lundi, février 09, 2009

Exquisite bureaucracy, storms and headaches

So I think I figured out why I had this bizarre headache and toothache all day yesterday and today, but more on that in a moment.

After work, I headed over to BIULO (Bibliothèque InterUniversitaire des Langues Orientales — Inter-University Library of Oriental Languages), so that I could consult a book on Japanese nightlife (hostess bars, in particular). The book, in case you’re interested, is Nightwork, by Anne Allison.

Anyway, I’ve been to a bunch of different libraries in the past few days and I need to go to at least one more before this first round of reading is done…but this library takes the cake for antiquated bureaucracy. The library is free entry, but you have to sign up and get a library card. The library card is a piece of coloured construction paper, with your details written in by hand, and with your picture pasted on with glue like a kindergarten project.

Once you have your library card, you present it at the front desk and they keep it. In exchange, they give you a square plastic tile with a number on it. This is, apparently, the number of the “place” assigned to you in the library. It’s a small library, so by place they mean “one quarter of a wooden table.” No lamps, no desks, nothing to separate your space from the other 3 people at the table. The woman told me that she gave me a “place” for people with laptops. My dreams of an Ethernet jack were dashed upon arriving at the table. All that this special “place” had was an electrical outlet about 3 feet away from the table. Yay!

Now, for actual access to books. Nearly all of the books (aside from reference books) are kept in closed stacks, which means that you have to request the book and wait for it to come out. At the BnF (*sigh*, I can’t believe I’m thinking fondly of the BnF), you can request the book ahead of time online and have it waiting for you when you arrive at the library. If you order it during your time at the library, you do it directly from the online catalogue and it usually shows up in a few minutes. So at this library, you go sit at one of a handful of catalogue terminals (or—get this—THE CARD CATALOG) and then fill out a form IN DUPLICATE, where you have to fill out a bunch of your own details (including my mailing address!), and all of the details of the book: call number, title, author, publication year, etc. You drop this off at the receptionist and wait for the book to arrive. When it does, one of a handful of bored-looking student workers will walk the book over to your “place.”

But this is IF they bring the book to you. You see, the online catalog DOESN’T ACTUALLY RECORD THE ITEM’S STATUS, so you don’t know if the book has already been checked out, is lost, damaged, or otherwise unavailable. So there was a chance that I came all the way over here after work, opened a lending account, filled out copious paperwork to request a book, only to have a library worker return the slip to me 30 minutes later with a box checked “unavailable.” Seriously.

Thankfully, the book I needed was available, and I spent the next 3 hours or so scouring the book and getting what I needed out of it (the “abusive lover” approach to books, which you develop when you’re a doctoral student).

When I got home, I figured out why I had been having an awful headache all day yesterday and today, accompanied by a generalized toothache / tender gums. As it turns out, there was a massive low pressure system moving over northern France, and tonight the forecasters were predicting hurricane-force winds over Paris. My body has always been sensitive to abrupt changes in barometric pressure (bloody noses, headaches), but I’ve never had anything quite this excruciating.

To add to the fun, the winds themselves were indeed frighteningly strong. I’m on the top floor of my building, so I was getting the full force of the wind on my apartment. Of the three windows in my apartment, one of them is an original window from the 19th-century construction, which was creaking and pulling and rattling and otherwise threatening to burst open. Occasionally, the whole building would creak or groan, which also set my teeth on edge. And, in case I ever managed to get close to sleep, occasionally objects on the street below would tip over and tumble noisily along the street. So, it wasn’t a great night.

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