Tuesday, June 1, 2010

In Which We Engage With The Workers' and Peasants' Struggle

Well, not exactly.

But it was a delicious irony that France's second-largest book fair, the Comédie du Livre, which was held over the weekend here, featured North American Literature as its theme, and that Montpellier's Anglophone Library has been closed since January. To those of us who've been working to get it re-opened, it was too good a chance to miss.

And so it was that we had a meeting to form a plan of action, and to discuss forming an Association. As I may have mentioned last year, when there was the annual fair of Associations here, this is a basic unit of French life, getting together with like-minded souls to do everything from study the Thai language to collect stamps, to do horrible country-and-western line dancing, or to raise AIDS awareness. The Association was voted a good idea, so that's in the process of happening.

We then spent a considerable amount of time figuring out the wording of the banner we would carry as we demonstrated at the opening ceremonies at 10am on Friday. A guy named John, who's associated with another Association here, Americans for Peace and Justice, said that his neighborhood Association has been trying to get the city to put up a stop sign for five years. The city agrees it's a good idea. The stop sign has not yet been installed. But you've probably anticipated that.

Finally, we got the sign hashed out, added two t-shirts to the order going to the banner-maker, and agreed to schedule everything in our Google group. Over the next week, a few people signed up to leaflet the Comédie, and we made some shifts. The good people at Le Bookshop agreed to let us store our bag of petitions, t-shirts, buttons, and all at their corner of the American Literature stand, which they were sharing with a much larger bookshop called Grains de Mots, which I've never paid any attention to, but which was hosting the North American author signings.

On D-Day, Friday, I hauled myself out of bed, acutely aware that I had to pay my electric bill, but not wanting to let the troops down, and at 10, when I'm usually having coffee, I was out on the Comédie, where frantic last-minute setting-up was occurring at all the tented bookshop spaces. Our fearless leader, Vicki Metherell, was there, with a stack of petitions, and soon others began trickling in. The banner was unfurled, then mounted on a couple of bamboo sticks, at which point we found out how tricky it was to hold. In front of the "Louisville Café," the little space where authors and others gave talks, they were erecting a plexiglass lectern for the opening ceremonies, and inside the space, the press was asking questions of the invited authors. I lurked outside with a petition and when they gathered for their photo, I nabbed them one by one to sign it. After all, we'd probably have your books there if it were open!

Here, they're having a photo op with Madame the Mayor, Hélène Mandroux, in pink.

We got ready with our big gun.

And, an hour or so later, when the speeches began, we were ready:

Not only were we very visible to all the media covering the opening ceremony, but several of the speakers mentioned our cause, most notably a fiery young politician named Georges Delafosse, who is currently the Cultural Adjutant of the Region.

After the speeches, the hard work. I ran off for the rest of the day to struggle with the electric bill (see the previous posts), and the volunteers started handing out flyers and getting signatures. I wasn't able to get out there til Saturday afternoon, and it was hot, so I didn't last very long. Sunday, though, Vicki and I spent most of the afternoon out there. Her goal was to get 500 new signatures from the event, and although I'm not sure, I think she may have succeeded. It was mighty close towards the end, I do know that.

My tactic was to stick by Le Bookshop, and notice who was interacting with English-language texts (since there were some French books for sale, too). If they started to walk away or made a purchase, I'd hand them a flyer. Many of them would stop and read it right there and demand to sign the petition. "This is a scandal," one French woman said. "But if you are dealing with the city or the Region, you should not expect to get anywhere." Another woman, an American from Harvard, who's studying CSI here and is married to a gendarm from Toulon, heard the story of the University's shutting us down and called her husband over, relating the story to him in French. "This is theft, isn't it?" she asked. He thought a minute and said "Yes, I would say so." (Dang, we could have arrested the University President if we'd known that -- and if he worked here!) Lots of people were simply unaware that the place existed, and asked us what the opening hours were.

In the end, I think we raised a lot of visibility for the collection and the ongoing effort to get it opened back up. One of our new members is a bilingual, trained librarian from New Zealand who now lives here, so that's a neat bit of info. And Vicki was supposed to have a meeting with Delafosse yesterday.

La luta continua! I mean, it's just not fair to pull the plug on this thing right as I was working my way through the Library of America's Philip Roth collection!

Now to continue the struggle against the electric company, which, as of 3pm on Tuesday, still hasn't shown up to turn my power back on.


  1. Hi Ed

    Thanks for the write-up. Only one comment - it would have been a kind gesture to slice me ( in my huge green jacket) off the photo !!) See you sometime when I am not spending most of my time with my surgeon and a daily nurse...


  2. Har! I'm smart enough to know that the ugly one goes *behind* the camera!


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