It’s Not All Roses
It started with a garage sale. During the month we’ve been back on our little island we’ve been wrapped in a cocoon of homecoming and culture shock, with time out for travel to San Francisco. But now, emerging from that cocoon, I read that there was a garage sale here on the island last week, and that it raised the relatively huge sum, as garage sales go, of $22,000.
That would be great small town news, the kind of thing that we love to read about in our local weekly paper, except for one fact. The garage sale, and a few bake sales, and a couple of car washes, were all held to raise money to pay the island’s teachers. Twelve teachers were recently laid off in crisis-engendered budget cuts, and the community is trying to save their jobs, one car wash at a time.
I’m trying to imagine such a thing happening in France, but I’m pretty sure that under similar circumstances people would be marching in the streets and shutting the system down, instead of baking cookies to sell.
Then this morning I was at the clinic, getting a mammogram. If you’ve had one, you know that often the technician tries to distract you from the discomfort by chattering away while she presses and prods. But today she told me that she’d had five patients in a row who were desperate to sell their houses, but because there are so many foreclosures and the market is awash in houses for sale, people who really need to move are thinking of giving their houses back to the bank.
I’d really never imagined that happening here in our affluent community. But I remember that when I used to be a personal chef on the island I’d often come home with tales of young couples with young children living in million dollar houses, and wonder aloud where they got the money, how they managed to have two or three times the house we did, at half our age. I imagine that some of those families now find themselves on the verge of giving up their homes, some of those kids’ teachers are out of a job and are unlikely to be rescued by a garage sale bonanza. Knowing how it all unraveled doesn’t make it any easier.
After the clinic I went to buy groceries, and because these salal plants are a long way from bearing fruit, I was hunting for berries in the produce aisle. A grocery store staff member that I’ve known for years, and who is just about exactly my age, helped me out. When I asked her if she were thinking of retiring she said that she, along with the other folks that staff the store, had lost so much of her retirement funds in the crisis that she’d be working at least another six years, until she’s 65.
Again I thought of France, where people usually retire between 50 and 55, and where the fact that retirees got only a 4% cost of living increase on their retirements this year, an increase that was said to be held down by the crisis, brought about a national outcry that still echoes in my ears.
It’s a global financial crisis, and so even in France these days it’s not la vie en rose, but I have to say that it looks very thorny here, by comparison.