Wednesday, May 5, 2010

24601, or how I empathize with Jean Valjean

So, I have been reading the unabridged 'Les Miserables' since December. Having seen the play and memorized the soundtrack as a kid, I thought I knew the story pretty well, but the amount of detailed history and social commentary that Victor Hugo put into his 1400 pages is astounding. I am amazed that anyone ever thought to condense it down into a musical because Jean Valjean, Cosette, and Javert seem to only occupy a fraction of the story.

Last weekend, I watched the movie version on youtube, the one that came out in 1998, starring Liam Neeson as Jean Valjean, Clare Danes as Cosette, Uma Thurman as Fontine, and Geoffrey Rush as Javert. I thought it was really weird that beyond the actors not being French, they spoke with pseudo-British accents, except for when they pronounced French names. It was really distracting. Furthermore, it was filmed in the Czech Republic. And Marius and Cosette's relationship is ridiculous - Clare Danes sobs, 'Even though I have only known him for three weeks, I love him and I want you to drag him through the sewers and then go to jail for him, Papa!' (see above), to which Liam Neeson says, 'Okay.' I haven't gotten to that part in the book yet, but I hear Hugo's description of the sewers of Paris is outstanding.

Today I feel like I can relate to Jean Valjean, not because I dragged my daughter's boyfriend of three weeks through the sewers, but because I went to court for a minor offense and although I have not been punished with nineteen years of hard labor, I have been forced to pay $360 for accidentally taking the wrong exit on the Bay Bridge. Somehow that doesn't have the same ring to it as "They chained me and left me for dead / Just for stealing a mouthful of bread!!!!"

Officer Rapp, who cited me, showed up to hearing with a Javert-like sense of justice. He glared at me while testifying that because my license indicates that I have lived in San Francisco, I should be familiar with the Bay Bridge. This seemed like very faulty logic to me. I very rarely drove to east bay when I lived in San Francisco and certainly never had a reason to take the commuter lane. Until his testimony, I did not even know it was a commuter lane. On the Golden Gate Bridge, over which I commuted for two years, there is no special commuter lane where you can be ticketed for incredible amounts of money; during non-commuting time, they become normal toll lanes. Unless I had worked in East Bay there is no reason why I should have known that the Bay Bridge is different and even now while living in East Bay I rarely drive over the Bay Bridge to San Francisco. As a Masters candidate in urban and environmental planning, I feel it is my obligation to take BART.

Although I have not been sentenced to break rocks for the better part of my youth, I feel abused. Can you imagine if everyone who accidentally took the wrong exit on a highway was fined $450?? I just got my passport back yesterday from sending it to get extra pages. Unlike Jean Valjean, my passport is not now yellow. I probably won't be treated like an outcast. I probably won't  violate my parole by stealing a coin from a chimney-sweep since I am not on parole. And Officer Rapp probably won't pursue me to the ends of the earth to put me in jail. So life could be worse, but it still sucked.

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