Tuesday, November 3, 2009

gross bisons

So apparently people want to know about the gross bisons, why they're gross, and why i'm talking about them.

To all these people, i have this to say:
Write it, really fast, and see what you get

its like this. Several years ago, i lived next to a friend called Emmanuel... well, in the interest of truth i would have to say that i lived over him, and my footsteps, and taste in music plagued him for a year, but well, we basically lived in each other's pockets. It was great.

Emmanuel had the most amazingly neat and well organized house, so after i'd succeeded in reducing my own house to the pigsty that was its natural state, i'd go hang out at his. Now, his mother, in France, sent him lots of very pretty postcards, which would be kept on his dining table, until he got around to organizing them, putting them up etc. So i would sit at this table and talk with him, and occasionally look at these postcards in fascination.

The pictures were always beautiful (they were usually pictures of the french countryside, around the areas Emmanuel grew up, and where his mother still lived), but it wasn't really the pictures i was interested in. It was the writing, which was in french, and so almost completely alien to me. There's something truly fascinating about handwriting in another language, its like a code that is lost on you. And Emmanuel did not mind my fiddling with the cards, so this became something i'd do whenever i visited him.

The only thing that mystified me was the signature line on most of these cards. It seemed like his mother always mentioned the gross bisons before she signed off.

This was somewhat surprising to me. But i am urban after all, and i grew up in a largely brick and concrete area in South Kolkata. What did i know about bisons, gross or otherwise? Perhaps cows or other bovine livestock were called bisons in french? perhaps they were getting into a garden of some sort, where they had no business? perhaps they were very dirty? I mean, who knows? What i saw in the postcards was this verdant green countryside, in Europe. A world so entirely different from any i had known that it was unwise, in my mind, to be surprised by anything that may be ordinary in that world.

But still, the meaning of the recurrent and apparently filthy bisons continued to elude me, and in the consistent nature of unsolved mysteries, haunted the margins of my imagination. So one day, i asked Emmanuel. And i report on my memory of this conversation, which took place almost half a decade ago.

Me: so, sweetie, what are these gross bisons?

E: Which ones? aren't bisons extinct in North America? (very well informed boy, this)

Me: No, not here, the ones your mum keeps talking about

E: My mum keeps talking about bisons? How do you know? (His mum speaks only French)

Me: (quite embarrassed now, wishing i hadn't started this, but still plagued by the bison mystery) In the postcards

E: (clearly totally confused) My mum talks about bisons in the postcards? which ones?

So I pick up a representative bison signature and take it to where he is standing, at the stove.

He took one look at it and laughed for about ten minutes, really hard. His face went red. I stood there, postcard in hand, feeling, well, very stupid. Then he could finally speak, still choking

E: Thats french, debo, its not 'gross bisons'. its 'gros bisous'

Me: (unwilling to commit any further) um

E: It means many kisses. She's my mum, see, so thats how she signs off. Its not cows. You're such an idiot (informed, as i said)

Me: hm. I see. ok, that makes more sense. (Quickly diverting topic) Do you have anything i can eat?

E: (unwilling to let this go) You thought my mum was signing off about bisons? Really, debo.

Me. um. food?

And thats the story of the gross bisons:)

BTW this ones for Emmanuel, who i haven't seen in WAY too long. E, gross bisons to you.


Sujoy said...

Ah yes those days at South Chauncey Avenue...cooking food and playing horrible jazz guitar with the real book open...I do miss them sometimes. It was a different time in our lives

Beq said...

Timing is everything

Anonymous said...

I really want you to now visit your South American friends...will make for a interesting post....enjoyed this one much!

Sue said...

Since I do follow French a little, it was at this point

It seemed like his mother always mentioned the gross bisons before she signed off.

that I sighed very, very deeply.

Emmanuel said...

I'm very honored. South Chauncey, Fleischauer apartments...Debo always put too much spinach or collard greens in the stir fries we made, so it took a lonnngg time and I would get very impatient. But then we'd eat and I'd calm down and feel like an idiot for getting impatient.