Tuesday, November 3, 2009

'appie 'allouine

Although Halloween has been the highpoint of fall semester since I started college I tried not to set my expectations too high this year. This was surprisingly easy to do given how completely non-existent Halloween is in France. I saw a grand total of one pumpkin in a store window all season, and while grocery stores are already beginning to stock Christmas chocolates and champagnes, there are no funsize bars, fake blood capsules or face paints to be found. With that said, my Halloween weekend ended up being pretty awesome.

Thursday was spent in the company of Aaron French: an aptly-named French student from my undergrad who is currently on break from his university in Bordeaux and needed a floor to crash on for a night. We went out for the buy-a-beer-get-free-couscous deal up at Chateau Rouge, reminisced about St. Mary’s even as we rolled our eyes at its failed presidential search and discussed when I’m going to try and make it down to Bordeaux (answer: right before Christmas). The next night Phinn and I donned our orange and black and joined a few other girls from the program to go out dancing. When you go out in Paris you have two return plans: 1) catch the last metro back at 1:45, or 2) stay out until after 5:30, when the morning metros start to run again. Tired from the night before, I left the others out and opted for the early return, which had me well-rested and ready for the ZOMBIE WALK on Saturday.

As a huge zombie movie buff, Lindsay had been prepping me for the walk ever since our afternoon of thrifting a few weeks earlier. When I arrived at the Marais around 2:30 (I followed a zombie horse from the metro to the meeting place) she was next in-line for make-up and pulled me in behind her. The make-up we got was impressively professional—a waxy facial scar putty covered with liberal quantities of sticky fake blood. Add a little dirt and teased hair and we really looked like we were out for BRAIINNNSSS. The more dedicated zombies came prepared in their own make-up and costumes, many with pieces of flesh or broken glass hanging from their faces or the edges of bones protruding through holes in their clothing. There were counter-culture, Hot Topic-esque zombies with Mohawks and piercings, zombie nuns, zombie brides, zombie babies, escaped insane asylum zombies, and zombies taking after a number of specific movies that went way over my uneducated head. There was also a class of non-zombies marked with yellow arm ties, called victims, who were dressed as members of various military branches and armed with fake guns.

The thirty or so victims assembled around 4pm and were given about a minute's head start before hundreds of zombies were dispatched after them, groaning, growling and limping in true zombie fashion. The participants took their roles very seriously, slowing their reaction times and only grunting responses to questioning observers.When we passed photographers on scaffolding the zombie crowd rushed their perch, arms outstretched and moaning for brains. When we passed cafes, we smashed hungry faces and slapped hands against the window panes, trying to get at the customers inside. This scared a few small children (and angered one ill-tempered shop keeper) but for the most part the reception of the public was great. Tourists and Parisians alike lined the parade route for pictures and offered up their children to appease us, while spectators of all ages leaned out of apartment windows to gawk at the freak show below. The victims, meanwhile, climbed (and were subsequently pulled down from) trees, barricaded themselves in phone booths, and fell screaming and firing beneath a dog-pile of zombies again and again.

I made the decision to keep my zombie make-up on for Laura's Halloween move night, and I discovered that roaming Paris with visible head wounds is a truly interesting experiment in social psychology. Separated from the context of my fellow zombies and in a city that knows little of Halloween, I was the target of countless stares and whispers in the metro tunnels of Chatelet. The effect was enhanced by the fact that I was wearing jeans, a peacoat and a scarf--in short, I looked like a typical Parisian until you looked me in the eye. In the actual car, I found the face paint acted as an icebreaker, allowing me to have French conversations with travelers usually too immersed in their bubble to interact with fellow passengers. I also scared quite a few people--a young girl in the movie store burst into tears, a woman in Montmartre gasped and grabbed my shoulder, readying her cell phone to call an ambulance, and a man who bumped into me in the metro car and turned to apologized jumped half the length of the train in shock.

I spent the evening with a few of Laura's friends, watching The Exorcist for the first time (terrifying--I can't get the stair crawl scene out of my head) followed by the mood-boosting Rocky Horror Picture Show (which, albeit not a full blown RH party, continues my annual tradition). The eerie fog that had settled into the streets by the time I made my way home at 2am provided a perfect ending to my Halloween weekend.

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