No more the Sorbonne you dreamed of than it is the Paris of which you dreamed

One of two of the remaining original métro station entrances in Paris, this one at St. Abesses. The others are modern re-makes.
One of two of the remaining original métro station entrances in Paris, this one at St. Abesses. The others are modern re-makes.

I’m still in Paris. All is well here. I had my first classes at the French university system Monday. It was, as you might expect with the French, a huge clusterfuck. This is apparently the first semester that some of these classes have been moved to what the Paris 7/Diderot/Jusseau people have taken to calling “Javelot.” Javelot turns out to be a dead-end street. Actually, there’s no street at all. It’s the entrance to an underground parking garage. No joke. So right there, a goodly number of the French students couldn’t find the place. So what you had to do was go to Jussieu, go to building 34, find your class on the bulletin board, see that it says “Javelot,” which means you are not even in the right part of Paris, much less in the right building, to attend your class. Then you look at the map there (which the French students are allergic to, the map, because they would rather smoke a cigarette and walk around unshaven talking on cell phones than bother with copying a map down), and see for yourself that you have to get back on the metro and go to the Montreal building in the Olympiade complex on Rues Tolbiac and Nationale near Chinatown and Rue d’Ivry. Much to someone’s credit, all the classrooms at the Javelot facility are themselves brand-new: brand-spanking new with clean white desks, never-before-used blackboards and desks and the smell of little wooden children’s toys everywhere. No spray-paint, no urine-freshened nooks, no posters everywhere, unlike all of Jussieu. That, of course, is only on the inside: the neighborhood’s dangerous, scummy and really, I think, beyond even the capacity of the bold-eyed insouciant little French girls to handle. So I found my classes (it took four different metro trips, but I found them). Maybe a third of the enrolled students showed up. The profs explained that, technically, classes were canceled for the week since everyone is apparently an imbecile and could not find their classes without hand-holding and lots of French muttering. The profs had to show up for those of us students who were bright enough to figure it out. Score one for the dumb American. I got to school early enough to find my 8:30 a.m. class while the Frenchies were still wandering around the hallways planning to arrive 45 minutes late, when they would then complaining because class was about to let out (early, because of the problems) and they’d showed up for nothing when they could have stayed home and wallowed in their unmade beds. Due to peculiarities in my schedule, those were the first to classes I’ve had so far this semester. Everything begins in earnest next week. I had what amounted to a two-month vacation. Yes. I think I’ve worked out a much softer schedule this semester, because I’ll go out of my skull if I have another semester like the last one.

Posted February 8, 2001

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