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Monday, 14 May 2007

Back from France

I'm back and I want to share all. I wasn't sure where to start, especially since the trip ended much as it began: biking across Paris, towing a dog, trying to make a train connection. The second trip was a bit more hectic than the first because it involved a much farther away train station, a shorter time and a case of wine. Some Parisian yelled «Bravo!» as I struggled uphill across and intersection, trying to pick up speed to make the train on time. We had an hour and 5 minutes, two foldy bikes, a foldy trailer, dirty clothes, camping gear and the aforementioned dog and case of wine. And a medieval-style bugle that I bought in Orléans. 20 minutes to unfold everything. 20 minutes to bike from Montparnasse to Gare du Nord, 20 minutes to refold. I highly recommend sprinting across Paris with so many things, especially down the hill from the Sorbonne to the Seine.

We arrived in Paris the day of the election. The streets were crawling with Gendarmes, prepared for possible unrest following the results.

First stop, was the bakery near where my apartment used to be. God, they make the best bread in the world. First thing off my bike and I step in dog shit. Yay Paris. Some older French ladies approached me and spoke to me about my dog trailer. Maybe it was the nice weather. Maybe it was the expectant air around the election, but probably it was the dog. I almost never had conversations like that when I lived there.

The streets were full of flics and first-time roller bladers. At every corner, there were grim-looking cops in riot gear and young people on wheels desperately clinging to phone poles. Xena was trying desperately to escape her trailer as we slowly crossed the city. Nicole rode behind me, repeating "good dog!" over and over again. She said the scowling gendarmes broke into amused smiles as they spotted the dog.

We arrived in Orléans later that evening and went to the tourist office, which was closed. They also had cops everywhere. I tried to call the campground listed in the guidebook, but they didn't answer their phone. Rather than ride the 5km to the campground with the risk of having to ride another 5 km back, we went to the Ibiss, a 2 star hotel chain in Europe, roughly equivalent to the Motel 6 in the US.

And everywhere I went that day, I head over and over «C'est un chien!» It's a dog! but I felt very proud of myself when a kid added, «C'est genial!» That's brilliant! indeed. My goal was to take my dog with me and avoid the hassle of trying to find a sitter, but I don't mind amusing the French also.

Over dinner, I learned that Sarko had won. I hate that guy. He said several months ago that the (poor, immigrant) suburbs should be cleaned out with a pressure hose, a comment that contributed greatly to the riots that followed shortly thereafter, leaving many cars burned. His parents were immigrants! He's like the Ward Connerly or Clarence Thomas of France. In the time leading to the run off, he actively courted supporters of Le Pen, the ultra-right nationalist who adores Joan of Arc. Not because she was an awesome cross dresser who could place a cannon, but because she drove France's foreign enemies out of France - you know, like um, immigrants. Because immigrants are totally against the country they want to live in (yeah, I hate France and want to destroy it). And Joan of Arc was not accompanied by a huge bunch of Scots who were also foreign and there to help her.

As I was walking back to the hotel, I heard whistling and shouts. A huge crowd of youths came up behind me on the Rue de Jeanne d'Arc. They had a bedsheet banner that had an anti-sarko slogan on it. Other folks were joining them as they marched. The joiners had their cell phones in hand and busily SMSed and called their friends to let them know to join in. (I heard one guy saying something about "le podcast.")

as they marched down the largest street in town, towards the cathedral, under the huge patriotic banners and flags the town hung for it's yearly festival, the older, whiter, richer Orléanaise leaned out their apartment windows and looked worriedly on the crowd below. In the expensive apartment, old white folks worried. In the street, a young, diverse crowd marched, whistled and gave speeches.

WhenI heard Sarko won, I was disappointed, but not surprised. The poll numbers were in favor of him. He was running against a woman. Her "yay I won" speech after the first round was wooden and boring in a manner unsurpassed by even John Kerry or Al Gore (although maybe Bob Dole could give her a run). But still, I hoped somehow she would win and I was angry that she hadn't. But then, I saw these other angry kids and marched with them for a while. They were unhappy, but engaged. Their actions demonstrated hope. They weren't in the street just because they were angry. They were in the street in their smallish town because they knew it mattered. Their participation in this semi-spontaneous march meant something, not just to them and the worried old folks, but to their whole nation.

I felt tears in my eyes. How can such a great country be so stupid? I went back to the hotel to sleep.

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