vendredi, septembre 01, 2006

The Not-So-Calm Before the Storm

Fabienne had been sure that several students were arriving today, so I got up early, got dressed, and sat in my room with my cell phone by my side. I waited until 1pm, when it became clear that nothing was happening. The morning flight from Chicago arrives at 9:00am, so most of those arriving should have already been here. At that point, I left my cell # with Fabienne and headed off towards the UCParis Centre. On the way, I stopped at the boulangerie near the métro station and got an amazing tomato-chêvre sandwich. It was nearly half a baguette and tons of filling.

Now, I would normally have taken the métro to get to the Centre, but Sebastien recommended that I try the surface bus that runs along the periphery of the city, since that brought you from Porte des Lilas (near my place) to Masséna SNCF (near the Centre) without the mess of transferring beetween the #11 and the #14 métro lines at the Châtelet station. Although the bus was simpler and pretty convenient, it was also rather slow in traffic and didn't necessarily take less time. However, there were two upsides to this trip. The first is that I found this awesome bit of graffitti while walking towards the Center: and I got to witness French people being French in a way that occurs less often on the métro. A large family got on and asked a man near the front of the bus to relinquish his seat for one of the two old ladies in their group. The man refused flatly, accusing them of racism because they asked him before the white people on the bus, and the family burst into various expressions of disapproval and shame: "It's shameful, the way you comport yourself." Also, the bus driver nearly collided with a car full of plumbers, and the subsequent series of snide comments and snooty insults was worth the price of admission.

I arrived to the Centre to see Val already at work. She had managed to give Isabelle her CNetID and was in the process of trying to request a Chalk site on her behalf. Part of the problem was that we didn't have a course number, since the registrar @ UofC doesn't provide the Centre with course numbers for their courses. Since this was only for the Chalk system (and doesn't need to work with the registrar), we just made it up. Nonetheless, we had to wait until our Chalk expert in Chicago, Jamie, woke up and got to work. A few moments of iChat later, we had things figured out. I spent another hour or two getting orientation information from Arnaud and Stéphane, which explained an earlier mystery: no students arrived this morning because they were supposed to arrive tomorrow. Also, I eventually figured out that the phones at the residences didn't work because U of C wasn't paying to have them "open," so to speak. In other words, the phones are now a pay-as-you-go system similar to payphones, where you buy a carte téléphonique to make calls.

As I was preparing to leave, Sebastien surprised me with a nice bottle of white Alsatian wine (which I love). Since I didn't have a large bag with me that day, Val took it to the hotel and I've been trying to get it from her since. =]

I left the Centre and headed back to my place for a bit to drop off the orientation materials, do a bit of internet work (i.e. check email), and then head off to the nearest supermarket for some supplies. On my way, it became clear that I was in a Jewish neighborhood, because the café near the entrance to the shopping centre had signs that said "All your shabat needs served!" At the supermarket (which was surprisingly large and complete) I picked up a few more food basics—garlic, oil, butter, chocolate, cheese—and some home-care stuff, such as: laundry detergents, dishsoap, clothes hangers, etc. Apparently, Lindt has a new chocolate bar that incorporates passionfruit filling into dark chocolate squares. Delightful! The best part about the shopping trip was watching a couple shop with their mother, who seemed to be recently moved into the area. She complained consistently about the price of everything, and actually started cursing when she saw the price of laundry detergent.

Eventually I returned to my place and dropped of my stuff (and ate a bit of chocolate), then headed off to the Latin Quarter for dinner with Val. (On a totally unrelated note, Val can write off any dinner she has with me as a travel expense.) We tried that Georgian restaurant again, and they were open. The first thing I did was order a big serving of ხაჭაპური (khach'ap'uri: cheese bread), which is essentially bread filled to the brim with melted cheese. It's as good as it sounds. I had the ლობიო (lobio: red kidney beans & walnuts) as an appetizer, while Val had a salad with bits of Gesier confit (gizzard confit). For the main dish, we both had the the chicken ხარჩო (kharcho: usually a thick beef stew, but chicken here), which was delicious and reminded me of my mom's Peruvian ajì de gallina with cardamom added. For dessert, we both had a cream custard covered in chocolate sauce. It was !@#$ amazing, although I can't remember the name for it. My only complaint was that the 4 people next to us seemed to be taking turns lighting their cigarettes so that we would not have to suffer clean air during the entirety of our meal. I suppose I better get used to it.

After having imbibed several glasses of red wine, we stumbled our separate ways home. On my way back, I noticed a poster for a concert tomorrow night of Georgian choral music, at the same church (Saint Louis-sur-l'île) where Carla and I happened upon a concert of the Georgian choral music last summer ('05). Fancy that! Now I also have an excuse to go to Berthillon (an amazing ice cream shop on the same island).

3 commentaires:

Travis a dit…
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Travis a dit…

Interesting adventures and stories all, but I do have a question about the encounter on the bus. Even though the post was already long and detailed, I wanted a little more context for what was happening. In particular, I wanted to know two things: (1) what the reaction of the man who would not relinquish his seat was to the suggestion the represented his people badly and (2) what you might say about the reactions of others on the bus to the whole situation. Especially given everything that happened last fall, I was really curious about these other aspects of the encounter....

LMGM a dit…

Hi Travis!

Thanks for posting this in the comments at my request. Here's my answers:
1) The man who would not relenquish his seat waved away these suggestive insults with an eyeball-rolling, exasperated, hand-waving gesture that implied that whatever they were up to, he had heard it before and he was so over it. Most of it could be translated as "yeah, yeah, whatever. Go find your own damn seat." On the other hand, part of his reserved resonse might have been to the fact that the second person plural in french is the same as the polite second person singular. In other words, it was linguistically unclear whether "C'est honteux, comme vous vous comportez" means "It's shameful how you people act" or a rather icy "It's shameful how you're acting." Parisians often make emphatic use of the polite second person singular when they're insulting a stranger to emphasize distance.
2) the reactions of others on the bus could be summed up as "emphatic disinterest." It seemed like most people didn't want to get involved, didn't want to be witness to this, but also needed to show that they just didn't care. The result was a sort of false nonchalance. This became rather strained as another black man came and chatted with the "offending" party and spoke in a thick accent which only became intelligible when the word "racism" or the phrase "always like this" occurred. In a way, this whole thing was (un)mercifully cut short by the subsequent near-crash of the bus driver into a van and the resulting verbal battle.