Tuesday, September 04, 2007

La Rentrée

Remember how you felt in late August, counting down the last days of summer before the big day back to school? You were used to sleeping in late and watching television to all hours of the night, and you dreaded the coming nights of homework and enforced bedtimes. Yet you were also tired of summer, of daytime television soap operas and game shows, of seeing the same neighborhood kids every day. Despite yourself, you felt the excitement building for a new year: you bought all the bright, new school supplies on the list, and you couldn't wait to show off your new back to school clothes. The summer was almost over, but that was as it should be, no?

With practically everyone on a three week vacation sometime in July or August, "back to school" is a national phenomenon in France. There's even a name, and you hear it everywhere from late August to mid-September: La Rentrée. Starting in July, business starts falling into a midsummer torpor as tasks are postponed: "We'll just have to look into that again at la Rentrée," is everyone's excuse. Paris empties in August as beaches everywhere in Europe fill up. It's impossible to see your family doctor, and almost as difficult to find a baguette. It seems that absolutely everyone has spead out their towel on the sand and is indulging in trashy tabloid magazines that detail "les vacances des stars."

That all was nice for a few weeks, but now the time has come for serious things, for fall fashions, for the new books touted in la rentrée litteraire, for the upcoming grape harvest. And, of course, back to school and back to work.

Our neighborhood is almost equally divided between office and apartment buildings, and at noon today flocks of dark suits invaded the sidewalk cafés, the boulangerie and the park. I walked around in my jeans and beat up tennis shoes, my hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, le Petit strapped to my chest in the Baby Bjorn. I felt out of place. I got a few smiles from those that weren't plugged into their cell phones. I hope they were jealous...

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