This whole city is on Strike! We are in the second (longer, more severe) stretch of a transit strike. So, I didn't go anywhere yesterday after walking all over the 5th arrondissement Wednesday. And why was I walking all over the Latin Quarter and its environs? Because I was trying to go to school. Why couldn't I go to school? Because the university students are blocking entry to all regular courses (including my literature courses) in order to protest a law voted in earlier this year that will change the university system here in France. The current system has its flaws (overcrowding and worn-down facilities being the primary ones) and the new law hopes to alleviate them by allowing the schools to accept only certain number of students and to get money from sources outside the government. This is the system in many other countries, the problems being (from the point of view of the students here) that the new system will discriminate, that not everyone will have access to the universities because they won't be able to afford it, and that big companies will be able to "buy" the universities, corrupting them. On one hand, I completely understand their complaints (every time I look at the amount of student loans I'm going to have to pay back some day), but on the other, there are flaws in the current system that are serious and need to be fixed.
Trying to get into the Sorbonne.
Translation: Good news: Paris is fighting! (the original sign reads: Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris III, that is my school)
The father of the family I work for was of a completely different opinion. As he sees it, the law was already passed by those whose job it is to take care of legislature, so it's too late for the students to be protesting. And furthermore, they are just an anarchist minority who are keeping the majority of students from going to class like they would prefer. They do their voting to see who would like to continue blocking the university (each school has their own vote) by a show of hands, which is apparently not really legal since they really eye the vote instead of counting.
Since the trains are running at around 10%, I walked back home. I decided to take the most direct route down Blvd Port Royal/Montparnasse. On the way, I passed hoards of people in the street- demonstrations or protests by certain left-wing political groups taking advantage of the transit strike to get people together. They were all over, with vans cranking loud music, and people ranting through loud-speakers. And of course they had banners and balloons with their parties' respective colors, logos, etc. What a spectacle!
And for the complete experience, a little video footage:
And you hear that wind? Yeah, it was cold.
That was all on Wednesday. It is now Friday. There are still less than 10% of trains in and around Paris. The universities are still closed (not that I had class today anyway). And tomorrow I'm taking a bus (privately rented, thank goodness) to Normandy. It will be a nice break from the craziness.