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It's a Lucky Thing France is Full of It

Paris:- Thursday, 5. June 1997:- I assume that most children's fairy tales originated in Europe, or some other, even older part of the world. Take the 'Three Little Pigs' for example:

They live in some place in old Europe, where there are wolves prowling around looking for food - and especially pigs, if they can find them. For some reason, our story's 'three little pigs' know this. They are a jolly trio and they like to have their good times.

Two of them like nothing better, and one of them is absolutely mad for singing and dancing the day away.

This last one builds a house made of straw. It is cheap and the house is easy to build, and if it falls down, it is easy to repair. It isn't fancy, but our pig is a party guy and is seldom home.

And home he is when the wolf shows up for breakfast. The wolf shouts, "Come to the barbeque as guest of honor. Or else!"

The straw-house pig takes a shot of old fusel left over from the night before and shouts back, "Buzz off wolf! Nah, nah, ya-nah nah," and so on until the wolf sucks in a huge lung-full of air, lets go and blows the two stone layers house to feathers. In the confusion, the song-and-dance pig gets clear and runs as fast as he can to the second pig's house.

The stone-layers, working on the square in front of the church.

House? The second little pig, sang and danced a bit less and worried about being a wolf's breakfast a bit more, and he had made himself a house out of old wooden refrigerator crates. When he slammed the door the windows rattled, but it didn't dissolve into some kind of soggy cereal when it rained like the first pig's place.

The straw-house pig, once inside, with his back to the to the wooden two-by-four barred door, cried the warning, "The wolf blew my house away - but even a turtle could do that! Now I'm safe, how about a pick-me-up?"

The second pig believed this! And as he was feeling a bit left-over from the night before too, he got out some old cognac he had saved and put on some swinging dixieland music, and soon they were singing, dancing and having a good time and it wasn't even lunchtime yet.

The wolf was not having a good time - having blown his breakfast - and knew it was lunchtime for certain. For a wolf, he was fairly polite and when he got the second pig's refrigerator-crate house, he knuckled the door properly - rattling the windows! - and called out, "Anybody home?" - even though he could hear party sounds from half a block away.

"It's lunchtime and I'm hungry as a bear," he shouted through the barred door, "And if my lunch isn't ready pronto, I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow this low-rent shambles into matchsticks!"

The two little pigs just laughed, poured more cognac and put on another record.

The wolf, although fairly polite for a wolf, was short in the patience department and it was close to lunchtime, so he let fly with a really good huff followed immediately by a powerful puff and before the pigs knew what happening they were in a blizzard of matchsticks and the wolf was nearly on top of them with this two-pig-sized pot he just happened to have handy along with a full two-litre bomb of camping gas.

Well. The two pigs got away. Probably powered by booze and luck; you know, this 'fairy-tale luck,' but they got clear and ran as fast as they could, which was a bit faster than usual, to the third pig's house.

When they got there, this pig was out in his garden watering his corn, and they screamed out the warning, "The big bad wolf is coming! And he's hungrier than two bears! All three pigs ran inside the third pig's house.

They slammed the door shut, whipped three two-by-four bars into place to keep it closed and pushed the upright piano against it for good measure. For a while they lay gasping and wheezing on the floor, until the first pig said, "Whew! This calls for a drink!"

The second pig said, "Put on some dance music! We've got nothing to worry about now."

The third pig, whose house it was, said, "Sorry fellas. I've been so busy building my house that I haven't had time to stock up the house bar or get any records yet."

The second pig groaned. The first pig asked for an alka-seltzer.

Meanwhile, the wolf had arrived outside. He was tired and very very hungry and he was also very annoyed, even though he had managed to pick up a three-pig-pot and a five-litre bomb of camping gas along the way.

He stood in the yard and looked at the house. He squeezed he eyes tight shut and opened them again. It didn't make any difference. He had never been so angry in his life. He shouted, "It's not fair! This is not the same fairy tale! This is not a brick house!"

The third pig's house was made out of stone.

When there were lots of wolves in Europe, people made their houses out of stone.

This was a lot of work to do. There were and are two advantages to it; wolves can't blow down stone houses, and New stone, old stone stone houses are so over-built, they never fall down. That's why there are old stone houses in Europe today, and hardly any wolves.

Where new, fresh stone meets some very old stone.

After Europeans built all their stone houses, they had enough left over to build stone sidewalks and roads. For a while they built stone walls around their houses too; but this practice died out when Europeans found out how to blow things to smithereens with explosives.

For some reason there still is a lot of unused stone left in Europe and for some reason, Europeans are still building things out of stone.

Oh, they build thing out of cheap hollow bricks, and fill up the insides of their houses with cheap hollow walls covered with thin layers of plackoplaster, and they dump cheap asphalt on their roads - sometimes on top of stone! - and when Europeans splurge a bit on building, they might use a little reinforced concrete. But if the wolf comes along with a 155 mm tank and pops off a couple of armor-piercing rounds at a building made of this, it will look like the wolf has been taking bites out of it as if it were cheese.

The other day, without warning, the main street of the village where I live was blocked off, and all sorts of equipment was moved in. The asphalt paving was torn up and carted away. Then very big trucks showed up with huge wooden crates - full of stone, cut into cubes.

Local residents were somewhat surprised at this activity; and the three local merchants on this bit of street were a bit more than surprised.

To get to them, you have to climb over the rubble of what once was a perfectly good paved street and you have to dodge this heavy machinery which is moving around. It is a bit like a war zone.

One of the businesses affected is the bar-café-tabac-loto - the village's cultural centre, in other words. If you arrive at it in one piece, you can feel like you've been extra brave. On leaving, you have to take extra care, because the first step down is a bit further than usual on account of the disappeared sidewalk. A felt-tip sign hanging over the bar says, "Thanks for risking your life to get here!"

In the bar, the customers are talking about the yuppification of the village. I have noticed that the plumbing outfit has been replaced by a third real estate dealer; making this branch of commerce the leading one in the village, unless you consider the post office to be a bank too; which would make three of them too. But only the supermarket has a cash machine; even if it is broken or out of money half the time.

There is another business I forgot. It is the church. The pavement stone-laying has started and it was begun on the side of the road closest to the church. It has now advanced to the little square directly in front of the church - which placing stone by hand is not, strictly speaking, part of the village street. Meanwhile the other side of the street, and all of it beyond the church's little square, is being left for last.

There are more cubes of stone to place than in the average 5000-piece picture puzzle.

Each stone is placed individually by hand, to form arched patterns. I watched them do this today, without being able to figure out how they do it. The fellows doing it seem to have no more tools other than their hands and a couple of pieces of string. They have a tiny van with a loud radio turned on, but this doesn't seem to be a core part of stone laying.

One of my neighbors, who has a stone house, told me that concrete will be poured over the blocks, and then wiped off so it just remains in the cracks. Older, bigger stone blocks, like the ones in the Cour Carrée at the Louvre, have a mixture of mostly sand and a little concrete, and rain hardens it - although it always remains easy to take up again.

The two fellows doing our job also did the rue Montorgueil in Paris, and a lot of other places I know. They have a lot more to do too; they have enough work for the next 500 years.

Nevertheless, in the village we remain confused. Nobody is rich enough to be a yuppie anymore. The patron of the bar is not thinking of upgrading it into the Hollywood Lounge and Grill. The flower lady is seriously inconvenienced; and I don't know where the lady who lives across from the bar parks her car.

Finally, there have been no wolf warnings lately. That leaves the church. Is it possible our new wolf-proof street is a gift from the Vatican?

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