Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Another Pool Surprise

Sunday morning once again, and I arrived at the municipal swimming pool at 8:15 am (the pool opens on Sunday morning at 8) only to face a dull, grey and unlit building. On strike again! OK. Call another pool with cell phone. OK, they’re open. Go to bus stop. Stop! There was Anne, another pool regular coming toward me. “Ils sont en grève” (they’re on strike) I warned her. Anne swims regularly at our pool, and we always greet each other in the shower room. “OK,” she said. “Allons nous à Mathis” (OK – let’s go to Mathis). Huh? Mathis is supposedly one of the best municipal pools in the area– at least that’s what several “regulars” have told me. Frankly, I’d never been there and didn’t even know exactly where it was located. What I did know was that it wasn’t exactly nearby – but here was Anne suggesting we walk there! As a matter of fact, I haven’t seen a lot of Anne at our pool recently. She explained this was because she now goes more frequently to Mathis. How could I resist? “Je suis partante” (I’m game!). And off we went, sacs balanced on shoulders to the mysterious Mathis pool. And I was right, it wasn’t that close.

After we crossed over the railroad tracks that lead to the Gare de l’Est, we turned into a small park with gigantic clean lined apartment towers – social housing as a matter of fact. This finally led to the pool, which was of course open and not on strike. I think they just don’t do a thing like that at Mathis. Thanks to my guide Anne, I had finally arrived at the “best” pool. But now there was one more hurdle to overcome. Each pool has it’s own unique system for changing booths and lockers. At Hebert, the ‘hood pool, you get a basket, undress in a changing booth, put the basket with your things into a locker and then lock it using a personal code that you then use to open up the locker. At my backup pool Les Amiraux, you go right into a changing booth, undress, leave all your stuff there, clack the door behind you which then automatically locks, and get an attendant to unlock it when you return after your shower.

Now I was facing system #3: pull a basket from an empty locker, undress in the changing booth and then put the basket with your stuff back into the locker which has a real and actual lock – that you need to insert one euro into to pull it out. What euro? I certainly had never met this situation before and did not have any money on me at all (I did of course have my cell phone, house keys, kleenax, list of pool phone numbers, tickets to get into the pool, a business card with my name, address, phone numbers, email and website address in case I am injured or killed so they know who was injured or who died – but no change whatsoever). Without Anne it would have been a disaster. But generous being that she is – Anne lent me a euro coin to pull out my locker key. And by absolute and unplanned good fortune, we actually finished swimming at the same time, so I could give it back to her just before we walked home together. Which was good because I had already forgotten how to get there and would undoubtedly have gotten miserably lost without my “guide” to show me the way.

Oh does it pay to be a “regular”!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Opportunity Knocks

For once I got up early enough in the morning to arrive at the municipal swimming pool at 7 am. During the week, it opens from 7 to 8:15 and then closes until 11:30. But no way am I going to stop whatever I’m doing during the day to go swimming. I know myself – it’s before breakfast or nothing. That Wednesday morning I left early enough to make it! Suddenly, about 2 blocks from the pool, 2 guys signaled to me. Weird. Then I looked up and realized they were both swimming pool regulars. I must say it really does pay to become part of the “regulars” in France. In fact this is how I found my hairdresser, one of the best I’ve ever had in Paris. Marcelle, another swimming pool regular, is friends with her mother and told me about the shop. It’s about 30 seconds from my apartment. However, the sign outside says “Messieurs” (“Men”) and I’m totally unobservant, so I hadn’t noticed that there were actually ladies inside what had been her father’s barbershop. But I’m digressing. The 2 regulars simply said “Ils sont en grève.” (They’re on strike = the pool is closed). It was freezing cold, so cold in fact that I couldn’t even deal with the thought of taking off my gloves to call other pools on my cell phone to see who was not “en grève”.
So, no swimming that Wednesday morning. (If you want to know more about the “greve” read my blog: I did it right!, Wednesday, February 24, 2010.)

As often happens in life, this actually allowed opportunity to knock at the door. You see, I’m a teacher at a university in Paris called Sciences Po (Institute for Political Science). It’s a top school and the students are very “intello”. So am I, but since I’m older, I know they’ll have to deal with things other than logic to succeed in life. This is why, in my English skills class, I play music. Heavy metal rock music. It’s a shocker, but they need it as far as I’m concerned. As I tell them, “You’re getting all the linear logic you need in all your other classes. Let’s rock.”

Unfortunately Tuesday night at Sciences Po I had left my newest fantastic heavy metal CD in the CD player. The class ended at 7 pm, and of course I didn’t notice it until I got home that evening. Then I tried to figure out when to go back to get the CD. Well, here it was - the opportunity to arrive at Sciences Po Wednesday morning the day after at 8 am before the first class of the day. Surely I would find my CD still in the player. After all, there’s only one class after mine in the evening, and the young professor arrives wearing a suit and tie – I can’t imagine him playing any music!

OK — off we go by Metro to Sciences Po! By then it was 7:30, perfect to arrive at 8. And there was my CD right there in the player where I’d left it. I found Anvil! I arrived home at around 8:30, just when I would have gotten back from the pool, and played Metal on Metal while I did my morning yoga. GREAT!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Me and Vashti

Last Saturday night was the beginning of Purim. (I assume that Jewish holidays begin at sundown because if you’re wandering around in the hot dry desert you really look forward to sunset for some relief.) The story of Purim takes place in ancient Persia when the King, Ahasuerus, marries a Jewish girl Esther, although he doesn’t know she’s Jewish (her “real” Hebrew name is Hadassa). Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, looks after her and even prevents an assassination attempt on the King. At the same time, the villain of the story, Hamen, a high official in the Persian administration, hates Mordecai because Mordecai doesn’t bow down to him (in truth, he’s just plain anti-Semitic). What makes it even worse for Hamen is when Ahasuerus rewards Mordecai for saving his life by having Hamen lead him around on a horse through the streets of Sushan. So Hamen gets the king to put his seal on an order to kill all the Jews, and once this happens the order can never be repealed. Esther, using her feminine wiles, lets the King know she’s Jewish – and does he want her, his beloved beautiful wife, killed too? Of course not – so the Jews are warned, fight back and win, thus following the standard Jewish holiday motif: They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.

So who is Vashti? She is the first wife of King Ahasuerus. The story begins, not with a bang, but with a seven-day banquet to celebrate his reign for all the men who lived in the palace. “And the rule for drinking was, ‘No restrictions!’” On the last day, Ahasuerus orders Queen Vashti to present herself, “wearing but the royal diadem to display her beauty.” She refuses. Now I’m behind Vashti on this one: “What? Display myself naked in front of a bunch of drunken idiots? No way Ahash!” This is why the king divorces Vashti and finds his new Jewish wife Esther. But my heroine is Vashti! You go girl! And she did – we never hear about her again.

The way we celebrate Purim at my synagogue Kehilat Gesher in Paris is to read the Book of Esther from the Old Testament, out loud and word for word. Purim is also the Jewish Halloween – you’re supposed to come in disguise. I, of course, came as my heroine – Vashti! And our rabbi? Imagine someone leading a service in an outsized green top hat and red beard – he was a leprechaun! This may explain why were all given a quarter glass of whiskey and were instructed to take a sip every time we heard the word “banquet”. That, plus the booing whenever we heard the name Hamen, made for a very special evening indeed at Kehilat Gesher in Paris.