I’ve only just become aware of the fact that tanning doesn’t just affect your skin. I mean, I knew, academically speaking, that your hair goes lighter when exposed to sunlight, in a sort of bleaching effect. When Alex worked as a lifeguard in France one summer, he essentially came back with a halo instead of hair. Now, when Mom visited, she told me my hair had gotten lighter, but it didn’t really sink in until I spent five minutes admiring the hair on my arm this morning. The hairs on my arm were brown. Now they are blonde. As far as I’m concerned, this is utter madness. The fact that I think this is utter madness is nothing but testament to my ability to locate shade and hide in it for extended periods of time. The only reason I’m tanned at all is probably because I spent three weeks working in the Sanctuaries, and there are some posts there that are entirely without shade. On a vaguely related note, as far as I’m aware, English is the only language (out of a list composed of itself French and German) that distinguishes between shade and shadow. I find the difference a bit ambiguous as well, because you can stand in shade, but it’s normally something’s shadow, so why is it shade and not shadow?
Anyway, I got burnt a few days ago. This seems to contradict my previous paragraph and my incredible shade finding abilities, but there was a pool involved and if I have any glowing green radioactive kryptonite in my life, it might just be swimming pools. It was 30ºC, there was nothing but sunlight and I’m pasty white Englishwoman, what madness would possess me to leave the safety of my shade? A swimming pool. A nice lovely chlorinated swimming pool. I think I might be one of the few people in the world who likes the smell of chlorine. I also think that it’s not a very useful trait to have. Being, you know, as chlorine is in fact highly toxic in anything larger than tiny amounts. I’m also sure that allowing twenty children to jump, dive and backflip into a pool without looking before jumping is definitely bad lifeguarding.
I understand children like jumping into pools and showing off in front of their friends and pushing in all the girls they find attractive (which is just sort of sad), but part of me can’t help but think you’re a pretty awful lifeguard if you see someone doing front crawl (not the best stroke for seeing where you’re going), a child diving in and landing literally less than a foot away and still don’t feel it necessary to intervene. I
t could be that I grew up with the invention of the Nanny State and Health and Safety or maybe it’s just succeeded in brainwashing me, but for however much it’s hated, when I land in Europe, I can’t help but feel that Health and Safety is amazing and how is everyone in Europe not dead yet? Because seriously, I’ve seen people repairing television aerials with nothing but rope to secure them to the roof, people drive in cars that look like they should be illegal in every country ever, farmers giving up on chasing their cows on a busy road and the part of me that I think might be a closeted Health and Safety Coordinator screams. However, quickly going back to the pool, three lengths of butterfly (not consecutive, are you insane?) is actually quite effective at reserving a small section for swimmers and discouraging children from leaping in head first.
I went to Tarbes on my day out last week. It was where I went to see the horses some time before then. Like the genius I am, I arrived at one ‘o’ clock. Many of you will have begun laughing, the rest of you will be blissfully clueless. Most of France shuts down between midday and two thirty (two if you’re lucky). Why? Because what do you mean you don’t take two hours to eat lunch? Are you barbarians? Worse? English? Even I wasn’t aware of how widespread the two hour lunch break was until arriving in Lourdes. And I have to agree, a two hour lunch break is great, if, and only if, you are working. If you are a tourist or customer or visitor, it is one of the most annoying things that has ever happened to you. So, I arrive in Tarbes, I walk to the Tourist Information Office (cursing the sunshine all the way because I hate heat and sun and how dare it make me happy) and it’s closed for lunch. I ended up mapping out all the bits of the city that aren’t useful or interesting before finally being allowed in to ask for a proper map and general information.
As it turns out, there’s not a lot to do in Tarbes. There’s the Harras National, which I still feel may be significant in some way, the house Marshall Foch was born in, a small maybe military base thing, shops and a museum about deportation and resistance. Because I’m a happy person, I went to the museum. No, I went because it is all very interesting, even if you come out all jaded and confused and sad. So I had a fun day out. I did go shopping before upsetting myself with a WWII museum, so I didn’t completely distress myself on my day out, even if the tourist office’s evil opening hours did force me to resort to eating a sandwich in a park like the greatest loner in the world before, as I said, mapping out everywhere that isn’t vaguely useful. So Tarbes. It rather has me hoping that Pau might be more exciting. Pau has a castle. Castles are exciting, right?
Oh and in Pavilion Drama (I did promise some last time), the fire alarm went off last week at about two in the morning, ten minutes after I was awoken by a drunk text. I have never been more grateful for a drunk text in my life. Fire alarms aren’t great, but being woken up by a fire alarm is infinitely worse. So, it goes off, me and my roommate leap ten feet into the air, I grab some stuff (tablet and phone because and all of my essay notes because they’re just on paper and I’ll be damned if I let fire anywhere near them) and we’re out; down the fire escape and coordinating the fire alarm procedures. At this point, I can see the bloke on duty at the Pre-Accueil approaching and he’s asking me if there’s a fire. To those of you not up on Pavilion Procedure, he’s the one who’s supposed to make that judgement call. I am literally there to open doors and make sure no one has caught on fire. Then there are people appearing on the balconies. The first thing that crosses my mind is, what on Earth are they still doing in the building that may actually potentially be ON FIRE. My question is answered when they ask me what the noise is.
Now. I might be wrong, but if a really really loud, repetitive, looping and unceasing alarm sounds at an ungodly hour in the morning, I tend to make the assumption that it might just be a fire alarm. I also always thought that this was self-evident and that maybe the next step would be leaving said building. But no, not only were people confused by the mysterious noise that suspiciously resembles a fire alarm, they were also asking me if said fire alarm was a false alarm. In my experience, you don’t sit and wait in a building to find out if it’s a false alarm or not. You know, because if it isn’t there’s a fire and those things spread fast, hence the expression ‘getting along like a house on fire’. What amazed me even more is that there was a Slovak group staying with us and they seemed about as concerned by the fire alarm as the prime minister is in that ant he just trod on. Maybe fire alarms sound different in Slovakia. Forgive me if I’m sceptical. I know it was two in the morning and just waking up makes you a bit sluggish, but surely you’d at least leave? I was awake, full of adrenaline and running downstairs within a minute of the damn thing starting. So full of adrenaline, I might add, that getting back to sleep was genuinely quite difficult.
It was a anti-mosquito candle, by the way. Yeah. Well, at least it wasn’t a hot shower, apparently steam can set off the smoke alarm. I think the smoke alarm may need to go back to smoke alarm school if it can be set off steam. Smoke indicates fire, steam, less so.
In other pavilion drama, a small bird, that I still haven’t been able to identify as anything but sparrowy, managed to fly into one of the pavilion windows and get trapped inside. Obviously, it was quite distressed, and it was in fact so distressed that even when I was holding it in front of an open window, it still decided the best means of escape would be to fly back into the staircase. It’s roughly the same amount of logic and common sense that a fly would be expected to show. We got it out eventually, but it did manage to make a mess all over the chairs before then. Incidentally, having carried a crow before, I’d just like to say that it’s much easier to carry a crow. Those tiny little sparrow-like birds are faaar to small. It’s like trying to pick up a pen with a tractor: you can but it’s not bloody easy and that pen will only try to make life harder for you. In any case, if it happens again, a bigger bird would be logistically easier. Having said that, that’s not an invitation. A vulture is the last thing we need inside the pavilion. There was something else. Someone came up and tried to buy books off me one time. That was weird. To be honest, a lot of odd stuff seems to happen. Oh there were huge storms one evening.
We got an orange weather warning and when France issues an orange weather warning, they bloody well mean business. I had to go and tell everyone to shut their windows (with a picture of a thunderstorm for the Slovaks who didn’t appear to get the thunderstorm until someone who spoke English could translate my instructions… I wonder if storms look different in Slovakia…) or invading their rooms and shutting their windows if I feel they won’t come back to do it themselves. I got caught up in the storm. I was like a drowned rat that survived a tsunami only to be put into a washing machine once rescued. It took two days of sunlight and heat to dry my shoes which still smell of rainwater, which, I’ve discovered, does indeed smell. A bit. Or maybe just on my shoes. I suppose it’s better than them smelling of feet right?
So yeah, we have pavilion drama. I do wonder if the other pavilions get this sort of weirdness. It might be a particularity of the one I’m in. Oh and there’s a mysterious noise at night that sounds like a mobile phone but isn’t because everyone can hear it and no one’s mobile is going off. It’s a bit odd. I like to think it might be a forgetful ghost. I’m sure there’s a more scientific explanation but meh, forgetful ghost would be funnier.
As for developing my cultural understanding of France, or my “Frankreich-Kompetenz” as Saarland’s government would have you say, I have made a discovery. The French have about as much respect for my personal space as the Germans did. Along with the Japanese, the British have some of the largest personal space bubbles in the world. I suppose there’s just something about living on a small overcrowded industrialised island with an almost anal concept of manners and a surprisingly violent national history that means you need a disproportionately large amount of personal space and that you get incredibly uncomfortable when said space is unexpectedly invaded by a stranger. Germans will stand very close to you in queues, even if you’re typing in your pin number, and so do the French. Friday, for example, I was writing the week’s arrivals and departures in the book and a colleague came up behind me, leaned over my chair and read over my shoulder. My personal space was not only invaded, but it was also occupied and the discomfort was immediate and, I thought, very evident. (I immediately moved the document they were trying to look at just to remove them from my personal space). I don’t know if maybe I’m more precious about my personal space because I was born and raised in a large city, but personal space does strike me as a concept largely unknown to mainland Europeans, much to my distress. I ought to point out that the French are a lot friendlier and nicer than our stereotypes make them out to be, but they do lack, like the Germans, an understanding of how sacred personal space is considered to be. I spoke to a lovely Swede who has said the same thing, so I’m not paranoid, which is good.
I wrote this on Friday, if you can believe me, but the wifi successfully went down for four days. It went down Friday evening, was down the whole weekend, resurrected briefly on Monday for two hours, died and then came back yesterday full force, as long as it doesn’t crash again. It’s been irritating to say the least. Still, however late, this is one blog post more regular than normal