Sunday, May 01, 2005

Going Somewhere? Well, Walk! It’s Mayday!

I had forgotten that today is May 1st when I left the apartment this morning to catch the bus downtown here in Grenoble, France, where I am almost at the end of my ten-month stay. Because it was Sunday morning, I knew there would be few buses running, so I settled down with a magazine on a bench at the bus stop to wait. Soon another man joined me. After 20 minutes, we began to wonder aloud what was keeping the bus, to compare watches, peer up the street, and mutter about the unreliability of public transportation. Then two women passed on the other side of the street and yelled across to us: “Il n’a pas de bus ! C’est le 1 mai !“ (There is no bus. It’s May 1st).

May 1st is Mayday, and it is also Labor Day in most countries of the world with the notable exceptions of the United States and Canada. Paradoxically, Labor Day is celebrated by not laboring, and in France that means that even bus and tram drivers have the day off. Here in Grenoble, there is no public transportation whatsoever—unless you are willing to pay for a taxi.

I do not own a car in France, and I am too cheap to pay a taxi driver for a Sunday morning jaunt downtown, so I walked. It is only a few miles, and I am always looking for an excuse to get some exercise. On the way, I saw a few other innocents waiting at bus and tram stops. Apparently, even among the French, not everyone had gotten the word.

Downtown I ran into the big Labor Day parade. It was not like a parade in the United States. There were no bands, no prancing girls in short skirts, and no floats. There was just a tightly packed mass of humanity filing through the streets, waving banners, and chanting in time to instructions bellowed from a megaphone. It was more of a march that a parade.

Oh, there was one vehicle in the crowd. A small pickup truck, dwarfed by the four stadium-sized speakers it carried, was blasting salsa music at a deafening volume. Why was someone playing salsa music in a march to celebrate the French worker? I have no idea.

Someone handed me a flyer that promoted Esperanto as the European Language. Although the word English appeared nowhere on the flyer, I could not help but feel that the flyer’s author was trying to combat the use of this insidious language. I briefly considered calling one of the numbers on the flyer to register for an Esperanto class. The flyer made it seem as if Esperanto was so easy to learn that I would be fluent within a few weeks. But then I changed my mind. With whom would I speak? No one I know understands Esperanto or cares to learn it. Everyone is busy learning English.

I walked back home where I am writing this blog. When I finish, I would like to go out again, but where would I go? With no public transportation and no car, my freedom of movement is limited to the places where my legs will carry me. I will be happy when Mayday is over.

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