When you’ve lived with someone for nearly 30 years, you know what the flash points are. Usually, you can see the risk of fire when there’s just a tiny ember. Depending on your mood, you bring out the fire blanket of patience, compassion and compromise. Or you throw on buckets of hot oil in a frenzy of frustration and selfishness. Personally, I find the hot oil only ever flows when I’m tired, which makes a good night’s sleep a crucial factor in an enduring, happy marriage.
There are a thousand things that show up the tiny differences between people. The more you know someone, the subtler they become. Last week, I tugged on the cable for a VeloBleu city bike and it came free, without actually registering that I had released it. Some poor soul hadn’t made sure it was fixed back into the bike station, so they’re were likely being charged for it. If I had been on my own, I would have bunged the cable back in and taken one of the bikes I was officially permitted to take. But, I was with Joel. Grab it, he said! So I did. Each time you check out a bike, you get a lock combination. I never bother looking, as I check bikes back in to the stations when I finish with them. But Joel memorised the lock code.
It’s been making me feel immoral for several days now. He’s been riding his “stolen” bike around as if it were his own, locking it against railings under the palm tree here at home, storing it in the cave at the restaurant, finding little slots for it all over town. It’s been convenient – we ride it together, me on the seat and him standing on the pedals, too fast downhill on our steep Avenue Caravadossi, which saves a few minutes, and even makes the local teenagers lounging around on the benches smile.
In the interests of a good marriage, I try to understand his point of view. Yup, the cable came free in my hand, so it’s not actually stolen. Yup, the system is at fault, so why not take advantage? Yup, we have no responsibility to the previous rider if he/she didn’t follow the rules and ensure his/her bike was locked in… But I fret about the spirit of the law, the Zen of the VeloBleu: if we abuse a virtually free system of transport, aren’t we just… barbarians?
Huge sighs of disgust from Joel, raising of eyebrows, drumming of fingers, rolling of eyes.
So it was with a gleeful sense of self-righteousness that today I witnessed the bike-catcher swoop in. The restaurant is closed on Mondays, but Joel and I were inside, dark and quiet, customer-free, at lunchtime. We were a bit sweaty and grubby, eating a soft little tomato sandwich because one of my fillings has fallen out and that’s the best I can do till I go to the dentist. We were admiring our morning’s handiwork beyond the doors, scrubbing and re-wrapping the orange scaffolding covers outside the restaurant.
The scaffolding covers: another little flashpoint. In Nice, scaffolding is a way of life. Our building (also the police HQ and owned by La Ville de Nice) is historic. It was built in 1906 by a renowned local architect, Charles Dalmas (whose transvestite-showgirl grandson, now in his 70s, is a regular customer, but that’s another story.) The grand refurbishment of the centre of Nice went a bit awry, in that bits of the plasterwork on the Belle Epoque buildings flopped off, killing one or two innocent passersby. It hasn’t become a regular occurrence, thank goodness, but even one or two mishaps of that caliber were enough for the town authorities to cover their asses, or façades in this case, with protective netting. The scaffolding poles on ground level are all covered with orange PVC tubes, and secured with orange tape. It’s ugly, and when it’s been around for a while, through hot sun, a cold winter, rain, time and dog pee, it’s seriously ugly. Getting the town of Nice to come and give us nice new clean ones is just not a bureaucratic possibility – not for a few decades, at least. I’ve been on Joel’s case about the orange covers for a while – they’re not photogenic, apart from anything else, and how can we ever get around to doing a website if we can’t take nice pictures? I think sometimes people have thought I’m being neurotic about them, so I’ve been working quietly – patient fire blankets as opposed to spraying hot oil…At last, we all had to admit that the town wasn’t going to change them and that buying new ones was too mysterious. So it was cleaning them and binding them up ourselves. It’s not easy scrubbing orange corrugated plastic poles while constantly being stopped for a chat, a kiss, criticism, someone asking for directions, but eventually we made it look marginally better.
All the while Joel’s stolen VeloBleu sat tied to a lamp-post. But then a little VeloBleu truck arrived. We sat stock-still. I think Joel’s heart beat a little harder than usual. Did they know he was inside? The bicycle thief himself? We’d never noticed a little truck like that before – like a dog-catcher, only the bike-catcher doesn’t have to use a net. Joel and I watched from the dark inside the restaurant – the closed glass doors are like mirrors from the outside.
I was delighted, thrilled, happy, laughing. I laughed so freely I made myself laugh even more, watching the bike-catcher call someone on his mobile to check the bike number, then grab the bike and stuff it, without it biting or barking, onto the back of his little mini-truck. Joel could only sit there and look sheepish – he had to let, without comment, the bike-catcher take his bike because HE WAS IN THE WRONG, and he knew it… Jeez, how satisfied and smug was I?
Joel is pretty good at recognising the flash points, too – those subtle differences that need to be overcome. Instead of being sulky and pig-headed, he just let me whoop.