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Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Wednesday 27th May: Stefanie's Return.

Karl has just told me that several nights ago, at about 3.00 a.m, he'd heard a noise in his house that sounded like footsteps. Going downstairs and still half asleep, he was amazed to find Stefanie in the kitchen. She had the fridge door open and was, literally, stuffing herself with food. He was shocked by her appearance. Her hair was lank and greasy, she was pale with black shadows under her eyes, and was wearing a torn t-shirt and stained jeans. He got her to sit down and tell him what was going on. It turned out she'd been living in Tomas' squat with no electricity, heating or hot water. Karl was extremely angry that she'd hitchhiked all the way from Berlin. When asked why she couldn't pay for the train fare, she admitted she had no money, as she'd lost her evening waitress job. Karl wanted to ask if Tomas had anything to do with this, but reluctant to bring up the subject of Stefanie's boyfriend, he thought better of it.
By half past three Karl could wait no longer, and had to ask where Tomas was. Stefanie spent ages before admitting that he had been arrested after the police questioned him about a break in at a pharmaceutical research centre with thousands of Euro's worth of damage to the factory and hundreds of rats, mice and rabbits released from their cages.Two other boys from the squat were taken in with Tomas but Stefanie insisted that, although she did know about it, she had nothing to do with the break in. This was not a first offence for Tomas and he has been sentenced to four weeks in prison as he was unable to pay the fine imposed by the court. Tomas' parents are wealthy bankers who could easily have paid, however, they had washed their hands of their son, and want nothing more to do with him. Karl did his best to comfort Stefanie, assuring her that Tomas would be fine and would probably soon be released. He told me, however, that he was relieved to see Stefanie return without him. She'd done so well in her end of year exams and had been determined to continue on in September.
Since coming back she's already found a summer job at the local kennels run by a Dutch couple who breed Poodles and Labradoodles just outside Languidic. Stefanie studied their website before walking to the kennels to enquire about work. She's been there for two days and told her dad she's really enjoying the work. Although she assured him she has no intention of releasing any of the dogs, or causing any damage to the property, Karl is very concerned. I pointed out that, now she's not in touch with Tomas, she's started eating properly again and already looks much better.
Karl asked me to come and look at her room. I followed him up the stairs and into the small bright room overlooking the garden. Photos of Tomas and Stefanie, along with pages of letters and poems were taped all over the walls. Stefanie had made a chart of the days until Tomas was due to be released and was religiously crossing each day off. A threadbare jacket lay across the bed which had a damp musty odour. Stefanie refused to wash it as it was Tomas's. As we made our way back down into the kitchen Karl told me he was concerned about what will happen when Tomas is released.
Yesterday was Stefanie's twentieth birthday and Karl asked if I would come over and could I also bring Ann-Sofie? When I asked Ann Sofie, she was very enthusiastic to come and Solange agreed she could have the time off.
It was late afternoon when we arrived. Ann-Sofie was given a guided tour around the house and gardens and we sat down by the lake to watch Gary the goose. Stefanie certainly seemed much happier than the last time I saw her. She was followed everywhere by a collie dog, Bon-Bon, who she said had followed her home from the kennels. She dismissed Karl's concerns, saying the dog was a stray and unwanted. Ann-Sofie and Stefanie spoke to each other in English and seemed to get on well. She asked for a piece of paper and began sketching Bon-Bon. Stefanie showed it to us, clearly impressed.
Dinner, cooked by Stefanie, was roast chicken with potato dumplings, red cabbage and carrots. She'd also made a Gugelhuf; a hoop shaped cake with a chocolate filling. She's placed twenty pink candles around and explained that in Germany it's traditional to keep the candles burning for as long as possible.

Karl said she used to have a wooden birthday wreath with twelve candles, one to be lit each year, until she reached the age of twelve. Ann Sofie told us that in Sweden a child is brought breakfast in bed with a piece of birthday cake; traditionally a Princess Cake, layered with sponge and cream and topped with green marzipan. We gave Stefanie our presents (chocolates we'd bought on the way over) and we sang Happy Birthday in a variety of languages.
Karl had given Stefanie money for clothes. She asked Ann Sofie if she would go with her to Vannes or Rennes for a day's shopping and maybe to the cinema. They checked on her laptop and discovered a zombie film called Maggie about a teenage girl who becomes infected in an outbreak. Of course Ann Sofie was enthusiastic about this, telling Stefanie all about her book. Karl and myself teased her, suggesting it was the perfect film for her. Ann Sofie was interested in hearing about Berlin and the university. Listening to all her questions I did wonder if Stefanie is destined to become the next character in the zombie book. There was no further mention of Tomas.
Stefanie borrowed her dad's van for the evening and, after they'd gone we sat talking whilst Bon-Bon sat whimpering at the front door. Nothing would distract her (not even the offer of food). When I left, she was still sitting there, waiting patiently for Stefanie's return.
I haven't seen Ann Sofie today and wonder what Stefanie's told her about Tomas.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Sunday 17th May: Breton Myths and Legends

Benjamin and Madeleine have been particularly noisy this weekend, banging on my door, demanding to come in. Solange was outside yesterday, weeding the pathway when I overheard her shouting at Benjamin, ordering him go back indoors. When she brought him over for his piano lesson today, she told me he'd been caught drawing on the kitchen wall and that Pieter was very annoyed with him. She left him with me, giving him strict instructions to behave. He nodded and smiled sweetly up at her.
We ran through Au Clair de La Lune from his music book and for the first five minutes he concentrated. After that he started running around the cottage, crawling along the carpet and leaping on and off the sofa. I could see we weren't going to get anywhere so I took him back next door. Solange said they were going out for the afternoon, as it was her mother's 75th birthday. Ann-Sofie who in the kitchen I invited her for dinner, saying Celine was coming and was keen to ask her about illustrations for her book.
When Celine arrived, she was holding something which she passed to me, telling me to read it carefully. It was an envelope written with her name and address. Inside was a formal wedding invitation, printed on cream card with a border of roses.
As a joke, I asked if I was invited too. Celine snatched the card from me and read it out loud. The wedding was to be held on 31st July at St. Jean Baptiste Church at Pouy-Sur-Vannes between Adele Marchent and Jacques Ditronc. I laughed and told Celine this was great news as we wouldn't be bothered by Adele following us around any more. Celine was far from happy. She insisted this was not a normal wedding invitation, and asked me why I thought Adele would send this to her. I couldn't see why this mattered. I admitted it was an odd thing for Adele to send, but at least now she would be someone else's problem. I went to the fridge, took out the bottle of wine Paul had given me to celebrate his baby's birth and poured out two glasses. Raising my glass I made a toast: No More Adele! But Celine wasn't having it. She sighed and shook her head. She asked me if I recognised the man's name. I told her I couldn't care less who he was, and couldn't understand why she thought I should be interested. She looked at me, clearly irritated, handed me the card and told me to read the name. Jacques Dutronc. It meant nothing to me. I conjured up an image of a respectable business man, solid and dependable. I felt only sympathy for him, whoever he is. Celine was questioning me again, asking me if I was certain I didn't recognise the name. I insisted It meant nothing to me. She told me it was name of the actor who plays Van Gogh in the 1992 film of the same name. I asked if she was sure and wondered if the name could be a coincidence. But then I remembered Adele had been keen on Van Gogh's paintings and fascinated by his life. This all made sense. I explained this to Celine who said Adele must be using her to send me a message. If she is, I don't know what the message is. The whole situation is just ridiculous. Why pretend she's getting married? She must be completely insane. Celine is very concerned by the fact that Adele knows where she lives, but what can we do?
We were still discussing all this when Ann-Sofie arrived. Celine asked if she would be interested in illustrating her book, explaining that it was all about myths and legends. Ann-Sofie was very enthusiastic and went next door to get her sketch pad. By the time she'd returned we'd been through another fruitless discussion about Adele and her wedding invitation. It was a relief to change the subject. Ann-Sofie showed Celine her sketches, including the one of Marie's twin brothers. Celine asked if she could draw three creatures, the Nain, the Goric and the Ankou. Ann-Sofie scribbled notes whilst Celine gave a brief description of each of them. I remembered the Nain resemble gargoyles and have feline claws and devil type hooves. They are dark and small creatures with gleaming red eyes who speak with harsh rasping voices. They haunt ancient dolmens where they dance around, chanting the days of the weeks (except for Saturday and Sunday, which are sacred protected days and cannot be spoken of). Ann-Sofie was making notes and I listened to Celine's descriptions. The Goric are dwarves who inhabit druid monuments or hide beneath ancient castles. Every night they dance around the stones of Carnac and, if a human interrupts them, he would be forced to join in until he dies from exhaustion. When they're not dancing they guard hidden treasure and, rumour has it, that a golden hoard lies beneath one of the Menhirs of Carnac. Ankou, is a spirit, who takes the form of a skeleton and collects the souls of the dead. He travels around Brittany in a cart pulled by horses and wears a large black hat to hide his face. 

Ann-Sofie sketched as she listened to these stories, and Celine said she would particularly like a picture of the dwarves dancing around the Menhirs. She also asked her about the myths of Sweden.
Ann-Sofie explained that trolls originated in Norse mythology, appearing in both Sweden and Norway, as do dwarves and elves. She told us the story of Huldra. a troll woman living in the woods. She's fair and beautiful but has a long cow like tale which she hides when she meets people. She's not evil, unlike Nokken, a mysterious water spirit who resides in lakes and ponds. He's a handsome young man and talented musician who plays his violin throughout the night and entices woman to their deaths. Ann-Sofie is a born storyteller, and obviously loves talking about her homeland. Soon after dinner (tomato and caramelised onion tartin served with salad) Ann-Sofie left, as she has a test at the language School early in the morning.

Celine and I discussed the drawings, but it wasn't long before we returned to the subject of Adele and the invitation. I said we should ignore the whole incident, as she's clearly looking for a reaction. Celine said that it's easy for me to talk and pointed out that she's the one being targeted. She was subdued when she left. Maybe I'm dismissing Adele's behaviour too easily. But I really don't see what we can do. 

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Thursday 7th May: Zombies

I was on the phone to Alexander when Ann-Sofie knocked on the door. She sat and waited patiently whilst Alexander continued his diatribe against our drummer, Michel. Apparently, he and his family had left unexpectedly and returned to Canada. I can't say I was surprised after what happened at the Golden Wedding party, but I do think he could have given us a bit of notice. Needless to say, Alexander was fuming. I noticed Ann-Sofie had brought over her latest instalment of Midnight Hour Zombies, but Alexander was in full flow and would not be stopped. It was another five minutes before I managed to end the call. 

I asked Ann-Sofie why she wasn't at language school, then she reminded me there were no classes on Thursdays. It was also her day off from looking after the children. Instead of having to look after them when they return from school and kindergarten, her time was her own. She told me her class at the language school are learning about French food and they each have to take in an example of a Breton dessert or cake. (No doubt everything they take in will be eaten during the lesson). I suggested a Far Cake. Ann-Sofie was keen on the idea of a Pommes au Tart, although I'm not sure that's specifically Breton. I was planning to go to the supermarket near Lorient, and suggested she come along.
Ann-Sofie had brought her sketch pad, in case she spotted anything of interest to draw. I told her we must go to Dinard, with all the lovely old buildings, she'd have plenty to draw there. (I must remember to mention this to Celine).
On the way out I showed her my three Clematis plants, two of which are starting to wind their way up the trellis. I've put my herbs outside too, they're doing well, even the Basil which survived the rain over the past few days.
The supermarket was packed as usual; irritating electronic music playing over the speakers, forcing shoppers to shout across the aisles. While I was trying to decide what to have for dinner, I noticed Ann-Sofie sketching. She was drawing a middle aged woman in a a bright red hat and a matching dress who was standing by the cakes and desserts in the patisserie section. I couldn't see why she was of any particular interest. Ann-Sofie came over and joined me. She was looking for illustrations of the zombies in her novel, and this woman fitted one of the descriptions perfectly (Poor thing! If only she knew!) Looking at the sketch, I was again taken with Ann-Sofie's drawing -- so much better than her writing, although I don't want to discourage her with either.
We were loading the food into the car (including the Tarte Aux Pommes) when Ann-Sofie nudged me, pointing off to the left. Standing not far from us, loading their dirty white van with crates of lager, were Marie and the Twins. I explained that they were neighbours and told her about Hilda, the magic cow. She seemed to be fascinated by the twins, with their usual blue overalls with matching caps. They both sported pencil moustaches (a fashion statement for the summer, perhaps?) and Marie's outfit was as strange as ever. She was wearing a yellow flared trouser suit, blue socks and bright blue sandals with high heels. I can't imagine where she gets these clothes from. Ann-Sofie insisted on being introduced to the twins. I warned her they weren't exactly friendly, but she wouldn't listen and had already started to approach them. I decided I'd better go over and join her. Marie, yellow headscarf fluttering in the breeze, turned and glared at us over her dark shades. When I asked after Jean-Luc she started blurting out something about the lottery and a system. She spoke so fast it was difficult to follow. The twins didn't appear to notice us and continued loading the van. Ann-Sofie went over to them and held out her hand. She introduced herself halting French and said she would like to draw them. They stood side by side and stared at her with expressionless eyes, but they said nothing.
As soon as Marie noticed she began to shake her head and called out "Non, non, non!"
Several people stopped to watch as the mad woman dressed in yellow pointed in the general direction of our car and urged us to leave them alone. I suggested Ann-Sofie to follow me as I marched off. What was their problem?
We stopped off in Languidic as Ann-Sofie was keen to sketch the church. I left her to it and said she'd find me in the café bar. Whilst I was chatting to Andre, the proprietor, the door swung open and in marched Marie and the twins. They didn't seem the type to frequent bars, but then, without having to ask Andre nodded at Marie and went over to the coffee machine. I watched as he served them three coffees. No words were spoken. There were only a few other customers in the bar and they were all amused by Marie and the twins. I was thinking about Jean Luc and his mad family when Ann-Sofie came in and sat beside me. She showed me her sketch, which was very good. I asked if she'd thought about applying to Art College, but she seems unsure. It wasn't long before she spotted the twins and with the sketch pad on her lap, she started to draw them. I hoped they wouldn't notice. Not that they'd say anything, but Marie certainly would. Thankfully they didn't stay long and left without speaking to anyone. Once they'd gone Andre looked over and raised his eyes. When he came over to clear our table we told him what had happened at the supermarket. He smiled and told us that, about a month ago, a Psychology Professor from Paris had been staying nearby with his family. He came into the café quite often and spotted Marie and the twins on several occasions. He tried to speak to them, not appearing to be bothered by Marie's rudeness. Andre was concerned and he warned the Professor about them. The Professor explained that he had studied twins for many years and was fascinated by the idea of telepathic connections between them. Andre told us that Marie had become angry and told the Professor to leave them alone. Andre had heard that the Professor had been up to Marie's farm several times to try and make a connection with them. He had also heard from the owner of the gite where the Professor was staying, that his tyres had been slashed and a note left on his windscreen advising him to leave. The note had been badly spelt, made no sense and was obviously written by Marie. The local police were informed but said they could do nothing. The whole incident became a source of much amusement in the village. The unfortunate Professor and his family returned to Paris as soon as their tyres had been replaced (with the usual at extra charges reserved for Parisians).
Before we left the café, I asked Andre if he'd heard from Jean Luc recently. He'd seen him a few days ago and he mentioned he was working on a new system designed to predict winning lottery numbers (so Marie hadn't been lying about that).
Back at the cottage, Ann-Sofie rushed next door, saying she'd be back later. I'd finished dinner and was watering my garden when she returned. She held open her sketch pad and showed me her finished work. I had to laugh. The twins, wearing their blue overalls and blue caps, had been transformed into a pair of grotesque zombies with bloodshot eyes and blood dripping from their mouths. With a backdrop of dark and cloudy skies, they were staggering through a deserted country field. Ann-Sofie explained that the twins were now characters in her novel, two of the most feared and dangerous zombies.