Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Make New Friends...

Bus drivers have a special place in my heart.

No, I'm not talking about the average bus driver with a superiority complex, barking out "Pay on exit!" to public transportation newbies boarding his precious conveyance. I'm talking about Isabelle--my bus driver in France.

Actually, she wasn't a bus driver--she was a conductrice du car, which in French means "motorcoach driver". I was told that there is a distinct difference between the words bus and car: One is able to both stand and sit in a bus, but in a car, one may only sit. Since my bus went back and forth between Tours and a small group of villages about 30 minutes away, it was a car, used for longer distances (with comfier seats).

Isabelle is special to me because she was my first "friend" in France. Yes, I lived with a family, but they never used the familiar form of 'you', tu, with me. They always called me vous, which is more formal and made me feel as if I was not really welcomed as part of the family. Isabelle was the first person to ever call me tu, and I remember that day as one of the happiest I spent in France. It was the same feeling I had the first time I realized that I could understand every single thing a French person was saying without having to translate it into English first; it's this incredible feeling of acceptance and belonging, which is important when one is alone abroad.

Isabelle came to call me tu because I called her that first, by accident. I thought she would be offended by my mistake, but instead she just laughed and insisted that we call each other tu all the time. Befriending a stranger in France is definitely not an easy feat (which I will explain in further detail in a future post), and so her reaction was somewhat shocking to me. She really was so sweet to me; she would pick me up early so I could ride with her to the beginning of the route and we could chat before she picked up other passengers. She'd listen to the problems I was having with the family, answer questions I had about the city, and introduce me to people. She is the one who introduced me to my best friend in France, Caroline. In addition to all this, she'd tell me about her own plans for the future.

She always talked about how much she loved Brittany and wanted to live there. When I left Touraine, the local suburban bus line was having some troubles and the future of Isabelle's job was in question. I'm happy to say that she and her husband recently moved to Normandy to open up a tabac (newsstand).

I'm so grateful that Isabelle came into my life; she really made all the difference. She isn't driving buses anymore, but I'm sure her new life in Normandy is much more fulfilling than she had in Tours. She certainly deserves that.

Photo: Isabelle (left) and Caroline standing in front of our bus at the Fil Vert station in Tours.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Joyeux Anniversaire à Moi

Yesterday was my birthday. It really was an enjoyable one: the weather was beautiful, and Marc gave up watching the first quarter of the Steelers-Ravens game to take me all the way out to Beaver to see the Granati Brothers' scrapbook on display. Then we headed to a bar to finish watching the game before coming home to a huge pan of homemade lasagna, courtesy of the "other" birthday girl, my momma.

That's right, folks: I'm the gift that keeps on giving--I was my mother's birthday present 23 years ago yesterday. The Beatles' song "Birthday" was written for us! I always make a point of playing it as soon as we both wake up.

I got some very nice gifts. I got some Lancôme makeup from my parents, a Hallmark gift card from my little sister (I keep that place in business!), and The Golden Girls Season 2 DVD from Marc. He also gave me the most adorable card:

Pepe!!! He sure knows how to make me happy. The front of the card shows Pepe sitting at a sidewalk cafe with a delivery truck in the background and says, "I have a birthday kiss for you..." and on the inside, "...where would you like me to deliver it?" Personally, I think it should have said, "I 'ave a birzday kees for you...where would you lak me to dileever eet?"

My aunt also got me a gag gift of sorts--it's a "kinetic frog" thing for my desk at work. It's got two metal frogs that revolve inside a metal ring. Both the ring and the frogs have opposing magnets inside, so they go in opposite directions. Round and round and round they's the perfect thing to keep me mesmerized for hours when I should be doing actual "work". Get it? Frogs. Ha ha.

Thanks to all who made my birthday a happy one :-)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What Are Big Sisters For?

I did end up at the Pens vs. Canadiens game on November 10. A friend of mine happens to be the team's head of season ticketing and graciously allowed me to use her seats for the night. I took along my 15-year-old sister, who is totally obsessed with Sidney Crosby, our new rookie.

We walked in just as they were getting ready to sing the anthems, and as the soloist sang the opening bars of O, Canada, some idiot sitting across the aisle from me starts booing. What was he booing, exactly? The song lyrics? Maybe he's just not a fan of Molson Light. Whatever his motivation, he should keep in mind that the time to display poor sportsmanship is during the actual sport.

I managed to promptly embarrass my sister by screaming loudly, "Allez, Thibault!" when our goalie took the ice. She told me to quit cheering in French, and I told her that I was just trying to say his name the right way. I was secretly proud of being dubbed the "embarrassing older sister" when, two nights later, I caught her cheering in French at the TV screen.

Later in the game, the camera operators thought it would be funny to show a Canadiens fan on the jumbotron next to a picture of Pepe Le Pew. It was amusing, especially when people started booing and the idiot from across the aisle yelled loudly, "Goddamn French!" It was just too funny for me to get upset. The guy had had at least 6 beers by that point and was regaling us with his oh-so-tastefully chosen soundbytes every few seconds.

It was a great game...I actually had fun. I'm contemplating attending another one in the near future. I guess you could say I've been bitten by the bug...

Photo: Jocelyn Thibault, goalie for the Pittsburgh Penguins, salutes the fans after successfully fending off the Canadiens during a dramatic shoot-out on November 10. Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and taken by Peter Diana.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Les Violences, Partie III

I called my best friend in France a few days ago to have a chat. I didn't mention the riots to her at all, but she said she had watched several foreign newscasts and said the Americans were saying that "France is on fire". That, of course, is an exaggeration; it's true that the most severe rioting took place outside Paris where literally hundreds of cars were set aflame, but my friend's region of France was relatively unscathed.

My friend lives just outside of Tours in the Loire Valley. When I first found out that I would be studying there, everyone I talked to said that the language was "pure" in that region. Upon arrival in Tours, I understood their meaning: the language is pure because there are no immigrants there to mess it up.

Tours is not diverse in the least. I think I saw all of two black people and maybe 5 Arabs the entire six months I was there. That considered, it didn't surprise me to find out that most of the copycat violence that has been perpetrated in the area since the rioting first broke out involved young teenagers of indeterminate race who were "just doing it because it's funny" (translated from La Nouvelle République). In other words, the "race rioting" in Tours cannot really be labeled as such due to its lack of races to begin with. Teenagers around there are just joining in out of boredom, not outrage.

Maybe it has been a blessing in disguise that Tours is not more diverse. I, for one, would personally prefer the city to be more well-rounded demographically...but who am I?

("I'm Jean Valjean!" - Ok, I couldn't resist that one.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Les Violences, Partie II

This is interesting:

Both of the following articles originated with the Associated Press. Somehow, *magically*, one of them got slanted in curious direction. And by 'curious', I mean 'fair and balanced'. (I've taken the liberty of italicizing the offending passages in the second article.)

ABC News:

AUBERVILLIERS, France Nov 5, 2005 — Marauding youths set fire to cars, warehouses and a nursery school and pelted rescuers with rocks early Saturday, as the worst rioting in a decade spread from Paris to other French cities. The U.S. warned Americans against taking trains to the airport via strife-torn areas.

A savage assault on a bus passenger highlighted the dangers of travel in Paris' impoverished outlying neighborhoods, where the violence has entered its second week.

Attackers doused the woman, in her 50s and on crutches, with an inflammable liquid and set her afire as she tried to get off a bus in the suburb of Sevran Wednesday, judicial officials said. The bus had been forced to stop because of burning objects in its path. She was rescued by the driver and hospitalized with severe burns.
[see above link for full text.]

Fox News:

AUBERVILLIERS, France — Marauding bands of Muslim youth set fire to cars and warehouses and pelted rescuers with rocks early Saturday, as the worst rioting in a decade spread from Paris to other French cities. The United States warned Americans against taking trains to the airport via strife-torn areas.

A savage assault on a bus passenger highlighted the dangers of travel in Paris' Muslim-filled and impoverished outlying neighborhoods, where the violence has entered its second week.

The African immigrant attackers doused the woman, in her 50s and on crutches, with an inflammable liquid and set her afire as she tried to get off a bus in the suburb of Sevran Wednesday, judicial officials said. The bus had been forced to stop because of burning objects in its path. She was rescued by the driver and hospitalized with severe burns.
[see above link for full text.]


Yellow journalism at its finest, folks.

Les Violences, Partie I

A colleague of mine at work announced a week and a half ago that he was jetting off to Paris and wouldn't be back for two weeks. I hadn't really met him yet, so I walked down to his office to wish him well and chat a bit about France. His going to France made me somewhat nervous, because he happens to be blind. France is not the most handicapped-friendly place; here, we are lucky to have the Americans with Disabilities Act, which provides people with disabilities the opportunity to enjoy life as much as the rest of us. This hasn't exactly caught on over there. Sure, France is home to Louis Braille, who is responsibile for perhaps the greatest stride in communication for blind people, but that doesn't come in too handy when you're trying to cross the street and six thousand mopeds are barreling down the road toward you.

So, I was nervous for my co-worker.

Then, the riots broke out.

I am terrified for him now, especially because I know he was planning to venture immediately outside the city and explore a bit. I don't think he was planning to explore the HLMs, but still...he doesn't speak any French. He can't see anything, and when I heard about a disabled woman being burned to death while on public transportation, I was horrified. I hope he comes home safely.

It is hard for me to put into words how I feel about this. I can understand it from both angles, though it is hardly justifiable from either. You would think that the French state would have taken a lesson from the US, in what we as a nation experienced in the 60s with the Civil Rights Movement. It is true that there is a great deal of prejudice amongst Frenchmen of European descent against Frenchmen of African or Arab descent. These people are just as "French" and should have equal rights. It is such an ordeal for them to get their identification papers, that is no wonder that people have the time to go marauding through the streets and inciting violence.

Jacques Chirac should have recognized that the Paris banlieues were a powderkeg--anyone who has studied French postcolonial culture could have pointed that out. The discontent and hopelessness of life in the slummy suburbs has been dramatized in countless novels, films and plays. The plight of the post-colonial citizen is one of emptiness and despir, of rejection and life as a second-class citizen.

Give these people a chance at a real life, and the violence will stop.

I have more thoughts on this topic, but I will post them a bit later.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

What's Wrong With This Picture?

A few days ago, my mother sent me a forward.

Under normal circumstances, it wouldn't have warranted my attention, as she sends along the usual innocuous prayers to St. Theresa, "You go, girl!"-type lists, and myriad jokes. But THIS forward-this was different.

What initially caught my attention was the fact that my mom hadn't forwarded the message correctly and the image that was the subject of the email was conspiculously absent. This led me to read on out of sheer curiosity (I have included the missing photo for your viewing satisfaction):

What's wrong with this picture?

If you look closely at the picture above, you will note that all theMarines pictured are bowing their heads. That's because they're praying.

This incident took place at a recent ceremony honoring the birthday of the corps, and it has the ACLU up in arms. "These are federal employees," says Lucius Traveler, a spokesman for the ACLU, "on federal property and on federal time. For them to pray is clearly an establishment of religion, and we must nip this in the bud immediately."

When asked about the ACLU's charges, Colonel Jack Fessender, speaking for the Commandant of the Corps said (cleaned up a bit), "Screw the ACLU." GOD Bless Our Warriors, Send the ACLU to France!

Please send this to people you know so everyone will know how stupid the ACLU is Getting in trying to remove GOD from everything and every place inAmerica. May God Bless America, One Nation Under GOD!

What's wrong with the picture? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING

"Send the ACLU to France!"

Is this a totally ridiculous statement, or what???

I'll gladly join the ACLU if the bozo who penned this email is footing the bill to send us all to France. Think about it--is France really so bad that it would be a punishment to send someone there? If France is Jack Fessender's idea of hell, I'd gladly perish. I could definitely see myself spending the rest of eternity munching on chèvre, rillette, and escargots and gulping down plenty of Vouvray. I'd never have to work on a Sunday, I'd get a nice, leisurely lunch every day, and I'd start every job out with six weeks of vacation time. There would never be a shortage of fresh bread chez moi, and every May 1st I would walk the streets breathing in the sweet smell of lily of the valley. Ça, c'est le paradis!

I don't really care about prayer in the military. I can't comment one way or the other on what the freakin' ACLU has to say about it, either--all I know is, once you bring France into the mix, THEN I have something to say.

After this episode, I doubt that my mother will be sending me any more forwards anytime soon.