What else could one expect when replicating the Fiji experience in France? Certainly nothing so relaxing as a much-needed holiday.
You begin to see why it is folklorically mandatory for wizards to have adventures. The act of Doing Certain Things (especially on either side of a Saturn pivot?) seems to have much wider impacts. It turns out that ferrying your near-elderly parents around a major foreign city and unfamiliar countryside, whilst your partner can barely walk from a back injury, does not do much in the way of a battery recharge. Ahh well... 5% problems, eh?
To be honest, I'm struggling a bit to wrestle the pieces into shape so I'm just going to fire out some observations.
The Crazy Taxi Ride
This beautiful castle is in the middle of nowhere. Which means if you have somewhere you need to be on a Sunday morning you need to pay a lot of money. French Sunday loadings on taxi fares are insane.
The woman with whom we split the taxi back into the nearest town with a train station knew me from mine and my sister's party days in Sydney more than a decade ago. In her words: "You look a lot different now." We have discussed this. I'm not that creature any more and I don't know if I know how to acquire wealth in a collapsed economy without getting fat and bald. Some days this seems like a fair trade. Others, it does not.
Anyway, because French weddings don't even serve the final course until well after midnight, the jetlagged Australian contingent were fish in my barrel. This woman promised to pay the whole taxi fare. I objected. She vigorously insisted. We settled on me 'contributing'.
Which is good because it cost €150 for a 35 minute race through the countryside, passing tractors on blind corners, looking out over the plains of Alsace, so this old friend of my sister's could make her shuttle. My enduring 'lesson' from this moment was how preposterous our current monetary system is. The eurocents just flew by on the metre like a depth measure on a warship... much faster than if we had taken this trip nine hours before. Amazing.
(Secondarily: taxi drivers everywhere appear to love getting dramatic fares: "take me to the train station and I will make you rich! RICH!")
The Bracelet Kids
In my new brother in law's hometown, when we were out for birthday drinks, two kids came up to us whilst we were drinking in one of the pubs and bistros in the square, selling bracelets. And by kids I mean like... seven years old. And also not gypsy. (Gypsy kids are corralled into selling crap by their relatives. It's the very definition of criminal child labour. And regularly a dodge to lift wallets.)
The bracelets were crap but the price was right. €1. And on my sister's birthday no less. I buy one and tell my partner "I will do whatever I can to encourage local capitalism in this country." France has never looked so different to Anglo countries. Two unsupervised seven year olds wandering amid thousands of drunks, trying to make tax-free money. In Britain they wouldn't be able to move for the dozens of rape alarms their parents had strapped to them. (But then, if you've been following the news...) Here, no problem. Only the French can make unregistered businesses run by underage kids amid alcohol establishments seem all cool and cultural.
My sister is appalled at the crummy gift and insists she will only wear it for ten minutes. She forgets about it and it stays on for the whole evening so I get my money's worth.
The Versailles Memorial
This is a big one. We get to Paris four days before the wedding because there is ancestor work to do. You may recall that my mother the psychonaut is selling our family home. You may also recall that her bestie died on her birthday last year while I was at the Hellfire Caves. This year, a provisional offer was made on the house on the birthday of that bestie, two weeks ago.
I haven't really mentioned this before but she never had a funeral. Just a cremation. One of her sons lives in London and so he may or may not have scattered her ashes at a quiet spot on Marie Antoinette's little farm at Versailles, depending on whether or not you are a policeman. This was one of her favourite places on earth and, without telling tales out of school, is just so perfect and so her to be so far from some suboptimal situations and ending up with the most unique resting place I can think of.
So my mother the psychonaut can't come to France without paying a visit. And we do. And it's huge and emotional. We all cry and cry and cry. We get an email that the prospective buyers have taken their in-laws on a two hour trip of the house back in Australia. Things are looking good. That evening, we go to the last restaurant I took my mother's bestie on her final trip to Paris last year.
The house sells. The house that looks over the house that my mother's bestie lived in. My childhood home is no longer in the family and my mother finally got to have a proper memorial for her best friend, who died on her birthday. This all happened at the one time. Figure that one out.
An Absence of Ritual
You know how there is that which remains? Not if you ask a bourgeois Frenchman. I have since discovered that why there are basically no occult stores in Paris is that magic -and Catholicism- is something peasants do. The extreme impact of the Revolution meant that basically you were subhuman if you didn't wholly subscribe to the tenets of the Goddess Reason (installed at Notre Dame). This still impacts French discourse. To my mind, it also paints Eliphas Levi in a much more radical light.
Anyway, it turns out the only person at the wedding who was full Catholic was the groom's 91 year old grandmother, so they went 'secular' for their ceremony. I don't get this. Even so-called humanist ceremonies still end up with spiritual texts. My own bestie's meandering, claptrap-filled ceremony last year encompassed some Navajo stuff, and readings from Buddhist texts. Basically anything that isn't churchy... but it's still not secular, is it? (There's an ironically-sexist Drew Carey joke from about twenty years ago that is almost relevant here: "what's the deal with lesbians and vibrators? They made their choice.")
None of this is to say that their ceremony wasn't wonderful and joyous and that I wasn't honoured to be part of it. But one hundred metres from the castle is a church whose foundations are over a thousand years old, was formerly a convent and has Joan of freaking Ark in it. (A statue, not her actual remains, which were dustified by the English. This confusion came up at the wedding. Sometimes I forget that most other people don't refer to idols as actual 'things'.)
If you knew my sister you would know just how perfect a match this is. She set off into the world with her crazy schemes that most of the family (not me) were agin'. She has an unofficial saint right there.
Anyway, there is such a thing as being an experienced ritualists. Muggles think they got game cos they only do it once and make it 'different', like when a baby wiccan first discovers colour correspondences are basically arbitrary.
Obviously I am going to discuss this further at some length because I just want to say "wellity, wellity, wellity" to any remaining ignorant detractors out there who still think the White House Press Secretary is a legitimate source of information on what is happening in the world.
Anyway, my point is that we are all drinking and chatting in our Paris apartment when my partner gets the news on his phone. Both my brothers are in the air over the Middle East at this point. My partner remarks "why do things like this happen every time we go to France?" Despite my assurances that these were murders by the Anglo-American shadow state and nothing to do with Putin because he's not as dumb as us, we still have to watch airline updates on a single phone for an hour.
We know how to holiday, right?
On our last night, back in Paris after all the lunatic location changes that come with pretending burning off family karma is in some way a holiday, we go to check out. If you have ever been in a Parisian hotel, you will know that Paris elevators aren't exactly American-sized. Many would struggle to fit an actual American. Our SoPi hotel was a bit better than this but there is still only one elevator. It arrives on our floor and there is already a Spanish couple in it but there is still ample room. My partner asks if they are going down. The Spanish woman hits the close button. The doors start to close but my partner holds them open and we get in. Because we are closer to the door we get out and get to reservations just before them. The speed at which French hotels move means you basically have to start checking out immediately after checking in if you are only staying for one night.
There is no lesson here. It's just that one of the high points of my crazy trip was taking ten minutes of this awful person's life. I'm still smiling about it right now.
Back in the office today and I am asked if I had a nice break. Break? Break??! What part of carting elderly parents and an immobilised partner all over France for memorials, emotional losses of childhood homes, meeting adorable new nephews, the wedding of my only sister and the risk that my brothers were caught in the games of the shadow state sounds like a break to you? (I haven't mentioned the encounter with the revolutionary ghost, the fight with a corporate lawyer, the miscarriage, the bravery of my new French mother-in-law-or-whatever-she-is-to-me-probably-nothing tackling a whole new family after the all-too-recent loss of her husband. You get the idea.)
I am more tired than when I left. But I also sleep easier. This last week was one of those weird hybrid experiences in between initiation and destiny. Yes, I have a nice tan now but that is probably due more to my proximity to the fire than to the baking French weather.
It was a week of much feels. Which I choose to share with you tonight on the feast of Mary Magdalene. With the secret sun shining once again. Could there be a better patron saint of complicated family drama?
Welcome to earth.