On Wednesday night I met up with an English teacher from the lycée (previously mentioned in my Valentine’s day post) to attend an assembly of the Nantes/Jacksonville/Seattle association, which consists of a bunch of French people who are interested in the United States getting together to plan American activities and discuss exchanges and trips.
It was an interesting night, especially because the first half hour was staged pretty much like a mutiny. The president, who is a very lovely woman, read through the agenda. When she tried to move on to the next topic somebody stood up and bascially “J’accuse!”-ed her.
In typical French rhetoric, member after member stood up to sound a barage of complaints and old money disputes. I followed it for the most part, my head snapping back and forth between accusations.
All the while, my fellow English teacher was sitting beside me whispering uncomfortable commentary, while on my right, an older gentelman was mumbling furiously to himself.
The crescendo of this mutiny? Another man stood up, his letter of invitation held aloft. He shoved the paper into the air for emphasis while bringing up some past grievance (which I couldn’t quite catch), volleying into, “I remember this outrageous something-or-other happening before with the previous President So-and-So blah blah blah.” (Actually in French it’s pronounced more like “bleh bleh bleh”)
Then the mysterious stranger to my right shot up from his seat, cane clutched in support. “Say that to my face,” he barked, “I’m right here,” and identified himself as the aformentioned previous President So-and-So.
The heated discussions continued. My teacher was waving his hand to himself in that French, “Oh la la, things better calm down” sort of way, hunkering so low in his seat that I was afraid he’d be on the floor next.
“This isn’t normal,” he assured me, appologizing for bringing me here.
But just like when I was barricaded in the lycée during the protests by fiery trash cans and assailed by rocks flying through the windows, I was oddly calm in that removed, I’m-a-foreigner-so-none-of-this-will-touch-me sort of observation.
My calm paid off because, very soon and for no apparent reason, all the “j’accuse!”-s died down and the association moved on to the next part of discussion and the lovely current president was none the worse for wear.
The topic of “Flag” (a flag football) league was introduced next. Apparently Nantes has the biggest and most successful club in the west of France. Impressive. Still, the disgruntled and skeptical French in the audience were reserved about partnering with this sport. They may love America but it is the wrong football to be modeling themselves on, afterall. Plus I think feathers were still ruffled from the last shouting session and no one wanted to appear too agreeable.
Afterwards, my teacher introduced me to the current president of the assembly (the very nice lady who handled all the j’accuses very well) who apologized profusely for all the j’accusing that went on earlier. Then, with a few other members, they took me out for wine and a traditional French dinner…
….consisting of pig cheeks and slippery carrot mush. It tastes better than it sounds.
It was a traditional French dinner because we didn’t eat until 9:30pm and didn’t leave until midnight teetering pleasantly on our feet from the wine. Plus, it came after a strong helping of French disgruntlement in the face of authority. So, a traditional three-course meal.
Ah, la France! Provider of entertaining evenings. Educator of debate. If only all the meetings in my life could go as they did this day, with me as the calm and fearless observer.