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The Strikes

I have asked a question over email from someone back home and thought I’d answer it publicly.

Sounds like you and Anna are experiencing some interesting (from here anyway) and probably frustrating (from there) times in France…. I wonder what you think being in the middle of France’s moments of protest.  I know you said you too appreciate the concept, but like everything in life – for me sometimes its easier to appreciate when it doesn’t make your life difficult.

This is a great question and something I’ve been forced to ponder recently. First, let me itemize how we’ve been affected to put this in context:

  • Forced to wait at least twice as long for each Metro train (4-5 minutes instead of 2-3)
  • Now usually standing on the train, sometimes crammed in
  • Couldn’t see the Musee D’Orsay
  • Couldn’t get our train tickets yesterday
  • Stressed out that we can’t leave Paris

I’m stretching here as it really hasn’t been that bad… yet. We have an SNCF train tomorrow to Bruges and strikes are likely to continue. That said, CNN reported that only 25% of SNCF staff are on strike, down from 40%. I like that trend.

We saw a strike parade in Dinan and, I’ll admit, it felt really good… had a good energy to it. People were chanting a bit, walking slowly through the streets, showing their support for the opposition to a change in the retirement age (increasing from 60 to 62 in an effort to improve the national budget).

What struck me as interesting was the number of political parties that were present. Everything from the socialists to the communists and the anti-capitalists. Possibly in light of my perpetual disappointment with our silly two-party system, this seemed like a healthy way to go about things. Why not 20 political parties? There are so many aspects to government, how could there be a right answer with only two combinations?

But I digress.

The whole thing reminds me of something Anna and I saw back in San Diego. This sounds like yet another digression but, I promise, this one circles back.

We were walking around downtown on a Friday night, something we rarely ever do, and we started to see a stream of bikes a few blocks away. The small stream got bigger and bigger until it took up half the street. This seemingly endless river of bicyclists had taken over this intersection (and every one before and after) much to the chagrin of ever driver within the 10 or more square blocks that were being held hostage. Cars jumped forward at the bikes, taxi drivers honked and yelled, lights changed from green to red with no affect on the slipstream of bicycles.

We stood on the corner and watched this surreal event for almost 20 minutes. We noticed two distinct attitudes:

  1. The rage of the people in cars that couldn’t get where they are going
  2. The blithe, blissful looks of DGAF on the cyclists face

Anna and I squared off on the pros and cons of the events, unaware that we were watching Critical Mass, a monthly gathering of cyclists to assert cyclist rights and create awareness. A big part of me saw the event as a really amazing thing. Here were these typically powerless cyclists shutting down a big cities for several minutes and not a damn thing could be done. Anna was annoyed and angered by the event (though agreed that it was impressive to watch). Who were these people to inconvenience everybody for their own enjoyment? What if people have to make a flight? In labor? Just wanted to get home to their family after a bad day? Valid concerns, all of them.

I thought about this surreal night yesterday as I started to genuinely worry whether or not we’d make it to the next country. That night I said that this was a very interesting reminder that the day-to-day stuff in our lives are always at risk of being interrupted and, chances are, your life won’t be affected by it. It’s also a reminder that things out of your control have this way of working their way into your sphere and disrupting what you thought was a sure thing. It could be death, a group of cyclists, or a missed train… whatever it is, you had no control over it nor were you expecting it so, really, c’est la vie. Easy to say? Yes. Easy to remember when your ability to get to an essay proctor in Toulon to apply for a very important nursing program back at home is in the hands of millions of angry French? Not so much.

In the end, I’m inconvenienced and a bit on edge about the whole thing but I’m incredibly impressed by this kind of demonstration. In America, it seems like people who take to the streets get singled out as wingnuts. Let’s be honest, some of them are, but giving your time to support what you believe in politically is not a mainstream American thing to do and, after seeing what happens here, I’m a little disappointed by that. You might disagree with them but 2 million Parisians took to the street to say that they didn’t want their quality of life infringed on. These aren’t drunken parade revelers, these are working-class French people who believe in something.

Sure, there’s criticism saying that most people are just generally protesting Sarkozy, the French President, but this protest is a strong statement, whatever it might be. Tourist attractions are closed, transportation is greatly affected, and some stores are even shut down in support. I read in the Economist that French politics are decided in the streets… I wonder, where are our politics decided? On the internet?

Well-formed and based on hours of research this opinion is not but I’m glad I had an opportunity to share!

RANDOM PHOTO OF PARIS!!!


Traveling updates:

We’re leaving Paris tomorrow which is strange to say. If our train is canceled, we might not have to say it! We’re off to Bruges for a night and Brussels for two with our well-traveled and always entertaining friends, Chris and Anna from San Diego. Stay tuned for an update on our adventures with visitors, written by Anna, no less! You know that essay that’s coming up? Well, it’s October 19th and, despite spending the last several weeks writing her entrance essays, she’s a bit nervous about this one (it’s timed).

So, send a little extra karma/luck/providence/whatever you believe in on the 19th and let’s get this talented, unique, intelligent, caring, wonderful woman into a nursing program that should be so lucky to have someone of her caliber applying.

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