Here are some pictures of the Mirail campus with entryways and corridors blocked off with tables and chairs. I wasn’t exaggerating, we’re preparing for WWIII over here. These pictures were taken by Vania.

So I’m not going to complain about the strikes like I usually do but I am going to update you on the situation since it does affect getting credit for my classes. Which is kind of important for graduation. Since my lit. class ending early last week, the Mirail has been on strike/put up blockades so obviously I haven’t had a single class there this week. I did go Tuesday morning to make sure and I probably shouldn’t have bothered. There weren’t the usual hordes of students that crowd the metro and as I got off the Mirail stop, I could tell things didn’t look good with all the students just standing around outside the university’s gates. You literally could not get in, the gates closed off access to the campus except for one door where it seems some of the strike leaders were hanging around. I did see some people going in so I guess nobody could technically stop me from going in if I had wanted to. I hung around for maybe 5 minutes and then headed back to the metro, to my apartment, to sleep some more.

The problem with these ongoing strikes and cancelled classes is that we aren’t getting any homework. That is a major dilemma especially since I can’t get credit for a class in which I’m not getting any work/isn’t meeting in the first place. I have gotten one assignment from my lit. professor by e-mail that doesn’t have a due date so I will get around to doing it eventually. The two classes I take at the Mirail are mostly lecture classes. I take notes in class and I’ve been starting to prepare myself for the final papers I will need to hand in at the end of the semester. But if we don’t have class, how am I supposed to prepare myself for the exams in May?

We had a meeting at the Dickinson Center and basically, we need to do any classwork we’ve been sent by the professors… so that means I need to do the one assignment I’ve gotten so far. The center is organizing tutorials for the classes in the event the strikes last several weeks. The problem is these strikes are so unpredictable. They can last for months or it might all be over by next week (even though nothing ever gets resolved which is why there are so many strikes each time a new reform is made). Le Mirail may prolong its semester and move exam dates if the strikes continue. However, this won’t affect Dickinson’s schedule since exams get pushed into June and July. Our program will still end May 29th, our program directors need to figure out and contact the Mirail professors to make sure we take the exams before we leave. Dickinson realizes a lot of the students have already purchased plane tickets for the return flight home and that it costs a lot of money to move tickets to a different date. It’s a huge headache for our program directors because as they try to contact Mirail administration, nobody picks up the phone since everybody is on strike. And of course, we pray for the best and hope these strikes resolve themselves. And that they don’t lead to further strikes.

In the future, Dickinson really should warn students against taking classes at the Mirail. I could have taken classes at other universities and I didn’t realize how often the Mirail would not have class. Had I known this beforehand, I probably would have taken classes at IEP or l’Institut Catholique or UT1. Or just blacklist the Mirail altogether and not let students take classes there. Nobody would miss the ugly campus.

In other news, I’ve discovered there are 2 crazy personalities here in Toulouse that like to wander the streets and are well known characters in this city. They are so popular they both have their own fan groups on Facebook. The first one is a guy (who I’ve actually seen) , probably in his forties, who likes to walk around singing James Brown songs. As you meander down the street minding your own business, watch out for this guy who will suddenly come around a corner to often go “HA!” in your face and proceed to sing “I like to move it, move it!” I won’t lie, the first time I saw him I was pretty scared. It was dark out and my friends and I were looking for this Indian restaurant recommended by our Dickinson handbook. All of a sudden Mr. James Brown comes out of nowhere singing “I like to move it, move it!” interspersed with his Frenchized “Pompedop!” (Pump it up!) and “I feel good dadadadada!” We quickly ran into the restaurant, especially when we realized he was headed down our way and there was no one in the street. Anyways I didn’t realize after my first encounter that the guy is a regular who for the most part amuses Toulousains. People sometimes approach him to take their picture with him and according to the testimonies on Facebook, he is less crazy than he appears. Though he is an alcoholic (no surprise) so this is what probably leads to the constant public singing of James Brown songs and his acrobatics on the metro (from what I’ve read). In fact, I saw him again today as I was walking in Place Wilson to go to FNAC to buy a book for class (which alas I sadly did not find). I avoided his general direction but it seemed like everybody was used to his presence and not too surprised to see him hanging around. I suppose James Brown can RIP knowing his alcoholic number one fan will not let his musical legacy die. Especially in Toulouse.

The other street performer celebrity here is one I have not been privileged to meet yet. She is an older woman, grandmotherly looking, but appearances can be very deceiving. I’ve decided she takes the right to voice her opinions via protesting to a whole new level, one beyond the French are even capable of. She marches around the streets of Toulouse screaming at the top of her lungs announcing the apocalypse just about every day. However, her rants which verge on the “You are all sinners, repent!” line of thought also can get political. She apparently really hates Sarkozy and lets everybody within hearing know her displeasure. So yeah she just walks around Toulouse terrorizing and amusing citizens. And she’s been at it for awhile, if the comments on Facebook are to be believed (around 10-15 years). And it seems that her name is Madeleine and she doesn’t live in Toulouse but on the outskirts. She hitchhikes or takes the bus (when the driver can be bothered to stand her raving) every day to grace Toulouse with her presence. She shows up frequently to protests which happen regularly in France, of course. However she is usually protesting against the protesters (or well everyone really) yelling they will all go to hell because they don’t pray and that they are all going to die. I’ve seen a few videos of her on Youtube (one in which people actually tried to interview her) and I really hope she doesn’t come up behind me yelling one day (as she has been prone to do). She is a force to be reckoned with and I think I’ll be more scared than amused by her when I finally get to meet her. I seriously pity her neighbors. Allegedly she rants and raves from her balcony at home too. Vania, one of the program participants, took a great picture of her during her first week of Toulouse, dubbing the old lady “the Queen of Toulouse.” Some Toulousains jokingly refer to her as a prophetess. Poor crazy granny. She just wants us to repent and pray the rosary three times a day.

On Tuesday night, I went to this cute little restaurant called Au Petit Bonheur for Molly’s goodbye dinner. Her boyfriend had flown in from the US and there were 6 of us so it was a small group which was nice. She flies home this Sunday. Going to miss you Molly!

As for my internship, it is going pretty well. It is probably the easiest internship I will ever have in my life since I don’t really have set hours. I just show whenever I want (well when I have free time and the museum is open) and sit at my computer and translate the texts. And ask questions when I get stuck on a term I don’t know. The staff is very friendly so I feel very comfortable and accepted which is all I can ask for.

However, Guillaume, my boss is a real character. He is a huge Americanophile (though he doesn’t like NYC but loves San Fran. All French people love San Fran because they think it’s so European) which is nice since I don’t think I’d want to work for someone who hates Americans. He really is funny. One second he is in office being all serious and talking on the phone. The next he is back in the main office where I work telling all of us some random story and making us laugh or raise our eyebrows. It’s just so schizophrenic the way he snaps from “let’s talk business” to “let’s be relaxed now.” Maybe he really likes Virgil (a guy) the new intern? The two seem to have a similar sense of humor and I think he just started because I don’t remember seeing him last week. It seems when Virgil is around, Guillaume spends more time fooling around than actually working. Though that may just be his usual personality.

However I didn’t appreciate the lecture I got on Tuesday. I don’t even know how we got on this subject but Virgil and his girlfriend dressed as a tower and a plane for an American themed party. Yes as in 9/11 plane-tower. Yeah, I find it in poor taste too. I’m sorry to say I didn’t find the humor in it at all and I’m pretty sure this is not me just being regular serious Amelie who can’t take a joke. Anyways, Guillaume thought it was funny too and proceeded to explain to me why he thought it was funny. According to him, in order for a country to be able to discuss a tragic historical event, we need to be able to laugh about it. He says France can now look at the humor of WWII, a very dark time indeed in France’s history. My response: really???? I suppose he knows better than I do since he is the director of the museum and he regularly interacts with the survivors who come to the museum to tell their personal stories of deporation/French resistance to the school groups who come every day. I suppose it makes sense for the survivors to poke fun at the war since they suffered so much in the internment camps they were placed in, it’s a way to protect themselves from going crazy.

And then Guillaume goes on to tell me that America needs to be able to find the humor in 9/11 before being able to intelligently discuss the events. He told me he knew New Yorkers who were already poking fun at the tragedies but admitted they were few and far in between. I’m sorry but I don’t think I will EVER be able to laugh about four planes crashing into buildings/a field and subsequently blowing people up. There were people jumping from the Towers before the planes hit in a desperate attempt to escape… I personally babysat two little girls who lost their father to the tragedy (they were so young when it happened they don’t remember him–they call their stepfather daddy). It will always be a dark day in NYC’s (and America’s) history. I really think Guillaume is one of the few people with this opinion but I could be totally wrong. Maybe he meant irony… yes tragic events can be ironic. Not humorous or funny though. And I don’t feel it is anybody’s place to tell people how they should feel about a certain event. Of course, Guillaume blamed the Bush Administration for the manipulation of the image of 9/11 in the media. French people hating Bush???? That’s a new one!

Needless to say, I didn’t appreciate the lecture. I’ve been put in this position before by certain French cousins who will remain nameless (cough*Julien*cough who actually doesn’t even read this blog). As in I listen to people complain about the US which is fine, the US isn’t perfect, that I think we all know. (However whenever I complain about France, I’m told to shut it. Maybe I need more tact, but my dear French people, your country has problems too) But then I’m told the US should be more like this… or Americans should do this or be like this… Look, I’m one person, NOT the entire country. My fellow countrymen will continue to do as they please, I’m not going to stand up for a whole nation and try to defend it. I think French people think I will be more understanding since I’m half French but it only makes me annoyed. Especially since my American counterparts don’t accuse me of being French and complain about France to me and expect me to defend France (except for your crazy friend Mom, you know Dave?)

If Americans don’t want to look for the irony/humor in 9/11, so be it. As Britney Spears likes to say, it’s their prerogative. I think Guillaume thought he had done me some sort of favor or something by explaining all this to me. I didn’t talk back to him because I didn’t see any point. French people are notoriously stubborn/proud too (yeah yeah that describes me too). It’s their way or the highway. Except nothing much gets done their way if you consider the strikes… but I’ll let that slide for now.

I really do like being half-French even though I complain about it a lot. There are a lot of differences I’m noticing now which previously escaped my attention when I was little. We discuss a lot of these differences in our internship seminar class and I’m glad our program director (who leads the class and is French) has been Americanized enough to the point where she can shrug her shoulders and laugh and go “Oh! The French! What can you do?” However being bicultural can have its downsides, such as being put in the position of defending one of the cultures or listening to people criticize it. Especially if it’s the one you were raised in and the one you are most familiar with. I also don’t like cultural debates because they always turn personal and people end up being offended. I’m not the PC Queen but I don’t like seeing people upset (or feeling upset either).

Shifting gears here… I’m going to Andorra tomorrow with my friend Kathryn. I don’t know if there is actually anything to do there besides ski (which I’m not doing) but we are leaving tomorrow morning and leaving early Saturday afternoon. We won’t be around enough to get bored if that’s the case. The only thing I know about Andorra is that there are no taxes so everything is cheaper. My host brother joked I could buy him cigarettes since they aren’t as expensive.

The weather is being such a tease. Despite it being my birthday month (and Papa’s), March is such a cruel month. It’s beautiful and sunny one day, gray and rainy the next. Winter is trying to cling on and we are all happy to see the cold go. It was so gorgeous today so I went and sat in one of the parks near me and wrote a bunch of messages on some postcards. If you are lucky, you might be getting one soon!

However it’s going to be beautiful in ARIZONA where my parents and my sister are going to see the Grand Canyon and other Arizonan places next week. I am not going to pretend I’m not jealous or slightly bitter about being left out. Yeah I know I’m in Europe, France of all places! But the Arizona desert (which I’ve already got to experience, it’s so amazing) and its canyons are sights not even Europe can duplicate. Have fun you guys. Bring back a cactus for me.

Okidoki that’s all I’ve got for now!