Chapter 17: Woozy in the Staff Room
It's just after 8:00 and I'm at school, though my first class on Tuesdays is at 10:00, so I have to kill a couple of hours and I thought it might be a good time for a letter. I'm feeling a bit woozy, as the flavoured pipe tobacco coming in from the smoking room is going to my head (you remember, of course, that there are SMOKING ROOMS in both my junior high schools and that each one is the home of the staff microwave and lockers) but I think he's almost finished his break and will have to actually go teach someone.
Why am I two hours early for class? Simply because I didn't know if there would be a bus and I had to get a ride with a colleague who starts at 8:00. (It was a stressful ride: she recently fell and hurt her back, so in the car she cheerfully told me about the frequent and unpredictable arm paralysis she now experiences, like this one time when she was driving and her arm seized up and she couldn't change gears or steer and almost crashed into the bookstore! Ha! Funny story, Claude! Now let me the hell out of the car!)
And if you have to ask why there might not be a bus, you haven't listened to anything I've said about France since September. (By which I mean September 2001.) A strike, of course, you silly geese. Another angry strike and the demonstrations that go with. That damn CPE, you see, that has everybody in a tizzy about the two-year trial period and the fired-without-reason thing, has just been officially signed in by the president, the bastard. Except that -- hang on a second -- he refused to sign it until it had been adjusted so that the trial period is only one year and any firing action must be justified by the employers. Which is... exactly what the angry protesters were demanding. And they got it. And yet they're still protesting. Hmmm... tricky, the French.
(A quotation to sum it all up from Bernard Thibault, the leader of France's largest union and thus one of the chief people in a position to help find a solution to the problem: "The president remains stuck on that invitation for dialogue that has no chance of success." And so he refuses dialogue. And blames the president. See? What can anyone do with that kind of logic?)
My prediction: Villepin's career will be destroyed, no politician will ever dare try a new strategy again, foreign investors will continue to pull out, unemployment will continue to rise, young people will have even less job security than they have now and the protestors will take to the streets again in five years because they're unemployed and angry. Isn't life hard.
But enough about current events: let's talk some more about me! I was going to tell you about my week-end in Annecy, which came about because my mom is involved with some hardcore [French, white and mostly non-religious] gospel singers and wanted me to play the piano during their five-hour workshop. I took the train out on Friday with my Herald Tribune for company -- you know when you're doing a hard crossword and people look over your shoulder at your lack of success and you feel judged? They saw my three or four desperate (and probably wrong) answers in the course of a two-hour train ride and I wanted to explain that the New York Times crossword is famously difficult, increasingly so during the week, and that if I had taken the train on Monday or Tuesday I would have been on fire, but they obviously didn't care. It was a defensive beginning.
Since everybody in Annecy is particularly nice and welcoming, the workshop looked like it was going to be a good time. Then the stand-in-a-circle warm-ups started and I realized that my personality has fundamentally changed since high school. Have you seen the show "Dead Like Me"? There's an episode in which George refuses to participate in her office getaway week-end and explains that she's just not a joiner, which turns out to be exactly my problem. I don't know at which point in my life I went from being a drama club kid to a complete loner, but it's happened and it's too late to go back.
*For example: the lunchtime cafeteria at my Thursday school is back up and running after a long break for renovations. The teachers who pack a lunch go and sit with the cafeteria diners for company and they always invite me to join them. I can't refuse, so I end up sitting in conversations that have nothing to do with me (except when someone has a sudden thought about Quebec and asks me what the temperature is these days or if they use a certain French expression, and I remind them, as I've been doing since October and as I will do until the day I die -- or leave Lyon, whichever comes first -- that I'm the English assistant because I'm from an English-speaking country, and I probably know less about Quebec traditions than they do) and waiting for someone to get up and leave so that I don't look rude for doing the same. I've taken to hiding out in the bathroom until the halls are empty and no one can trap me with their kind intentions so that I can sit in the empty staffroom and eat my almond croissant in peace.
This gospel workshop started with trust-your-partner exercises, continued through walk-through-the-crowd-of-strangers-while-singing-solo and finished with clapping and singing and doing actions along with the words. It was a joiner's paradise. At one point I was sitting in the pews, watching some of the small-group acts, when a girl came to sit beside me and smiled. And not just any girl: she was practically identical to my dear friend Julie and I had been staring at her, fascinated, all day and wanted to talk to her.
Well, I didn't. I just sat there and she sat there and after a while she got up and went back to the group. Went back and "joined" the group, even. I stayed in the pews while the singing started back up and hummed along with "Children Go Where I Send Thee" quietly to myself -- so what's happened to me? When did I stop being artsy-fartsy and become not only cynical and mean, but paralyzed with anti-social tendencies? I can't put my finger on the exact moment it happened, but I've changed. Now I have to decide whether it's a personality defect I need to overcome, or whether I should just accept that I am no longer a joiner and sit out. And if it's the latter, should I get some cool sunglasses or something? Maybe a motorcycle?
The group met up for dinner that evening in a restaurant called Canadian Corner, which Mom and I tried to interpret as being in our honour but they insisted was just because one of the singers had been there before and liked it. Likely story. The best part about the place was that it was run by a couple of Parisians [the one we talked to had never set foot in Canada] and it had pictures of Marilyn Monroe, Betty Boop, Charlie Chaplin and other famous not-Canadians all over the walls. True, there was a Mountie hat, a picture of John Candy -- in the Jamaican-dominated movie cover from "Cool Runnings" -- and a stuffed caribou head, but they were hidden behind Kangaroo Crossing signs and Marlboro Man ads and were probably just there by
total coincidence. Calling the place "Anglophone Culture Corner," while less catchy, would have been closer to the truth. It had a log cabin feel, though, the walls were covered top to bottom with pictures and stuff was hanging on clotheslines all over the place, so it would have been a familiar setting for your average Canadian diner -- Mom likened it to Jack Astor's -- but didn't we get that look from the American restaurant chains that supplanted our own? It's not like they served fiddleheads, Molson beer or poutine (God save us all), so I conclude that the sole purpose of the name "Canadian Corner" is to lure in customers who hope -- as do most people, in my experience -- to meet some real live Canadians. Good thing we were there, Mom and I, to lend the place a little of our star quality. I'm surprised they didn't ask to take our picture; I guess it was a busy night.
The group sang a few songs every ten minutes throughout dinner, which was cute at first but eventually inspired resentment [read: loathing] in the other diners and barely-concealed frustration in our initially very friendly head waiter. My favourite game was to try to figure out the words they were singing; their pronunciation is hit and miss, sometimes perfectly understandable and sometimes near-gibberish. (Interestingly, one of the songs that I thought was in English turned out to be in Spanish, which obviously undermines my own ear and thus my commentary on anyone's linguistic efforts.) The various courses took hours to come out and Mom was having a hard time with the endless Jesus songs. The hand-clapping songs are a good time, but the dreary, saviour-praising ones are hard to stomach when you're tired and someone's hogging all the water jugs at the other end of the giant table. And then we scored a ride home and left, praise the lord and hallelujah. That was two weeks ago and I still can't get "Oh Happy Day" out of my head, just for the record.
Back home and to the French game shows I love -- I'm not being sarcastic; I really do love them and I can't tear myself away, especially "La Cible" (target) which is like a complicated and ruthlessly eliminating version of Scattergories. My new favourite moment in any of the game shows is when someone loses at the end, which is kind of the definition of a game show, and the host says "so what happened? Was it the stress?" and makes the person justify his or her performance. The victory is often by just one or two points and really nothing for the other person to be ashamed of, but I've seen this end-of-game taunting countless times.
A recently hilarious thing on a diner-themed show: there's a segment in which the host sings English songs translated into French and the contestants have to name the singer. On this episode it was going fine, with funny renditions of "Another One Bites the Dust" and "Bad," and then he sang the unmistakeable tune to "Hey Jude" with the words "Eh, Juif..." They buzzed in, identified the Beatles and moved on to the next one, apparently in agreement that the famous lyrics are "Hey Jew." I laughed for days.
p.s. a cute e-mail from a student, the only one to write to me in English:
Thanks for your answer.
Temperatures are very low (I don't no if I can use this word) in Canada.
To the holidays I stay at Lyon but I see a lot of friends. Today it's a little snowing, it's stranged !!!!
I am happy to speak with you because I can improve my English.
Good end holidays.
P.S : I've the paper to the african percussions show, it's an advertise.