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Saturday, March 31, 2012
Life stories converge in a marketplace, not an urban legend.
As a result of having lived a significant portion of his three-quarter century as a bit of a rogue, in cahoots with other hot-stuff, naughty rogues, The French One has a repertoire of high-jinks stories that can entertain a table full of dinner guests. There are a lot of these tales that I find interesting and amusing, as well as confirmation of how happy I am that I did not know him at the time.
One of the legends that TFO has told on occasion took on a new punchline yesterday, just as I was getting irritated that he was telling it to me again, without the benefit of other listeners.
When TFO was in his late twenties (I was in kindergarten), he had moved, with his wife and first child, from Lyon to Toulon, in the South of France, and somehow ended up with a boat building business.
"The Office" tended to be a Cafe Terrace on the harbor-side; shirtless, to better show tan and muscles; drinking the ubiquitous Pastis and hanging out in the company of other tanned and arrogant young Moustachios; with a constant eye on the passage of pretty girls.
TFO built sail-boats and his buddy Roman built speed-boats. They both had crews working away making the fiberglass hulls and planing and varnishing any woodwork, as the two entrepreneurs chatted with potential clients at "The Office", where they each had examples of their craft moored to the quayside.
Roman had hooked an interested party and set out on a test drive, bringing along his friend and partner in crime, TFO, for the ride. Three men in a speed-boat, showing off under the warm Mediterranean sun, can you visualize? I don't know the technical boating equivalent of "pulling donuts and wheelies" but you have to imagine there were slaloms and wakes and loud engine noises.
Roman spotted a flat-bottomed fishing boat dead ahead and accelerated towards it, intending to swerve at the last minute, to prove (his manhood) his maneuverability, and probably to swamp the two older men peacefully fishing. Unfortunately, the cable necessary for the flawless execution of this daring trick got stuck at the last minute and our two heroes and their passenger went airborne; gliding up and over the other boat. One safety feature that saved this from being a blood bath is that the huge outboard motor was rigged to instantly lift up if it came in contact with anything. Still, the scene they struggled to return to with their now impaired steering, had the potential to be grim. One man in the water, vociferously sharing his opinion of aforementioned manhood and boating skills and the other lying still, in the bottom of his boat.
The man in the boat, owner of the town's central pharmacy, claimed paralysis and was hospitalized. He attended the subsequent court hearings in a wheel chair and was headed towards a significant monetary settlement from Roman's insurance. By the way, the prospective client did not purchase a boat that fateful day.
Weeks and months had passed and this time Roman, TFO and two back seat passengers, whose identity has not been deemed relevant in any of the tellings that I have heard, were headed out by car, on the road to St. Tropez. Gas/petrol was required, even that long ago, so they pulled in to a gas station, just behind another vehicle. The other driver jumped out and jogged to find the owner. (All full-service back then). When he came back to his car he had our dynamic duo and their two companion-witnesses waiting to confront him and congratulate him on his miraculous recovery.
That's usually the end of this story, but wait...
We've been in California for twenty-five years, TFO continues to paint many landscapes and seascapes of France. One of his favorite scenes is of Toulon's marketplace, Cour Lafayette. Vendors, fruit, flowers, vibrant colors and dappled sunlight through the leaves of the flanking plane trees. He reproduces his remembered happy place from time to time in different ways. One such painting was purchased by the gentleman who is our shipping broker for the containers we bring in from Europe. Pierre is Swiss and doing quite well for himself. He has a house in Spain, one in Los Angeles, a third in Switzerland and all now contain examples of TFO's artwork. He recently commissioned three new paintings to give to his son now that he has moved into his own place. TFO has done one sea-scape, one landscape with olive trees and lavender and called Pierre for inspiration number three. Toulon Marketplace was the requested subject. TFO asked Pierre why he was so enamored with that image that he would want two paintings of the same place. Pierre said that he had spent summers there as a kid and had many fond memories. He used to stay with his uncle every year, The Pharmacist.