneasy having never met someone like that. We exchanged polite greetings plus some small talk remarks about the weather. In the late afternoon I took the shuttle that ferries the pilots to the paraglider launching pad (at 1.47 till 1.52 in my video). And who was standing there, red in the face and smoking a cigar: Mister X! I proposed him to take the shuttle down but he declined. Walking up there takes you about 3 hours and a little less to get you down.

But he had not finished to astonish us: one day in the late afternoon we suddenly heard a very loud, lousy gangsta rap coming from a house near the camp site. There was a bunch of teenagers sitting on the terrace and having a good time. After an hour or so it stopped. Next day, same time, same "melody". But as I walked past the car of Mister X I suddenly realized that he and not those youngsters had the rap stuff coming out of his car radio!

Fourth encounter: superman. We met him first while walking from the campsite to the village. A bus stopped at the main road, he got out carrying his huge paraglider on his back, a backpack in front and trailing a luggage caddy. Next day I met him in the shuttle going to the launching pad. There was no wind, so we all had to run as fast as possible to take off. He was the only one who managed to stay in the air. It was amazing. This guy was the best pilot I have ever met. One of the next days we were sitting at the launching pad, waiting for some wind coming out of the right direction. When you sit on the ground, your trouser pants come up a bit. This guy had only one leg and was wearing a prosthesis!

Another day, Luis the superman was sitting next to me in the shuttle. "Let's relax a bit" he said, took his wooden leg off and swallowed some pills. Pain killers I imagine.

Then came a five day stretch with very bad weather. Not the slightest chance to fly and thus we moved around to visit places. Luis told me his intention to leave for the Atlantic coast, flying at the Pyla dune. But when the weather cleared up, he was there, waiting for the shuttle. He did not leave at all but had remained inside his bed and breakfast house, all holed up, becoming invisible to the outside world. He had no car and could thus go nowhere.

Where did he loose his leg? He was vague about this "it was an accident" but living in Tel Aviv/Israel I can imagine what kind of accident that was.

PS: The last post had 185 visitors. Not bad for a shithole!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Shit hole rejuvenated

Sorry for this vulgar title but let's face it, sex and sh...., these are potent centers of human interest. Thus I thought to give it a try and let's count the number of readers between now and one month from here. Right now, on the counter, the score is 2045!

The wording taken apart, here is a serious subject.

Living outside of a tiny village, this house is not linked to a sewage treatment installation where the toilet and washing water disappear through a pipe to an unknown destination. No, we have to do the job locally and the system is called "septic tank".

Quite ingenious: the waste liquid goes into a huge underground tank where the stuff ferments and the solids separate a bit from the water. Even the toilet paper is totally digested. That not so clean but reasonably clean water runs then through a quite large underground gravel bed and what comes out - but never to the surface - is clean water.

And every eight to ten years I have to order a tank truck to suck the stuff up, pay 200 € (about 250 US $), fill it with clean water and the cycle starts again.

Now it is well known that not all houses over here and elsewhere in rural France are thus equipped. Many farmers have simply a covered-up shit hole like their forefathers and are happy with this. But not the administration. So they voted a new law obliging every rural household to equip themselves with an up to date septic tank.

In order to win over the reluctant bone heads, the local administration organized meetings. Rough going. There was this old peasant yelling "I won't install your shit tank, only over my dead body". And adding, for good measure: "what we have is perfect and satisfied my family for 50 years. It works perfectly! Perfectly I tell you!!"

The last words were probably a mistake. There were catcalls. "Hey, Marcel, don't you remember the postman, some years ago? He fell into your shit hole with a letter for you and he couldn't even come out by himself. There was laughter, everybody roared. Even old Marcel joined in, at least he was in the center of interest. He'll do the job like everybody else and shell out the money.

So much for the basics.

The next step was to send an inspector to every house in the realm. The guy comes, you show him what you have, he makes an analysis of your system and gives you four year for upgrading. Here at home, I just had to upgrade by installing a ventilation and this I did.

On the last photo, you see the red-brown pipe chimney right above the gutter. That's me, I did it. And believe me, IT DOES NOT STINK. Halleluja!!