Friday, March 31, 2006

You Heard It First Here!

I'm watching Chirac's address to the nation right now. It's a really important speech, in which he will announce his decision on whether or not to retract the CPE. There is a problem with every. single. one. of the microphones on 5 out of 6 channels--and the 6th isn't showing Chirac. And... no! He has "maintained" the law! He did change 2 parts: he lowered the trial period from 2 years to 1, and the employer must tell the person being fired WHY they are being fired. Jube just turned to me and said, "Bon. Mardi y'a pas cours. No school next Tuesday!" Then he started playing the guitar, and I haven't heard the rest of Chirac's speech. Not that anyone else has. I'm sure that after his announcement, everyone across France stopped listening and turned to each other to debate.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Like the Wind...

I just want to write a short update to my post from earlier today. I got to work on time and finished the book I picked up at Heathrow, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguru. I finished it in about two days--what an amazing book! I was almost late this morning because I couldn't put it down to get out of bed! Anyway, I definitely recommend it.

And that's all for tonight. I will write a real, nice, long, GOOD blog entry when I am not as tired.


I'm back in France. I'm tired. I worked for 9 hours yesterday. I'm leaving in 5 minutes. I'll talk more about my trip when I'm more awake.....................

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Safe and Sound

I made it in to Washington, DC on Wednesday afternoon an hour early. No strike, no turbulence to bother my trip, only a screaming baby on the plane to annoy everyone. I was even able to buy a new bag in Heathrow during my layover. I've seen my mom, been woken up at 3:30am by her dog, and eaten my little brother's inventive cuisine. I've also attended the first day of the recruiting "weekend" at a Virginia university.

I got a free tee-shirt!

On Saturday I'm meeting my newlywed friend to ramble around Washington, DC (or maybe just the Washington area's malls).

I miss Jube terribly, but hanging out with my family is great.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Stay Away, Grève Générale!

For everyone who doesn't know, France has been rocked by some big protests lately. Were they against the war in Iraq, like the protests in the UK and Italy? Were they a continuation of last fall's riots? No, they are against a new employment law, le Contrat de Première Embauche, or the First Employment Contract. Basically, it extends the probation period for a long term job contract from the average of 1.5 months to 2 years--but only for workers under 26. In return, the companies that hire them receive tax breaks, and can get rid of the CPE worker without explaining why they were fired. University students, high school students, and unions have joined together to protest the new law.

Now, completely honestly, I had no desire to "tackle the issue" of the CPE because it doesn't really affect me. I don't go to university (many of which have been blockaded for at least a week), I don't use public transport anymore (Jube had to hitchhike to work because the buses were blocked last Thursday), and lately I have been more worried about my own right to work than the right of a French university graduate to get a job for life. That admission of apathy out of the way, I am now worried. The protestors have given an ultimatum to the government: repeal the law or face the wrath that is a grève générale starting Tuesday night. A
grève générale, or a "general strike," involves shutting down everything that can possibly shut down: no trains, no school, no driving in the city center, no flights (at least, no AirFrance flights)... you get the picture.

On Wednesday I am going back to the US for five days. Thank God I didn't buy my tickets from AirFrance! Unfortunately I can't forget that about two months ago, the air traffic controllers went on strike. Passengers were trapped in airports for days. I can only hope that if they do strike, they will wait until after 8:10am on Wednesday morning...

Saturday, March 18, 2006

What a Week!

I know that I haven't posted during the week for two weeks, but I think I'll have more time now. I finished late Monday through Thursday and started early every day of the week, going to the Prefecture and waiting for them to tell me to leave. On Tuesday, the crowd rebelled, with people shouting and pushing and shoving. The security guards were called and since there was a troublemaking American right in front of me (Faites votre travail! he would shout in a heavy accent--Donnez un ticket!), I was physically pushed out of the room. Finally on Thursday, after arriving at 7:00am (when the parking lot opened) and waiting for four hours, I was allowed to talk to the workers. What did she do for me? After a week of telling me that they no longer stamped the prolongations onto the forms, she went in the back and stamped it for me.

As I walked away, I heard a woman screaming "Je vais la tuer! I'm going to kill her!" The police ran past me towards the cave. Yippee. I'm going back in 3 months.

Luckily Friday was much better. I worked a long, but normal day (9am-5:30pm) and then picked Jube up after his conseil de classe. We ate Mexican food and went to see Capote. As I was looking up the times for the movie, I didn't know what they had changed the name to for the French public. I headed to the French Google and typed in "capote," and received the strangest responses--I had forgotten that in French, capote is slang for condom! Oops! But, although I was a little bit nervous, I finally found the new name (Truman Capote, wow, what a difference!) by typing in "capote film."

Sunday, March 12, 2006

My Life Isn't All Prefecture...

I forgot to mention what Jube and I saw on Friday after we finished our hours of line-waiting confrontations at the Prefecture. We drove back into town where we saw a huge line of teenagers outside of a museum on the Promenade des Anglais. We parked the car nearby and walked by, wondering what they were all waiting for (since we had just finished our own experience). We threw out some ideas:

"It's spring break time in the US. Maybe they're a group of high school students waiting to go into the Museum."

"Maybe there's a star who's giving a concert tonight and they want her autograph."

As we passed, we heard groups of young girls singing the latest pop hits--notably "Aimer jusqu'a l'impossible."

"I know what it is!" said Jube. "It's the auditions for Star Academy!"

Our idea was confirmed by a woman who told us that the kids had been waiting "since this morning."

I thought that the kids must be happier than I had been just a half an hour earlier at the Prefecture, but as we continued along the road, we saw a girl sobbing, tears rolling down her face. "He could have at least listened to me sing!" she cried, heartbroken.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Three Days at the Prefecture

My carte de séjour (something like a French green card) expires on Saturday. Hmm, in fact, that's not true--the proof that I have applied for a carte de séjour expires on Saturday, because they haven't made the actual carte de séjour in the six months after I applied for it. (I've already had to renew it once before, and it was very quick--a trip to the Prefecture, and they stamped the back of my receipt for 3 more valid months.) I woke up early on Wednesday and drove in to the Prefecture and waited in line for about a half an hour before a worker announced that they weren't giving any more tickets out and that we should all go home. A bit disappointed, I went to work and set my alarm clock earlier for the next day.

Thursday morning I woke up and drove to the Prefecture--again. I waited in line--again. But this time I waited for two hours before the same worker announced that she wasn't giving out any more tickets. I decided to try my chances at the front desk, even though I knew I wouldn't receive a ticket--but then, I thought that I didn't need a ticket, because the last time they had renewed it with the crunch of a stamp. However, the woman behind the desk (the same one who had told us all to go home) told me that I would have to come back on Monday with all of my papers and they would make me a new receipt. ("But last time you just stamped it," I said. "I don't do that anymore," she answered.) After two and a half hours on my feet, surrounded by screaming babies, line cutters, and innumerable foreign languages, I had accomplished nothing, and I no longer had the right to work. I made it to the car before I started bawling.

When I say I bawled, I want you to know that I didn't cry. I cry a lot. The first question my mother asked me when I wore contact lenses for the first time was whether they hurt when I cried. I once cried in front of the family because Jube read me a local newspaper article about a little dog who had been poisoned by some mean hoodlum. I even cried when I first came to Nice and realized that it's not the same city as Montpellier. I say this because the tears that came out of my body on Thursday were not the same as my normal drizzle. I sobbed and screamed and had to use lots of tissues before I could leave the parking lot at the Prefecture.

Now that I read my depiction of the Prefecture, my breakdown doesn't seem very merited. You have to understand--the section for the "foreigners" is all the way at the back, like a cave, filled with red metal chairs and a long, long, never-ending line that starts at a desk set in the back of the cave with a door behind it. Postulants from the line go up to the desk, and the Women (I don't know why the workers are primarily women, but they are) receive each immigrant like he is a 3-year old child who has some unreasonable request that is basically impossible to fulfill, but maybe, just maybe, if he has all of the required papers, She can give him a ticket and he can go sit in a red metal chair and wait for another hour before another Woman looks at his papers again and gives him another paper in exchange--and suddenly, he can work. While you're in line, you have to stand as close as possible to the person in front of you, or someone will try to cut (I've seen it happen). Everyone smells bad after about a half an hour because of the close conditions, and because the cave is kept at a very high temperature. Since no one knows how long the process will take, most immigrant women come with their children, who scream and cry and run around the cave. Sometimes the Women disappear behind their door for fifteen minutes at a time. The line moves around while we talk to each other, wondering if the Woman will come back, or if she's preparing to tell us all to leave.

I went back to the Prefecture today, with Jube, hoping that we could figure out exactly why my request was refused. Basically, there are now new laws concerning immigrants, one of which concerns the stamping of the receipts. This is now verboten, and so everyone whose papers take a long time--that means everyone--needs to come back and have a new receipt printed off for them. For that, we need a ticket. To get a ticket, we need to arrive (at the latest) at 8:00am, an hour before the Prefecture opens. And that's why I cried.

The most touching moment at the Prefecture: An old Moroccan man interrupts me while I'm reading a book. "Mademoiselle, would you mind filling in this paper for me?" I don't understand why he's asking me, exactly, but I explain that the paper is really easy--he just needs to write his name, date of birth, and nationality and then sign it. "But Mademoiselle," he says to me with a little smile, "I don't know how to write." I fill in the short form and show him where to sign. He thanks me profusely and heads off to another part of the Prefecture. The young man behind me catches my eye, and we smile together--a brief smile before we are sucked back into the stress of waiting.

The most bizarre moment at the Prefecture: While I'm sitting on a red metal chair and gazing blankly in front of me, a young man pushes past me and approaches Jube. I can't hear what they're saying to each other, but I notice that the seat of the young man's blue jeans are
full of fashionable holes. I look up at Jube's face in time to hear him say, "Oui, j'ai compris"--"Yes, I understand." The young man scowls and then stalks to the back of the line. "What was that?" I ask Jube. "He told me that if I didn't let his girlfriend go in front of us, he would give me a knuckle sandwich!" he responded incredulously.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


When I got back from work tonight, late late LATE, I had missed the news and the evening movie had already begun. I immediately fell on the computer and began reading e-mails and blogs because my life really did depend on it--I needed to relaaaaax (or "decompress," as we would say in French...). Jube was still grading papers (all the papers he didn't finish because he was working all weekend on the bacs blancs), and we sat for a bit in silence, with the movie playing in the background.

After awhile, Jube asked me, "Is it a good movie?"

I hadn't really noticed what was on TV, but I glanced up from the glowing computer. "Oh, that's called 2 Week's Notice." I also gave him my opinion of the movie and a summary, but sheesh, I won't tell you, because 2 Week's Notice doesn't really need any help from me...

Then Jube looked at me admiringly. "I'm so glad I have an American girlfriend. It's like having a film encyclopedia!"

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Random Hobbies

One of Jube's favorite pastimes is to do everything he can to bug me and then enjoy my reaction. Sometimes I get really riled up, and sometimes I just laugh it off. (I guess that's the attraction--it's hard to predict what I'll do.) Anyway, this weekend he has been grading Bacs blancs, or practice copies of the national proficiency exam, le Baccalauréat. The practice copies are actual exams that have already been given in earlier years, and boy do I feel sorry for the kids who got this one! My post isn't about the Bac blanc, though, it's about Jube's practice of his annoying hobby while he's grading.

Jube's grading routine: While I'm at the computer, he monopolizes the rest of the apartment. He connects his mp3 player to the home cinema and listens to 20-minute-long progressive rock songs. He mutes the television and switches channels. Every five minutes or so he interrupts my surfing to ask me a grammar or vocabulary question. Then, just to break up the monotony a bit, he decides to get up to do something and lose his pen, his mp3 player, the copy of the test he was grading, or the remote control. Afterwards he asks me where I put the pen, the mp3 player, etc etc. How should I know where it is?


"Oh Gem, what did you do with the remote control now?" he'll ask, after I tell him I haven't touched it for about 3 hours. Of course that really gets me riled up! And then he'll come over and kiss me to make sure I know he's kidding. He just did that, and then couldn't find his pen, so we had another mini-argument about it--and then he remembered that he had it in his mouth last time we kissed-and-made-up... and there it was right in my lap!

Now I'll digress on the word "hobby" for you. As you may know, in French, the sound "h" does not exist. (That's why the word "hors d'oeuvres" is pronounced ordERVES.) Also, the stress always falls on the last syllable (see above example). So lots of French kids pronounce "hobbies" as though they were saying "obese." Be aware.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

It's Thursday Already!

I think going back to work after a vacation is way harder than going to work the week before vacation. I have been out of the working rhythm all week long, and a little bit sick, too!

On Tuesday night, Jube and I went into town to check out the final night of Carnaval. The King is burned (don't worry, it's a float) and there is a fireworks display. Now, I consider myself a pretty experienced fireworks-watcher, since I've seen "Red, White, and Boom" in Columbus, Ohio; the fireworks on the Mall in Washington, DC; and most spectacularly, the amazing fireworks of Las Fallas in Valencia, Spain. The fireworks for the end of Nice's Carnaval couldn't compare with the amazing displays in Valencia, but they were much better than, say, the fireworks for the 4th of July in Delaware, Ohio. Let me tell you how it went down:

I arrived home a bit late from work because a lot of roads were closed (since there was the Carnaval!). As soon as I walked in the door, we headed out again. We walked along the beach and listened to the music. Then we tried to find a place to watch the fireworks. Unfortunately, the Promenade des Anglais was chock full of people, right up to the barrier above the beach. Luckily we found a way DOWN to the beach, and then we pushed our way right up to the best vantage point. First, they burned the King of the Carnaval out on the water. I have some pictures of it, but it looks really bad, so I'm not posting them. Here are my (pretty crappy but better than the pics of the burning King) pictures of the fireworks.

Fireworks over the Mediterranean

I like the reflections in the water.

The Grand Finale

This is the very end. There were tons of these gold fireworks. You should click on this one to make it bigger; that way you can see the two boats that shot off the fireworks.