France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

October 31, 2008

Those were no Muslims: It’s Election Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 2:44 pm

In 1983, working on a spec piece for the New York Times on the 1938 “War of the Worlds’ broadcast which landed Martians in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, located in West Windsor, part of the Princeton area I was covering, I interviewed Howard Koch, who had written the broadcast, based on H.G. Wells’s novel of the same name, for Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater of the Air. He told me that Welles had selected the area for the Martian landing by blindfolding his eyes and throwing a dart at a map. I also interviewed Sheldon Judson, the eminent Princeton Geology professor who, as one of my predecessors 45 years earlier (that is to say, a student cum news stringer), had been sent out by the Associated Press to Grover’s Mill to investigate the landing.

One of the reasons this dramatic presentation, much of which was delivered as a mock news broadcast,  was believed by millions of Americans was because of the lethal combination of fear of foreign invasion and economic insecurity which then cast its shadow over Americans.

Today of course, the real fear is financial and the bogeymen are Muslims, but the fear factor which is our heritage is the same. Welles’s briliant broadcast Svengali has been replaced by a refugee from another horror drama, “The Stepford Wives,” as Sarah Palin tries to make us believe that the Martian, er, Muslim, er, terrorist in our closet is the black man on the ballot. But really, the devil is in the Republican details.


October 29, 2008

The road to Le Bugue is paved with fugitive jackasses

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 2:33 pm

But first a word about me and donkeys (also sometimes referred to as jackasses in the U.S.): Back in my state natal of California, these were humorous, big-eared creatures whose voice, even, was hilaroius: Hee-haw! Here in France, I first came to know and appreciate the animal called the ane in a culinary fashion; the best salami/saucisson I’ve ever tasted is ane, brought back for me by my Yank buddy Pam from the Haute Savoie. The ideal formula is 50 percent donkey, 50 percent pork; smells like donkey-dung but tastes sublime. Not so sublime was the sight I beheld last fall at the Foire de Bestiaux, Faire of farm animals in Le Buisson one Friday morning. Alongside the cows, horses, birds and other animals was one incredibly depressed and sad looking group of donkeys. I don’t mean sad as in they were in sad shape, although they were kind of that, but that their heads were hanging down and they… just… looked … sad. No more donkey salami for Paul!

Par contre, roundabout where I live, or lived, until yesterday (I write you now from new digs in the big city a.k.a. Perigueux, the departmental seat of the Dordogne. Yay 24! ((Same number as Willie Mays. Say Hey!)), at the far end of the wide-ranging horse farm looked over by towering cliffs, across from the deshevelled former gite down the little dirt road, is one pair of happy, eager-looking dark brown spry long-eared jackasses. My guess is that they’re happy, or rather not sad, because far from being destined for my mouth, they’re riding-donkeys for kids at the former gite.

So last Tuesday morning, I’d just started down Tobacco Road (so-named by me because there used to be a ballfield, er, tobacco farm there), with Boobah the neighbor collie/Belgian sheep-dog faithfully prepared to follow me the 12 KM to Le Bugue for the King Charles V declared Tuesday market, when down the road I perceived a pair of romping, well, either very large dogs, very large sangliers (wild boars) or donkey-sized donkeys. As soon as they saw me, or so it seemed, they hastened their trot and headed straight down the road, on which they were indeed driving, towards me and my adopted dog. “About-face, Boobah!” I declared as we made a 180-degree turn. By the time I got to the house near the train crossing and yelled at the serene but lively 95-year-old lady (I mention her age only because she’s as spry as those donkeys), “The donkeys are coming! The donkeys are coming!” the donkeys had turned into the short underground tunnel that leads from Tobacco Road to the horse farm and were heading for home.

October 20, 2008

Playing this week-end in Perigueux: “It’s a Riot” (VF*) or, Riot of Spring

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 3:10 pm

There are demonstrations, there are manifestations, there are riots and there are emeutes, but this week-end in Perigueux, the departmental capital here in the southwest of France, there was a riot produced entirely by the police, and that’s no joke.

It happened, fittingly enough, in the plaza in front of the Odyssey Theater, which last week had hosted Israeli choreographer Emmanuel Gat’s version of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” or “Sacre du Printemps.” Even if you didn’t notice the “Securité Routiere” tables set up, foire (fair) style, the orderliness of the shield-bearing police, not to mention the orderly er ‘rioters’ or manifestants, not to mention that the ‘t.v. cameraman’ was being left alone to do his work as opposed to being roped in and toppled with the rioters, might have tipped you off that, evidently, this was a police, or securité organized demonstration of how the police handle a, er, riot or demonstration, even though it bore little resemblance to my experience.

But to be fair, first a distinction: My limited experience participating in demonstrations here in France, mostly before, during, and in the immediate afermath of the U.S. illegal invasion of Iraq, and in support of Lebanon when Israel invaded that country in 2006, contrasts favorably with the same in the United States. The closest the police came to anything that could even remotely maybe be considered to have an aspect of intimidation was in filming one of the manifs and in sending civilian ops to monitor another. I was actually more frightened *covering* the 1992 demonstration in San Francisco reacting to the Rodney King verdict, to the point of getting off the street — with little confidence that my SF Police press card would protect me. Since then, police tactics in repressing demonstrations in the U.S. have gotten even more out of hand, particulary during and at the presidential nominating conventions, with pre-emptive arrestations, reporters being beaten and arrested, people being jailed in unsanitary conditions, bystanders being arrested just for being in the ‘wrong’ place at the wrong time, and more. Also, as I’ve previously written, during the 2008 Olympic torch relay, Paris stood out as just about the only city which refused to buckle under to Chinese pressure and allowed people to demonstrate for Tibet and against Chinese repression there.

Still, I have to make fun of Saturday’s mock manif for its one-dimensional aspect:

First, what was this demonstration (or demonstration of a demonstration and the police response) doing as part of a securité routiere foire? I mean, would a group of random people really assemble at the scene of an accident with the ends of trampling on and kicking the victim of the vehicle accident, trying to prevent the police from putting him in an ambulance, and egging on the police (in a sort of Vinny of Brooklyn, arms hanging down, hands cupped, fingers beckoning come and get me copper manner)? And why would the police show up at the scene of an accident in full riot gear? And would police at a riot really do a sort of carefully choreographed (usually I hate that term as applied to anything but dance, e.g. war, but here it’s appropriate) Busby Berkeley array, four lines across, six or so police deep? And would their batons stay in their belts? And what exactly was the, well, motivation of the demonstrators?

What’s scary about this is that it suggests that for the police, demonstrators, or manifs, have just one goal in mind, to egg on the police — and if they can do it by kicking an innocent road accident victim, all the better! People demonstrate for a reason. Even if one allows that there is a separate cadre, a sort of sub-set if you will, of ’emeuteurs’ or rioters who exploit legitimate manifs just to spread chaos, the politicians — the government — evidently needs to do a better job of educating the police as to the reasons behind such manifestations of discontent. (I think the funniest of these I ever saw — not counting the time when the striking firemen battled the police with firehouses — was when a group of about 15 sans papiers were followed by at least 50 police in a manif that took place last year in my old Paris ‘hood, a couple of blocks from where (then) candidate Nicolas Sarkozy had set up headquarters.)

*Version Flic

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