At 7:20 on Friday morning Wendy, the English teacher (and English woman) whose class I assist on Fridays at 8am, picked me up in front of the nearby jail and drove me to the school. I mentioned my doctor's visit debacle and she commented on the money wasted and that if I had a car it would be much easier to get to Toulouse. In fact, she had an older Peugeot her family wasn't using and perhaps I could borrow it. What? She's just offering me a car? I don't even think I'm legally able to drive in Europe. Am I? Wouldn't I need an international driver's license? I'm leery of borrowing anyone else's car and especially of driving in a country of roundabouts, only white lines in the middle of the road that seem to arbitrarily divide between one-way and two-way traffic, dirt bikes popping wheelies on the streets cars parking on the sidewalks.
I've paid a lot of attention to French traffic, in fact. When walking to the schools I can't help but notice the differences here. The small cars are perfect. With its roads already in place, most of Europe has had no choice but to develop Twingos, Minis and that car from Herbie. I can now identify Renaults, Peugeots, Citroens and Opels on logos alone as well as tell you which company recommends which gas station (most cars have stickers saying this). But I'll never understand the pedestrian walkways. Firstly, you can't see the traffic light at crosswalks so you can't judge when it's safe to walk. And then while waiting for traffic to clear or the light to change cars will stop arbitrarily and either flash their lights or the driver will motion with his hands for you to cross.
I once started walking across the other side of a four-lane boulevard with one lane of traffic cleared and the next to be cleared by the time I got to it. As I was a footstep through the first lane a driver in the next lane slammed on their brakes to let me cross. I tried to motion with my hands, "You could have kept going and I'd go behind you, idiot!" but it didn't translate. From what I hear laws are really lax here (though j walking is serious business in London) but can only speculate if it's illegal to drive in a crosswalk while a pedestrian is walking. Now, though, I wait for the car to signal me, traffic to be cleared or French kids to start crossing first.
The first day I walked around the city I quickly recognized several street names that I saw in Paris and thought about mandatory street names in every city- France's 'State & Main' is something like 'Emile Zola & Résistance'. I love street names in France and think we could learn a thing about their naming scheme. For the most part street names here are named after people. And the street signs will often tell you their birth, death and profession. It's so refreshing in comparison to near my parents' house where in Ottawa County roads are named after presidents, right in a row, and their Kent County counterparts are mile numbers, right in a row. True to European form, street names don't remain the same for very many blocks either. I've gotten used to it and have grown to thought of them as separate streets that are connected, but divided by intersecting streets. This just gives the road commission more possibilities in street names, however.
Alain, my landlord, gave me an almanac that included a map of Montauban and a list of all its street names. I went through and copied all the names I recognize. (Some have been translated.)
People (French, English, American, fictional characters, etc.)
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Charles de Gaulle
Dr. Albert Schweitzer
Hans Christian Andersen
Honoré de Balzac
Joan of Arc
John F. Kennedy
Leonardo Da Vinci
The Lumière Brothers
Pierre and Marie Curie
Simone de Beauvoir
Symbol of France
August 19 1944
May 8th 1945
Battle of Dunkerque of 1940
Combattants of Indochine (Viet Nam)
The First Army
11th Regiment Infantry
First Surprise Battalion
The Free French (liberated ones)
Things I Don't Fully Understand
Black Ladies (possibly black queens like in chess)
Reds (probably Communists)
These aren't just types of trees, the family name of the first inhabitants on the street (I'm looking at you, Finnegan), numbers or letters. They're primarily artists! They value art that much. The schools I work at are named after a pre-French Revolution feminist and the apprentice of Rodin (the guy who made The Thinker). The other major high school is named after a major French historian. All of these people were born in Montauban. Hell, I even saw a nursery school named after Jacques Brel (big-lipped singer of "Ne me quitte pas"). This is part of their culture- at least when naming things. I'll get to this generation's culture another time.