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"Is it too much to ask?"

Speaking your mind, minding your manners, and other odds and ends.

Paige Bowers
Paige Bowers
9 min read
"Is it too much to ask?"
I love how the supporters speak their mind at Orange Velodrome.

Y'all know I've been cranky about Atlanta United's fortunes for the past two months. Prior to this past Wednesday night, they hadn't gotten a win in about nine games, even with the players they have. "Head coach" Gonzalo Pineda has asked the Five Stripe faithful for patience time and time again. But if you look at his record during his time in Atlanta, he has gotten all the patience in the world but delivered none of the results. The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer would tell me that I'd be better served to pick up a book and not get too worked up about lousy coaches and silly old sports. But I'm from Louisiana. Getting worked up about coaches and sports is what we do.

What I enjoy about Olympique de Marseille fans (I guess I'm one of them now) is that they are just as passionate about their team too, for better or for worse. Lately, things have been more of the latter than the former. Since 2021, the club has gone through eight head coaches, three in the past season alone. Last fall when things were looking dire, the supporters met with club management to express their dissatisfaction. Things got heated. Violence was threatened. The head coach at the time decided he didn't feel like he was in a safe working environment (you don't say), so he decided to leave the club after seven games.

Please know that I am not saying violence is the answer to one's soccer woes, or the answer to anything period, especially in a time like the one we're in. But I am saying patience, especially in the case of a certain "head coach" here who has had way more than seven games to get it together, is not the answer either. I love my team, and I'm grateful that they had a great game Wednesday night against Inter Miami. But the ownership needs to move on from Pineda, as soon as they can. Otherwise, the supporters here need to make like the Marseillais and hold up a sign like the one up above, which reads: "A strong, lasting and ambitious project...is that too much to ask of you? Directors act, or we will do it for you."

Allez-y! Because it's not too much to ask.


Writing prompt: What do you feel strongly about and why? What lengths are you willing to go to in order to protect or preserve it?


Schopenhauer

Yeah, I threw in an Arthur Schopenhauer reference this week. Admittedly, I have a fairly superficial understanding of him and his work, so I didn't do it to be pretentious or pedantic. I did it, because my dear, darling graduate school mentor brought him up this past week as a salve for something else that was making me cranky. Schopenhauer believes we all have this insatiable hunger for things like MLS championships and French real estate. These wants lead to our suffering, which is why we should renounce those desires and listen to some Chopin, probably.

Some of Schopenhauer's wisdom:

“A man can do what he wants, but not want what he wants.”

"A man can be himself only so long as he is alone, and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom, for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.”

“There is no doubt that life is given us, not to be enjoyed, but to be overcome; to be got over.” [ed. note: I'm not sure I agree with this. Maybe it's a little of both? What do you think?]

“It is with trifles, and when he is off guard, that a man best reveals his character.” [ed. note: I one million percent agree with this one.]


Love Train

View from the train of yachts near Cannes. Photo: Paige Bowers

The train ride from Nice to Marseille and back is one of the loveliest you'll ever experience. You get wonderful views of the Mediterranean, with all of its yachts, swimmers, and seaside villas. It's so peaceful, and it's even nicer when you bring a little picnic or snacks for your journey.

When my husband and I were headed back to Nice from Marseille recently, our train stopped at a small station for longer than the usual few minutes they give you to hop on or off. I didn't really think anything of it at first, but then the conductor announced that they needed to repair something, and it would only take a few minutes. More than a few minutes went by, and they made another announcement about this repair, which was still in progress. Smokers hopped off the train to get their nicotine fix. Others started looking around and fidgeting the way folks do when they are mildly inconvenienced, or when things don't go to plan. One thing led to another and there was another announcement, this time about how the train couldn't be fixed and so we'd have to get off and catch another one. Again, not an issue. Not everyone understood the crackly French that was coming through the train's loudspeaker, so I helped translate. And before I knew it, I became the leader of the Nice-bound Anglophones on the train.

I did not choose this job. It chose me. So we English-speakers all introduced ourselves to each other, and had a bit of fun while we waited.

Standing near us on the train platform was a French woman who bore a striking resemblance to the Belgian-born film director Agnes Varda.

I happen to love Agnes Varda, by the way.

Agnes Varda. Photo: San Diego Union-Tribune.

The woman was very upset by the turn of events. She started telling anyone who would listen that nothing in this godforsaken country works and it's a disgrace, especially because the entire world is about to be in France for the Olympics. She turned to me and said: "I hear that you write. Write about this moment! Tell your press we are a broken country! A broken people!"

I listened, thinking, "But I love France. How can that be?"

She went on to say that underpaid rail workers like the ones they have in France don't want to work, and that's all this is right now BECAUSE A REAL BREAKDOWN WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, NOT AT A STATION WHERE YOU CAN EASILY LEAVE AND BEGIN YOUR LONG WEEKEND.

She had been traveling since 6:30 a.m. that day because she was coming to Nice to bury her aunt.

"This is no pleasure trip already," she said. "And now...(French sounds of disapproval)."

I told her I was sorry for her loss. Then I started babbling about how I normally love this particular train ride because the scenery is so beautiful. To which she replied: "When it works, I love it too. TODAY IT IS SHIT."

Me: (searching desperately for the right thing to say, because my optimism was clearly not the move).

Her: MY ARMS HAVE FALLEN!

Me: (confused).

She explained that "my arms have fallen" is an expression that means I give up, I've had enough of this shit, etc. Again, I told her I was so sorry and asked if we could we buy her a drink.

"DO NOT GIVE SNCF ANOTHER EURO!!!" she replied.

After a bit of quiet reflection, I found myself telling her that every time I visit France, I love it so much that I hate to leave, "but maybe that makes me a princess."

She smirked and gave me the side eye.

"You don't look like a princess to me," she said.

And with that, we all boarded the train and headed for Nice.

--fin--


The Best System in the World

When I tell people how much I love going to France, I get some funny looks. The French, after all, are unjustly accused of being rude and/or mean to foreigners. I've never had that issue, but I think it's because I've been fortunate to learn from the French themselves about how to navigate their world.

I was talking to an Uber driver one day, and he said from his point of view that the people who are rude, mean, or otherwise poorly behaved are generally the tourists who sit in the backseat of his car. They're not friendly. They're not open in any way. They make too many demands and they don't say please or thank you.

What people don't understand: there is a system in France, and when you operate within the rules of the system, you'll find that you're treated better.

Granted, it helps to speak some French, and to be willing to set aside any pushy American expectations you might have. Nothing needs to happen five minutes ago, after all. If you're patient, everything works out the way it's supposed to...so you might as well enjoy yourself in the meantime.

But also, manners are huge in France. Neglect them at your own peril.

Say you walk into a shop or up to a maitre d' at a restaurant. The first thing out of your mouth should be "Bonjour" and then you will get a "Bonjour" in return. See? Nice, and nonthreatening. You're off to a great start. If you're at a restaurant, and you'd like a table for two, don't just ask for the table and leave it at that...say please – "s'il vous plait" – because I don't want anyone to think you're a monster. When they seat you at a table, say "merci," which is thank you. Any help you ask for, or order you make should involve a please and thank you. You'd be amazed at how many people don't do this, and don't understand why things aren't going their way as a result.

My husband and I were at a restaurant one night, trying to figure out why some people were seated immediately, even without a reservation, and others weren't seated at all. For the record: I walked up and in French asked for a table for two, please. The maitre d' asked me if I had a reservation. I said no, I'm sorry I don't, again in French. He said to me, well how about this table? I said, yes, it's perfect, thank you, and our evening was off to a great start. As for the rest, the seatings (or sendoffs) seemed arbitrary on first glance, but if you really paid attention, you saw that the people who spoke some French and behaved politely got a table quicker than those who didn't. After being seated, a British woman actually stopped one of the wait staff to ask what the rhyme and reason was to who got a table right away, who had to wait, and who was turned away. She was told: "I don't know how to explain it to you, but this is the way we've always done it."

That made perfect sense to me.

"It's the best system in the world," the Uber driver said. "You know what you're supposed to do and when you're supposed to do it, and it works."


Endnotes

What I'm reading: Claire Messud's "This Strange Eventful History."

Where you can find some great summer reading recommendations: Alison Law is one of my favorite humans, period. And I always look forward to her Summer Reading Roundup for Bitter Southerner, which you can find here. There's some good ones here, so send some thoughts and prayers to my already teetering to be read pile.

What I'm watching: The new seasons of "Welcome to Wrexham" and "L'Agence."

What I'm looking forward to: 1000 Words of Summer, Jami Attenberg's writing challenge where participants write 1000 words a day for 14 days. Am hoping, hoping, hoping my efforts lead to my next book project. Fingers crossed. Want to do it too? Sign up here and get daily words of encouragement to boot!

What makes me hopeful: I spoke with a public servant who believes in ethics and listening to what her constituents want. We need more of this energy everywhere.

Who I'm proud of: My kiddo, whose work took second place in the 3-D category in SCAD's Beyond the Dot juried exhibition of first-year work.

What I'm apparently getting in my life, after saying I needed it: My old roommate from my DC years is a Breton woman who agreed to send me the scratch-and-sniff baguette stamps I mentioned in my last newsletter. Not all heroes wear capes, my friends! Of note: Said roommate told me the stamps didn't actually smell like baguettes, but they did smell like stamps. I told her to try scratching them and then sniffing. She said they still didn't smell like baguettes. They smelled like brioche. Who knows what they'll smell like after they arrive in my mailbox...?

Where I hope you'll donate this week: Here we are at the dead-end of May (HOW???), which is Mental Health Awareness Month. One in five American adults has a mental health condition, but stigma and misinformation keep too many people from getting the help they need. Please consider giving to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization, which works to raise awareness and provide education and support to those who need it most.

Next week: I'm pulling together a social/cultural/biographical history of some sort for you again, plus sharing a few new stories I've written that are now out on newsstands. Who knows what else I'll do? As always, thank you for reading and for allowing me into your inboxes every week. I appreciate you all so much!

franceolympicsatlanta unitedatlantacreativitydilly-dallyfreelance writerfrench rivieranicemarseillemental healthtrains

Paige Bowers

Paige Bowers is a journalist and the author of two biographies about bold, barrier-breaking women in history.

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