Saturday, September 6, 2014


My awesome little partner
First of all, it's fun to say: "Vitaville!" Second of all, it has something like ten different ways of being understood: "Vite! à ville!" "Vita! Ville!" (ok, two but still - very witty). Third, it was wonderful. A day-long municipal fair, in which all of the "associations" (what I think we would call clubs) are present with booths and sig-up information and demonstrations. The "Association Familiale Catholique" is right next to the "Association des Musulmans de Courbevoie;" sign up for "Kavadenn" to learn Breton dancing or go to the next booth over for Krav Maga. It's all here! Including, bien sûr, a crêpe stand and Orangina and cider for this afternoon duo. The only thing that comes close to resembling this (minus the cider) is the college activities fair where I teach. When all interests come together and you're invited to bring your curiosity and your good will, and there is something utopic in the air, hoping things could always be full of this much possibility.

Mac would know these dances
There's the Fun Bollywood Show club which learns dance routines from Bollywood films (and yes, there's a kids' dance club, and yes Eleanor is interested). They did a full-on demonstration. In her introduction, the club president said something interesting: "If you're an "amateur des films Bollywood" you will surely recognize the dances." As I watched the third one, I wondered if maybe I hadn't seen it in one of the films that Mac shows for the Bollywood section of his Indian Art class. I bet he'd know them all. But also, this means that there's Bollywood film screenings going on, and people who love them enough to learn the dances.

Le grand classique
On the same stage, within the hour: Breton dancing. In some ways, this afternoon, if not Courbevoie itself, is the dream (with all the simultaneous vividness and distance of a dream) : a complex society with a well-scripted social contract in which one can nurture interests and desires. Courbevoie is, in so many ways, the France I don't see in the museums and other cultural self-presentations of the state. It has less pomp but more circumstance: in habits and structures I don't fully understand yet, it houses dozens of different cultures and languages. There are combinations like I've never seen: not just the Halal-certified sushi, and the free Arabic lessons (from the (equivalent of) Parks and Recreation), but also the president of the chess club (with whom I had a nice long chat) who dreams of retiring to Cincinnati. I love it here, the rhythms of this neighborhood, the individuality of possibility. By the end of the tour of 100+ booths, Eleanor and I had picked up information about the rowing club for Mac, and I'd had a nice talk with the fencing club about Oliver joining ("question de langue" - it moves fast, but what better motivation to learn French quickly!), we'd looked at an art club for kids, and I'd thought about yoga. Our curiosity has only multiplied and somehow our sense of home grew. This happens at some point: this fantasy that wow, wouldn't it be wonderful to live here, really live here? Not always have departure in mind, not keep the critical stance to French culture, but just go in, just enter it and buy into the social contract and the ideals and the contradictions and the problems. Because, Vitaville, because municipal and federal services, because even the contradictions and hypocrisy are provocative of a better society. There isn't the time and the money, and there is the reality of our lives (!), but every once in a while, there is this invitation to think of living here. (It's both not as crazy and just as crazy as it sounds: I was born here and could activate citizenship proceedings, but God, try being a female university professor in France, try starting anything once you're over the age of 40 - no, this is definitely a ridiculous day dream, but it's interesting to me how pressing it gets sometimes). I've had several students accept this invitation and make their lives here. I admire them and wonder about the pleasures and challenges of full engagement in French life, not just scholarship and teaching materials, but life.

In the meantime, here are a few seconds of Breton dance and au revoir from Vitaville!

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