Yesterday I returned to my job after three weeks of vacation time that inexplicably followed the two and half weeks of vacation time that I had for the holidays. The French are experts at not working. My students usually begin e-mailing me a week before a projected transit strike to explain that it is unlikely that they will be make it to class. I’ve seen doctor’s notes for ailments akin to a hangnail as an excuse for weeks of absence. My bank isn’t open on Sundays. Or Saturdays. Or Mondays. Or holidays. Or any day that is next to a holiday. Or after 5 p.m. Or between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. Basically, my bank is open two hours a week and they are annoyed if you try to come in during that short window of time to give them your money.
Anyway, while I’m frustrated about the banking part of France, I’m a big fan of the not-working-very-much part. As I’ve said in earlier entries, I’ve been cultivating a rather louche lifestyle of boozing and sleeping late the past few weeks. Yesterday the alarm clock ringing at 6 a.m. felt like cold hard death. My commute is somewhat unpleasant in the mornings, as I’m taking one of the busiest transit lines during rush hour. There are chartreuse vest-clad transit employees at my stop that are responsible for forcefully pushing people onto the trains. When I tell people this, they say, “Oh my goodness, I thought that only existed in Tokyo!” Well, now you know: Paris has caught up with Tokyo in terms of dehumanizing mass transit practices! The only real difference is that the French aren’t big sticklers about body odor like the Japanese are! I jest. Sort of. Actually, I don’t mind it too much. I’ve always been really into commuting, as it involves one of my favorite activities: mindlessly listening to pop music while not feeling guilty for being unproductive. Because I’m in transit! That’s productive! I’d rather do it in a car, but a train will do. I also get to snigger at the fascinated stares that my coffee travel mug garners from my fellow commuters. I can tell that Parisians really want to get with the portable coffee cup program, but they are just too scared. I understand – the Starbuckification of the world is rather terrifying. But a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning as you sit on a train is a nice thing indeed. Unclench, France.
I teach at a rather infamous public university in the suburbs of Paris. I don’t want to spell out where it is exactly (Google seems to be quite the floozy), but let’s just say that it’s where the aborted revolution of another era began and where the next one will probably start. While it’s a hotbed for leftist political dissent, it is also, as the arguably the most important living Marxist thinker said to me, “so cruel and very stark” (he taught there for many years). The graffiti in the classrooms alone deserves a special post. That will have to wait until another day — I’m honestly too tired from dealing with banlieue thugs today to go into too much detail.
There are only two things worth relating about my first few days back in the saddle. First, upon immediately forgetting the name of a student who had just introduced himself, I referred to him as “Mr. Make It Rain On Them Hoes.” To be fair, he did say that Lil Wayne was his favorite musician ever and seemed more than pleasantly amused by his new nickname. Maybe I’ll keep that one going as a morale builder, despite the fact that he hardly seems like enough of a VIP to make a stripper fall in love. God I love that song. Secondly, I had a vaguely poetical moment today on campus when I discovered that something about the cold made the sidewalk stones sound hollow as I walked across them. The requisite May ’68 reference to my friends was made, but we all acknowledged the whirling snow made the beach feel very far away indeed.
Finally, many of you have commented on M. Starik’s killer photographs. Please treat yourself to a visit to her Flickr page, now accessible on the sidebar under Monsieur Bigudi’s Photostream. Monsieur Bigudi is M’s version of Clarence. The two of them are thick as thieves.