These are the things I say or do. While in France or some other country in the neighborhood. Enjoy.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

My school is blocked

I woke up again today to someone screaming over a loudspeaker in French at 7:30am. I looked out my window into the grey morning with a groggy head and saw that the gate to my school was still closed. And there's a big sheet with writing on it hanging over it. And all of the students were on the side of the gate that is on the street, not revving their mopeds and making out inside like they normally do.

I came in early to check emails and such, entering through the back door like normal. All of the professors, instead of teaching in their classes, were in the staffroom drinking coffee. We can get in and out of the school, just not through the front gate where all of the students come in.

This comes after Tuesday's mass strike and protest, where at least 10,000 people marched in the streets in Le Havre alone. The blockage today is in response to the Constitutional Council's upholding of the CPE yesterday. It went to a vote there, and they gave an "unqualified decision" to retain the law. You can read the newest English article about it here. Opponents of the law had hoped that the council would overturn the law, but now that it has been upheld, there will be more strikes and blockages.

Also check out this article in the Guardian that draws parallels and distinctions between the current strikes and the revolution in 1968. It's quite good and also covers the impact these events have in lieu of the riots in November.

In the interest of balance, here is an article in Slate that paints a not-so-flattering portrait of a protest in Paris while still being nuanced enough to differentiate the violent protesters from the peaceful ones. Intererestingly enough, the author wrote one of my favorite books of all time, Bare, about the stripping/sex entertainment industry.

I would also like to take this opportunity to say that the current protests and demonstrations are not, as the American media complex would have you believe, riots. They are not solely kids throwing bricks through windows and burning things. Much of the demonstrating has been peaceful, and to characterize this movement as solely one of whiny, dispossessed and lazy children taking an opportunity to vent frustration is false. There are opportunists and violent people that ruin the peaceful nature of protests, and of the world for that matter. Because one person in a demonstration swings a bat or throws a rock does not mean that an entire generation of people is "violent", or that the entire protest can be deemed a riot. This issue is complicated, like everything else in this world, and slanted bias and misrepresentation do nothing to help one understand the reasons behind it.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Whitman on the Beach

After yesterday, today couldn't be anything but better. I went to the beach and the bright sun to read some of "Leaves of Grass", which is definitely all it is cracked up to be. Generally when something from the literary canon is so hyped up it is somewhat of a letdown for me, but this is not the case with good ol' Walt. Here's something that cheered me up today from "Song of Myself"
Trippers and askers surround me,
People I meet....the effect upon me of my early life....of the
ward and city I live in....of the nation,
The latest news....discoveries, inventions, societies....authors
old and new,
My dinner, dress, associates, looks, business, compliments, dues,
The real or fancied indifference of some man or woman I love,
The sickness of one of my folks -- or of myself....or ill-doing....
or loss or lack of money....or depressions or exaltations,
They come to me days and nights and go from me again,
But they are not the Me myself.

Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,
Looks down, is erect, bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,
Looks with its sidecurved head curious what will come next,
Both in and out of the game, and watching and wondering at it.

Backward I see in my own days where I sweated through fog with
linguists and contenders,
I have no mockings or arguments....I witness and wait.

Needless to say, I feel better. Thanks to all of those who gave me compliments and emailed me. It's good to know you have friends. And someone hasn't pissed in your bed.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Crappy, crappy day

So today has just plain sucked. Period. I don't think elaborating will sound anything less than whining, but whine I shall. Got up in a foul mood in the first place, and even though I didn't have class this morning, I was still pissed off because I didn't get paid, and there is no news of my possible job yet.

It being the first nice day we've had in awhile as far is the weather is concerned, I thought I might go for a lovely bike ride. The other day, just when I got my bike working perfectly, a spoke on the brand new back wheel broke. So this morning I fixed it, also discovering that the cassette is making a grinding noise when the freewheel is engaged, and that the tire and rim are, after close inspection, tubeless. This means instead of a tube inside the tire, the tire is just one big, thick tube that is glued to the rim and more expensive/a hassle to replace if you put a hole in it. This is my own damn fault and I kicked myself for it, but changed out the spoke anyway and decided to just ride.

When I ride, normally, it takes everything that is wrong with the world and makes me forget it. Biking is my salvation. Today, though, after fixing a spoke on the back wheel and riding down to the beach, I broke yet another spoke on the fucking front wheel. Yes, another one. Riding along at a slow pace. That's two in two days. Why the hell can my bike not just work like it's supposed to? When the thing you use to relieve all of the stress and problems in your life is a constant source of consternation, what do you do then?

On top of it I feel all emo and alone and ugly. It is one of those days where I look in the mirror and see something resembling a monkey more than a human being. Not one of those more simian chimpanzees, but rather an organgutan that is considered ugly even by other orangutans.

Usually when I feel bad about what happens to me and who I am, I try to reflect on the problems other people have in the world that are worse than mine. Like poverty and motherless children and people with cancer and such. Today, it hasn't helped. At all. Nothing has. Or will, seemingly. It's just made me feel guilty that I'm not happy being well-fed, American and privileged. The only midly bright thing that happened today was that there was a couple of good lines I found in Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass". I might post them tomorrow when I'm feeling less sorry for myself.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Same old story

So, my computer is broken. As in broken broken. As in the Logic Board or Motherboard or Carte Mère is completely fried, cassé, whatever. It would cost 1000 euros to fix, which is more than a month's salary for me, and about 1000 times as much money as I currently have. So that's not an option. I suppose this means I should get a new computer, one with Apple Care that takes care of these problems for free (Well, not free, but not 1000 euros either). I dunno what I shall do. I can't write on it now, or access any of my journals for the past few years, or, and this is the worst part, listen to my music. At all. It's somewhat scary to see how dependent I've become on my computer. In a way, though, it has been my radio and newspaper and emotional outlet and alarm clock my entire time here. I don't have a television or a radio, so I downloaded podcasts and listened to my music. I played DVDs on it, too. Sigh.

The bike, though, is rolling. The new wheel I bought that the cassette broke off of? I got the cassette replaced. And then discovered that it sucked, and was not replaced properly. When I went to the store they were having a sale outside of used bikes and bike parts. I found a sweet Mavic wheel with cassette and tire and tube for only 25 euros, so I sucked up and bought it and now it works marvelously, doesn't skip gears when I don't want it to, and is much lighter. I've ridden 50km every day since Wednesday because it's been both nice and my bike has worked, an alignment of the planets that hasn't occurred in quite awhile. You win some and lose some, I suppose. I think I've generally lost (money, time, effort, computer), but at least I can ride my damn bike.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Burning things in the streets.

I remember my French classes with Jean-Pierre in college, and how when they raised tuition at our school by a whopping 18%, he said, "In France, the students wouldn't allow something like this to happen. They would be burning things in the streets!", referring to that revolutionary (or whiny, depending on how you look at it) that the French are known for.

It's all true. I got here, and there was a bunch of car burnings. And now, the students are blocking schools and there are demonstrations of thousands of people in response to a law that has been passed and is unjust for the youth of this country. I joined the demonstration in Le Havre Friday with 7,000 other Havrais, and we filled every major street in this town with people, banners, singing, and discontent over the way the government is trying to hose over young people. It was rad. France just appeals to my radical nature, I suppose, and I enjoy the healthy democracy they got going on here.

Despite what you hear in the American news, about 99% of the demonstrations have been nonviolent and peaceful. The few that did turn violent were in Paris, and there was at least one instance where the violence was instigated by people attacking the demonstrators, not the demonstrators attacking people. So no, there are no "riots" here, but people excercising their right to tell their government when they are opposed to an act perpetrated by said government.

Why did I join in, not being a French citizen and all? Well, I am opposed to the CPE. I see it as a way for Villepin to gain favor in the private business sector. Even if he were doing it solely to make France more competetive on a global market level, lowering the bargaining rights and means of recourse for young workers is not a way to go about it.

Currently, Europe is attempting to maintain a balance between the extraordinary amount of social benefits its citizens have acquired and being competetive and productive with other nations in terms of job creation and economy. This is a difficult thing to do, I understand, and there may be sacrifices that have to be made. However, screwing over young people in their first real job and making them pretty much disposable during their first two years is not the way to go about it. I went to the demonstration because I don't think me going on strike will do much, and I feel that by not acting in accordance with my beliefs I am saying to my students, "I don't care about your future because I'm not a citizen of your country, and even though my place here is to educate you so that you can go into the world and make it better, or at the least find a job, I refuse to do something myself to counter something that will hinder your chances."

Blue St. Patrick's Day

I don't want this space to become somewhere where I whine about how lonely I am, but Friday, the day of St. Patrick and green beer, served to highlight this fact for me and push me further into the emo idea that I will die and old man, alone with my bicycles.

I went to a concert of Irish music at this cool space called L'Agora with a whole bunch of friends. We had a few beers and just kinda hung out. I met this French girl who I'd seen a few nights before and we started chatting, etc. She was cute and kinda flirty and I thought "Finally, if nothing else, I am getting a goddamn groove on." So, I go to the bathroom for the normal amount of time it takes a man to pee, and when I returned she had her tongue down some random guy's throat. It blew me away and made me realize that I was in fact not getting my groove on at all, but somehow doing something completely opposite of said action without my knowledge. I wasn't angry though, or even very surprised. I somehow knew that something like this would happen, and was resigned to the fact that this is yet another manifestion of bad luck with women that has lasted a year.

So, instead of moping or whining, I danced the rest of the night away to Irish music with a bunch of French people. At the very least, I think this is the most memorable St. Patrick's day I've had.

In defense of moshing

Last Wednesday, I went to a concert of the punk variety. While there, I got to mosh like I have not been able to do for a long time. It was awesome, the three or four other stinky punks with mohawks shoving me around. It got me thinking about why we mosh, and how it's different than other types of dancing.

Some see it as purely an opportunity to push others around or relase anger and violence, but that's not what moshing is truly about. Believe it or not, it's about community and expression. Granted, there are those that go into a pit to hurt others, but they are the exception rather than the rule. There's has always been an asshole that comes along and screws up stuff for other people, and there always will be. We live with that and deal. But for the most part, a mosh pit is a place of community. When someone falls, you help them up. When they lose their glasses or a shoe, you stop dancing for a minute and help them find it. Even in some of the roughest pits I've been in (at a Casualties show, for instance), where I got a few bruises and scrapes, the underlying nature was that of understanding and compassion.

That said, I don't know if one could posit that a mosh pit is a place of peace. It's not. But I wouldn't call it violence either. Rather, active simultaneous expression. Everybody dances at the same time, very close to each other, and a bit of shoving and pushing is what eventually happens. When you shove somebody in a pit it's not to hurt them, as the next instant you'll find yourself arm in arm dancing together. Maybe it is some sort of deep-seated animalistic expression of aggression, but aggression can't be equated with violence in this case. Violence assumes intention of malice, and the shoving, kicking, and pushing in a mosh pit aren't directed at anyone in particular, are a release of a more general sort of aggression and frustration purely for the sake of release.

How does this expression of normally latent aggression culminate in a community? Simple. A mosh pit is a place of expression created by its members, a place where competition and judgement aren't central. If you were to dance by yourself and bump into others who were judging you for your actions, this would be looked down upon. In addition, it's not a competition. You can't really dance "better" or "worse" to punk music. There is no standard template or manual containing different moves that one adheres to or mimics. I've see people do the craziest moves or silliest things, but nobody really cares what you are doing. It's not about seeing yourself in comparison to what other people are doing, but doing what you want for yourself. So, a space is created in which all who participate or enter aren't seen as stupid, macho, etc. but just another member of a group of individuals seeking free, uninhibited expression of the kinesthetic actions they feel called to do by the music.

Why punk music motivates individuals to express themselves in this manner is something I can't answer empirically. I know that when I'm at a concert and there's ska or punk radiating from the stage, and I just feel like doing it and know it's fun. My body moves in the way it does independent of some rational urge to make it do so. It's not so much a rejection of rationality as it is a dissociation between physical expression and intellectual analysis. Moreover, I feel I can mosh as a pacifist because, as I said, the overall aim is not, in fact, violence, but more humbly a physical movement and interaction with others that is mutually understood to be free from malice, competition, and criticism.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

More CPE coverage than I thought.

So, English newspapers are covering the strikes and protests here after all. Here are some links:

International Herald Tribune

The Guardian

The Guardian, again.

Friday, March 17, 2006

From the Greve Front

Right, so I watched the last hour of "Bend it Like Beckham" with my Premiere students because there was only three of them from my group that showed up. We went with the rest of the students, combined with others from another class, to the teacher's classroom and I got paid to sit and watch a movie in English.

Here's a translation I made of this article from Le Monde describing what's happening:

Hundreds of thousands of youth march against the CPE

The youth mobilised against the CPE have maintained pressure on the government, this Thursday, March 16th, through dozens of manifestations that have brought together 247,500 to 500,000 people, according to our sources, but have occasionally been followed by violent incidents, particularly in the Latin Quarter in Paris.

By way of comparison, at the time of the first large days of mobilisation against the First Job Contract (CPE) – presented by the Prime Minister exactly two months ago – between 218,000 and 400,000 people marched February 7th, and between 396,000 according to the police and 1 million according to the CGT March 7th. But these mobilisations were comprised of both students and workers.

Faced by this mobilisation, Dominique de Villepin declared himself “open to dialogue” within the framework of the law to better the provisions of the CPE, and has indicated that he would receive the presidents of the universities on Friday.

On the national level, the mobilisations against the CPE have often been large: 25,000 people in Bourdeaux according to organizers (6,800 according to police reports), 15,000 in Marseilles (7,000), 12?000 in Lille (6,500), 10,000 in Clermont-Ferrand (4,000) and in Angers (4,200), 8,000 in Lyon (5,000).

Gérard Aschieri, secretary general of the FSU, Principle Federation of Education, and the president of Unef, the United Federation of Students, Bruno Julliard, have found the same words to hail “a real tidal wave of youth.”

Strikes, strikes, and broken bikes

Again with the strikes! Yesterday I had one class, with 7 of 12 students showing. We actually did something productive. The other ones, though, didn't really happen. One class was with the professor, so I didn't have to go. In the other, three of 14 students came. I asked what they wanted to do, and they were excited to stay for the whole hour. So we played hangman and gave each other engigmas to solve on the board, then chatted about music for ten minutes. It was quite enjoyable.

Last night, while talking to that Farisian Mr. Faris, I saw from where I was across the street from the school students hopping the gate, and entering the school. It closes at 7pm, and this was about 7:30 or so. Then a whole bunch of police arrived. After they rounded up all of the students that entered the school and put them outside the gate, they started chanting and singing in front of the gates, holding up lighters in the waning evening light.

This morning, they blocked the school. I entered from the back door like I normally do, but it's locked so I had to wait for someone from the inside to open it for me. They are still out there now, being pretty peaceful but very loud. Apparently, some of the demonstrations in Paris have turned violent. If you don't read French, I'll translate this article later today and post it here. It seems as if the Prime Minister might go into negotiations to change the CPE, which is at least something. I'm sure I'll have time in my empty classrooms this afternoon to make a translation.

In bike news, the brand spanking new wheel and cassette I bought Wednesday broke today. The cassette plain fell of the wheel. Blah. It's the damn mechanic's fault, but that doesn't make it any easier to get all the way the hell out to the store where I bought it to get it fixed. Stuff breaks I suppose, or to wildly misuse the title of a book that has nothing to do with bikes, "Things Fall Apart".

Thursday, March 16, 2006

To do lists.

In the Farisian style, I have decided to post a to-do list for the coming days. I don't expect this to become something regular, but I thought I would try it since it seems to work for Mr. Faris. At least he occasionally gets something done, unlike myself.

Thursday, March 16th
1. Finish lesson plans
2. Start translation from Le Monde Diplomatique for Mon.
3. Pay student loans.
4. Call Cycle America and see if they want to hire me.
5. Sketch out next issue of This Plane is Definitely Crashing
6. Finish article for Life in Every Word on Dadaism and start article on Eyeless in Gaza
7. Decide where to go on vacation in April/May and start finding tickets.

Friday the 17th
1. Get up early and ride in the forest
2. Work on article translation
3. Buy candy for Premiere at noon
4. Teach
5. Finish Eyeless in Gaza article and begin Travesties article.
6. Enjoy a night of carousing for St. Patrick's Day

Saturday the 18th
1. Go to class and teach if students are not on strike and school is not blocked (Yes, this is entirely possible).
2. Start writing This Plane is Definitely Crashing
3. Finish article on Travesties and start on Galileo
4. Finish article translation for Monday.
5. Pick up International Herald Tribune at the train station.
6. Email some friends
7. Go see Les Terribles at the beach.

Sunday the 19th
1. Get up and ride with Jean if weather is good
2. Adjust deraileur on bike
3. Finish IHT
4. Finish rough draft of This Plane is Definitely Crashing
5. Finish and touch up all articles for Life in Every Word

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

the bike lives; the computer does not.

I had to break down and get a new wheel for my bike. I couldn't track down hub bearings and cones that would fit. But it rolls really, really nice now. As for the computer, well, the man at the Apple Store said, "Il est malade." I might get it back sometime soon.

As you may notice, I've changed the sidebar links to demarcate blogs from news and comics. Also, I've added a few more links. Check out Kasia's Art, Katie's Blog and Dan's Livejournal. Chelsea mentioned me in her blog yesterday, so to be cool I'll link back to her. Wow, I am now cross-linking things. This fire of hell just keeps getting hotter and hotter.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Dirty Atheists

Here's a link to an opinion column about atheism in Europe. Not too bad for being so short.

Drinking With Students

On Saturday night, I went out to a couple of bars with the German assistant, Mirja, and an English assistant from another school, Lucy. First we hung out at a cool bar I've never been too, called the Camp Gouru (supposed to be a play on words, sounds like Kangaroo and has an Aussie theme). They played good music, like Bad Religion, System of a Down, Manu Chao and such. There were also young people there, and not young like my students young, but young like me young. After chilling there we went to another, called the Batonga.

Upon walking in I noticed a group of seven of my Terminale students (equivalent to seniors in high school). They invited me to sit down with them. We had a few beers with them while talking in French the whole time. I think they loved being able to teach me some verlangue (slang in which you inverse the way a word is pronounced - for example, merci becomes ci-mer, etc) and listening to me struggle with conjugating verbs as they do in English. They are all bright, mature kids for being 18 and we had a lot of discussions about French politics (especially the CPE I wrote about below), American pop culture and a teacher at Lycée Claude Monet that all the girls have a crush on.

It was odd at first to be downing a Heineken with these people that I normally see in a purely professional manner. I myself have always been a bit chummy with my professors and teachers, and regularly had a cup of coffee with them or went over to their house for dinner even while being graded by them in a class. I had never envisioned myself on the other side, though, being the person that the kids were bashful of mentioning drug use or sex in front of. The lines of authority we draw between teachers and students, adults and children exist outside the institutions which give them power. Students tend to dehumanize their teachers because they only see them in a classroom for a short amount of time each day. The teacher also has the role of making the students learn, whether either party wants to do so that day or not. This makes it such that the teacher is seen not as someone with fears, feelings, and possibly a screwed up life outside the classroom, but an authoritative figure to be a bit feared and respected.

As an assistant, I'm somewhere in the middle. I don't have the power of grading any of the students, nor the knowledge of their language sufficient enough to comprend entirely what's going on all the time in class. They do have a certain amount of respect for me because they think I'm funny and the things I teach are usually interesting on the level of pop culture or singular ideas from a country they revere and mimic. Thus, I think they invited me over to get to know me better, to try and dissolve that line between us. I am more than willing to do so, but realize that I can never truly be their good friend as long as I am an employee of their school. They invited me to come along to the house of one of the students, at 1am, while his parents were out of town and everybody in the group had told their parents, "Yeah, it's cool with S-----'s parents if I stay the night at his house." I decided it would be a bad idea if something were to happen and two of the assistants were at a student's house without or against the permission of his parents. So here the line again became evident.

Yet, at the same time, another student of mine, whom I no longer have because the class had to get exposure to the English assistant's accent, sent me a song he wrote in English to correct. This student was always telling me about concerts going on in Le Havre, cool things to do in Poland, etc. The song he sent is very personal and angsty, has some bad words and is something I would expect from a boy of 15 experiencing the first throes of woe and passion that come with puberty and meeting that alien species commonly known as girls. I feel honored in many respects that he chose to let me see it and, above all, critique the grammar of it. It tells me that he trusts me not to judge him for his feelings - which I don't - and not find fault in the way that he expresses himself. So again, the line dissolves, I am not just a teacher but someone in which to confide and trust on a deeply personal level.

Nipple in French is mamelon

In the tune of fixing things from an earlier post, I have to fix my bike. Again. For, like, the third time. I broke a few spokes on my ancient wheels over the past few months, and have been stealing some from an abandoned bike in the basement of my building to replace them. On my back wheel, which I had a local bike collective replace a spoke on, the hub is absolutely shot. I did not think, at first, that this was the problem however. See, on the way to take my broken computer to the Apple store here, my bike decided to fall in line with the rest of the oft-used material objects in my life and work in such a way that is not satisfactory. My back wheel started making this horrible grinding noise and wobbling a bit. I rode on it for awhile to see what the problem was, and ended up deciding to take a closer look when I got home.

Upon inspection, I diagnosed the problem as some of the eyelets from the spoke nipples being torn out or loose, thus letting the spokes shift inside the rim when I rode. I tried tightening the spoke tension and truing the wheel a bit better, but this did nothing, really. Thus, I thought it would be necessary to buy a new wheel. If I were in America, I could easily explain the problem to any mechanic and ask for what I want as if I were a professional mechanic. I am in France, though, and sadly do not know many of the words necessary, like nipple, eyelet, it's completely fucked, etc. I looked up a few, and decided I could crudely get the point across that I wanted a new wheel but not a new cassette, and that it would need to be dished properly.

I went to the bike collective, and was able to speak to a mechanic. Sadly, I did not understand a single word that this man said, except to joke that I needed a whole new bike. I tried to explain that I wanted to buy a wheel. He said he'd look to see if he had "something like that". "Something like that" turned out to be spoke nipples, which weren't really the problem. At this point, I had decided that he really wasn't too interested in trying to fix my problem, that I couldn't really understand what he was saying, and that they probably don't sell new wheels anyway at the collective. I thanked him for the 5 nipples he gave me for free and set out for home, trying to think of what to do.

Upon arrival at home I took a closer look and discovered that the wheel shifted without the weight of my on it, meaning that it wasn't the spokes at all, but rather the hub. I took it all apart on the floor of my bedroom and soon found that the bearings in the hub, instead of being small little balls, were a mixture of ground metal and grease. The cones were worn too. All told, these parts should cost under 10 euros or so, not the 40 to 50 of a whole new wheel. I had been all excited about getting a wheel that didn't creak or was a bit easier to true, etc, but now that I know I can fix it for less and keep it rolling for 5 more weeks I am determined to fix it myself. Again.

I write about this because it boosted my ego to know that I solved a mechanical problem on a bicycle that a shop mechanic didn't notice or care enough to try and diagnose. This is not to say that I'm a better mechanic than he, but rather took the time and effort to find a solution to a problem, accepting that my first thoughts on the subject were completely incorrect. I could have bought a new wheel at another shop easily (and may still have to - I asked at one and they don't sell hub parts separately, only the complete wheel) and not known the difference, but I learned a lot about how a hub is constructed from taking it apart and seeing what's up.

Also related to this, I recieved an email from this company concerning my application to be a route planner and mechanic over the summer. They were very interested in my application and wanted more information, which I gladly gave them. If all goes well, I should get paid to ride my bike, plan routes and fix bicycles over the summer all across the United States. Rad.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

I love the sound of strikes in the morning

Normally, right now I would be in class teaching cute little 2nd students the names of different articles of clothing. But I'm not. No, it's not that I'm playing hooky, or sick, but because my students are on strike. It looks something like this:

People holding banners.

Some students blocking the entrance to a university in Provence. (Both images copyrighted by Le Monde)

In my first class today, three girls showed up, out of 12 students. We went to the classroom where their teacher is and had an excellent discussion with the other 4 girls from the other half of the class showed up about the strike, privilege and racism in France.

The reason for the strike is something called the CPE, a new law that was passed through the assembly only yesterday. It basically gives young workers in their first job (so people 16 to 22 or so) a two-year tryout period in which their employer can let them go/fire them for little reason, minor mistakes, etc. What it essentially does is gives employers and companies more hiring and firing powers than they previously had. On the flipside, though, it screws over younger people because at the end of that two years when they are about to enter a normal contract with their employer, they could get fired and a new person hired in their stead. I tried to find an article in English on this, but without any luck because it's still too early in the U.S. for anybody to cover it and the Guardian, Independent, and AP don't seem to be covering it. If you read French, Le Monde is covering it pretty well. Once somebody else has more on it I'll post a link to that.

So, as of right now there are 37 universities that have students on strike, out of the 88 public ones in the country. Le Havre university is closed down because of this. The reason I don't have students is because they are out front of the school right now with signs and banners that say "Non à CPE", chanting, singing, etc. In fact, I woke up to "Non non non, à CPE" outside my window.

It's not as if this is only students, either, or just young people. I didn't have class on Tuesday either, because there was a general strike in all public sector jobs against the CPE, so my teacher that day was absent. As Sylvie, my "prof. responsable" explained, "It's easier for the students to continue demonstrating because they don't have jobs. It's cheaper for them, too."

In our discussion today with the students that showed up, all of them disagreed with the consequences of the CPE, yet thought that the protest was ineffective or a "lost cause". This also led to a discussion of whether their generation is spoiled (they all thought so), if they felt privileged (the two girls who had immigrant families were the only ones to say no), and the state of French society as not unified and discriminatory. In other words, it wasn't the most optimistic of conversations. They fear the CPE because it's already difficult for people to find and hold jobs in a country with almost 10% unemployment. They also think that politicians act out of ambition, rather than for the good of French people, and this one reason for the CPE.

It seems odd to me that Dominique de Villepin, the Prime Minister, is pushing this initiative, considering he will be running for President in 14 months. Sylvie explained that he doesn't really stand a chance against the beloved Sarkozy, the same Sarkozy who called people that live in the ghetto "racaille", or scum, back in November when they were burning cars all over the country. Thus, she sees Villepin as a puppet for business interests and a fall guy if this initative tanks. This article explains the strikes on Tuesday and the opposition to Villepin's initiative.

Today has been fruitful in learning about the French social model. You would never, ever see students in High School on strike in the U.S. against employment legislation. It's invigorating to see that these students care and are willing to act to protect their future. The government is passing laws that affect their lives, and they actually care and discuss these issues. Even those that didn't strike were well-informed and thoughtful about the CPE and the workings of their government. It's this willingness to react and fight to preserve or reform the system that they have going on that makes France fun. They're happy about working 35 hours a week, having vacation, good healthcare, etc., but they're also willing to take to the streets or get their pay docked from missing work to protect this.

As a side note, read this article on Imelda Marcos, the widow of the former Phillipine president Ferdinand Marcos. She was the one with all of the shoes and is still absolutely crazy. I want to make a powerpoint presentation about my life and philosophy incorporating Pacman. I heart her.

I was in Rouen yesterday visiting friends and got to watch about 15 min. of French television there. South Dakota made it onto the news because they banned abortion, and they even had an interview with Mike Rounds. Wow. I'm elated my state made the news in France as a conservative proving ground for anti-choice legistlation that may aid in turning back time for women 40 years. And it was just in time for International Women's Day yesterday! What better way to celebrate that, SD, than to take away the rights of women in your state. Way to go!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Fix Shit Up

I have this pin that says, "Fix Shit Up". I don't wear it that often, really, only when I'm feeling especially surly. I should have worn it yesterday, though, because that's what I spent the entire day doing. I fixed my shoes, which have huge holes in the bottom of them, by gluing/placing cut up pieces of bike tire over the holes. Now when it's wet outside my feet stay dry instead of wet and numb. I got halfway through repairing a hole in the knee of a pair of pants that my mother would have had me throw away a year ago. If you've ever seen me, you know these pants: the ones with the hole in the crotch that I patched up last winter. They are my old gyro stand pants, and even though the grease stains have faded on the top of the thighs and my pen made a huge stain by leaking all over the pocket on New Year's Eve, I love them and am doing triage to keep them alive.

I also sewed a couple of cool patches on my bag. It only had one that my Grandma and I sewed on this summer with her sewing machine. I put a circular patch with a bright yellow hem that says "Bicycles Don't Pollute" in green letters with the o in don't being a big bike wheel. Anne's sister Kate sent this to me from Illinois and it rocks. I also put a patch that has the coat of arms of Normandy on, too, and plan to put one with the Polish flag on, too, as well as the blue patch with "Bicycles Allowed Full Lane" in large white letters I used to have safety-pinned on.

There's something about fixing things that I really, really love. Maybe it's the reward of patience that sewing brings, or the satisfying feeling that instead of spending money on a new thing or taking it to somebody else to repair I've developed skills that I hadn't had before. When we repair something, we also say that it's worth keeping around for awhile instead of throwing away, giving that thing value. And we don't contribute to the waste that is so prevalent in this world.

I wrote in my 'zine that resourcefulness is born out of want. When you need something but have little means to get it, you have to rely on yourself to obtain it rather than simply expending a resource you already have. You have to develop skills, be creative, keep your eyes open to the world for materials or information or people to help you along towards your goal. Being resourceful and sharing ideas and skills creates community as well.

I think back on the skills that I have accrued in the course of fixing things and realize the relationships I've developed because of this. I got to know my Grandma and my friend Lisa better because I wanted to sew stuff with their sewing machines, and they graciously showed me how. I found a cadre of talented, thoughful people at Skunk River Cycles in Ames because I wanted to fix and build my own bikes. This goes back really far into my childhood as well, when my dad showed me how to fix my first flat tire, my grandpa helped me build speaker boxes for my 1980 Chevette and my mom showed me how to cook, clean, garden, and in essence provide for myself in many aspects of life. When we repair things we make ourselves better as well.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Saturdays at school

This is my first Saturday working at school. They are about to kick me out of the school because it's closing but I just wanted to write that nobody should have to be at a school on a Saturday ever. For any reason at all, even to check their email. It should be internationally banned.

Why can't I blog like Mike I have way more time than him, yet he manages to write so much insightful stuff every single day. Blah. I'm a slacker, and I dig it.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Good writing, bad weather

It's been snowing like crazy here. Every day I hope that school will be cancelled, but it never is. They make announcements about the buses over the intercom that I don't understand because I think no matter how well you master a language, hearing it muffled and blared loudly over an intercom is never easy.

I finished Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding finally yesterday. It's in the same vein as Tom Jones but less funny and with less tangential stories that illustrate Fielding's moral leanings. It does, though, poke fun of other authors at the time, most notably Samuel Richardson and Thomas Cibber. You have to love a guy who wrote a whole novel, Shamela purely to parody another famous novel of the same time period by a different author (Samuel Richardson's Pamela)

Currently, I'm working my way through the third volume of the Prague Literary Review which, though sometimes extremely pretentious and elitist on the part of it's editors, has good writing from people in Eastern/Central Europe and a sweet layout. If you ever want to read a good Canadian author living in Poland, check out Soren Gauger. All the postmodernity, none of the pretention.

I think I'll tackle some Calvino next, or make my way through some French lit. With my computer broken I can't listen to podcasts about the news, so now I actually have to read it online or buy Le Monde and the International Herald Tribune. Suck.

Reflecting on my time spent here, I'm very happy I came. Yes, I am lonely, but I feel like I've really developed myself as a person and had a lot of good thoughts about the world and my place in it since I've been here. Every day I learn something new in French, or another fact about European politics/government/society/life. My writing is still crap, but I have a lot of better ideas on where I don't want it to go, and what I do not want to be "when I grow up". That has to count for something. This is time spent well, even if sometimes I watch too much 24 over at Jon's house or speak too much English during a week. My French is so much better than when I came, and I know that I've been exposed to a million new ideas that I would never have found back in the U.S.

The friendships I've made cannot be forgotten here either. All of the new people I've met are really cool, and the friends from back home that I've connected up with in Europe astound me by how intellectual and confident and thoughtful they are (James, Sheng and Lisa, that's you). This is an inspiring experience I hope to repeat every day the rest of my life.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Back Home

Getting back to France is nice. When I landed, it was comforting to know what people were saying once again, and to be able to read signs and such. My French isn't perfect, but it's better than my Polish.

As for coming back to teaching, well, it's not too bad. I have a whole bunch of new classes, which is pretty good because then I can reuse old lesson plans until the end of my contract, which is only seven weeks away!

Unfortunately, my computer is busted. I have to take it to the Apple place here, and it will cost money to fix undoubtedly, something I don't have a lot of. I realize now how dependent I am on my little Apple and my iPod. Thus, the next 'zine might be all handwritten. Get yer decoder rings out...

More pictures to come soon and hopefully some better updates.