Tales from

the Loir

A Weekly Column

July 18, 2001 - System D

I report for duty on the morning of the 12th to help setup the steel framed tents. The mayor, Gerard Allaire, asks me to help the team of about ten men who are hooking the long steel bars together to make a frame for the tents. These tents will shelter our guests from the rain. As I approach the team, I see a steel bar arcing toward my head and I duck down and to the right. Another bar comes arcing from the left and I stretch back, down and to the left. I feel like Kenu Reeves dodging bullets on the rooftop in Matrix but I quickly adapt to the rhythm of the swinging steel. Most of these men are in their mid 60's so rapid movements slow down as the work progresses and come to a near stop when the task involves bending all the way down to the ground to pickup something. It will take two full days to set up the tents, table and chairs and one full day to dismantle everything afterwards. The occasion is Lavardin's annual Independence day celebration and the whole village participates.

Work starts at eight o'clock in the morning but in France everyone stops for a two hour lunch break and a periodic bottle of wine. But at our first break, everyone stands around looking at a bottle of wine in embarrassed silence. No one has a corkscrew. It is as if we have all been emasculated. There is a lot of mumbling and I hear the occasional merde, quelle horreur or et alors before Gerard Verger, the village menusier (skilled carpenter), pulls out a large screw and drills it into the cork with his portable drill. He then takes a nail-puller from his tool belt and uncorks the bottle by pulling on the screw head. This is what the French call System D. The 'D' stands for the French word debouiller that means to solve or workout a problem in a clever, inventive way. The people in the countryside seem particularly adept at these solutions but it is also a national characteristic. The phrase, système D, can be found in every French dictionary. It is very much like what we call American ingenuity. Some people say that the French are Cartesian and prefer to live by logically designed systems. I find this hard to accept. As one man said to me after watching one of these clever solutions. C'est fou, mais ca marche quand meme. It's crazy but it works nevertheless. I have been collecting unusual corkscrews for a wall decoration but I am now replacing them all with my Black and Decker drill, a screw and my Stanely pliers.

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July 11, 2001 - The Accident
 July 4, 2001 - Ange Pitou
June 27, 2001 - Feu de Saint Jean
June 20, 2001 - Geoffroy Martel
June 13, 2001 - Saint of the Day
June 6, 2001 - Escapade dans le Berry
May 30, 2001 - Learning French
May 23, 2001 - Pete and Manny
May 16, 2001 - Les Journees des Aubepines
May 8, 2001 - Armistice Day
May 2, 2001 - May Day
April 25, 2001 - Les Manouches
April 18, 2001 - Trôo
April 11, 2001 - Le P'tit Jules
April 4, 2001 - Men and Their Caves 
Archive of Weekly Columns Jan-Apr 2001
Archive of Weekly Columns from 2000


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