This morning started out, quite literally, at a run.
At 9ish a.m., minding my own business, just taking the tram to work as usual, the conductor announces over the intercom, “Sorry everyone, but the tram is stopping at St. Felix because of the protest.”
St. Felix is at least 2-3 miles from my school’s stop.
Everyone in the tram grumbles in reply or shrugs their shoulders at the news. I’m just silently thankful that I understood exactly what was said. I suppose I should have readied myself for this situation, there have been strikes and demonstrations going on all week because of the retirement age going up.
I follow the rush of people as they empty into the street. Like the contents of a bottle spilling out into the road, we all start a brisk march in the same direction. Most of the people are university students and although they walk quickly, they’re also just laughing or joking about the inconvenience of the situation.
I propel myself forward with the faster ones.
A vision from last week’s orientation flashes in my head, of the nice French woman at the podium saying to us “Si vous allez être en retard, il faut appeler votre école en avance.” (Fortunately for us, whenever a French person speaks in my memory, it’s dubbed in English: “If you are going to be late you MUST call your school ahead of time.”)
So, instead of just a brisk walk, now I’m doing a sort of half gallop/half skip, skirting around the slowpokes and dodging the random scooter who decides to zip through us. At this point, I’m trying not to panic. I still haven’t got a French cell phone because I need a French debit card to get on a French plan and I’ve been having issues with my French bank releasing said French debit card to me. I also can’t find my telecart, the prepaid phone card I use in the cabines (phone booths). Not that calling would actually achieve anything for me other than a show of good faith, as most likely whoever answers the school phone won’t be able to understand a word of my French (I’m fairly certain of this because when Krista called her school, they hung up on her despite her speaking what was in my opinion, very understandable French, and when I answered the phone at the Maniere‘s house, the woman on the other line was utterly confused by my translation of “Just a moment.”)
At 10:05 a.m. I begin to sprint. I’ve left the crowd behind me about a mile ago. I saw some people sprinting then, but now as I’m the only blond chick in the road running with my gigantic purse filled with teaching necessities held awkwardly against my side, I’m the one getting stares. I soldier on, depositing my now unnecessary scarf into my gigantic (but very necessary) purse.
And then, one stop before my own, a tram car miraculously thunders up beside me and, wait, can it be? Yes, it is taking passengers! So I throw myself on board just before it jets off again. It’s saved me four, maybe five hundred meters, hurray!
I run up to the school gate, red-faced from the exercise and crazy-haired from the sprint. Frank, the old man at the welcome desk, buzzes me through the gate.
“Bonjour Frawnk!” I call out as I hurry past.
“Oh wait, mademoiselle,” (English dubbing), “can you close the front door? It’s getting cold.”
Oh sure, Frank. My pleasure. I double back to shut the front door (which is usually left open) and continue on my way, trying not to appear as if I’m running. They may be empty, but these are still the hallways of a school we’re talking about.
And then, of course, I almost run right smack into the principal. As principal of this establishment always address him with “vous“ and treat him with the utmost, perhaps a bit grovely, respect. He keeps that middle-school in tip-top shape. He’s the type of person to always wears a suit when everyone else is in jeans, and despite me telling him when I first met him that, “No, I’m happy with the studio apartment that the other school found for me,” he gets on the phone to that lodging agency, tells them (loudly) that I’ve found a better, cheaper apartment to live in, and demands that they release me from my contract.
He can be a bit intimidating at times, especially when you’re the American assistant who doesn’t speak much French and he’s pelting rapid vous voulez vous at you, glowering up at you like he’s Napoleon reincarnated.
Luckily, though, because he’s an important man, he’s always sort of half running/half marching everywhere, so he probably doesn’t have time to remark on my identical pace at this instance. We exchange cordial, hurried bonjours, and continue on our separate missions.
I have to go to the teacher’s lounge to search for the class schedule as I’ve of course forgotten the room number. But, two minutes later, a soft rap on door 5, and my English teacher’s answering “Yes? Come in!” and I’m in class, only 10-15 minutes behind schedule, and perhaps still a little red from my run.
Despite my concern over being late, everything worked out just fine. The teacher didn’t mind that I was tardy. In fact, she seemed rather amused by my self-righteousness as I explained the inconvenience this manifestation was causing. (Manifestation = demonstration, as in a protest. Memorize this word, I’ll probably be using it a lot this year). These things are like rainy days in France, overcast with a chance of protest, so you just pull out your umbrella and accept them as part of the weather. Sadly for me, I still have not purchased an umbrella.
So, thank you so much, protesters. Yes, I could always use the motivation for a brisk 2 and a half mile walk/run in the morning, but I really don’t appreciate being 15 minutes late to work. What’s more, there were no demonstrators blocking the tramway as I ran alongside it to work. Grrrr.
** Update: to be fair, I saw that the principal of my middle-school was wearing jeans today with his suit jacket and that he was joking around with teachers. So I guess he’s not intimidating all of the time.