Often, I spend a good part of the day trying to solve some kind of computing problem. Subsequently, if somebody were to ask me, on the phone, what I've been doing all day, I find it hard to produce a plausible answer. Today has been one of those days. In fact, the day got off to the kind of start that might have suggested that there wouldn't be a lot of action. This morning, the sky at Gamone was overcast, and the weather was wet and chilly. I got into my car to drive to St-Jean. Fifty meters down the road from my house, I slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting a creature that was crossing the road. Readers will think I'm crazy. It was a big Burgundy snail. A few years ago, I used to collect such snails and prepare them for eating. Maybe that's what causes me to respect these creatures to the point of not squashing them with my automobile. It's a fact, too, that I make an effort not to run over toads on the road at Gamone. In that case, it's simply because I'm fond of these big clumsy animals, and I don't like to see them killed stupidly. You might say there's a little bit of Dalai Lama sensitivity in my attitude. A hundred meters further down the road, I slammed on the brakes a second time. This time, it was not for a snail or a toad but so that I could get out of the car and remove a football-sized rock that had fallen onto the road. So, I probably earned a few Brownie points before I got on the way to St-Jean. [In French, they talk of the "good actions" carried out by Scouts and Guides.]
The pharmacy in St-Jean is surely one of the nicest and friendliest pharmacies in France. (Well, at least that's how I've always seen it.) But, whenever I try to talk about anything serious with the pharmacist, I quickly put my foot in my mouth. This morning, I wanted to tell him that I sometimes feel that my GP [general practitioner] tends to be over-zealous by getting me tested for potential ailments that almost certainly don't exist. For example, a year ago, he took me through all the messy prostate tests, which turned out to be totally negative. And now I have the impression that he's itching to get me to go through it all once again. Trying to appear smart, I told the pharmacist (because I'd just read it on the Internet) that the current protocol concerning the possible presence of prostate cancer is flawed, resulting in an exaggerated number of unnecessary biopsies. When I mentioned that a new US protocol was about to go into action (frontpage Google news last week), the pharmacist naturally wanted to know all about it. But he might just as well have asked me to give him a rundown on the latest news about pig-farming in China. I promised to send him an e-mail.
Later on in the morning, at the supermarket parking zone near Romans, I was fascinated by a stunt pilot performing his acrobatics directly above me. When I saw he was making a big low circle in order to land, I decided to drive to the nearby airfield (less than a kilometer from the supermarket) simply to see what kind of a plane and pilot had been carrying out these amazing stunts. As I parked alongside the clubhouse, a female stunt pilot was about to take off, in an exotic blue machine, and the guy I had been watching was getting out of his equally exotic red plane. There are all kinds of people with whom I should never be tempted to strike up a conversation, because I never have anything intelligent to say to them. For example, apart from pharmacists: veterinary doctors (my attitude to animals is too sentimental, and vets must think I'm brain-damaged), farmers (they take one look at me and see I'm not one of them), police officers, priests, etc. Well, you can add stunt pilots to that list.
Me: "I've been watching you from over in front of the supermarket. I guess you're a professional pilot."
Pilot: "No, we simply like that kind of flying. [The "we" encompassed the lady who had just taken off.] But we don't get paid for it."
Me: "Is acrobatics a specialty of this aero club?"
Pilot: "No, we're from a club in Montpellier. I grew up here in Romans. I know the club well. We've just dropped in for a while."
Me: "Ah, so you've come all the way up here from Montpellier to say hello to old friends."
Pilot: "Well, it didn't take us long to get here."
Thankfully, an intelligent conversationalist turned up, enabling him to say goodbye to me, in the polite style of a stunt pilot.
On the way home, I dropped in at a farm to buy asparagus from a young farmer's wife who was busy tying up one-kilo bunches of this excellent vegetable. Now, you might add farmers' wives, particularly asparagus farmers' wives, to my list of bad conversational partners.
Me (after purchasing two kilos): "Maybe you'll give me expert advice on preparing them."
Farmer's wife: "Well, after you've peeled them..."
Me (in my seasoned journalistic style): "Ah, so they have to be peeled?"
Farmer's wife (realizing that she was dealing with an idiot): "Yes, it's best to use a little peeler [called, funnily, an économe in French]. You start at the top and you peel downwards to the bottom. Then you throw them into boiling water that has been salted."
Me: "How long do you let them boil?"
Farmer's wife: "Oh, about a quarter of an hour. Not too long, though, otherwise they turn yellow."
I was about to ask her what's wrong with the idea of eating yellow asparagus, if they're well-cooked, but I decided instantly that this question would be excessive.
Back home in front of my computer, I said to myself that it was reassuring (for me, in any case) to realize that my day had been well spent in solving a few technical problems concerning the creation of websites. What I mean to say is that, if the global worth of my day's efforts had been measured exclusively in terms of removing obstacles from the Gamone road and talking with a pharmacist, a stunt flier and an asparagus farmer's wife, then maybe I should have stayed in bed. The truth of the matter is that I've spent the day looking forward to this evening's debate between Ségo and Sarko. So, let's forget about my conversational inadequacies, and let me tune in to the Serious Stuff that's about to happen.