Thursday, January 10, 2013

In Search of Lost Time: Nantes--Days 4 & 5, part 1

My most “leisurely” day on this trip was Day 4. I got up, had breakfast, went over to the Cathedral and got some more pix from the inside. Then it was back to the Institute with some bread and cheese from a place called “Monoprix”, a French department store that was a favorite among Americans during my last stay. While I was eating with the students, I had to restrain myself from saying, “Well, back in my day…” all the time. Everything changes in 21 years. The 350 hand-written letters shocked them, I think.

I was back for a second day because the center had some visitors from the US State Department, and I was invited back for the presentation. That was fine, but I enjoyed talking to the students. I think some were scared when they heard me speak French because they might have thought they should be speaking like me after a year in Nantes. As much as I learned in Nantes, I learned so much from studying and teaching French after I got back.

(Seriously, folks…if you want to learn something until it is automatic, teach others. I promise you, I will never be able to forget French irregular verbs or some of the tenses—especially the passé composé and the imparfait—because of the amount of times I’ve had to teach them.  I actually enjoy teaching them…that is the scary part!! Just call it Jupiter’s influence—I have Jupiter in its dignity in Sagittarius. But I digress. )

After the talk was over, I headed back for the hotel for a while to type an email to Jen. Just like my last trip, I took some time—at least an hour a day, in this case—writing to her about my adventures. I also started doing some of the dreaded packing with my purchases. I wore a lot of old clothes to France that I just threw out afterward so space wasn’t a problem.

I headed back out later for dinner and what would be my final trip to Le Tiki Bar. My friend the bartender and I had some more great conversations, and he gave me a taste of one of his “infusions”, a homemade brew. It was tasty. Hooray for Neptune!

On the way back to the hotel, I had a snack at an old sandwich stand I used to hit, and once again, found some more lost time as I approached it in the same location as they were so long ago. They still had the sandwich I used to eat on the menu, a steack américain frites. This is an amazing concoction of steak topped with French fries. I used to get it once a week and sit in the Place de Commerce and eat it, watching the people go by. I decided against the steak this time, but got a great merguez sausage with fries instead and ate it on my way back to my hotel.

Day 5, Saturday, was my last full day in Nantes, and by necessity a shopping day. I went out to the eastern end of Nantes on the tram line, and hit not one but two hypermarkets. The first was fairly disappointing, but I did pick up some Christmas gifts.

The second was more of a pain in the ass. The French now use those scanners; the French word is une scannette and scan their purchases the way we can here. By an incredible coincidence, the French verb to scan is scanner. Go figure.

Anyway, I took a photo of the scanner area since I didn’t know the vocabulary as I walked into the store, and went upon my merry way. In a true Saturn moment,  about 30 seconds later  a security guard stopped me, saying that I “was not authorized” to take pictures here.

He told me to follow him toward the other end of the registers, so I do, whereupon he calls his supervisor to tell him or her what’s going on.

There were no signs telling me I couldn’t take pictures, and if there were they must have been buried in the fine print someplace. The last time I was asked not to take a photo was near the American Embassy in Paris many years ago. That’s something I can get behind, of course. The only thing I could think of was that they didn’t want me doing research for another supermarket chain on what their prices were or to copy their setup.

After repeating to me several times that I was not authorized to take pictures, and having no idea what he was going to do next, I pulled out the camera and turned it on. “This is the photo I took,” I said. “I’m a foreign tourist learning new vocabulary.” He repeated all this to his boss. “I’ll delete it right now.” And I did. Doing so seemed to placate him, and he dismissed me and ended his phone call.

As I headed back toward the children’s books—I had to buy some for my new nephew, Marcus, who will learn French if I have anything to say about it—I just got the sense that this wasn’t over, that I was going to see this security guard—who I named “Monsieur Zèle (Mr. Zeal)”—again before leaving.

My intuition was right. I’m in line to pay behind a woman doing her Christmas shopping so I’m just hanging in line. When my turn comes, I walk through a detector at the end of the cash register to wait for my purchases, and it goes off.

Who shows up but Monsieur Zèle; quelle surprise! He asks me to remove any articles in my bag, and I open it to see the purchases from the LAST hypermarket. They never removed the anti-theft devices.

I pull them out of my bag to show him. He looks through the bag and says, “Do you have a receipt for these purchases from the last store?”, not forgetting to correct my pronunciation of the last store’s name while doing so. I pull out the receipt and show him, and after a careful comparison of my purchases to the receipt, he grudgingly leaves, and I apologize to him for the inconvenience as he turns his back to walk away.  At least the cashier was totally nice to me. And this was one of those many times where I said “I’m so glad I speak French fluently enough to explain myself.”
At this point I decided that it was a good idea to get the fuck out of dodge before Monsieur Zèle decided  to find a reason to stop me again. I get that you don’t want me taking photos or stealing, but this “guilty until proven innocent” thing they had going just sucked. 

This was Jupiter's trip, but was one of the few times that Saturn reared his ugly head, thankfully. French customs officials and police were a lot nicer than this fucking dickhead. But hey…he was doing his job, and clearly this was Saturn’s way of reminding me that he was present, after all.

Don't get me wrong; Saturn's a great planet, and he's a tremendous influence in my life. But vacation isn't the place for him. I'm sure he'll have a thing or two to say about that, but there it is. 

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