The 'Ponts' of May

photo: bistos in montparnasse

All of Paris is either inside or outside a bistro.

Some You Get, Some You Don't

Paris:- Sunday, 16. May 1999:- At times when I have nothing to do sometimes I do nothing, but at other times I may pass the time wondering who runs France.

All of Europe has the same calendar month of May as France, so what goes on here may not be unique. A lot of the things I don't understand, I just write off as being 'French logic.'

According to my calendar, there are four official holidays in May: Saturday the 1st, Saturday the 8th, Thursday the 13th and Monday the 24th. According to what I've been told and what I read in the papers, there is also a National Ministry of Education - a body that you might think decides the dates of school holidays.

The magic word is 'pont' which means bridge, and usually applies to a Thursday - which makes Friday the 'pont,' to form a four-day weekend; or Tuesday which does the same thing with an orphaned Monday.

With a careful distribution of these four May holidays, in some years the whole month is a weekend - except for all the people who have to work on Saturdays.

But not this year, not with two of the crucial dates falling on Saturdays. School holidays - Easter? - endedphoto: window display yves st laurent at the beginning of the month, but my calendar shows an 'official pont' of four days, from Saturday, 22. May to Tuesday, 25. May. This is Pentecôte and it ranks somewhat higher than Ascension, which is also in May, on the 13th.

An adult, looking at this calendar, would see a possible 'pont' for Ascension, if the employer agreed to let Friday be free - and a real 'pont' because of Monday the 24th.

In case you wondered, people who can afford more than jeans, can afford Yves Saint-Laurent. Worth every centime too!

However, the Education Ministry sees it all differently. First, Saturday is considered a necessary half-school day, because Wednesday is only a half-school day.

This means that the school people have to agree to allow Saturday to become part of a 'pont.' Since education in France became national and universal in the 1880's, nobody has bothered to formulate any logical guidelines - and the result can be total and incomprehensible chaos.

One kid in a family gets the 'pont' on Monday and the other is accorded the 'pont' for the Saturday, while dad gets his on Friday - and it adds up to a useless non-long weekend.

Secondary schools - only in general, mind you - got Friday, 14 May as a non-'pont' while their fellows in primary classes got the day off. The little kids will not get Tuesday, 25. May off, but the older ones will.

Then the double-whammy is added: if no Saturday is an official holiday, it doesn't mean everybody gets a freebie because it is in the middle of a 'pont.' Oh no, an extra half or whole day is added on to a Wednesday - a day when many arrangements have been made - and paid for - for the kids to have alternate activities.

Official school days in France only amount to 180 days a year. The psycho-time keepers have a theoryphoto: new marche, st germaine that no kid can survive a period longer than seven weeks without a major 'pont' or better yet, two weeks off.

More thread shops, near the new Marché Saint-Germain.

Most parents, if they are not schoolteachers, get most public holidays off and maybe a couple of 'ponts' as well as four, five or six weeks of paid holidays a year. It may sound like a lot, but it is a lot less than schoolkids get.

It means that parents in France are constantly scrambling to try and match their free time with the free time of the kids. What can't be matched might have to be taken as unpaid time away from work, or require payments to a person or organization to mind the kids.

Until a year or two ago, the day fixed for return to school after the very long summer holidays, was usually a Tuesday or a Thursday. Never mind that all holiday rentals run from Saturday to Saturday. The last day of the school year was always a Thursday or a Tuesday too, if it wasn't a Wednesday.

Can you imagine trying to coordinate this with co-workers who also have kids? Well, you can't and they can't and it's a wonder there isn't civil war.

What happens for the big summer holidays happens in mini-form throughout the month of May every year.

So what about the government ministerphoto: tea room, louvre responsible for all this 'French logic?' Madame Ségolène Royal has three school-age children; one got the Ascension 'pont' but not the Pentecôte, the other two get Pentecôte and the one who got Ascension, doesn't.

She is reported to be 'tolerant' because she understands the difficulties school have with managing time. She was instrumental in getting Monday as the back-to-school day following 'Les Grands Vacances.'

Today looks nice enough, but the cool east wind keeps terraces empty - even for tea.

But for the 'ponts,' the bridges of May, she has 'received no clear instructions.'

As she is minister in charge of France's national education system, I am trying to figure out just who it might be who could be in the position of lending Madame Ségolène Royal some 'clear instructions.'

Could it be there isn't anybody, and there are no 'clear instructions?' Could it be that nobody 'runs' France? If this is the case, then I can quit wondering about this.

I can wonder instead about why Paris' football team, PSG, seems to have disappeared.

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