Chapter 8 : Sausage for Santa
I think it’s time to add a Strike of the Week segment to this series, though it’s becoming difficult to keep track. I think the interns are heading into week two, as are the train stations’ shuttle buses, and the tourism offices have been shut down since mid-November. The newest one on the table seems to be the pharmacists’ strike, which is obviously a big hassle and so is being dealt with as quickly as possible, and is also apparently completely unreasonable, as the newspapers scoffingly point out – less than a week after calling off their own strike, of course. I think it’s only a matter of time before France throws in the towel and just goes on national strike. Is that possible, for a country to go on strike? If it is then France is the country to do it.
As for exciting epiphanies in teaching, here’s what I figured out: the way to make it bearable is to play camp games in class. Oh, how I have counted the minutes through that grade nine class; how I have planned complicated excuses to keep me from having to show up… until Thursday, that is, when I said “why don’t we try a game?” and we spent forty glorious minutes chanting “this is the pen. The what? The pen. The what? The pen. Oh, the pen.” (Or, more accurately, “zis is ze pen. Ze what? Ze pen. Ze what? Ze pen. Oh, ze pen!”) It can be difficult for kids anywhere, not to mention for uptight and self-conscious 14-year-olds who have never been asked to be silly in class; their ferocious concentration as they tapped their laps and bobbed their heads, trying frantically to hang on to the rhythm, was endearing to say the
least, and I temporarily liked them again. I think next week we’ll just go and play tag, or maybe ditch school and catch a movie.
A funny moment in class: I had thrown together a Christmas crossword and was explaining some of the vocabulary and North American traditions. (Which is tricky, because I have no idea if other families do the same things that we do, having only Christmased with my own; do you all put a clementine in your stocking? Do you all eat all the chocolate right away and then feel ill throughout the day?) I told them that we leave carrots out for Rudolph and his brethren and asked what we might leave for Santa to eat. They guessed “saucisson” and were disappointed when I explained that no, we tend not to leave big, greasy sausage for our Father Christmas, but rather cookies. And what might he want to drink with those cookies? “Wine?”
And speaking of French alcoholic tendencies, on the news the other night the weather lady talked about road conditions and introduced a new idea that they’re hoping will work its way into parties and other boozy events: it’s called “capitaine de la soirée” and entails choosing someone to be in charge of driving everyone home, a person who will obviously not participate in any of the evening’s boozing. Kind of like – oh, what’s that called, already – right, a DESIGNATED DRIVER. A new concept, hot off the press? This is actually just occurring to them now, the country with the highest accident rate in Europe – are they kidding me with this?
Meanwhile, December 8th in Lyon is the Fête des Lumières, when the city is turned into a big light show, so it was disappointing to wake up to rain. Then at lunch the sun came out and everyone got excited – and then it rained again. By the time it was dark out and the thing was starting, it was kind of drizzly and got progressively wetter throughout the evening. This might have put a damper on people’s spirits if it weren’t for the traditional and plenteous stands of cheap, hot wine (sweet and with cinnamon, their boozy answer to apple cider), which kept most of the crowd in fine cheerful form.
The crowd in question was the entire city of Lyon, plus however many hundreds or thousands of people came in from neighbouring counties. It’s hard to guess how many people there actually were, since the streets are narrow and fill up pretty quickly, but we were in more human traffic jams than the most desperate people person could ask for and I am not, as it happens, a desperate people person.
Our first jam was as we wandered through the Christmas market, which Franck hadn’t yet seen. The little wooden cabins were charming as usual and the bizarre reggae-Christmas music blaring out of giant speakers made our local Guadeloupan feel slightly at home. (If only there had been palm trees, sweet mangoes and the sea sparkling around us… but I digress. I weep and I digress.)
The shuffling pace was driving me crazy, as among my other charming qualities is a “lack of patience” for walking slowly behind people and I tend to become frantic and start full-speed weaving through any openings I can find until I get to a clearing. This system worked well enough until we found ourselves in the middle of a giant throng of people, at a dead stop and being vaguely pushed from behind.
It was okay at first because we were beside the concert platform and its very earnest choir, so I was able to laugh about their dorky actions and Franck, who is not mean-spirited and tends to wish people well – the loser – was able to hum along and smile encouragingly. It was still okay when I got tired of resisting gravity and let my head rest on the back of the man in front of me, since I was being pushed in that direction, and I felt a kind of communal bond via his down jacket. When we realized that we really weren’t going anywhere, though, and my panic reflex started to settle in, it started to feel – how shall I put it? – less okay. I found that if I closed my eyes and just counted slowly, I felt a little less smothered, but that seemed like such an exaggerated reaction that I was torn between my self-mocking and my genuine and growing fear of entrapment.
The crowd eventually shuffled back to life and we worked our way out but the streets were still packed and we both felt edgy. There were some very pretty things to see, namely the windowsills of almost every single apartment, as the tradition is to put candles out and so the whole city kind of shimmers and sparkles against the dark. All the buildings along the quay, layered up against the mountain – it’s really something. The cathedral and surrounding area were also beautiful in a series of colours and special lightings with ethereal movie music blasting out over the river. (Including, at one point, the theme song from “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story,” which was somehow right on.)
Important churches had interesting and artistic lighting designs – it’s all very difficult to describe, is the thing, and the whole is much more effective than its parts, because you wander around a kind of magical city for a night and around every corner is something new. One church, to give you an example, had bubbles floating up it and then a series of Medieval paintings, and at one point a very dreamy and mystical space thing. Or a school in town had an underwater theme and there were dolphins and whales swimming in and out of its windows. (See? Hard to describe. If it sounds lame, believe me that it isn’t.)
We called it a night after our misadventure at the Place des Terreaux, which was supposed to be the best thing in the city. The crowd was so awful that we got swept in and couldn’t get out, and we stayed there for OVER TWENTY MINUTES! Think about how long twenty minutes can feel when you’re stuffed up against a bunch of strangers, trying not to be pulled apart and unable to see anything in any direction. Franck’s tall enough that he saw some of the show, which apparently involved flames, but I literally saw nothing but coats and hair. It was ass. I remembered that the night’s-end fireworks were like that last time, as a kajillion people crammed themselves along the quays and we all got split up and could only pray that no one in a wheelchair or with a weak heart was stuck in the mob because there was no way to help them. That’s precisely why Franck and I had decided to skip out before the fireworks, but then I guess it happened anyway.
The lucky thing is that we have a clear view of the cathedral and its general area from our window, so we were able to watch the end of the night’s colours from our quiet, crowd-free living room. I went to bed wondering when exactly I became an old lady and hoping that I might have a funny reversal in my life and suddenly be fancy-free and wild in my eighties. For now, though, I will content myself with watching major cultural events on television and toasting the brave souls who live them with such gusto.
I now head into the festive season alone, as Franck left for Bretagne on Friday to spend his birthday and Christmas with his twin, so while I wait for my own German adventure to take flight, I’m back to spending lots of time with Just Kathryn and to eating pre-cooked ravioli. I watched “Calendar Girls,” which was a very nice movie (and a true story, so you can’t criticize the sentimentality) and am reading a terrible Soviet-era murder mystery that I would immediately abandon if I had anything else to replace it. I’m going to get a library card.
Good luck with all your shopping and have an apple cider for me; they don’t have it here. (French “cidre” is alcoholic, surprise!)