07 November 2007

I survived my first grève!

21 October 2007—catching up a little

Grève may not be a word you’re familiar with, even in translation. It means ‘strike,’ as in, ‘In France, there’s always a good reason to go on strike.’ Grèves are quite common in France, though the first major grève I endured happened just last Thursday when the SNCF, the company that runs all the trains in France (which are much better routed, equipped, and utilized than in the States) went on strike against the reforms President Sarkozy is proposing concerning retirement. It near-paralyzed the country, for one because something like forty out of 700 trains were running, and also because every other transportation organization decided it was also a good time to grève for reasons ranging from ‘social upheaval’ (Paris metro) to ‘bathroom breaks’ (Strasbourg public transport). But before you snicker condescendingly or giggle ludicrously, here’s what one French person observed to me: In the US, people are afraid of the government; in France, the government is afraid of the people. What power! Grèves don’t happen without reason (keep in mind that standards of what is ‘grève-worthy’ are a little bit broader here), and they’re very well-organized. Effective? I can’t say much on the history, but I know the SNCF is planning another grève for mid-November, this time indeterminate: the people won’t stop until the government gives in.

How did it effect my daily routine? Well, I don’t take the train or bus daily, so one would think surviving the grève wouldn’t be difficult. One would think. But of course, for one week, I decided to take advantage of my Fridays without class and plan a day-trip with a friend to the neighboring region of Lorraine and its main city Nancy. The grève was set to end Thursday night, but Friday morning the trains were slow to recommence. Moreover, we’d planned to take the bus to the train station, but had to scrounge for last-minute bikes when we found out that the Strasbourg public transport had gone on strike too. But we made it, and without much shifting of schedule, we made it to and from Nancy safely. In Nancy

They call it Stanislas because L*&%dz#$*#ski is just too hard to pronounce.

The center of Nancy is the Place Stanislas, named after the eighteenth century king of Poland/duke of Lorraine. Off this main square are several prominent streets, each with its own attractions. We visited the art museum (which contained a nice smattering of holy-smokes-am-I-really-standing-in-front-of-a-Delacroix/Picasso/Monet/unknown 13th century work), the city’s historical museum (a maze to get around in, but including a large exhibit on the glasswork that Lorraine in so famous for), the park, the main cathedral, and back to the Place Stanislas by night. Nancy looks very different from Strasbourg. Think typical French grillwork on neoclassical architecture versus exposed timbers, thatched roofs and geraniums.

In my opinion, Nancy is worth the visit just to see the paintings of Georges de la Tour, a local seventeenth-century artist who does amazing work in painting light, especially candlelight. The painting is extremely detailed and fine, almost like a photograph. Thank you ETA, Manchester College’s basic humanities course that taught me everything I need to know (and more!) about art.

70,000 Beds in Paris, and Not a One to Sleep In

Sometimes the strangest things are true.

After the Friday in Nancy, I spent Saturday in Paris with the BCA group. It was a quick day trip that turned into a 24-hour-way-too-long-overnight trip, and let me tell you how: The day was proceeding quite well. Leslie and I visited Notre Dame

, passed by the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay, then spent the afternoon visiting the Chateau de Versailles, where a towering portrait of one or another King Louis greeted us in every room. We saw the Hall of Mirrors, the Royal Bedchamber, the Chapel, the Gardens. It was all quite amazing. This is a picture of us pretending to be part of Versailles (we are very, very silly):

Then, with plenty of time, we took the long tram back into Paris and stopped off at the Eiffel Tower for a few priceless photos, then got back on the tram, with plenty of time, to go back to the train station to go back to Strasbourg. But then the tram stopped, and we were late to the station, and we missed our train by five minutes. And, for same crazy and odd and strange reason for which I will never forgive the SNCF, the 7:30pm Saturday train to Strasbourg was the last one. Okay, so we have to spend the night in Paris. Worse things could happen. And then, worse things did happen. Leslie and I searched every hotel within walking distance of the East train station, only to find that they were all full. Why? Because it was…

Saturday night

Of the final

Of the rugby world cup

In Paris.


We tried every option we had (hotels, hostels, friends), and eventually ended up depending on a sympathetic concierge of a Best Western near the train station. “Here’s what you do,” he said, “You stay out in a bar or a club until it closes near two or three am, then you come back here and you can stay in the lobby until six.” So, that’s what we did, although after a full day of exploring the city and a night of intense cold, it wasn’t as grand as it sounds to be stranded in Paris in the midst of world cup fervor. It was my first experience of ‘bar hopping,’ although I don’t know if that counts when it’s forced! Once we returned to the hotel, we were at least safe and warm, even if we did have to jerk awake and pretend to be playing cards every time a real hotel guest came in. We left about six, took the train back at 7:30, and slept all day.

A well-deserved rest, I’d say.

And that’s how I survived a night stranded in Paris.

The day after, I booked my hotel in Paris for the next time I’d be visiting, at the end of the Toussaint vacation. However, I just never have luck in Paris—but that’s a story for another time…

To be continued…

With an account of my travels in Ireland, London, and Paris over Toussaint break.

1 comment:

Hilary said...

OH MY! It sounds tense and exciting all at the same time! Think of all of the memories and laughs you will have 10 years from now when you look back and remember Paris!!! I miss you so! I'd love to talk to you, is there a way we can arrange that? We will be at Mom's on Friday evening (11/6) from 6-? What about then?

Love you!!!!