On this day twelve years ago, I was in the middle of two weeks in the South-West of France doing work experience at the Bibliothèque Municipale de Bayonne. I think that although the librarians sensed I might be a useful guy to have around, they didn’t have a great deal of work for me to do. I certainly stamped some new acquisitions with the legend ‘Veuillez ne pas tenter de réparer les ouvrages vous-même’, wiped down returned children’s books with disinfectant, took part in (or at least was present at) a children’s story session, and went to a bookshop with my patronne Magali (still happily there, I see) to select new stock.
The record library upstairs was presided over by an effete dandy who looked like Ravel. Unless I misunderstood, I believe I was told that a system was in place whereby CDs were magnetised in such a way that the data stored on them would be wiped if they were taken past the sensors at the entrance without being borrowed. Can this have been true? I can at least state for a fact that it was in the music library that I discovered William Sheller, whose album Les Machines Absurdes I went out and bought directly from the department store Extrapole. There was music playing constantly upstairs, and one afternoon the staff kindly allowed me to select some of their CDs to put on. I remember choosing some Fats Waller (including this), which raised a few eyebrows. Maybe they were used to more sedate music. I don’t know if it affected business.
During the week I stayed with a charming (I am tempted to say perfect) and irritatingly photogenic family of six (three girls, one boy) in Anglet, the mother giving me a lift to and collecting me from work each day, and in the weekend in the middle I stayed with my exchange student Mathieu (who couldn’t accommodate me during the week, being a boarder at a Lycée de Chauffage Central or some such establishment) in Narrosse, just outside Dax.
At some point during the weekend, Mathieu’s mother presented me with a flower, explaining that it was the tradition in France to give each other muguet on 1st May. I struggle with names of flowers in English, let alone French, but I did happen to know that muguet was Lily of the Valley, I think because I had seen it written down on a bilingual bottle of liquid soap.
On checking my dictionary, I found the word had another definition, and Mathieu’s mother’s words took on a more sinister tone. I was grateful to get back to the library on Monday morning and start disinfecting.
Why not take a leaf out of the French’s book, and give muguet to someone you love today?
Image from Wikimedia Commons.