I can't believe that of all the weirdness yesterday I failed to mention the latest development in the loud neighbor saga! When I came home from the cyber café all I could hear was imposibly loud impossibly poorly sung English 80s music issuing from the apartment next door. It continued, I'm certain, until well after I'd gone to Caro's. It would have been better, I think, if they did all the songs all the way through. Instead it was more like one painful minute of key adjusting after another like some sort of sick karaoke lightning round invention. It nearly killed me. Well, they've taken it up again this afternoon. I was enjoying a solid nap but woke abruptly to some howling vaguely resembling a male/female duet rendition of Blondie's "Atomic". I am masochistically curious about how long they can go before stopping this time.
Today has been quite good, though I suppose I should be more stern with myself for having still not done the dishes. That being said, I am highly inclined to believe that whatever the state of my apartment, there is a high correspondance ratio between increase in overall emotional well being and time spent in or out of bed wearing pajamas. It has also been strongly suggested that there is a remarkable inverse correlation between perceived happiness and time spent between getting dressed and the putting back on of said pajamas.
About my neighbors... Just when I had gotten quite comfortable with my decision to deal by singing along as loudly as possible from next door, the volume level suddenly plummeted and I thought I heard them get bitched out by an upstairs resident. This must have been my mistake, however, since not two minutes later the building was ringing with the tortured strains of Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl." As long as they don't do the pina colada song, I will content myself with mildly self-imposed tolerance.
This morning I ran out before even looking at my scribbled lesson plan ideas and grabbed the early bus to Jean Macé. I had decided in a sudden fit of courage to wear my hair down and so upon arrival was seized with consuming self-consciousness. For a fleeting moment I joked with myself that I really shouldn't be permitted to get so worked up about the opinion of Monsieur Feixa. Of course, once I'd retreated to the shelter of the teachers' lounge seeking early morning solitude, who should be there merrily photocopying in his darling fleece jacket but the man himself. If there be any mercy in this sweet world, he will not have seen me desperately trying to check out my hair in the windows lining the hallway - you know, the one the photocopier faces.
At any rate, I suppressed my shame enough to write out some legible lesson plans, and things went more or less smoothly that morning. One of my CE2 girls kept saying "spider", so I showed her my humongo spider bite I got earlier this week. Along with this awesome kid with huge glasses, she and I got pretty excited about the prospect of me turning into Spiderman. I think that was the first time I've ever used the word cool in French and been serious. The CM2 classroom was smelling slightly more hormonal than usual, so I treated myself by pointing out that if instead of saying "I look like you" (Je te ressemble) you say "I like you," it changes to mean "je t'aime". The unleashed awkward laughter and anxious looking around and general squirming that followed delightfully met my every expectation.
Ran to catch the 10:27 bus home and rather successfully avoided young men that way, but instead rode it as far as the hospital, took a side street and snuck through a tiny door into the Saint Paul-Serge basilica.
Wow. What a gorgeous building. I tiptoed around the perimeter while some guy in a windbreaker read silently in the pews. I later learned that this was the security guard/tour guide so now I wonder if that "bible" he was reading wasn't actually a novel. Not impossible that he was praying; he did do a little bow towards the altar on our way to the north transept.
I wandered around gawking at various altars, relics, and remains of sarcophagi, ubiquitous carved skulls and a curious holy water basin with a life-like frog carved into the bottom. I had a strange vision watching the shadow of a pigeon flutter for what seemed like an impossibly long time precisely in the center of a circular stained-glass window - almost enough to convince me I'd seen the holy dove itself. Admittedly, the beauty of this structure left me inclined to take up religious life. Especially since they construct an elaborate crèche each year nowhere else but around the sculpted image of Saint Joan of Arc.
Eventually the guide approached me and with the air of a campfire storyteller offered to fetch the ten inch skeleton key (aptly named) which opens the door to the third century crypt. Having just been discovered in the late 1940s, walking around the crypt felt like poking around an active archaeological dig site. I suppose you could say fairly that all of the city of Narbonne IS an active dig site. They uncover new parts of the Roman city each year and simply must decide when to leave the ruins exposed and when to conceal them again in favor of new growth - building atop the abandoned past in a long tradition of urban recycling.
In the crypt were thousands of human bones, most simply jutting out from the walls of the common grave for plague victims, though some remained in separate more ancient funeral beds. Once you think you see at last one complete skeleton arranged as it was when the body was laid there 18 some centuries ago, you notice it is intermingled with the remains of countless other residents of ancient Narbonne, a thigh bone through the ribs, an arm under the neck. The artwork on some of the larger more elaborate sarcophagi hidden away down there was breathtaking - intricate pagan symbols of sun, moon, eternity coexisting peacefully in death with paleochristian tombs. Of all the striking views presented by this assembly of the dead, I was most touched by the burial urns in which were sealed the remains of children. On the way out in the corner I saw one of these funeral jars smashed as if it had been kicked in. My impulse was to rescue the child hidden in the shards from a resting place so unlike the imitation of a loving womb that was intended for it. Who can say how many of these urns, broken or intact, still cocoon beneath this modern city?
It is clear enough to me that I could spend a lifetime here without ever becoming familiar with all of Narbonne's enduring mysteries, but I intend to visit with some frequency the places like the Basilique St. Paul-Serge where the inexplicable energy Alina and I spoke of is still so palpable. I am nervous about bringing a crowd there tomorrow, but I would feel guiltily selfish for dissuading them from sharing this experience. According to my guide, few people know to look for the crypt as I did, so I'd like to at least give my friends that opportunity.
He tells me if I go to the Cathedral his friends there will let me see what tourists rarely see - the view from upstairs above the organ. I forgot to look for the "lege feliciter" inscription which has so puzzled historians of Christian Gaule. Thank God there's still enough time for there to be a next time.
Today at the church I profited from reverant silence by being mistaken for a French woman. Lifetime goal number 241: check and check!
Spent much of the rest of my evening listening to music and sitting on the canapé in the extasy that reading Chrétien de Troyes brings. I discovered with some surprise that after a turkey and raclette pita sandwich and slices of bread slathered with embarrassing amounts of nutella my home-made kir tasted remarkably of lettuce. Give me a big glass of lettucey kir, though, any day; as long as I've got Lancelot to keep me company, life is beautiful. I think I might cry when this book is over. All I have left to read is that book that Laurent lent me with the naked woman in a bathtub on the cover.
Am flirting dangerously with the idea of a tattoo tonight. Really, really tempted.
Permanent marker just doesn't look the same at 6:55 p.m.