The snow creaked pleasingly underfoot. For once I was glad of the pushchair, because it’s actually rather difficult to fall flat on your face when you have a four wheel drive Italian stallion Peg Perego buggy to steady yourself with. The waterproof poncho, source of much Christmas woe, got its first outing today and I silently thanked the EVILs for their foresight. Quite the chic Parisienne was I this morning sporting my sensible flat shoes, poncho drawstrings tied tightly under my chin.
Tadpole finally got to see some live snow, something that until now she had only seen in the illustrations from ‘Maisy’s Christmas Eve‘. A muffled chanting “no-ing! no-ing! no-ing!” could be heard from under the buggy’s misted up plastic raincover. What I wouldn’t give on days like today for a bit of role reversal. Oh to be pushed to work in an upholstered cocoon.
Ideally, we would have taken a detour through the Buttes Chaumont on the way to the childminder’s house and built a little “no-man”… However this was not to be. Parisian parks close their gates at the first hint of unclement weather (intempéries). Especially the Buttes Chaumont, as it is on a very steep hill, and therefore highly perilous when slippy. Presumably the powers that be at the town hall are paranoid about their liability should a jogger or dog walker accidentally break their neck. It’s a crying shame though, as those slopes were made for sledging.
Whenever it snows in Paris, vivid memories surface of the strikes of December 1995, and my spell as an English teacher at the Sorbonne Nouvelle (poor relation to the photogenic sister faculty of the Sorbonne, housed in a 70’s monstrosity, its ugliness matched only by the faculty website.)
That winter, two million French public sector workers elected to go on strike for the best part of a month. If I wanted to go anywhere at all during this turbulent time, it had to be accessible on foot, and using a route which avoided the pancarte-brandishing manifestants. There are few things more tedious than having to wait half an hour to cross a road as the demonstrators trundle past, from the enthusiastic ones at the front who wave their banners energetically and have mastered the day’s special chants, to the very last stragglers bringing up the rear.
At Paris III, the majority of the teachers, students and admin staff downed their pens for the duration. However lectrices like myself were not permitted to take industrial action. So for several weeks I was supposed to turn up to classes – a good forty minute trudge from my little bachelorette pad on the rue de la Roquette – never knowing whether the building would even be open when I arrived. There might be a single student, or five, or more likely none at all, awaiting my ‘expert tuition’. And I remember snow. Copious amounts of it.
My deux-pièces had a tiled floor, big, draughty windows and miniscule electric heaters were positioned under the windows. One day I awoke to the sight of ice on the inside of my bedroom window. When I had no classes at all, I took to hanging out in cafés and cinemas to keep warm. I was pathetically thankful for the fact that if you buy one coffee in a French bar you can sit there for as long as you please.
After three weeks of teeth-chattering, isolated boredom, I packed my bags and went back home early for Christmas.
The very next day, naturally, the strikes were called off.