Friday, June 14, 2013

L’Affaire du Basilic Volé - a serialized account of a true story: Chapter 1

At 3 a.m. this morning, I awoke to the sound of male voices traipsing down the street outside my studio apartment’s definitely-not-double-pained windows. Well, actually, I didn’t “awoke,” to be honest. My incurably-night-owl self was still awake, but I was at least atop my pulled-out futon, reading and nearly ready to extinguish the little Ikea halogen desk lamp beside my bed-couch. My eyes might have even slowly dipped almost-closed a time or two by this point.

When I heard the voices, I glanced protectively at the three potted herbs dozing on my foot-deep windowsill. You see, I’ve become quite mother-hen-ish about my two Basils (not twins, they were born on different weeks) and my cute little Persil (that would be parsley for you non-francophones). So these days, pretty much any time I hear voices (real ones, not those inside-your-head ones) I drop what I’m doing and rush to the window. Which means I do a lot of rushing because one of the few imperfections of my ever-so-lovely (vraiment! really! no sarcasm here! it's a great apartment!) appartement is that it’s rather noisy up in these parts.

Unknown to me when I happily signed my lease is that Rue Cancel, on which my rez-de-chaussée (ground floor) windows look, is the exit street for one of the underground parking lots in my quaint French town. Thus, lots of traffic—not by New York City standards, of course, but lots of traffic by the standards of a town constructed of little rabbit warren streets that were inhabited by Romans (like the Julius Caesar kind) before anyone had even imagined a diesel engine—makes its way by my windows, sometimes creating awful scraping noises as lorries scratch up the old buildings while making the very tight right turn from Rue Cancel onto Rue du Bon Pasteur. If one chose to, one could spend his/her entire Aix-en-Provence life standing in open-mouthed amazement over the feats of physics accomplished by large vehicles traversing tiny roads. (But this would not be advised because there are lots of pigeons here, and they have the freedom to let fly wherever they please.)

This particular hair-pin corner is also the corner where The Wohoo resides. Which is another source of the noises in my head apartment. You see, I always know it’s 2 a.m. (the later edge of my usual bedtime) when I hear the sometimes rather raucous ruckus passing my windows as people leave The Wohoo, a genial bar that particularly markets itself to the expat student crowd and anyone who wants to be friends with them.

But it’s not just 2 a.m. that fills my apartment with voices. No matter the time of day, when people talk in the street anywhere near my windows, I can hear every word of it as clearly as if they were indoors. It’s quite the multi-lingual conversation: mostly French or English, but sometimes German, sometimes Spanish and maybe some Arabic or Dutch too.

So back to 3 a.m. this morning. After my furtive glance at the Basils and Persil, my eyes had returned to my reading when I slowly realized there was a percussive sound joining the quartet of male voices. It was one slow sustained scraping note, akin to sandpaper. By the time it registered enough for me to bound across the room (this sounds much more dramatic than it really is when there’s only about 1.5 feet of floor space between the window and the end of the opened-up futon), the scraping had stopped. But one glance through my sheer curtains told me that this time I had been within seconds of finally catching the Basil Bandit turned Persil Snatcher.

To Be Continued...