Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Reporting from a war zone

I feel like a war-time journalist sending out updates from shell-shocked France. Since I last wrote, the situation's only gotten more intense. Yesterday in my group lesson we talked about the strikes and how the refineries have stopped production. One lady said semi-dramatically that her tank was empty. Thus followed a short silence as if she'd said she only had a week to live. One of my colleague's students cancelled her lesson because she had no gas and couldn't drive the 30 minutes to the center. She had to walk to work and was lucky she was able to. I've seen yet more lines at gas stations and there are moments when there are so many cars that they stick out in the intersection or roundabout and create more traffic problems.

This morning as I tried to drive to work I noticed things were much slower than usual. No wonder! The union members and their truck-driving buddies were blocking entry to my town and seriously choking exit, too. Instead of three lanes to exit the town, they'd bottlenecked it to one. I saw the driver in front of me roll down his window to take the union flyer from the protesters on the side of the road. I felt like shooting them a bird but thought better of it. They might have attacked my car. Instead I just tried to drive forward. But one of the guys walked out in front of my car and said to his buddies, "Hey, she didn't take a flyer." So grudgingly I rolled down my window and took the paper with a hasty "merci" and drove off.

Once at work my student and I talked about the situation. As a higher level manager, he wasn't keen on strikes and his own business meeting had been cancelled since most of the participants couldn't make it due to transport problems. My coworkers and I grunted our complaints about how these folks were sometimes preventing us from working and making money. It's fine if they want to strike and not get paid, but they shouldn't block us from making a living.

On the way back home I chose to go through the small towns. But access back on to the main road was blocked by the police (gendarmes) at one point and at another we were totally stuck on the entrance ramp. I started wishing I could back up and to my delight I saw the motorists behind me were doing just that. So we all started backing up on the ramp, totally illegal, but frankly it felt good to escape the traffic jam and beat the protesters for once. Of course, I did use up more precious gas with all this backtracking but I avoided the parking lot that was the "expressway".

Yesterday the high schoolers kicked it up a notch, too. The high school in front of the babysitter's was turning into a combat zone. As I took Juliette to the door in her pale pink quilted parka, I held her a bit more closely than usual, eyeing the students across the road who were throwing down a few firecrackers. They started knocking over garbage cans and walking on the road to block drivers. After dropping baby off I drove the other way to avoid their shenanigans. I passed a garbage can that had obviously been burned and that the city workers were cleaning up.

I know this is the country that stormed the Bastille and had a revolution. But I think they had better reason way back then (uh, poverty, famine, yeah, I get that). Now they seem to strike like it's their birthright. I wouldn't grudge them their right to protest but only if I can still live my life! Their freedom should end where ours begins. But they don't see it that way. They're just angry at this retirement plan and in general wanting to show their disapproval of the current government. Can't they find a way to do that which doesn't bring the country to a standstill?!


Anonymous said...

I completely get where you're coming from! So far in Clermont-Ferrand the striking has not progressed into rioting and thankfully I can walk everywhere I need to go. BUT I'm waiting anxiously to see if my boyf can even make it into France tomorrow as Air France has announced a strike tomorrow too!! The website is far from helpful. I hope it doesn't get too dangerous for you and Juliet, and you can go about your day as normal :)

The Boy said...

Hope you stay safe.....the press stories look quite scary! The folks were supposed to be driving from the UK down to Bordeaux this weekend although doesn't look likely now. Keep safe, and if it looks too frisky out there stay in and keep blogging! Love the posts!

Jenenz said...

It's unreal! I had to google to find out what was going on in France. It's all been about the SF GIants in the playoffs, the up coming elections, and Obama coming to SF on Thursday.

I hate U.S. news.

Please take care. I hope things work out soon. It's hard when the economy is recovering so slowly.

Lindle said...

The violence over a later retirement age seems so ridiculous to those of us who can't retire until we are 62, 65, or older. How fortunate we are to live in a time or in societies that can give us money to live on when we stop working. There are places in the world where people work until the day they die! All of this rioting and work stoppage makes France vulnerable right now.
And like you said, they are denying many citizens the right to work and earn a living right now!

Put a "Baby on Board" sign in your car and stay away from those grumpy, violent people. I hope this is resolved for all of you over there as soon as possible.