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Published: June 18th 2016
From Central France,
we had driven through Provence’s Gorges du Verdon, onto the French Riviera.
Driving in central and rural France is a fairly relaxed mission. Drivers obey road rules and show patience and courtesy. Here in the renowned Cote d’Azur, when people get behind a wheel, they become irascible, venal and impolite, if not rude.
So after a challenging drive along part of the coast, it was a relief to reach our selected campsite in the hills above Nice, at St Laurent du Var. But there was no room at the inn. We waited. Free camping sites are rare in this part of the world. In fact, camping is just not one of the happening things here where super rich rub shoulders with superstars. There are not even any paid camping grounds. There are no supermarkets. If you’re hungry go to a restaurant. If you’re thirsty go to a bar. If you want somewhere to sleep, go to a posh hotel. Anything under five star is slumming it. We hung around. Sure enough, patience paid off. We felt like we had won a lottery, when out of the blue, one of the occupants played with his GPS, wound his awning in, and departed
While we had been waiting we observed the interaction between the occupants of the other camping-car occupants. One fellow, barely more than 5ft 2 inches with a round belly, seemed to carry an air of authority. I could not figure out his accent. His speech sounded Italian, but his words were French. I could not understand much of what he said. He understood only a little of what I said.
' Je parle seulement un peu francais. Je suis Australien,' I told him. But he became my best friend, producing a map of the world asking me to pinpoint where I come from.
Then he asked, 'Vivez-vous dans une ranch?' wanting to know if I lived on a ranch. Presumably, his understanding was that all Aussies live on farms.
'Je vécu sur une ferme quand j'etais un garcon.' I had lived in a farm when I was a boy.
Then he wanted to know about animals on the farm. My little bit of French vocabulary allowed me to rattle of the words for cows, pigs, horses and chooks. Expressive eyes glowed on his ruddy face. I tried to explain how I used to pull the cows teats to milk them and ride a horse before I went to school. It was probably the body language as I attempted to demonstrate the message that got him laughing.
When I told him about kangaroos his excitement went into overdrive. Then I showed him the boxing kangaroo flag and tried to explain how a big male kangaroo will box a suitor of his favourite femmes. I will never know if he understood the meaning of what I said, but his eyes lit up like light globes as he bounced around with excitement.
Later, when I began to fill our onboard water tank with a bucket because the tap did not have a hose fitting, this short corpulent fellow loaned me a tap fitting that he had jerry-rigged for the purpose. I had noticed his stance had an air of authority about it. When other vans moved in or out of parking bays, he would be there to guide them, and would get quite irritated when drivers did not follow his instruction. Then I took notice of how he came to have such an aura of authority. I noticed his habit of holding his right fist on his chest so that his hand rested on the top of his round belly.
We had several conversations and before leaving the following day, he came to wish us farewell. He kissed on both cheeks, five times. Kissing on cheeks between good friends is common in France, but not with someone you have just met. Then he told us he was returning to Corsica. It all fell into place. Kissing five times is a Corsican convention, elsewhere it’s two times. Then there was his shape, his air of authority and his habit of holding his fist above his corpulent belly. This guy may well have been a direct descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte.
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