A Ranch Holiday

photo: signs for folie and ragonant

One of the few crossroads in Essonne with no 'Other Directions' option.

With a Cat Named Tiger

Paris:- Monday, 12. August 2002:- When I was offered the chance to house-sit the Cadillac Ranch I willingly accepted the job, thinking that it could be good to get out of Paris like everybody else and have a real holiday, if only for a week - and not the regulation five weeks we Europeans are supposed to enjoy.

Well, actually, I don't think many Europeans do this any more. At least in France, with the 35-hour work week that is the norm for some, long holidays have been replaced by a host of multiple shorter ones.

Added to all of the year's the long weekends, practically everybody except the homeless, the unemployed, the poverty-stricken, unlucky people sitting in jails or lying around in hospitals - practically everyone is always nearly 'on holiday' or in traffic jams to and from them.

This is especially true in the first two weeks of August. July's two-day heatwave in Paris fired up my imagination about the possible pleasures of house-sitting at the Cadillac Ranch even though by Texas standards it is not a big spread, and its only livestock is a cat named Tiger.

Now that the 'cat is out of the bag' as it were, the other thing I agreed to take care of was the server-lady's email. Oh, I thought, this will be like nothing at all - a really small price to pay for a week nearly out in the country under clean, hot skies and smog-free starry nights.

It is true. I actually thought I would spend part of each warm night lying on my back out on the grass, staring up at the stars while the earth slowly rotated, or the stars rotated, or whatever happens when it is possible to actually see stars.

The day all of this started was not promising. By the time I arrived at the last station of the RER's 'B' linephoto: two tone summer sky at Saint-Rémy, it was drizzling. By the time Linda the server-lady was ready to drive me out of the valley and up through the forest, it was a proper gusher of a downpour.

On the first day of my holiday at the ranch - this sky!

In a way, this wasn't too bad because she had to explain the email business to me. She rattled off all the details in two hours, and then handed me eight pages of written instructions, complete with about a dozen emergency phone numbers.

The downpour had lessened somewhat, so the next part involved the ranch watering instructions. I don't know if many of you have ranches that need to be watered, but you can probably guess the instructions for doing it - even a half hour after a downpour - can be somewhat complicated, if the ranch has a mixture of valuable vegetation, inside and out.

To give you an idea, there was even a pond that required watering. It was one of these 'back-to-nature' things and watering it was necessary to keep nature from taking over and choking it to death.

The other stuff was pretty straightforward and didn't actually require written instructions, but a good memory would have helped. For example, garbage is now sorted in France - even ranch garbage! - and of course I got the days for putting out different sorts of trash all wrong.

But it was 'right' enough to disappear. This surprised me, because I hardly expected the garbage collectors to be on the job. In fact I never heard or saw them, so maybe wolves did it.

The easiest ranch-sitting instructions concerned Tiger the cat. All Tiger required was half a can of catfood - you canphoto: flowers imagine what this might be in France I bet. Besides the canned gourmet stuff, Tiger also required some fairly ordinary grainy cribbles out of giant sacks. For the rest, Tiger had cat doors for going in and out and inviting friends in, so Tiger was pretty independent, with being able to self-water and all.

These 'fleurs' must of had their own micro-climate.

The final warning was about the email INbox. If left alone, it could fill up and choke the entire operational part of the ranch. I repeated to myself ten times, 'don't let the email INbox get too full.'

Once the server-lady got away, five hours later, it was time to drive ten kilometres to the nearest ultra-gigantic hypermarché to get some food, such as melons. To do this I had brought my special driving glasses, but I found they interfered with my vision. After several wrong turns I quit using them.

Now I want all readers to pay attention carefully. In the middle of August out in the apparently deserted countryside late on Saturday, do not be surprised to find that this is the time when everybody who is left behind, decides to go to the hypermarché.

To do their weekly shopping. Since they are all doing it at once, they bring their kids because the babysitters are shopping too. Yes, it is prime family time at the hypermarché.

I guess it might be normal for the regular customers living in the semi-countryside. I remember taking a wrong turn and accidently driving through Orléans once about the same time of summer on a Saturday about the same time, and wondering why there was a huge traffic jam on a road apparently lined with furniture warehouses.

Adding to the overall jungle effect of this hypermarché was the fact that it had no direction signs hanging up in the air above everything. I had to steer an oversized heavyduty shopping cart around the whole thing, aisle by aisle, at least three times.

Metal foil, perhaps for barbeque use, was two kilometres away from other kitchen supplies, in a plates and pots area - pointed out to me by hypermarché employees who drew a map because they had never been 'way down there' and weren't anxious to leave the safety of their info post.

And sure enough - all shoppers tried to check out all of their purchases at the same time, some with two buggies full of it. When my turn came my surprise was complete when the cashier told me some items needed weighing. The forty other shoppers waiting in line behind did not look amused.

Neither was I. Where did the stuff come from? By the time I got back several kids were asleep on the floor, somewhat to the relief of their parents or guardians or owners.

The next surprise was bagging all my purchases myself in these itty little-bitty plastic sacks, suitable for a nickel-and-dime candy store. Then with the check-out cleared, it was back in to get the forgotten 'extras.' Some of them stayed forgotten. Whew!

Rattled beyond endurance, by pure chance I made no wrong turns getting back to the ranch. There, thephoto: red wine thousand little sacks full of shopping were carried inside, instead of being cycled right into the garbage which is what I really felt like doing.

Absolutely fake colors - of a glass of utterly fake wine.

And then, without taking a pause, I did the first installment of the email chore. All this involved was about ten times the volume of spam that I'm used to. I followed instructions - this type into this mailbox, that type into another, and all the rest into the trash. After this there wasn't much else to do but pass out. I didn't see any stars.

Next morning I didn't see any sunshine either. Thermometres said it was 18 inside and 19 outside or the other way around. Even in France it is still the 'old' country, with Middle-Ages' temperatures. I did the email again and junked 478 items of spam in 45 minutes.

Then, after watering the pond and other items of vegetation, because it looked like it wasn't going to get out of mid-March by mid-afternoon, I decided to do some sight-seeing and saw the ranch's first cows - about seven kilometres away grazing on Saint-Rémy's soccer field.

Further afield, kind of keeping an eye open for the picturesque Château Breteuil, I arrived in Dampierre. This place has a château too, but I had seen it before, from a safe distance. Dampierre's other remarkable sights were an open boulangerie and a partly-open café, and I had one of both - before making a second try at finding the two-star attraction of the walk beside the Yvette river in Chevreuse.

With considerable navigational skill I actually found Chevreuse, and toured its centre five times in the car. This wasn't intentional - it is one of these quaint French towns with a built-in endless loop. If you don't take the turn-off for 'Other Directions' you stay in it more or less forever.

No matter where you may be driving in France, if you are going somewhere without seeming to get there, always take the 'Other Directions' option. Chevreuse may be charming, but its gas stations are closed in August and if you run out of gas doing the looping, you'll find getting to 'Other Directions' can take a long time on foot.

Back at the ranch, I did the email again and trashed another 478 items in 45 minutes. Throughout the first email session, the 'tour' and the second email session, Tiger slept on, lulled by the endless gentle whir of hard disks. After the evening's entertainment of doing the email a third time, I went around turning off lights that wouldn't turn off.

Instead, a garage door was mysteriously opened. By turning the lights off again, it closed but thephoto: sign, la vacheresse lights stayed on. I went outside and looked up - and there were stars in the sky - along with winking aircraft leaving Orly. This turned out to be my total sight of the heralded 'Nuit des Etoiles.'

There were nearby cows, hiding somewhere from the rain.

A few days later the sun started shining between the clouds and it got warm enough to be outside while watering the pond and wondering why some plants looked like they were dying of thirst despite the light falls of rain every half hour.

I am not proud to say I accomplished another little chore which amounted to fixing one graphic and making four tiny new ones, because it took exactly six days to get it done. While working on this part time I also did the emails, which amounted to 478 items every time, of which 95 percent were always trashy spam.

Which proves I guess, that the proverbial 500 monkeys in a room with 500 typewriters, are really busy if nothing else.

On other tours in the car I never did find the Château Breteuil - and it is only two bird-flight kilometres from the ranch - but I did find a direction sign pointing vaguely towards Folie. Needless to say, I chose to go to 'Other Directions' instead.

After a few days this was really working well and 'Other Directions' got me to Gif, downtown Saint-Rémy, the crossroads littered with restaurantsphoto: cadillac ranch called Cerny-la-Ville and the minor metropolis of Limours which is well-known for its original Postes and Télégraphes building. I remember Limours especially well as the place I only looped twice.

Having the camera ever ready, got a photo like this.

I cannot leave this without mentioning the pool. I had been thinking a lot about this before I got to the Cadillac Ranch, but conditions mainly required that it be covered with a blanket at night and uncovered in the morning, with the faint hope of keeping its water from getting solid.

There is a submarine machine named Ernie in the pool, and he goes around on its bottom endlessly keeping things tidy. Another one of the ranch's operating instructions was not to let Ernie get hung up on some knob in the middle of the bottom, and I pretty well remembered to do this.

The pool had a floating thermometre in it - Ernie's girlfriend? - and this actually indicated 25 degrees at one time. After it showed this for a day or two I decided to try it out its waters, but I think the thermometre might have been exaggerating more than a little bit. At least, now I can say I got wet all over once this 'summer.'

On the last day I looked into the pool and Ernie had definitely stopped his rounds. Jiggling his hose didn't do anything to wake him up. Under the blanket he probably got stuck on the knob thing and overdosed by falling into an ever-narrowing spiral loop. The server-lady should put an 'Other Directions' sign down there.

And in the computer room, one of the machines I wasn't supposed to touch, was playingphoto: pool shadow channel two TV-sports news to itself. I went downstairs to see if the garage door was acting up too, but it wasn't - or it was simply biding its time.

I downloaded the new batch of 478 junk emails for the 19th time in six days, and left it hoping it would be okay. But of course it blitzed itself too as soon as my back was turned. If the garage door turned ugly I haven't heard about it yet.

Just to show you that the pool really had blue water in it.

My only successes with house-sitting at the Cadillac Ranch were keeping Tiger company, getting rid of the garbage, watering the pool and getting the DVD player to show movies in something other than Siberian with French subtitles.

In Paris it had just finished drizzling when I got back from the provinces and my apartment's temperature was an unchanged 17 degrees, and when I got around to it I downloaded my own 365 emails and their 5.8 megatonbits of attachments.

And, of course, Paris' second two-day summer heatwave has come along three days later.

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