FRENCH FRIDAY: HIGH SCHOOL VISITS IN FLORIDA

Last Friday, I found myself at the very tip of Northern Florida for a full day of school visits.

As I drove on this gorgeous stretch of Florida I was tempted to skip the events and go for a hike and a picnic. The blend of states parks, beach parks, marshes, creeks and ocean is distinct from the rest of the state and on Friday the early morning fog rising from the Amelia River tugged at me, the promise of a beautiful day.

But I’m so glad I only skipped my weekly French Friday blog post 🙂

School visits are always special. These five last ones included.

At the first high school, the librarian had invited me to show up before my presentation so I could have breakfast. She spoke of a continental breakfast. And it would have been plenty enough. There is nothing better than fresh coffee, donuts, banana bread, and fresh fruit to put everyone in a good mood, right?

No, there are the breakfast sandwiches that nobody but locals know about.

To be frank I’m not a huge breakfast person, but I always try what the locals eat. When I am invited somewhere I am part of a place, even for the time of a visit. Or for the time of a breakfast ham, cheese and egg on an English muffin.

And when there is a story behind what I eat, it’s even better.

The chair of the English department was there and as any good English teacher he told good stories. The one behind the breakfast sandwiches is here. In his own words, it was the best idea anyone had to give another life to a closed gas station. In a great American way, although some people thought that serving food in a gas station was weird many more and even the reluctant ones gave it a chance. Their patronage brought the joint to the Washington Post. Not bad. The breakfast sandwich I picked was great. I only wished I could have enjoyed it, slow and easy, but I’m always a little nervous before speaking in front of many people. Next year I will make sure to stop by T-Rays to celebrate the end of the day. Have a look it’s really cool.

Parents play a huge role in American schools. Including at that high school. I spotted some dads signing in for the seniors’ field trip. And a mom stamped my novels (I use an Eiffel Tower and a small café stamps when I sign) so I only had to write a short sentence and add my name. While we worked together we spoke. Of course. She hoped to live in France for a little while, at some point. I love it when people share their dreams because it’s the only way to realize that we are all so similar despite our differences.

At this high school, I met with three groups of sophomores in their media center. I love libraries and librarians. This school is so fortunate to have a huge media center and an amazing librarian who cares so much for the students. I spoke about writing, writing in a foreign language and of France too. I had downloaded more music and I played extracts to cut the presentation and also whenever I felt they needed a break. And when I needed one too 🙂

At the end of the third presentation one of the teachers told me that I was like a teacher. I thanked her. And she added that like a teacher I warmed up as I went and adapted to my audience. I had not really noticed but then saw that my notes were left on a chair. I had not once looked at them. Q&A was fantastic. Few kids had traveled to Europe and even less to France, so it’s always with a mix of humility and pride that I try to introduce my small but complex native country.

I had an hour ahead of me to drive to a neighborhing high school, half an hour away. Traffic was jammed, so I missed the lunch graciously offered by the French teacher and munched on my cereal bars instead. I missed that breakfast sandwich.

There, I met a mix of freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, all taking French. They had read my novel in class and had tons of questions.

Their French teacher being French it was an additional treat.

My most favorite moments of the afternoon:

  1. What do you miss most about France ? Some people more than things.
  2. What do you like best about the USA ? The list is too long to even start one.
  3. How long did it take you to be fluent in English ? You don’t want to know.
  4. Can you say: “squirrel” because our French teacher can’t ? She and I are even.

Of course, I answered each and every question and agreed to repeat a few words in English. We joked and laughed and this is what we all should do more often.

On Friday, however, being invited to two high schools located in Florida made it impossible to ignore the shooting that had happened 48 hours earlier, on Valentine’s Day, in another high school in the very same state.

I knew I would make sure to talk to the media specialist and the French teacher before meeting their students. I didn’t have to. Teachers and staff told me upfront that it had been hard to be at school since then, but that life had to go on. At the end of the day an announcement reminded students that support was available to anyone who needed to talk.

And yet it was hard to imagine a similar tragedy happening on these bucolic campuses.

I bet people thought similarly in Parkland.

On my way out I saw groups of teenagers waving goodbye to each other, hugging each other. There was after all a three-day weekend in perspective. They all looked so young, so full of energy and possibilities. And I felt suddenly sad and angry too.

Knowing that my own children had been spared from such tragedies through their entire schooling didn’t change my mood.

I’ve always favored the American inclusive schooling to the more rigid French style I’ve known. But I’ve also envied French students for the safety of their schools. Even now with terrorist threats ever present on the French soil, no student has ever shot his classmates.

Our American children and teenagers could be as safe as the French.

It is an American paradox I will never understand. When people are so civil and courteous in the street, in the stores and on the roads what justifies their need for weapons? When they come together as one in times of hardship what explains the unconditional support for the Second Amendment ?

As our nation was mourning again the loss of young lives, I felt sick and tired of hearing that we needed to keep them and their families in our thoughts and prayers.

Of course, we would. How couldn’t we?

But thoughts and prayers obvioulsy have not exactly worked.

Over the last years, I’ve signed every possible petition regarding gun control and also the need for a better understanding and management of mental health.

Obvioulsy, they have not worked either.

Each time a school shooting or a mass shooting happened we all believed it would be the last.

And yet.

I felt angry.

And I did not want to pray.

So I turned on the radio, which I often do when I drive.

This is how I first heard of the Florida man who decided to turn his own AR-57 in to the sheriff’s office and asked them to destroy it after the school shooting.

If you missed it you can read the interview highlights here. His Facebook post went viral.

I listened to the much longer conversation he had with NPR. At some point, he mentionned that thoughts and prayers didn’t feel enough for him and that the tragedy called for action.

It’s only one man, one action.

What if…

 

The soft Atlantic waves

 

Pour vous qui vivez en France, ce court article paru dans Le Monde recense les fusillades les plus meurtrières aux USA depuis 25 ans. Tristement, je les ai toutes vécues. Après Columbine on a tous ici cru qu’un changement important se produirait. Après Sandy Hook, c’était certain.

Le congrès américain a explicitement interdit la vente d’armes semi automatiques entre 1994 et 2004. Mais depuis que la loi a expiré il est très facile de se les procurer de nouveau pratiquement n’importe où aux US. Seuls les états de New York, de Californie, le district de Columbia, et cinq autres états en interdisent la vente. Les mêmes états limitent aussi le nombre de cartouches qui peuvent être chargées dans une arme. Malgré cela, tout est fait pour annuler les interdictions, légalement et illégalement, en modifiant de façon mineure les armes.

Si vous lisez l’anglais, cet article du New York Times explique la situation actuelle.

Depuis Parkland, les lycéens expriment pour la première fois leur colère au-delà de leur douleur. Manifestations inhabituelles prennent place et la maturité des filles et garçons que nous entendons s’exprimer me donne raison. Je ne cesserai jamais de croire que l’avenir et les changements importants sont entre les mains des adolescents d’aujourd’hui.

En les écoutant depuis ce drame, je me dis que peut-être nous sommes enfin arrivés à un point de non retour.

Malheureusement, entre le moment où j’ai écrit ce billet et aujourd’hui il y a déjà un énorme nuage noir qui planne et laisse augurer de débats houleux.

Si vous le souhaitez, voici un article récent qui illustrent la longue route qui nous attend. Celui sur la situation de la santé mentale aux USA est intéressant. Les deux sont publiés dans le New York Times et peut-être pouvez les lire dans le Monde qui reprend régulièrement leurs articles.

J’ai souvent écrit à propos des rituels américains, particulièrement dans les écoles, rituels qui parfois m’ont fait sourire tant ils sont différents de ceux de la vie scolaire française, souvent étonnée, jamais fatiguée.

Que la tragédie de Parkland devienne un rituel scolaire américain serait monstrueux.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Your enthusiasm during your school visit speaks volumes for your dedication to share stories … your stories with readers. I’m so glad you enjoyed the experience and I hope to be in the audience someday!

    • Thank you, Joan. I absolutely enjoyed these students’ company. And the staff was phenomenal. They are fortunate to have people who care for them. And yes, it would be fun to have you with me!

  2. I think visits like this show students that peopel outside the system care about them, too. I think that’s the most important lesson we can send to young people today. Thanks for sharing your experience, Evelyne, and thanks for reaching out to these students.

  3. The students at the schools you visit are fortunate to have such a generous author. I wish such an author had visited my school when I was young! I agree with your sorrow and anger. I don’t understand the need for guns, guns, and more guns, with no restrictions allowed.

    • You are too kind, Mariana. Me too I would have loved meeting authors when I was a kid and I loved reading so much.
      I so agree with you about the guns. Sadly the hope that rose from the tragedy in southern Florida seems to already be threatened.

  4. Behind the Story says:

    It sounds as though you enjoy being around children and sharing your book and your knowledge about your home country. The school visits are mutually beneficial, both for you and for the students and their teachers. Did you set the visits up on your own?

    Like you, I’m angry and sad about the shooting at the Parkland school. It’s amazing how a senseless narrative can get started and continue to have a hold over hundreds of millions of people. I think the 2nd amendment has been misinterpreted, and too many people bought into that misinterpretation. And now we’re stuck in crazy-land with too many guns and guns made for war available for almost everyone to buy. I was losing hope until this past week. God bless those brave, determined high school students. Perhaps they will change some minds.

    • It was a delight, Nicki. To answer your question I always ask the librarian or teacher if she/he has special requirements or ideas. Usually we agree on the type of presentation and they almost always match what I had in mind.
      These school shootings are horrific and unless enough of us shout Enough they won’t stop. This time it seems that teenagers are brave and vocal. So like you I hope that adults will finally act as adults.
      Thank you, Nicki for stopping by.

  5. There is some kind of “old west” mentality that has become part of many peoples’ psychology. Maybe it’s the Alamo complex: you and your pals are fighting off the entire Mexican army. Never mind that the Alamo belonged to Mexico.

  6. I have always been a great believer in the power and responsibility of young people to demand change, Evelyne. Especially when the adults in the power structure are so tethered to the status quo. The Florida high school students are making a difference. If they are joined by other young people throughout America, and if they are able to sustain their efforts, we may see significant change in America’s gun laws. Excellent post. I have always enjoyed talking to high school students. –Curt

    • I so, so agree with you, Curt, on all counts. Yes, change happens when enough people join forces and if these people are young it’s a shame to ignore them. I applaud the kids who are now so articulate and wish for more to add their voices.
      Change will happen. It’s only a question of when and we just want it before another tragedy hits again.

      • Young people may be the only ones that can bring about change. That plus a significant change in congressional leadership. I am proud of the kids and hope they keep up their efforts, Evelyne.

  7. I have finally found you again, Evelyne… and what a post…so much to think about and mull over… I was fascinated by your finale – the man who handed in his gun… what an inspiring act of imagination and courage… lets hope he starts an avalanche of responsible people doing the same…
    Just been watching ( again) the last few episodes of The West Wing classic TV series, in which the presidential candidate says he knows he can’t ban guns but what he would do would be to log every single purchase of bullets, and evolve a way of keeping track of who is buying bullets… food for thought…

    • I’m sorry to read that my blog had vanished somewhere in the vast blogosphere, Valerie, but happy that you found me again.
      When I listened to the man on the radio, only 48 hours after the shooting, I found him so inspiring too. What followed has been a mix of great and not so great moments.
      The high school students are certainly now the most inspiring. Two major stores that sold the kind of automatic weapons used at the school have also stopped carrying them. This is a real step toward change, I think. At least, some business people realized the harm that could be done.
      I’ve not watched the West Wing series, but the presidential president is maybe right. As much as I hate the idea to control people this is a case where knowing more is probably better.

  8. Handing in a gun in Canada would not seem unusual.

    • Do you mean that you have a similar gun culture, Jean? There are so many things I like and even love in North America. The love affair with gun is not on the list, though.

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