After a coolish July, for quite a few days now the paper’s weather section has been predicting “une belle journée estivale,” a beautiful summery day. But lately it’s also been forecasting “la pollution à l’ozone,” which has lead to actual smog alerts and some fairly drastic traffic measures. Smog alerts in Paradise? In August? Quel horreur!
As the whole world knows, August is the time when Parisians and other Northerners famously flock down south, leading to traffic congestion, not to mention tailpipe emissions, of epic proportions. The weather is hot, the roads are jammed, the kids are cranky, and the Gendarmes are out in force to make sure that people leaving the roadside rest areas haven’t had too much wine with their lunch. On top of all that, now we have the requirement that cars on the autoroute reduce their speed from the normal 130 kph to 100 kph, with corresponding speed reductions on all of the smaller roads. Industry is required to reduce emissions, kids and older people are advised limit outdoor activities, and people who are spending their vacations redecorating their houses are asked to restrict their use of paints and solvents.
The paper, however, is doing its part to lighten things up, with its daily summer column of quizzes and tales for easy reading, sort of a French version of a beach book. Apparently, the French have a good time answering questions like:
1) Which king authorized Rabelais to print his works in 1545?
2) Which poet said “intelligence is the ability to recognize one’s own stupidity?”
3) How many hectares are devoted to oyster production at Leucate?”
4) How many days did it take in the 19th century to go from Agde to Toulouse via the Canal du Midi?”
Come on, you try. Probably every French school kid can answer those questions, and I happen to have the answers right in front of me, but I’m not telling until you guess!
There are also delightful little stories. Like the one today, just to stay in line with the theme of emissions, about the expression “to be as curious as a chamber pot.” What, your chamber pot isn’t curious? It must not be French. Here’s my translation of the morning giggle:
The expression “être curieuse comme un pot de chambre” comes from the Occitan “curios coma un pissador.” Chamber pots, back when they were in more common use than they are today, had AN EYE painted at the bottom in order to respond to what was presented to them. (Are you getting the picture here? The chamber pot was keeping an eye on, well, I’m sure you can imagine what the pot saw.) In the same vein we also find the expression “curieux comme un pet” or curious as a fart. (Hey, really, I’m just translating here.) This expression probably comes from the fact that the fart is closed up in the intestines, thus hermetically sealed off from what is happening outside, and wants to come out to see what’s going on. Hence its curiosity which refuses to be denied. (That casts those emissions in a whole new light, doesn’t it?)
Ok, so let’s say you have your family crammed into an adorably miniscule Smart Car, and you’re stuck in a traffic snarl-up the likes of which one normally associates with Los Angeles. It’s averaging 32-34° C., which is about 91-95° F., and you know that when you finally arrive at the beach you won’t be able to send the kids outside to run around and wear themselves out because of the ozone alert. At least you’ll be off the road, you can pour yourself a Pastis, and settle in to tell the kids, who, having been denied access to the outside world all day are by now as curious as farts, the story of the watchful chamber pot. And if that doesn’t keep them busy for hours telling fart jokes, you can get them thinking about Rabelais and his king and the oysters you’ll be having for dinner.
Which king was that now? How many oysters?