Chapter 6: Dreams of Guadeloupe
And that is precisely why I am such a difficult person to please. Remember from Guadeloupe, how badly I needed to get out of there? Remember the frustration? All I talked about was how much I missed having seasons, how nice it would be to snuggle up into a sweater, maybe drink some hot cider... Well let me tell you, I got my seasons and no, thank you. Sweaters don't help when your fingers are snapping off from the cold, do they, Kathryn? Oh, how I dream of the beach in Deshaies, the sun burning my scalp raw, the sand scorching the backs of my legs... paradise. And it's only November! This is nothing! Who knew I was such a wimp? (Let's tell it like it is, we all knew. We've known for a long time.)
Tuesday was an irritating day for me, would you like to know why? It wasn't so much from getting up early or miserably washing my hair in the freezing cold bathroom, nor was it from missing my bus and having to run up the hill to make it before the bell. It was from doing all this for nothing, as my first class was cancelled -- they don't have a supply teacher, but put the kids in a baby-sitting room, bizarrely called "permanence," for the period -- and I had to kill two and a half hours in the staff room that smells of stale cigarettes because the door to the smoking room is always open. (Oh, you read right: there is a smoking room in each school.)
It would have been alright if there were someone to complain to, but the whole staff was grumpy and grumbly because there's been some kind of change in the parent-teacher nights and they each have to come in three times; the school was collectively pissed off. They were too busy feeling hard-done-by on their own accounts to have sympathy for mine. (Mine was mostly based on the theme of "why in hell can't they call me when it's cancelled?" and as I don't think that's ever going to happen, there's no point getting worked up about it.)
Fortunately for me, I don't have to get involved in any staff room anger because I understand very little of what they're all saying; conversations are in teacher-speak and I'm up on neither the vocabulary nor the context. They also tend to go a little wild with the local colouring, changing accents and doing impressions, so that someone will speak directly to me and I will have absolutely no idea what to answer. Or, most often, someone will tease me and I won't realize until it's too late and I've already smiled my assent like some idiot. My new system: read an English book in the corner and look generally inaccessible, as politeness evidently gets you nowhere.
I understand the riot action is getting dramatized international coverage, so for anyone who's worried, it has nothing to do with me. Not least because they're targeting the "bourgeoisie" and I live in a poor, kind of crappy neighbourhood; the rioters are my neighbours, essentially, and I don't see them setting fires to their own property any time soon. They're also doing a lot of damage in the downtown area at night, and since I don't go out, I am safe from danger. When some young hooligan sets fire to my couch, then I might need to rethink my strategy.
Because it's France, the riots coincided with the strikes of several major newspapers -- most events coincide with some kind of strike; this was just an unfortunate pairing -- so there was little information for the first week or so. (I heard about the whole thing from Bronwyn, who is in Toronto.) This means that when the public transportation system started shutting down at 6:00 p.m. for security reasons, nobody actually knew about it.
I was at a colleague's house after school to pick up the tv she's lending me for the year, so after standing at the bus stop for 45 minutes (someone passing by finally told me there were no more buses), I found myself walking down into town, carrying the heavy tv and my school bags. I eventually wimped out -- I was freezing and the straps were cutting into my hands; don't judge me -- and joined the 25-person line-up for a taxi. (Not an exaggeration.) When it was finally my turn, the driver who pulled up wouldn't take me because the roads were all blocked in my direction. He took a couple who were far back in the line-up, so everyone was angry and told me to hold strong, jump in the next taxi and refuse to get out. And, indeed, the next driver was adorable and we chatted the whole epic ride home. He said that my route was no more blocked than any other in the city and that they're not allowed to refuse customers and the guy was just a creep. I said "yeah, he's just a creep" and we high-fived.
As for the tv, the new joy of our lives – uh-oh! How quickly we lose sight of the concepts of exercise and fresh air when the travel channel is doing a special on the Greek Isles! At first we only had three channels, which generally included the news and special reports on old men from Iceland who hang fish and then eat it raw. I had no idea there were so many volcanoes in Iceland. (Though, to be fair, all I knew about the country was that it gave us Björk; pretty much anything other than that would have to be new information.)
We watched some celebrity schmooze shows, which are even worse than the Hollywood ones, perhaps because they're so shamelessly copying: better to be the original pretentious thing than to recreate it in French. And there are "medical emergency" shows all over the place: the one I stayed and watched (it's cold out, I watched some crap tv, what can I say) has this doctor – always wearing turtlenecks – who not only treats his patients, but also investigates the crime scene and does research in the lab. Is that ridiculous or is it just me? While treating a quarantined family for a surprise outbreak of small pox, is it at all possible that the head surgeon would poke around the suspected corpse at the camp ground, trying to determine whence came this dastardly virus? Who's writing these things? Maybe it's a budget problem: they can't afford to hire a whole detective cast, so the surgeon does all the work. The result is a show so bad that you can't stop watching it; I had to be careful not to let my life slip away between terrible American-dubbed-in-French medical dramas and terrible British-dubbed-in-French who-will-be-the-heir-of-the-manor family dramas, featuring Sarah Brightman as herself and wearing some kind of crown of thorns. All very fishy.
Franck has since poked around in the television and "found more channels," which I don't understand at all but is apparently what you have to do when you first set the thing up. We have twenty-four channels, some fluke cable mistake that we're hoping will last, and there are no fewer than four travel and nature channels. It's partly depressing because they show you one beautiful place after another (I'm sorry, but have you seen Mauritius? are you aware that there are people who live in paradise?) but mostly fascinating. I can't get enough of this series on sharks, which are every bit as terrifying as the movies have led us to believe. Don't let your guard down for a minute; they even show up in rivers in New Jersey! Rivers! With sharks in them!
An English assistant from Ottawa called me to organize a soccer day and said she'd been in touch with the funny Australians -- of Hutt River Province fame, which, by the way, I think is a sham after looking at the slightly unnerving web page -- and I thought all my dreams were coming true. I picked up a frisbee and Franck and I went to meet Alexa, only to discover that everyone was away for the long week-end and we were a less-than-triumphant group of three.
We kicked the ball around for a while and then played a sort of keep-away, in which I ended up being the monkey-in-the-middle a disproportionate amount of the time. It's a good idea, this trying to get the ball away from their fancy foot work, but it mostly made me feel like a child -- presumably because I wasn't very good and ended up running hopelessly in circles. We played some frisbee to shake things up a bit (read: to calm the rage rising within me before it was too late) and to get moving, and here's my problem: while I love running around and it makes me feel energized and hearty, it makes my butt hurt. I think because there's too much jiggling going on. My legs feel fine, my feet, my heart -- how discouraging to know I'm going to have achy-butt the next day. Is this normal? Is there something I'm supposed to do, other than have a smaller butt? Is this what spandex is all about? I've heard of shin splints and sprained ankles, but this is new. My nether regions are turning out to be the big hassle in my life. (See: pants-shopping in Aix, chapter 5.)
I never told you that I didn't get the Renault Trucks job, because he specifically needed Thursday and I work all day, so that was a little disappointing but also a relief; it sounded like a lot of work and it turns out that I am: Lazy. So to make a little extra money, I've started giving private lessons. One is just an hour of conversation with a Spanish teacher from school: her English is perfect but she's shy, so my job is just to get her talking. It's pure gold.
The other one is through the American teacher I told you about: she was at a dinner for the biggest Hermès clients in the country (her boyfriend's business is involved with them) and met this couple who have an eight-year-old girl named Elise. She was in a bilingual school until she was five, and now her mother is afraid she's losing her English. Rather than wait for her to start English at school, a private tutor seems to be in order, so we colour and play "Guess Who" and do things like that. The first class was fun, as Elise thought I was the cat's ass and would do whatever I suggested. She, in turn, told me about her uncle's castle and vineyard, the family trips to Italy, la Réunion, California, Grenada, Australia and so on, her membership in her parents' golf club. Added to their stunning apartment and the Hermès dinner, I guess it's clear that I'm out of my league.
Our second lesson wasn't as much fun because she turned out to be pouty. I had a whole list of things to do and she wasn't into them, but just wanted to colour again. When I agreed to do a drawing (I smuggled some English into it), she said mine was better than hers and refused to continue -- of course mine is better, dumb-ass, I'm an adult. Um, I mean, no, little Elise, it isn't better, just different. You're a beautiful child and this lesson is a joy.
I then babysat for the American teacher, as she and her fella were going to a wedding and staying overnight. A gorgeous house that included a home theatre screen and computer, on which the girls spent hours writing badly-spelled MSN messages to eight million people; at one point I realized that the two sisters were writing to each other, one in the family room and one eight stairs down in her mom's office. I suggested it might be time to turn off the computer and play a game, which was just such a stupid idea.
The game they had was "Star Académy," the equivalent of "American Idol," and was basically about dancing and singing your way to the end of the board, one hideous number at a time. My first dance was a raging success, totally blew the girls away. (I guess I don't look like someone who has rhythm.) I thought they were just being polite but then they copied all my moves on their own turns and I realized that I was very close to becoming a household legend.
Unfortunately, I chose to dance again instead of singing on my next turn and I thought I should up the ante, rather than recycle my admittedly-limited dance repertoire. I pulled all sorts of exciting moves out of my past and was dismayed to see their expentant faces turn to confusion, disappointment, and eventually, when I let loose the Roger Rabbit, revulsion. By the time I did the use-your-leg-as-a-chicken-wing dance, they had returned to their seats and resumed playing, pretending the whole episode had never taken place. No word of it was ever mentioned again.
I made them crêpes and felt that I should insist on their eating something with protein, so we had these turkey burgers and some sweet potato casserole (reheated; who do you take me for?) and then the crêpes with too much Nutella and we all went to bed feeling like hell. It occurred to me that I have some work to do before I undertake raising a family of my own, unless I want my kids to be greasy and bloated through life. (Though there are worse fates, aren't there?)
I leave you with a funny question from one of my grade seven students. During the no-holds-barred question period, when they were asking me about pets, family, marital status and how I feel about Snoop Dogg, Lorenzo asked me: "Do you have a God?"