Thursday, 28 October 2010

Recommended: Reporters sans frontières exhibition at the Petit Palais

The entrance to the Petit Palais (Source: photos-libres)

Just remembered that in the dark days before I started blogging regularly, I went to visit the Reporters sans frontieres exhibition at the Petit Palais.

This is a quick blog post to say that it's well worth a look.  The Palais is just off the Champs-Elysees (metro Champs-Elysees-Clemenceau).  It's free to get into the Palais.

It took us a while to find the exhibition, but it was a happy wander past art spanning thousands of years, from ancient Greek pottery to paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries.  

The exhibition is 100 photos courtesy of Pierre and Alexandra Boulat.  They were photojournalists who cover a range of topics in their work, from the victims of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq to a rural wedding in provincial France.  I'm the furthest thing from a fashion guru but even I recognised some shots of the late designer Yves Saint Laurent.   

I won't say any more, but it's definitely an hour or two well spent.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Music on the métro

A guitarist about to do the rounds at Place d'Italie
Almost drowned out by the noise of the métro - the onrushing trains, the announcements, the people - musicians serenade us Parisians as we travel.  If you use the métro regularly, chances are you'll encounter these people (normally men, I haven't yet seen any female musicians) playing accordions, guitars or singing.  You normally need to pass an audition a la X-Factor before you can play, but that doesn't stop plenty of others from doing the daily grind whilst avoiding the RATP officers. 
Looking around when a musician gets on, you see a lot of rolled eyes and exaggerated sighs of annoyance. The quality definitely varies from not bad to downright awful: I heard a guitarist give a questionable rendition of "Imagine" by John Lennon the other day, and earlier another guitarist croak their way through "Tears in Heaven" by Eric Clapton.  One poor guy came on to my carriage and a man asked everyone whether they wanted to hear him.  He and his friends didn't really give him a chance - they sarcastically clapped along and then jeered him off at the next stop.

On the whole I think it does enrich an otherwise dull train journey.  The accordion players in particular are quintessentially Parisian.  It's easy to sneer at the rubbish ones, but at least they're doing something to liven up the daily commute.  A lot of the time on the métro commuters seem to try to outdo each other on who can look the most stressed out and uptight.  Relax and enjoy the music.  You'll live longer.

Friday, 22 October 2010


My Toussaint half term holiday started early!  I've had one hour of proper teaching in the last two days (I'm meant to have seven).  Yesterday I got to school around 9:30 and found around 100 kids standing outside the gate in a "blocus".  On the railing they had put up a banner which read "Sarkozy, t'es foutu, la jeunesse est dans la rue" which means "Sarkozy, you've had it, the youth is on the street".  Apparently they used this slogan (with more success) for De Gaulle in May 1968.  The deputy head was there ushering in those students and assistants brave enough to cross the dreaded picket line.  Having just about made it past bored students rubbing their hands in the cold, I went inside.  The first lesson was a write-off - the teacher and I chatted for the whole lesson and waited for our next one.  That terminale class did turn up in full and I introduced myself and answered some familiar questions like I had done for the other classes.  I had a long break before my afternoon classes, and my teacher said I could go home as she didn't think anyone was going to turn up.

Today I was met with another blocus, but this time the kids had wired the gate shut and smeared what looked suspiciously like dog crap all over the electronic card reader.  I wasn't that keen to get inside the school, but I followed the rest of the staff in through the car park.  Once we got inside it was obvious that no students were that keen either - the school was empty.  So, after a quick word with my teachers, my holidays began early!

It's so strange seeing French students openly going on strike.  They don't need to cover their faces: all that happens is they get marked late on the register.  Imagine if a group of schoolchildren decided to go on strike in Britain - the teachers would break it up straightaway.  But here, it's a bit more ambiguous.  One told me that she supported the right of students to strike if they truly believed in the cause.  But, she added, loads just did it as an excuse to bunk off school.  Seeing as the right to strike is so ingrained in French culture, I guess you could regard the kids chanting outside the school gate as taking an all-day Citizenship lesson...

Monday, 18 October 2010

Manif encore

Some photos I took of the strikes and protests in Paris over the last few weeks:

Outside the Senate building near Jardin du Luxembourg

Add caption

Some fired-up protestors!


...estation. Protests. That's the story of this week in Paris, as students, trade unionists, teachers and apparently oil refinery workers have all been going on strike and generally making life difficult for Sarkozy and company.

On Friday I only had one class to go to, so I turned up for it and found students and teachers standing about outside and in the foyer. I asked the sociology teacher what was going on and he told me "manif". I asked some other teachers what they were protesting about. They laughed and said "la retraite. Toujours la retraite." Lots of students had taken the opportunity to skip school. Nobody turned up for the class I had slogged for an hour on the metro to get to, so I chatted with the teacher for the whole lesson.

I heard stories about schools being barricaded by students around my school, and apparently vandals smashed windows in a lycée near mine.  Next stop, May '68. 

In other news, the flat I was looking at fell through, but I've found a more promising flat, again in the 12th arrondissement. Hopefully I'll get that one instead!

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Flat hunting and first week of teaching

I managed to find a flat! Well, more accurately a freelance agent found it for me. It's a studio in the 11th/12th arrondissement, close to Bastille and Nation. It's convenient as it's on line 8 to Créteil and it's in what seems to be a thriving area.

It's a great relief to have found somewhere; the process was starting to drag on. There's still a lot to be done - I have to provide them with a lot of paperwork and sign for it, but things are definitely looking good.

Last week was the observation week at my lycée. I found that the students weren't very good at English. Lycées have children from about 15 years upwards, and the students at mine had trouble forming basic questions to ask me. They were reasonably disciplined and were all curious that there was an "Anglais" at their school. I sat in on a sociology lesson where they talked about the current strikes over the proposed retirement reforms, and a French lesson where they were discussing a Baudelaire poem. The staff were brilliant; I couldn't have wished for a better welcome from them. All of them have helped me start to settle in.

There is another orientation day organised by the académie, and no school Tuesday as my (fellow) teachers are on strike. "La rétraite: c'est le vivre et pas le survivre".