France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

April 23, 2008

What, no pestilence?

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 8:41 am

The water had risen to the level of my deck when my friend and neighbor Laurent came by and said, “Well, now you’ve had it all!” He was referring to my season of more or less natural catastrophes, starting with finding myself in a charming but utterly uninsulated 300-year-old house whose stone walls turned into a frigo at the first sign of winter, which came in about October. Then there was the complicated death in November of my cat Hopey a little over five months after I lost Mesha. (One left, a knock wood incredibly resilient and buoyant minimum 18-year-old Siamese, Sonia, whose wailing at the cold seems to say, Are we back in Alaska (her birthplace)?) Soon after I lost Hopey the mice seemed to sense it and multiplied; Sonia, my once-champion mouser, seemed to be ‘en retrait’ (retired) as they’d run before her eyes without her batting a lid. I ultimately caught six, if you count the one who mysteriously found his own death in the toilet bowl. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that I was without phone and Internet for my first two months here. The other problems — the flies besieging the house and infiltrating the stones by daytime, the slugs crawling under the door at night, the huge spiders coming out after midnight (and looking larger silhouetted against the stones) — I’ve long since forgotten.

But perhaps I’m misleading you on the context because to tell the truth, until it actually infiltrated the ground floor, rising to about 15 inches, as a city boy I found the Great Flood of 2008 very cool. I even jokingly cast my fishing line out the upstairs window for the farmer and his pal to see. They thought that was funny. i was less enthused about the swimming motions the farmer made in return. If the flood was sudden it was not unpredictable; they used to flood the plane (my house is the only house on the water side of the road, with about a hundred yards or meters separating me from the Veziere) every year. When the water gets too high higher up the road, they let out the damn, and voila moi qui se trouve dans le mud. But this actually hasn’t happened since the Great Flood of 2002, which starred — to judge by the number of times the story has been repeated the past two days — my landlords, who dismissed the suggestion by a representative of the mayor who came by that they check into a hotel and instead simply holed up on the second floor watching television. (Which, by the way, opened Monday’s weather report with the news that my department was on Orange alert.) (Bayrou is coming, Bayrou is coming!) This year only one alarmist townsperson came by with that suggestion. Bernard, the mason who does a lot of the work on the house, which he’s known all his life (used to play here when horses still inhabited the bathroom), said I didn’t even need to bother to turn the electricity off because the outlets are high up.

Monday evening, when the water was just starting to lap over the deck, and the brother of Bernard’s friend had invited me to his surprise ‘apero’ (apero in quotes because it ended up lasting until about three in the morning, about a half hour before Nicolas, the host, had to get up to go to work in Sarlat at the foie gras canning factory, and partly because Bernard wouldn’t leave until I’d finished the 4th whisky and coke they’d poured me without my cognizance), anyway I was debating Monday evening whether to put Sonia up in the attic or simply barrage the second floor stairs so she couldn’t descend. She ended up sleeping through it, it being the water which, by the time Bernard and Stephan dropped me off, had risen to the foot+ level, causing greatly hilarity on the part of B & S as they watched me slog to the front door.

Tuesday I decided to hoof it to the market in neighboring Le Bugue — if snow and icy roads hadn’t stopped me from going out to get a haircut in Anchorage 18 years ago, a little inundation wasn’t going to stop me from walking 12 K to the market. Fortunately, Laurent happened to be pulling his van out to go to work in St. Cyprien just as I was starting out, so he offered me a lift to Le Bugue. On the way back — I was loaded down but impatient to get back to the house to see if the water had risen to the level of the outlets and wondering whether I’d get electrocuted standing in the water, so I decided to walk back, hoping maybe I’d run into Laurent on his way home for lunch — after I’d walked about 5K, a British lady picked me up. “You aren’t the one who lives in the house with the water lapping at the door, are you?”


April 16, 2008

‘Carla Bruni, Saviour of French Culture?’

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 2:48 pm

Okay, so I missed one other big miss in my commentary of yesterday on Michael Kimmelman’s otherwise lucid Times piece, ‘A lowbrow in high office ruffles France.’ France Culture morning commentator Olivier Duhamel, in an otherwise neutral report to radio listeners on this (Times) piece which was apparently the talk of the town Tuesday, ended with bemusement at Kimmelman’s suggestion that perhaps Madame Sarkozy, a.k.a. Carla Bruni, could bring high culture back into French high office, a la Jackie Kennedy, whose style she tried to echo during the Sarkozys visit to London, even up to the pillbox hat. Here I would echo Duhamel and, I think much of France, which sees the Bruni marriage as yet another attempted sleight of hand by a president who would rather we think of his glamorous conjugal life than how daily living is becoming harder for the rest of us: The hat does not make the woman.

April 15, 2008

‘A low-brow in high office ruffles France’

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 9:27 am

It’s not often that I recommend an article in the New York Times, and still less often that I nod my head in agreement with an American paper’s analysis of France. (Au contraire!) But art critic Michael Kimmelman’s piece in today’s Times, “A low-brow in high office ruffles France,” actually goes further and, accumulating the worries afflicting French culture these days, ascribes them not just to to the liberal (French sense of the word) funding policies of president Nicolas Sarkozy but to the fact that he’s well, less cultivated than his predecessors. My only quibble would be that the author seems to have spent most of his time talking with the cultural elite and less in cafés, where he’d find that the real disappointment (in French, deception) people feel over Sarkozy is that a president who campaigned as the candidate of ‘purchase power’ is now presiding over its collapse.

April 10, 2008

Gavin Newsom, meet Bertrand Delanoe

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 8:49 am

This week, San Francisco, my city of birth, broke my heart, and Paris, my adopted home for most of the past seven years, saved it.

San Francisco is the heart of the American protest movements of the last 40 years. I was already marching there at five years old, my mom towing me along to demonstrate against the Vietnam War.

This week, in their different responses to China’s usurpation of the Olympic torch and spirit to try to mask its repression in Tibet and at home, the (gay) mayor of Paris, and his colleagues from across the political spectrum, gave the (politically straight) mayor of San Francisco a schooling in the meaning of liberty.

“I remain attached to the values of human rights and the true values of the Olympics, which cannot be separated from human rights,” Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe said to explain Monday’s demonstrations against the Chinese possession of the torch, highlighted by mountain-climbers from Reporters without Borders scaling, sans rope, the Eiffel tower to implant a banner with a black background, the words “Peking 2008,” and the Olympic rings made up of handcuffs. (The remarks were reported by France 2 television, which also carried the harrowing first-hand footage of its cameraman being beaten into submission by police, his cries that he was press ignored.)

Meanwhile, legislators draped a banner calling for “Respect of Human Rights in China” over the Assembly’s ornate facade and broke out in “The Marseilles” when the torch passed. “Now we’ve done something so that no one can go to the Games and say I didn’t know,” said a senator from the governing right-wing UMP party.

Indeed, when the torch was finally snuffed out and hustled onto a bus, it was a Chinese official that did the snuffing — apparently he could not take the heat of liberty. (In China yesterday, Tibet’s Chinese-appointed governor warned that anyone disrupting the torch’s path through Tibet would be dealt with without mercy.)

In San Francisco, by contrast, reports today’s San Francisco Chronicle, Mayor Newsom outdid the Chinese by pulling a slight of hand on the thousands of his constituents and fellow citizens all set to exercise their rights of free speech. The supposed torch was shuffled into a pier building at the planned starting point of the torch run while, a mile or so away, the real torch started on a new route. In other words, the route was changed at the last minute.

Only Aaron Peskin, president of the city’s board of supervisors, saved my hometown’s civic pride, telling the Chronicle, “Gavin Newsom runs San Francisco the way the premiere of China runs his country — secrecy, lies, misinformation, lack of transparency and manipulating the populace. He did it so China can report they had a great torch run.”

A few years ago, Paris had its own, embarrassing run for the Olympics, plastering “Paris Loves the Games” and “Paris, Ville Candidate” advertising all over the city — even draped across the Eiffel tower — in its efforts to win the 2012 games. I say embarrassing because, well, Paris doesn’t need the Games to make it glamorous. On Monday, Paris finally liberated itself from the malaise that followed its not securing the games and got its groove back. The city that capitalized Liberation in 1944 gave a lesson on the subject to my hometown — and the world.

President Bush has just announced he will not boycott the Games opening ceremonies. Let’s hope President Sarkozy will take a lesson in courage from the Paris mayor and give a lesson in liberty to the world.

April 7, 2008

City of Light saves the torch

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 5:33 pm

As pointed out by the French poster artist Alain Carrier, it is China which is using the Olympics to the political end of trying to whitewash itself before the world. Therefore, a political response is appropriate. And today, the City of Paris, the city of liberty, the city which liberated itself from the last country which tried to use the Olympics to political ends, said no, refusing to let China and its hypocritical hyper-capitalist enablers co-opt the Olympics.

In Athens, the birthplace of Democracy, the authorities responded to those who would protest, including the French president of Reporters without Frontiers, by sealing off the ceremonies and promising to cart away anyone who even moved. In London, they tried to snuff out the torch; premiere Gordon Brown even tried to have it both ways, on the one hand permitting the torch to be carried through London, on the other hand avoiding to touch it. In Paris… In Paris…In my wonderful Paris city of light and liberation….

— Thousands turned out to defend Tibet and human rights.

— After protesters tried three times to snuff out the torch, the officials were forced to capitulate, and the torch had to take the bus.

— 25 deputies unfurled on the facade of the National Assembly a banner calling for the respect of Human Rights and liberty in Tibet.

— China demanded the annulation of ceremonies in front of City Hall after Robert Menard, the same president of Reporters without Borders who they’d tried to muzzle in Athens, unfurled a similar banner on the facade of Notre Dame, just across the River Seine.

— And one brave politician, Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, finally called out the argument that ‘politics should be separated from sports’ by saying, “”I stay attached to the values of human rights and the real values of the Olympics, which cannot be separated from the values of human rights.”

Blinded by the Light

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 12:03 pm

An update to my post Olympian Heroes: The BBC is reporting at 2 p.m French time that pro-Tibet defenders demonstrating near the Seine forced officials to extinguish the Olympic torch and take it aboard a police bus.

Olympian Heroes

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 10:19 am

My first hero was the baseball player Willie Mays. (French readers: Think Zidane, multiplied by 100 in mythic proportions.) I can remember the first home run I saw him hit (he blasted about 660), a line drive, and how it trickled on the other side of the center-field fence, beyond which one could see the San Francisco Bay. I can remember where I was on the black day the Giants traded him to the New York Mets.

When we grow up, we realize that athletes are more idols than heroes, because being a hero — being a hero for someone else — requires something more than physical achievement, even more than physical courage. It requires risk and/or sacrifice. And when it comes to seizing a heroic response at personal cost to China’s ongoing human rights abuses at home and in its territories, in France at least, an 83-year-old poster artist from Sarlat, here in the Dordogne region of southwest France, has beaten the French Olympic team hands down for true bravery.

But first a distinction: Those calling for a boycott here are not calling for a boycott of the Peking Olympic Games themselves but of the opening ceremonies — thus, not a sports boycott that requires the athletes to abstain but a *political* boycott that requires French president Nicolas Sarkozy not to attend an event that, let’s face it, will be used by China to the *political* end of demonstrating, to its citizens and everyone else, that it has the approval of the world. (Because the ceremonies coincide with the French presidency of the European Union, Sarkozy’s abstention would have a global signficance.)

The heroes of the French Olympic team have responded to those concerned about Chinese rights abuses by deciding to wear a badge that calls ‘for a better world.’ (Talk about going out on a limb.)

The Sarladois poster artist Alain Carrier has responded by refusing to send his work to an international exhibition of poster art in the Chinese city of Hang-Zou — for which he was to be the guest of honor. He didn’t refuse outright. “I notably faxed them my humanitarian work,” he told the French journal Sud Ouest, “realized in the course of my career for Amnesty International and different associations, in demanding that they guarantee the integrity of my works at the exhibition, for some of which I’ve received prestigious prizes,” including two “Oscars of Advertising.” “I received an evasive response, in which they proposed to relegate this work to side rooms. I have therefore chosen to decline the invitation.”

China and its supporters argue that boycott supporters are trying to politicize the Games, and that sports should be separate from politics. Au contraire!, says Carrier; it’s the Chinese who are using the Games to political ends. “These Games are the tree that hides the forest,” he told Sud Ouest. “The Maoist party, still in place, wants to make a show-window and whitewash itself in the eyes of international opinion. And yet the free world is going to be playing sports while China plays politics.”

April 3, 2008

Lord of the Flies or, Le 401me Coup

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 7:49 am

My first few months here in the country — that being Les Eyzies, the capitol of pre-history in the Dordogne department of southwest France — the 300-year-old stone house I inhabit seemed besieged by insect and rodent problems, to the resolution of which I applied that patented American ingenuity which rarely works in conflictual situations. The large spiders — no doubt magnified by the shadows they cast on the stone walls — which typically appeared in the middle of the night I squashed, which arachnicide no doubt afflicted me with some very bad karma which played a part in the sieges that followed, particularly the mice and above all the flies. (Later, too late, I would deal with the spider problem more successfully by sleeping with the lights on and a blindfold over my eyes; the spiders typically emerged in the dark.) In about October, battalions of little yellow-butted flies descended around the three windows of the upstairs from noon ’til 6, finding ways to infiltrate even if I closed all the windows. Once it was explained to me that they were drawn by the heat emanating from the stones, the most creative way I tried to solve the problem was by taking the giant fabric Sun parasol and lodging it in the roof of the trellise just below the front window, a project which left the plastic picnic table on which I’d climbed to facilitate the task in pieces. But the least efficient (française: efficace) method was to hang outside the window an anti-mosquito keychain I’d found in a drawer which worked on the principle of emitting a high-pitched sound audible only by mosquitoes and which repelled them. Natch, it didn’t work for flies.

Now French adults are going to try it on French children.

The first few years I lived in Paris, one of the troubles on the rue de Paradis (where I lived) was that teens from the logement social (English: Projects) across the street would, well, cross the street to congregate more or less next to the entrance of my building, bavarding (talking loud) until 3 or 4 in the morning. As I explained to the neighbors committee that was formed expressly to deal with this problem, I had lived on one of the noisiest streets (W. 8th, a.k.a. the shoe street) in one of the noisiest cities in the world (New York) and this was worse. The logement was eventually closed, the kids and their familes re-located, the noise problem moved from night to day for 18 months when they fixed up the logement, and now I presume the kids and their familes and the noise problems are de retour et voici le solution:

Starting today, France has authorized the importation and sale of a device that sounds remarkably like the one I tried to use to chase the flies, only in this case, its apparent intent is to chase the kids — the ones who evidently congregate in front of buildings perhaps drinking, perhaps smoking cannibas, or perhaps simply bavarding. Though it’s news to my 46-year-old ears, which cringed when the sound was demonstrated on the news last night, this high-pitched noise can only be heard by the ears of those 25 and under, in whom it instantly produces headaches which supposedly go ‘way when they do.

Il faut constat – one must note — that unlike the United States, France actually spends more on education — €60 billion (milliard) — than defense, indeed, Education is the number one line item in the budget. (In the US, it’s Defense, and Education lags FAR behind.) So France cares about its children. And yet, 50 years after Truffaut’s “Les 400 coups,” it still doesn’t know how to deal with them.

PS: Those here who oppose aural assault as a means to regle the problem of youths congregating and drinking, smoking, or just bavarding have rightly pointed out that a better approach is to address the causes of the problem — why don’t these kids have anything better to do, for example? So you’d think that with this topic being in the news, and even the subject of one of the commentaries, the France Culture morning team might have taken advantage of education minister Xavier Darcos being the special guest for more than an hour today to breach the topic but alas, ce n’etait pas le cas.

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