Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What Max Said

Max said "Good Morning Detroit! Peace to you from Paname City, France!"

No, what Max actually said was "Yeah, well, this juvenile custody story is only hitting the front pages because the kids are white, upper middle class, straight A students. It happens to blacks and arabs all the time and no one gets upset at all!"

Ain't that so?

A while back, Max's friend D was taken into custody for "attacking" a policeman. Max has known D since second grade and Mom and Papa have too. We have couscous with his family and play music and sing all afternoon. The parents are a mild mannered, rock 'n roll lovin', EDF engineer and his homemaker wife who fled terrorism in Algeria in the 90s. D was witness to some pretty awful sights before coming to France. He had nightmares for a long time his parents told us.

When taken into custody, D was 16. He kicked a policeman in the shin. The guy was roughing up D's 16 year-old girlfriend for rolling a cigarette while admiring the Seine. The policeman didn't even fall over!

All the kids involved - there were five of them - were taken into custody. All the white kids were let go after a few hours. Parents were eventually called and they came to get their kids. D's parents also came of course... But D was held for 24 hours and his parents didn't get to see him. In the end they were told to leave the premises, that they'd be called when he was released...

The policeman D kicked got a medical certificate saying he would not be able to work for 8 days - which is the legal limit for being able to sue someone for coups et blessures - being physical abuse leaving wounds. The police declared that D's parents didn't come for him, that he was an unsupervised juvenile - and who cares that D's parents really were there and have witnesses?

It's their word against the police's, right?

Hmmmm? Where have we heard that recently? (See Michelle D-P's comment to yesterday's post.)

D's parents have had to come up with written statements by witnesses to their parental authority - which is a total laugh because D's father has SO much charisma that other kids dream of him being their Dad (there was a case of it back in 6th grade where a young boy who was adopted by a single mother began hanging out at D's and in the end said he wished he too had a dad like D's. - once again, see A Rebel without a Cause for a cultural reference to this kind of pre-teen behavior. There are other details to that story but we won't go into them.).

D's mom is the kind of woman who's always ready with a pot of stew - or whatever - big enough to feed any of the neighborhood boys D and his brother T might want to bring home for dinner. Max delights in her pasta to a such point that were Mom the jealous type she might refuse to let Max go over to D's house for dinner anymore... When Ulysses showed up at our place saying he'd been put out in the streets by his dad for four days, he told us he often stayed at D's house. Mom immediately called D's mom to find out what was up and D's mom explained Ulysses' situation. These are the negligent parents we're talking about here...

But, whoa!

Careful there, Miss Crankypants, hold your punches! You don't want to be giving your kids a bad example now, do you? Hitting other kids and policemen is not right! You might hurt them, you know!

Miss Crankypants says "Sticks and stones might break my bones but words can never hurt me... unless it's my word against the French Police State's! If that happens, baby, you better watch your step!"

Monday, February 8, 2010

More Good News from France : Fighting like Pirates

Miss Crankypants has a slight smirk on her face this morning.

Her relatively good mood began yesterday when Papa called her to show her an email he'd received from the Parents of school kids Association he belongs to (notice it's not the Parent - Teacher's Association in France it's just the Parent-Parent Association - no teachers in sight unless the parents are upholding their latest strike... These associations are also politically oriented, meaning there can be more than one in a school; there's the right-wing assoc and the left-wing assoc and the independants! But the independants have no say NATIONally... get it? - Why's this, you ask? Why no teachers? Well, because parents and teachers only associate in France with knives drawn behind their backs. Mom thinks it comes from the fact that most French people who have not, as adults, actually become teachers themselves have very painful, humiliating memories of their school days...I mean, to this day Papa and Papy, (yes, PAPY!) still have nightmares about having to take the baccalauréat again!!!!!).

I suppose I - Stella that is - shouldn't say Miss Crankypants is in a good mood. She's not. Because the news Papa showed her - and me - is actually very bad and besides even good news can't put Miss Crankypants in a good mood, now, can it? But it does sort of prove she's been correct in her assumptions all along and there's always some little pleasure in that, right? On top of that, this news means she just might also be able to do something about her crankiness for once.

What's it all about? Well, hold your hats on! Here we go!

Recently, a couple of kids from my old collège (that's the cool French word for middle school, grades 6-9 in France) - the one I got kicked out of, remember? - had a fight with the new girl who came to take my place. Actually, only three of them were really from my old school, the fourth was a boy who was also from my old school but who got kicked out a few weeks before me...

(Since I was kicked out in December, Mom, Papa and I have learned a few things. Like the existence of a sort of city-wide square dance that takes place all year long in the different Parisian collèges : it starts with two kids getting kicked out of two different schools. When that happens the national education system has to propose a new placement for the kids in a new school, but since there are very few places available, hop! The two kids exchange spots! And round and round it goes, all year long...But when you arrive in the new school, your new principal instructs you to tell people you just moved into the area...).

So anyway, one of my friends, let's call her Y, was present at the fight which took place in front of the XXth arrondissement's City Hall. The boy who'd been kicked out, let's call him Z, apparently beat the new girl up for some reason (unknown to me anyway). My friend Y,who's a friend of Z, was there with two other girls and they could not separate the belligerent parties. Z's BIG.

Now, no one's saying this is a nice picture to be sure - boys and girls slugging it out like pirates in front of City Hall - but you have to realize, we do this kind of thing all the time. It's called "Meet me out back and we'll work this out man to man." I would certainly not have taken Z on man to man, but hey... I really don't know the details of what happened between them. (And besides, even James Dean did it in A Rebel without a Cause cheered on by Nathaly Wood, remember? I mean, he didn't slug a girl or anything but he did fight it out in front of the planetarium. Mom gave me the dvd for Christmas after reading John's comment in December after the news that I finally did get kicked out broke on Blog spot and Facebook...)

You also have to realize that last year, Mom and Papa were once called to school because I had gone into the vice-principal's office to complain about a situation I found unjust. It was because only one of two girls who had slugged it out after school hours and off school grounds was getting a punishment from the school vice-principal. It just happened to be the girl whose parents had not complained to the principal whereas the other girl's parents - the one who was not getting any punishment- had, and they said they were going to go to the police about it! That girl with strong parents was being considered the victim! I found this downright unfair! I mean, I'd been there - at the fight that is - and neither of these girls was a victim. They had both organized and prepared for the fight. Not only that, they had told us all to be there to watch and support them! I mean, the one now being called the victim had taken her earrings out in preparation for the show down! She's my friend but I still found it totally unfair that the other girl was being punished and not her! At the time, as soon as I learned about this gross injustice, I just couldn't stomach it!

I felt like Madeline calling for Ven-gé-ance for Miss Genevieve! (Thank you Ludwig Bemelmans and Viking) I immediately ran upstairs to the vice-principal's office, burst in without knocking, jumped on a chair, raised my fist in the air and told her in a loud voice that it was unfair! Normal, no? Well, the vice-P didn't think so.

Mom and Papa got called in because I'm a leader! Mom learned that day that in France being a leader is NOT a good quality; it really means ringleader. (Incidently, she learned yesterday that the correct attitude is to be fédérateur and conciliant - that's what Malcolm's teacher said he was and both Mom and Papa were very proud and told him so!)

Basically, the vice-P - and you have to realize this is the same woman who just a month before had accused me of being involved in a district-wide marijuana sales ring with out a single piece of proof besides another girl's accusation - well, the vice-P wanted Papa and Mom to tell me to stop being a leader right away! As if that would have done any good! Mom said "Since we we're all gathered here together perhaps we could at least hear what Stella has ants in her pants about then we will be able to decide if she should stop being a leader or not." If Mom had not insisted, even raised her gentle voice an iota, the vice-P would not have let me tell my story!!! So I tell my story and then the vice-P goes on and on about how she knows that the "attacker" is a spoiled little brat! Then the vice-P gives us quite a few intimate details about this girl's private life that we have no business knowing and she would gladly have given us more if Mom hadn't stopped her by saying it was inappropriate to tell us these things!

Suffice it to say that, in the end, I came home from school very proudly a few days later to tell Mom and Papa that both the belligerent girls had received the same punishment and that no one was going to the police! I felt kind of like justice had been done! In some ways, thanks to me! Mom said the "victim" must have been super happy to have got a punishment but I told her the girl knew it was only right...

Basically, Mom's been saying all along that there must be something wrong with the school system if I got kicked out (she can't fathom the idea that there might perhaps be something wrong with me...)! Also, she's been thinking that the principal of my old school is not handling things quite the way Mom thinks she should be. The story above was just one example. Not that Mom would do any better but then it's not her job, is it?

Anyway, back to more recent incidents. Well, once again, the "victim" of the latest fight - and she may well really be a victim, I don't know the details well enough to say. In any case, she is a girl and she was hit by a boy, a BIG boy, and that's not fair! - anyway, she complained to her parents who apperently complained to the police who apparently went to see the principal of my old collège...

This is where Miss Crankypants starts growling. The principal, without having been present, without knowing for sure what happened, took the policemen to the classrooms of two of the girls who were being accused and handed these girls over to the police! The Parents' Association also thinks she gave them the names and adresses of the boy who is no longer in her school and of one of the girls, my friend Y, who was home sick!

This is where Miss Crankypants exchanges her smirk for a black scowl! Using this information, the police went and got the children, taking Y who was home alone with her 17 year-old brother from her bedroom in her pyjamas without letting her get dressed, saying "You don't have to be made up to go to the police station!" They put hand cuffs on her, drove her to the police station and locked her in a cell for ten hours without letting her telephone her parents or anyone else. Y's brother did immediately call his parents who went to the police station with the other parents but none of them was allowed any contact with their children for 10 hours! Z was held in a cell for 24 hours without any contact with his parents. These kids are my friends. They are 14 years-old, like me.

Now, perhaps the principal of a collège is under some legal obligation to co-operate with the police, I'm not sure. But here in France we have shiny, golden, commemorative plaques reminding us of the school children who were taken from our schools - grades K thru 12, that would be - by French policemen during the Nazi occupation of France. These children died in concentration camps in Germany. So some people here in France don't like policemen taking underage children from schools or their bedrooms to the police station and holding them like criminals. It brings back bad memories.

As a matter of fact, some of you might remember that back in June or somewhere abouts, Miss Crankypants went down to our neighborhood police station and insisted politely - in this case she was careful not to raise her voice - until they allowed her to make a deposition stating that she did NOT want her then 13 year-old daughter - that would be me - to be frisked by dogs and policemen in the street. Miss Crankypants said that if they really felt it was necessary to frisk me, she prefered that the policemen take me into custody, call my parents on the phone and that they would the gladly come down to be present with me while I was frisked by a policewoman. She even told some other mothers what she'd done and they'd said they were going to do the same thing... Don't think they did, though. For some time after that, the policemen and women who frisked my friends in the street first asked them if they were not Stella Paret! When they said they weren't, the kids got frisked. Mom felt like she'd been heard! Unfortunately, the policemen also made slightly threatening comments about what they'd do if the kids were Stella Paret. Luckily, it was never me!

Also, after learning from Max and his friends about how the police in the XXth district checked the boys' IDs, Miss Crankypants called down to the police station to ask if French policemen really did have the right to touch - through their pants - or look at - by pulling the pants and underpants down - the genitals of underage boys in the street during a simple ID check. At the time, she was told that YES, THEY COULD and NA! Actually, since then, she's learned that no, they can't, but the line between when they can and can't is so fine it's hardly visible...

Basically, Miss Crankypants, although she's disgusted by and worried about the abuses of the police state here in Paris - not to mention the collusion with said police state by school authorities - feels happy that perhaps some of the other parents are now starting to think it's intolerable too! They've even gotten together and started saying so out loud! This is when being part of a nationally recognized Parents' Association like the FCPE which Papa belongs to comes in handy. And here's some proof : this morning on National radio, I heard the news announcer tell the tale of my friend Y's garde à vue (which is the cool French word for... well, I'm sorry but I don't know exactly what American legalese for "taking underage children in pyjamas into custody and holding them for hours in prison cells in the absence of their parents" is.). Maybe someday soon a Miss Crankypants Collective might just whop the injustice of it all...

Don't hold you breath!

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Few Reasons Why We Can't Go to Atlee's Birthday Party

No, it's not because we've been eaten by the year of the Tiger. We haven't, at least not yet (although we only just escaped from the year of the Buffalo with our pants on...)! Nor have we been eaten by a widemouth...

...Monster TAG!

And, no, we're not...

...nor even in juvenile hall for...

... attempted Grand Theft MiniAuto...
And, no...

I - Henry that is - am NOT in the hospital because I forgot the old adage : "Let sleeping dogs lie..." (although I was sorely tempted to see what this fella looks like when he 's awake!)

Nor have we fallen victim to...

(editor's note : the following film is actually kind of scary! Sensitive viewers view at their own risk!)

...the dreaded Ménilmontant Babyfood Spoon Stabber!

And no, we're not ...

...hopelessly lost in the catacombs of Paris, either.

Naw, we can't come 'cause, well, for one, 'cause Mom said so. And despite appearances, she actually is the capitain of the Pontoon over Paname City way.

For two, because we suspect Atlee is probably going to have her birthday party on a Saturday and well, we have school on Saturdays*...

(Dry your tears Shea and guzzle a mug of the ol' chocolatey for us. We've learned to grin and bear it. For this special occasion, we were really hoping Mom would let us come so we could MISS school that day but no. She wants us to grin and bear it too. She says she only takes her kids to the States for birthdays in the middle of the school year if they've been exceptionally obnoxious and we've been too good to qualify! - We might still be able to do something about that yet! - Mom also says that what the French government is actually trying to teach us by sending us to school on Saturday is : grin and bear it and above all don't cut your parents' or the president's head off, please. She says she's not about to undermine that lesson. (But, have you heard the latest? Sarkozy's government wants to eliminate History from the 12th grade curriculum... Mom always thought they were going to try and eliminate Philosophy from the curriculum because as Christine Lagarde says "everyone knows we Frenchies think too much" but now Mom understands Sarko's really more afraid of pitchforks, falling voter approval ratings and such .)

For three, the old airfare and family of six argument came up but we pooh poohed that! Heck,we pirates can fly alone, we did last summer!

As long as Omi, Opi and ...

...Monique are there to pick us (and our orange pockets) up at the airport...

...there's no problem! (Are they invited to the party too? We hear Monique and John are not to be trusted with time-share dogs but Mom says they're pretty good with time-share nephews...)

For four : As to coming all that way for just one weekend, well Mom's told us and told us about flying over for 48 hours for Monique and John's wedding reception in Lake George the very weekend that W decided to invade Afghanistan, so we know that's do-able too, even in times of war... (Back then, Mom says, The Gettysburg Family was actually the Lake Placid Family (right?) and there were only three of them, no Atlee at all! Weird, huh? Doesn't seem so far, far away, does it?)

Anyway, looks as if Atlee's going to have to have a happy birthday without us pirates, much to our regret! Thanks for the invite nonetheless. We'll just have to go on living on our good memories of warmer times...

...which, despite the presence of a polar bear, they really were!

But we promise, we'll be sure to say Happy Birthday Atlee when the time comes!

*Actually, we're just total blog liars! The government did get rid of school on Saturdays for grade schoolers back in 2007- only middle and high school students still go these days and only in certain schools. (Like Max had to go for just ONE hour last year - you get up get washed and dressed and ready to go, you go out in the cold, take the subway for twenty minutes and sit through ONE frigging hour of math! On top of that, 6 times out of 10 your teacher will be absent without having told you so in advance.... Yes, this is the reality of the wonderful secular French school system... but let's let Miss Crankypants have a breather today... It's Saturday after all.) But even if we don't have school, we do have trumpet lessons and tennis and guitar and handball - but that's only AFTER Saturday morning chocolate and cartoons! Ouf!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

One of Life's Golden Rules

Always give credit where credit is due!

Our new, cool, creative header photo, which we pirtaes love and which some of our followers have been kind enough to admire, comes from the creative mixture of summer sun on auburn hair, in other words from :

Our aunt, Monique D. Magee!

Aint she sweet?

Without her, no Pontoon Pirates at all!

Thanks Mon-e-Q!

Monday, February 1, 2010

An early morning visit from Miss Crankypants

This morning at breakfast, Stella announced that today was her Saint's day. Mom was first to react, as usual. She said facetiously "Saint Stella? Doesn't exist! Certainly not in this house, at any rate!" Then I - Henry that is -, who always reacts second, quickly set Stella straight : "Yesterday was Saint Ella's day. Here look."

To prove my point - in our family it's always best to have some book handy with which to prove one's point -, I pulled out my official national education datebook (given freely to all French school children on the first day of the school year - or shall I call it Saint Ingrid's day?) and showed them the official list of Saint's days printed in the front and back for the years 2009, 2010 and 2011.

"Ha! You see! Saint Ella! There's a girl in my class called Ella!" I was proud to have been so efficient. Proud that I was right? Naw, that goes without saying.

That's when Miss Crankypants walked in. She looked something like this :

(Mom showed me how to make a link so you all can see that we got her picture from here. Thanks very much Mr. Schultz and Ruby Persson too!)

We here at Paret Match know Miss Crankypants well. She usually shows up when Mom's not happy about something that happened at school today...

So there we were, eating English muffins with jam and innocently talking Ella vs Stella and Saint's Days and such when Miss Crankypants suddenly bounces up from the couch in a shower of sparks!

"Let me see that thing!" she shouts holding out her hand for my official national education datebook. I give it to her, of course. She pages through it wildly then begins waving it furiously under Papa's nose. "What do you think of this?!!! An official list of Saint's days handed out by the national education system?!!!"

Now at this point you have to understand that here in France we are EXTRAORDINARILY proud of (and touchy about) our secular, republican school system which dates back to the French Revolution and Napoleon and all of our gloriously enlightened French past... Mom was OK with secular back before 1992 - before Max's birth and soon-to-be admission into the aggressively secular French school system. Mom thought secular meant what everyone here pretends it means : nonconfessional, egalitarian, separation of Church and State, that sort of thing. But then, Max went to school.. And, voilà! After La naissance de la République Laïque in 1789 (the birth of a secular nation), behold the birth of Miss Crankypants, September 1995!

Ever since, Miss Crankypants has been pointing out, and decrying at the top of her lungs, all the inconsistencies in the "secular" French republican school system. For one, school on Saturday mornings - and tough titties if you're Jewish and aren't supposed to work or use electricity on Saturdays! You're just supposed to adapt!

Back in the naughties, when the gouvernement wanted to do away with school on Saturday for some reason and make kids study (at school no less!) on Wednesday afternoons instead, Oh the uproar! That's when Mom discovered that many kids go to catechism on Wednesday afternoons and if they didn't go then, when would the poor dears go? It was unthinkable to take Wednesday afternoons away from the clergy... Oh, really? No one was asked to adapt this time...

So there was Miss Crankypants waving my datebook dangerously under Papa's nose. Papa, who's a pacifist, said "There is probably something showing the dates of religous holidays of other religions..." At least that stopped the waving while Miss Crankypants quickly looked through the book to see if he was right.

"No dates for Ramadan in 2010! No dates for Kippur! Secular my hiney!" she shouted.

(Thank you The Comic Stop here.)

Miss Crankypants raged on : "Secular in the République Laïque de France just means 'Get with the Roman Catholic agenda, folks, or get out!' Oh, and here are all the Saint's days to help you right along... Take off that veil! Take off that kippa! And if you happen to be Protestant and you don't celebrate Saints, well, better keep that quietly to yourself or M. Brice Hortefeux, minister for National identity, might have to create a commitee to see if you actually qualify. But don't worry too much, folks, we républicains haven't thrown any dead heretics in the Seine since 1958..."

Once again, poor Papa didn't know what'd hit him!

It's Birthday time at the Bounce-Back Café!

And who's the birthday child?

Why, Mademoiselle Brigitte, bien sûr!

She's Omi to us pirates!

To Papa, she's always been Tsarina Brigitta the Great of Russia...

She's Brigitte to Arsen and...

...Mom to Mom and Monique and Babs.

And today it's her birthday.

So, let's hear it for Omi, team!
Hip, Hip Hourrah!
Hip, hip, Hourrah!
Hip, hip, Hourrah!

And now, Paret Match presents An hommage to Omi :

We wish you many warm hugs...

...more good laughs...

...a little dancing...

...a little sunshine...

...but not too much)...

...maybe a bellyrub if you feel like one...

...and just all that jazz!

Happy 01.02.2010 from France! (Or 02.01.2010, From the US!)