Mar 30, 2014

Aaaw and Shock: Saint Agur

During the second and third year Mi-Carême parades at the elementary school, I am, of course, not shocked to see Disney princesses or Star Wars characters, or the requisite flamenco dancers, which seem to be a given in any French costume party. I'm getting used to the Musketeers, too.

The sugar-and-chocolate infusion no longer shocks me, either, as long as the adults are allowed to nosh on a piece or two.
The second and third year we are here, the Mi-Carême parade route takes us up around the 5th and onto Ile de la Cité and Ile Saint Louis by delicious bakeries, great views along the Seine, the love locks bridge, and more than one 800ish-year old church.
Given that I see Notre Dame every single day, the most shocking thing is that I still find it shocking. Walking through the gardens by the side of the cathedral, Pippa's teacher tells me that she comes up from the train station and sees this view when she comes into work and that even she, a Parisian, is thrilled and energized every time. This makes me feel less crazy for still being awestruck.
In case you are wondering what's going in the photo above, it's the reflection of the parade in the window of a chocolate shop and of me taking a photo of one of the more surprising costumes of the parade....mine. I am the only parent who shows up in costume (though one other mother puts on a jaunty gardening hat). It's at times like this that I realize how fully American and San Franciscan I really am. The kids, of course, think it's hysterical, and Pippa is actually proud, not embarrassed by me. I'm enjoying that while it lasts.
The fluffy skirt comes in handy; I use it to shield the children from the unpleasant shock of seeing a drunk, pissing, homeless man repeatedly grabbing onto his wing-wang. They all just think I am showing off my pretty tutu.
I don't know if it would fly in the US, but the girls love dressing up in foreign costumes: Some would complain it's "appropriating" their cultures, but I would argue it's appropriately honoring their cultures. One of the most surprisingly different costumes is Pippa's best friend, during last year's parade. The girl's mother, my dear friend Béatrice, has spent time living and working in Africa, so it's authentic. Our favorite part is the back, where she's got her baby strapped -- so much like the real thing we just saw in Senegal. It seems that one of my girls always wears an Indian sari, also authentic, and the second year we are here, it's Pippa's turn.
This year, the girl in the African dress comes as "Pippa" -- or close to it. With the ponytails and painted-on freckles, she really does looks a lot like my daughter. Her costume is actually of a little English schoolgirl, but that still could be Pippa since the French often confuse language with nationality ("anglaise"). And a portrait with one of the Pippa's newest but best friends, a pirate, a tribute to her Breton heritage. In case you're wondering, Pippa herself is wearing a Moroccan dress, bought in Morocco, which has nothing to do with her rainbow peacock hairdo, but she just likes the combo. Gigi's not in this year's photos since she's in middle school now and no longer gets to dress up and parade (and yes, she's disappointed).
Between my beautiful girls (of course, I'm biased), the awesome setting, the fact that Dark Vador is -- most appropriately -- Pippa's shadow, and the general levels of cuteness from all the kids, I can't help but say, "Aaaw."

Then, on the more truly shocking side: There's this 5th grader smoking his cigarette. It is a fake one, of course, but very realistic, with a glowing tip. I start talking with some other parents as I take the picture, and it turns out that even the other French parents are shocked by this as completely inappropriate. Well, not all the parents: Obviously his own parents must have found it okey dokey.
Inappropriate, yes. But how hysterically French is that?!
There's shocking, and there's more shocking: These kids are packing pistols, some of them quite realistic. All of them aimed and "shot" at people, repeatedly. There is not a teacher, parent, or child who complains or seems even slightly bothered by the guns (though at the moment, I think this girl might prefer if the boy hadn't cornered her).
Some of them just don't make any sense, like frog with a gun (hey, no bad "frog" puns from you). This Crusader, who is one of Gigi's best friends, has a super soaker so powerful, it shoots water across about ten centuries of history.
Of course I remember seeing toy guns with costumes as a child myself, but given that I've been hearing that in the US kids are getting suspended just for making gun shapes with their fingers and saying "bang", it seems a little surprising to me. When I bring it up to my fellow parents, they point out that in France the kids are allowed their fake guns, because people aren't allowed real guns. The image below went viral online after (one of) last year's (several) horrific school shooting(s) in the US.
The French parents tell me they're shocked by our approach in the US, where the real guns are legal, used against children, and therefore make the little toy guns seem menacing. I must say that I'm shocked and horrified by the US attitude towards guns, too. So bring on the toy guns!
THE CHEESE: Saint Agur
Saint Agur is an industrial blue cheese widely available in supermarkets around France. I know I buy mine in the Monoprix. It's a cow's milk cheese, pasteurized and manufactured in the Haute-Loire. As a blue cheese, it has no crust, and is creamy and tangy throughout. I think of the industrial, supermarket cheeses, this may be one of the best. Cheap and certainly good enough for your blue-cheese salad crumble or cooking needs.
Who is Saint Agur, by the way? Nobody. The company made up a saint just for the sake of naming the cheese. I think they should make him the patron saint of stinky cheese. St. Bartholomew and St. Uguzo are the patron saints of cheesemakers, in various parts of the world, but who will protect the cheese itself? Saint Agur.
First of all, Saint Agur is one of the cheeses on the poster above (bottom center), comparing the legality of guns to imported cheeses in the US. Of all the authentic, old, interesting cheeses, I'm frankly shocked that this one made the poster. Also, Saint Agur stinks. So does when a crazy person (of any age) gets hold of a gun and uses it in one of these tragedies that seem to happen so much more frequently in the US than everywhere else in the world. Ironically, as a pasteurized cheese, Saint Agur would actually be legal to import. But either way, I'd much rather have out-of-control stinky Saint Agur on the loose than guns.


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