I was doing dishes when a loud, projected voice invaded the room to shout show times at me. La voix du cirque, as we will call it, drove around in a car-sized ceramic elephant advertising the travelling circus. It passed my house four times on Saturday and five on Sunday to tell me that Le Cube, the local exhibition center, is hosting the circus for the week—every day, twice a day! Listen to what we have to offer! The entry fee of 30 euros is a bit large a sum to pay to watch animal cruelty, so I won’t have any commentary for you on the French circus. What I can, however, give you, is a little insight from Emile Zola, the circus of literature himself. As it turns out, Zola’s circus has always been showing for me in Troyes, and it’s probably somewhere close by in your life, too.
There is a table in the staffroom at school where unknown people leave free advertisements, like sample teaching materials, information on political teachers’ movements, and various other knickknacks that, apparently, nobody but me reads. At the beginning of the year, I discovered a teachers’ edition of a compilation of Zola’s works in the free-for-all zone, asked the head French professor if her department would miss it, and got the go-ahead to take it. Actually, she told me that nobody would ever want it back, but to leave it on the table again anyways when I’m finished. This particular edition of Zola covers Celle qui m’aime et autres nouvelles, which I assume is translated as “She who loves me and other novelties”, but you never know. Prepare yourselves for my future post on “French-English translation: why did they do that?”
True to Zolaic form, Celle qui m’aime is naturalist literature with a fantastical touch. It starts with the cries to discover “Celle qui vous aime” in a mysterious tent (for two sous, of course.) Who is the one that loves me?, the narrator asks. How is she dressed? What is she like? In the end (spoiler alert), She who loves you is just a poor Indian girl in need of money and is not in love with, but scared of, all those who come to see her. And so Zola transforms the fantastic into the naturalistic, arguing a political message about wealth and wastefulness in the face of poverty (There are some other mentions about the expense of lighting excessive amounts of lanterns when you could instead feed an entire town with bread that solidify this message, but I don’t really feel like developing any morals conclusively here in this random stream of unqualified thoughts that come from my underdeveloped head.) What I can conclude is that She who loves you is not really who you think she is. The circus is not really a circus after all, but a veil. This blog is not really about my explorations of France, but of some places that fall much closer than that.
My job as a language assistant is to teach about American culture and language, but it does not end there. I was placed in a vocational high school where many of the students will go on to become plumbers, builders and electricians, not scholars of the English language. Many of them do not want to be in a useless class where they will learn how to count from one to four and then forget it again in six months. After week one, I abandoned traditional grammar and political lessons in order to teach sports, rap, slang, robot technology, art and video games. In my last class, I taught about the rapper Eminem and ended up learning that two of my students are in a rap group together, and are actually extremely talented. She who loves you is not who you think she is. She who loves you is just trying her best to connect with students she is told will never learn English, or is a fourteen-year-old boy who is so downtrodden that he sees no academic future ahead of him, only drugs or gang violence or, if he is lucky, sports or music. If you let her, She who loves you is extremely beautiful when she escapes her tent. She’s not dressed in the garments in which you placed her; she’s naked, waiting to be clothed by the path of her own choosing. Sometimes she only comes out for a few moments, but if you’re lucky, She who loves you will escape her circus act and write you a new rap to shout from her traveling ceramic elephant. Don’t soundproof your windows, yet; the circus is in town, and it’s not the act you thought was coming.