The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Mattel presents My First Greve

What a field day for the heat: Yesterday up to 3 million people joined demonstrations across France to repeal or reform the CPE--a jobs-creation bill enacted in response to the last November's riots. One of the provisions of this bill is that people under 26 will be able to be hired on a provisional basis for up to two years, and (this is the part people don't like) fired without reason or notice. The rest of the world shrugs; that's just the way business is in America, for example. But in France, it's very hard to fire anyone, even for incompetence--a job is pretty much for life. (This is one of the factors leading to the famous French customer service culture, in which the customer is almost always wrong and why should the employee care anyway [shrug].) So the fear is that young people will get hired, used for two years, and fired without reason.

This law affects me not at all, and it is remarkable how little the extensive Mardi Noir (black Tuesday) day of action affected me. Here in Lyon, steady rain kept the numbers down at the protest in Place Bellecour. I did see a loudspeaker car drive past on Cours Albert-Thomas, but not much else. The most visible sign of the protest was that the Metro was closed, except for the fully automated D Line, which soldiered on in silent disregard for its children's workplace rights. So I dragged a bike from the cellar of our townhouse and pedaled to work, about 30 minutes, in rain and heavier-than-usual traffic. I wasn't late for work but I was sweaty and damp.

The papers today called the protests a success (of course, I read Le Monde, which leans slightly left, rather than Le Figaro, the Fox News of France). Interesting contrast with CNN's take on the events, which focused on the sporadic violence in Paris. Funny stuff: the protesters are mainly petit-bourgeois college kids, and when the protests reached the banlieus (where I presume they hoped to gain support among their opressed brothers in the housing projects) the locals made the best of their opportunities by...mugging them. Most of the police assigned to the protests ended up protecting the protesters from these casseurs (literally, "breakers") rather than protecting the city from the protesters. But I guess you can't make a good story without some shots of the cops cracking heads.

I got my bank account today, so the wheels of capitalism grind on (greased by the blood of the worker, etc., etc.).

Monday, March 27, 2006

A Weekend in Lyon

Our first weekend in Lyon has come and was nice to get away from work a little bit and live la vie francaise. Friday night we went out for dinner at a Vietnamese place in the 6th. We have found that either Asian noodles are very expensive here or maybe the French just don't like them--regardless there must be very few Thai places in the world that don't serve paht thai, and we've hit two of them. (Yes, I know it seems strange to come to the capital of Franch gastronomy and eat Asian food, but that's what the fetus wants so that's what the fetus gets. Nothing here is spicy, either, but fortunately I saw a cook heading back into the kitchen with a bottle of sriracha "rooster sauce" so I was able to put some oomph in my noodle-less pho.

Saturday we had some early appointments to look at apartments. The ones we saw on Friday were disappointing (tiny, dreary, run-down) but these were much better. One palatial one just off Parc Tete d'Or we sadly had to exclude because it had to place to hook up a washer. After a quick lunch at home we headed back out to do some shopping and sightseeing on the Presq'ile. I finally bought a Euro-sized wallet at Printemps on the Rue de La Republique (breathtakingly overpriced, and some of the first true snottiness we've encountered here), and we sat outside on the square while Boog ate a giant waffle smeared with Nutella. A band was playing down the way at place Bellecour, and the sun glinted alluringly on the cafe umbrellas.

We also took the funiculaire up the side of Fourviere hill to the cathedral and the Roman amphitheatre, where I cracked my shin badly on the edge of a 2000-year-old orchestra pit while chasing Boog through the ruins. V sat at the upper rim of the theater watching the sunset illuminate the snowly western face of the Alps. (We saw people carrying skis on the Metro all day, returning from day trips to Grenoble, Courchevel, etc.)

That night we ate on the Rue Merceire, an entire pedestrianised street with nothing but restaurants and cafes spilling onto the cobblestones. Jammed with tourists (mostly French) but not at all unpleasant, especially after finishing a beer the size of a fishbowl.

Sunday I got up early (well, relatively) and hit the boulangerie for croissants and baguettes...still warm as I walked with baguette under arm to the corner tabac for a copy of Le Monde. Then I sat in our courtyard and drank coffee from a French press while kitty lounged on the flagstones and the church bells tolled in the distance.

Later, our neighbors Pascal and Anne, and their two boys Paul (6) and Antoine (4), took us on a tour of Vieux Lyon (old Lyon), the part of the town essentially unchanged since the Renaissance. Pascal is an architect and took great pleasure in pointing out the features of the renaissance facades and the traboules, a system of passages through the ground level of many of the old residential blocks. Boog played in the fountain at the Musee des Beaux-Arts while Antoine dropped trou and took a leak in a storm drain surrounded by people, and no one batted an eye.

This afternoon we see more apartments; tomorrow there is a greve (strike) which means I'll have to bike to work...more stories likely to come of that.

I swear I'll have some pictures once I get our home computer up and running.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

We're here

A brief note just to let all y'all know we're here, we're alive, and we finally have our luggage (no thanks to United). You haven't lived until you've flown transatlantic with a pregnant lady, a toddler, and a cat in a carry-on.

All's well. Much more to come once I get internet set up at home and don't have to make clandestine posts from my new office here.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Days of Obligation

The clock's running. Our flights are set for March 18; the movers are coming March 15.

Today as I prepared to take Boog to school, I realized that I was wearing the same clothes I had on when I dropped him off Wednesday morning (and I cleaned out the gutters Wednesday afternoon). I'm sporting a 12-day "playoff beard" that makes me look like a Soundgarden roadie circa 1994. My meals are taken standing over the sink, or eaten out of a greasy bag while driving. I communicate with my wife via written notes, since the only time we're in the same place, one or both of us is on the phone, talking with the gutter guy or the Department of Agriculture or the tree man or the insurance company or the flooring people or the property manager (or holding for the French consul, who I'm convinved is totally ignoring me now in hopes that I'll give up and decide I'll like Switzerland better). My to-do list is four pages single-spaced, with handwritten notes all over it. I still don't know how our unaccompanied baggage air shipment is getting to France. I haven't begun to pack.

So I haven't been posting a whole lot on the ol' blog.

But I did sell my car yesterday. The guy's coming to pick it up Monday, and when he drives off I'll turn away just in case I start crying.

And there's more good news...for the first two months, we may be able to rent the townhouse belonging to my predecessor at the agency, rather than cramming into a hotel. It sounds nice, just a few blocks from the Parc Tete d'Or ("Golden Head Park", so named for the legend that a solid gold head of Jesus is buried there somewhere, never mind that if anyone actually had a solid gold likeness of the J-man, they probably would not bury it in a park, no matter how charming) and right by the metro. Plus my contact at the agency says that Lyon is beginning to see the first signs of spring...that is, it has stopped snowing.