AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France - At first I thought it was a massive dog.
After all, to the Aixois, a pooch is almost as necessary an accessory as the ubiquitous French scarf; it was far from unlikely that some huge pup had been let off its leash to amble around the Parc Jourdan.
It was when I heard the clicking of hooves that everything got a bit surreal.
I stopped for a moment, mainly out of confusion, and watched as what appeared to be a big, dirty pig trotted contentedly past me, through an empty fountain and up a flight of stairs.
Desperate to make sense of whatever had just happened – a pig coming from chic, expensive and farm-free downtown Aix? – I looked around for someone eccentric enough to own something as exotic as a domesticated pig.
What I saw instead were two bicycling policemen in close pursuit.
My instinct said to follow them, but my reason said no – I was already running late for a language exchange. So I continued on my way out of the park, passing and giving a “what the hell?” look to a guy on a bench, who just laughed and shrugged.
In all my bewilderment, though, I had faith – faith that the French newspapers readers love so dearly would clue me in on whatever the hell had just happened.
That night, in my impatience, I went to the Web site of La Provence, the regional newspaper, and learned two things.
First of all, the reporter promised, full details would be divulged in the next day’s paper.
Secondly, the animal I’d seen in the park had, in fact, been a wild boar.
My mind raced with questions that could not wait for the next day’s precious print edition. Wild boars exist outside “Robin Hood: Men in Tights?” And how did one get in the middle of Aix-en-Provence?
The next day, I dished out my 90 centimes and bought La Provence, complete with a cover photo of a group of policemen standing in a semicircle around a dead, bloody wild boar.
And here I thought posing in journalistic photos was a no-no. But hey, I’m not a photographer – what do I know? And anyway, I was in it for the story.
Man alive, did the story let me down.
Its analysis can be basically summed up as thus: “Hey – crazy, wild boars shouldn’t be in downtown Aix! Weird amirite?!”
But it wasn’t my first disillusionment with the French press. It wasn’t even my first of the week.
Much to the chagrin (and annoyance) of the multitudes of college students in Aix, the sale of alcohol past 9 p.m. is, as of last weekend, prohibited.
La Provence ran its first story on the decree the day after it went into effect – with no explanation of why Aix lawmakers decided to implement the purely municipal
I do acknowledge the possibility that this all boils down to nothing but my own intolerance of (and lack of ability to identify) a cultural difference.
But as someone who spent 20 hours a week in a newsroom last semester, well, I’m strangely all right with my inability to tolerate it.