Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Auntie Get yer Gun

There is something you may not know about Auntie.  She loves to shoot guns.  Not to kill anything or anyone, mind you, but just for fun.  Pistols, rifles, air guns, whatever I can pick up and aim at a target is my idea of a good time.

When I was a girl I'd spend sunny summer afternoons in the fields surrounding our house shooting air rifles with the tomboy tolerant boys in the neighbourhood.  Most of what we shot at were old bottles with the occasional milkweed pod or tree thrown in and I was quite good at it.  The moment I shattered my first bottle with a single shot, I was hooked.

Last year while I was shooting targets at a game at the Monaco fair, hoping to win a lovely Hello Kitty mug, a friendly woman with her young daughter in tow picked up a rifle and started shooting targets beside me.  After 5 shots we both stopped to examine our handiwork.  "You're a good shot" she said to me to which I replied, "you are too!"

Then she asked me if I was a member of Monaco's shooting range. "Shooting range?" I replied.  I could hardly believe my ears.  Monaco had a shooting range?  Wow.  This could be my opportunity to learn how to shoot a pistol properly.

After a bit of research all systems were go.  Monaco's Stand de tir or shooting range, was founded in 1912 and is located in the neighbourhood called Fontvielle in La Carabine de Monaco, or Monaco's Gun Club. Most of the club's 4,000 square metres, a luxurious amount of space by Monaco's standards, is taken up with shooting ranges for anything from a 10 metre pistol (this is where Auntie shoots) to large calibre weapons that are used by the police, hunters and competitive shooters.  In fact it's where the police go to practice.

As it turns out, in order to join the Gun Club you need to be over 18 or have parental permission if you're not, fill in some forms, have your photo taken, pay a fee and then visit a doctor to get a medical certificate.  Getting the medical certificate didn't go quite as planned...

I thought that visiting the doctor would be just a formality, he'd look at me, ask a few questions to make sure I wasn't a nut case and then sign some papers.  Nope.  Instead, he and his nurse put me through a basic medical check-up that included blood pressure, an eye test, weight, height, and balance tests, an ear, nose and throat exam, a neurological exam and an EKG.  It must have been a slow day.

I didn't really mind all the poking and prodding but if I'd known, I would have come prepared and worn my best underwear.  Aside from that, I can definitely say that the medical exam was worth it because it was free and I found out I was in perfect health!  The big pay-off?  I left his office, certificate in hand.

If you've never shot at targets before, I can describe what it's like:  soothing and invigorating at the same time and it's the difference between the two that makes it so difficult to do well.  Just when you think you're doing fine, poppity - popping your targets with a steady hand, slowly the adrenalin kicks in and your hand starts to wobble, your eyes blur and your concentration unwinds.  When this happens, it's time to put down your pistol, take some deep breaths, retract your target and call it a day.  Overcoming the effects of the adrenalin is where the mastery comes in.

To quote my patient and Zen-like shooting teacher, Monsieur Jean, "Madame, you need to slow down, clear your mind, slowly release the trigger and the bullet will find the target by itself."  Well that sounds easy!

Practice makes perfect as they say and Auntie plans to practice as much as she can.

Who knows?  Maybe if I get good enough I can be in the 2012 London Olympics.

In the meantime, I'm thinking of all the stuff I can win at the fair!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Keepin' it Clean Part II. Poop et Scoop? Mais Non!

We know it was you!

It's one of those great French mysteries and it has not escaped the notice of anyone visiting France, especially for the first time.

No, it's not how the French eat croissants for breakfast and meat smothered in heavy sauces for dinner but still remain thin.  No, it's more mysterious than that.  It's why they leave dog poop everywhere.  Yes, dear readers, poop. As you can see,  Auntie is not afraid to tackle the big, stinky issues.
Imagine if you will, a fine and sunny day.  You decide to take a walk to look around and maybe do a bit of shopping.  One minute you're enjoying the view, merrily skipping along and then the next minute, SPLAT, SQUISH and PEW!  Your pretty shoe is covered in stinky brown dog poop.  So much for your good mood.

Everywhere you go in France it seems, you have to keep one eye on the ground at all times.  After a while it becomes a reflex but if you've just returned from a trip from somewhere where there's no dog poop and you're out of practice it's particularly perilous.  Trust Auntie on this.  Don't ask.

Free Poop bags!
For whatever reason, a lot of people in France own dogs and many of them love to leave their dog's poop wherever they want.  According to the Société Protectrice des Animaux,  the French own about 8.8 million dogs who each poop an average of 220 pounds a year each.  Uncle Jim did some calculations for me: annually, these 8.8 million dogs produce 19 million pounds of poop and that's enough to fill all the galleries in the Louvre almost 5 feet deep with poop.  That's high enough to reach the Mona Lisa's chin!

In Menton the poop situation is especially grim.  I once read in a guide book that half the residents of Menton were seniors, the other half were poodles and that's not so far from the truth!  In fact, there is such a poop problem in Menton that they have a special fleet of motorcycles that are customized for sucking up dog poop.  We call them the "Poop Patrol."

Here's how they work.  When a Poop Patroller spots dog poop, he pulls over, lifts a long, wide tube that's attached to a reservoir at the back of his motorcycle and places it on top of the poop.  After a few seconds, there's a grinding noise, a sucking noise, a bubbling noise, et voila! The poop is now safely contained in the reservoir and off he goes to the next pile of poop.   You always know when they've been on the job.  All that's left of the poop is a perfumed soap bubble.

"Woof!  Clean up for me - I can't do it for you."

Poop isn't just stinky and annoying but it's dangerous too.  One gram can contain 23 million fecal E.coli bacteria and numerous deadly pathogens such as campylobacter that can be passed on to humans.  It's enough to make you stay indoors.

Despite all the signs and fines and free poop bags, many French dog owners continue to leave poop all over the place and we'll never know what goes on in the minds of those knuckle-headed dog owners.  In the meantime Uncle Jim and I and our friends all take our shoes off at the front door, just to be sure.

Thank goodness the French don't keep pet horses!