France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

March 31, 2010

When the saints go marching out

Finally — finally — an official government body, the Counsel d’Etat, has stepped in and said what I’ve been thinking for years:

The law governing the secular applies to the service public — autrement dit, government-funded services and agencies — and not to individuals.

The counsel was responding to the current debate over banning the burka. Essentially, among the reasons it found such a law would be legally contestable is that the principal of secularism could not be applied. to individuals’ right of expression.

However, following the logic of this opinion, the governning principal of the separation of church and state *can* be applied to public service.

This would presumably include broadcasts on the publicly funded television networks.

This would presumably include the nightly weather forecasts on France 3.

This would presuably put a stop to the weathermen/women telling us — telling us — at the end of the broadcast to hug the saint being celebrated the next day.



March 29, 2010

Why Françoise Hardy won’t shake your hand

Just about every pundit capable of independent analysis agrees that the reason the Front National mounted in last week’s regional elections was the governing UMP party’s focus on false security issues (immigrants or if you prefer, illegal immigrants, a subset of which is the burka) as opposed to the real insecurity issues actually pre-occupying the electorate, e.g. unemployment, lodging, and the loss of purchase power. (Never mind that the UMP’s leader in parliament, like a parrot who only knows a few words, was still chirping “Burka!” election night, signalling his intention to pursue some form of interdiction of the full-body veil.) Yet there was another government campaign which also tapped into (even if it didn’t intentionalliy exploit) insecurity: the super-hyped campaign to get people vaccinated and to take other measures to protect themselves against swine flu. The campaign had hardly begun winding down when government critics started saying the real threat had been over-amped. There were even hints that enabing the pharmas to profit from the crisis by the government’s purchase of (too much vaccine had been a factor. I don’t subsscribe to this theory. If anything, in the wake of the ancient debacle involving HIV-contaminated blood supplies and the more recent one involving the government’s lack of preparation for the deadly heat wave of 2003, this government would have been crucified if it hadn’t been circumspect about this latest health menace. And it was certainly not alone among the world’s governments in panicking.

Nevertheless, even if, in my view, the amplitude of the government’s swine flu protection campagin was justified, it’s had at least one consequence which to my mind is just as alarming as the resurgence of the Front National.

Françoise Hardy, the lithesome and archetypal French singer-actress of the free-loving and carefree ’60s, is no longer shaking hands.

“Its because of” the government’s swine flu campaign, the self-described ‘grand sentimental’ explained to an interviewer from radio France Inter who observed that in lieu of shaking hands, she was now greeting people in what he called the ‘Japanese or Asiatique” fashion, of folding her hands and bowing. “It’s more beautiful, and it’s more ‘safe,'” she said, using the English word.

Welcome to France version 2010, a country in which fear of the other has become such a virus, at least among some French, that the Front National is mountting in strength and Françoise Hardy is retreating her hand. I’ll hold out for the return of a France where Muslim women can protect their bodies if they want to and Françoise Hardy doesn’t feel she needs to protect hers to the degree of not extending her hand to be touched and held.

March 24, 2010

Mache it up or, tonight I picked my dinner

I used to worry how I would ever adjust to the food downgrade if I had to move back to the United States from France, especially to New York. (California does a little bit better on healthy food that’s also affordable, especially vegetables.) The New York super-markets especially are, well, just gross. And the most reliable vegetables I found, apart from the Union Square and occasionally Tompkins Square farmer’s markets, were from a Balkan immigrant guy with a great sense of humor who sold fruits and vegetables on the corner of 14th and Fifth.

But now that I live here in the country, in the Dordogne department of SW France, and for social and work reasons am looking to move back to Paris. I’m starting to ponder how I’ll ever make the adjustment from the French country-side to the French city-side. There’s just no comparison. Sure, you can find beautiful vegetables and fancy meat in the markets, but not often at popular (or people’s) prices, particularly when it comes to ‘gourmet’ vegetables and meat. (The French Arab market at Barbes, and others, have cheap prices, but it sometimes reflects the quality.)

This reflection is all brought on by not just the pissenlit (dandelion and its crispy leaves, great in salads and cooked like spinach for omelets and pasta, yum!) being in bloom, but being joined by its more delicate and refined and easier to pick mache. This late afternoon as I headed to the path behind the horse and donkey farm to gather some pissenlit for tonight (the period in which pissenlit is good is very short, so you eat a lot of it while you can), I crossed Mr. Marty, my retired farmer neighbor, and Madeline, Bernard’s mother in law, at Mr. Marty’s vines, where Madeline was already at work picking some. I joined them and shortly she picked up something else, which she said was also delicious: mache. I’d had this in Paris but it looked nothing like this. In Paris, where it’s not always cheap unless it’s on sale, it’s usually dark green, hard, and in cellophane-enveloped little cartons. This stuff, though, is light green and feather-light and unlike pissenlit, you don’t need a knife to cut it at its fierce roots. I made my way down the vines and found several little patches, picking it with the lightest of tugs of the hand. It kind of looks like baby spinach — little bunches, dense at the middle as if about to flower. I also picked a ton of pissenlit. Yesterday I washed my pissenlit at the source (or spring) across the train tracks up the field from the house and man — what a difference in taste (from washing it in tap water). But tonight I looked at the clock and it was perilously close to train time, so instead I walked back to the other source (yes, we have two, since Bernard unearthed the old source at the tracks where he used to gather water as a kid 40-some years ago) and filled up a few bottles with the stuff to wash the pissenlit here, scattering a reunion of frogs along the way.

Speaking of which, better start washing the pissenlit now (7 p.m.) if I’m to have the mache and spinach all washed for salad and pasta in time for Plus Belle la Vie, my (and 6 million French people’s) nightly Marseille-based soap opera.

C’est plus belle le cuisine en province, n’est pas? — surtout quand c’est gratuit!

March 18, 2010

Say it ain’t so Daniel Cohn-Bendit or, calling for a boycott of Israel has nothing to do with racial hate

Well, I guess it was too good to be true; what political idol can withstand close scrutiny, after all? After François Bayrou, who let me down when he went dirty in a debate with Daniel Cohn-Bendit during last year’s European parliamentary elections, it was Cohn-Bendit’s turn to disappoint me, albeit probably more by ignorance of a critical issue than any deliberate cynicism.

Cohn-Bendit was Nicolas Demorand’s guest this morning on France Inter, the main Radio France network. During the call-in portion of the show, a listener began by praising the head of the Greens in France and the European Parliament for calling for a boycott of the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in China. Then she asked him — quite clearly — what his position was on BDS, a.k.a. the Palestinian-lead movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel as a peaceful, concrete means to end its continued occupation of Palestinian territories and protest its continued brutality, including last year’s actions in Gaza, against the Palestinians. The woman went on to explain that, incredibly, she was recently cited for inciting racial hatred simply for having a BDS bumper sticker on her car.

She was clearly asking Cohn-Bendit whether, having supported a boycott of the Olympics ceremonies because of China’s human rights abuses in Tibet, he would support a boycott of Israel considering its human rights abuses in the Occupied Territories.

Demorand, usually astute, had no idea what she was talking about: “What’s your question, Madame?” (To be fair, the caller just used the acronym for BDS.) But Cohn-Bendit was really disappointing, erroneously taking the question as referring to the EU’s recent vote to take away special trading status from products produced in Israeli colonies in the occupied territories and oppose its labelling these products as produced in Israel. Idealist that I am, I’ll give Danny the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was not just trying to duck the question, and simply doesn’t know what BDS is…. This still is lamentable from someone who is at the head of one of the most important movements on the Left in Europe.

More important, though, when are so many in official and media France going to stop confounding anti-Zionism — or even simple, and *peaceful*, opposition to Iraeli policies — with anti-Semitism? If anything — if anything, *supporting* *peaceful* means of opposing Israel’s continued illegal Occupation (and brutal actions in Gaza) should go hand-in-hand with (rightly) condemning terrorism. And, lest I should get cited for incitation to racial hatred: Not only does my background include Jewish parents, the same can be said for many leading figures in the BDS movement.

March 15, 2010

Elections Regional: ‘Identité Nationale’ and the burka re-launch the Front National

In the 2007 presidential elections, Nicolas Sarkozy successfully co-opted the Front National’s anti-illegal immigrant strain to ensure his election and diminish the FN vote. Battered on other fronts this time around — above all unemployment, loss of purchase power, and the crise de logement — Sarkozy’s governing UMP party tried that gambit again for yesterday’s regional elections, launching a false debate on ‘identité nationale,’ lead by minister of immigration and identité national Luc Besson, and another on the burka, steered by UMP assembly leader Jonathan Cope. This time around, it backfired; people are pre-occupied with pocket-book issues and, if anything, were frustrated that the UMP seemed more concerned about the (maximum) 3,000 women who cover themselves than covering citizens from financial insecurity. Result #1: The winning party in yesterday’s first round was the party of abstention, with 53.5 percent of voters staying home — the highest percentage ever in the regionals. Result #2: The fear of the Other fired up by the false debate on identité national combined with economic insecurity to revive the faltering FN, which came in fourth with 11.7 percent of the vote, behind the Socialists (29 percent), UMP (26), and Europe Ecology or Greens (12.5 percent). “Le debat sur l’identité national a relaunché le Front National,” Communist party leader Marie-George Buffet said this morning on radio France Enter. Or, as Europe-Ecology leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit put it last night on France 2, “Monsieur Besson is content tonight. He’s succeeded in his effort and made the the FN re-mount.” Cecile de Flot, Europe Ecology’s candidate in the Ile de France, blamed the FN’s resurgence on “those who opened Pandora’s Box.”

March 8, 2010

Sonia in the sky with Mesha and Hopey / Sonia de retour au Paradis avec Mesha et Hopey

Filed under: Mes chats,My cats,Sonia, Hopey, & Mesha -- my cats,Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 9:55 pm

Sonia Ben-Itzak, c. 1980s – February 24, 2010

Pour ceux et celles que ne parle pas anglais, mon derniere chat Sonia, belle Siamese de 20+ ans, est mort le jour que j’ecrit, le 24 fevrier. Maintenant elle vas retrouve Mesha and Hopey, ses vieux copain(es), et joue encore jus’quau l’eternite.

Like her life partner Mesha, who left us in 2007, Sonia was born in the Alaskan tundra, part wolf.

Secret origin: She was actually not the first Sonia.

When I moved to Anchorage in the fall of 1990, for the first time I had an apartment where I had cats. First I adopted a long hair black and white, who I called Sonia.

The first night she meowed like crazy late at night and, stupid me, I let her out.

That was the last time I saw that Sonia.

I went back to the SPCA looking for another cat.

Sonia, sitting primly in her cage, blinked her eyes as she looked at me and I was hooked.

Sonia, however, was already spoken for. The clinic said I could get on the waiting list for her in case those who’d claimed her didn’t show up.

Next I saw Mesha, who nestled up to the bars in his cage. I adapted him.

As it turned out, those who’d spoken for Sonia didn’t show up, so I adopted her. I thought it would be unfair to Mesha to not adopt him just because Sonia was free, so I adopted him too.

When we got home, Sonia immediately hid.

Detective Mesha helped me look for her, beginning a beautiful love story.

As it turned out, she’d somehow managed to hide under the stove, where it seemed there was not room to hide.

The rule at the SPCA was that if the animal you adopted was pregnant, they had to do an abortion. Sonia was and they did. (That’s how I know she would at least have had to be born in December 1989, but she was probably born before that.)

When she got home, from the anesthetic she walked like a drunken person.

I remembered this in the last year when Sonia got wobbly again.

In the years since, Sonia has been a real world traveler: Alaska to San Francisco, San Francisco to New York, New York to Paris, Paris to Les Eyzies, Les Eyzies to Montpellier and back, Les Eyzies to Paris, Paris to Les Eyzies, Les Eyzies to Perigueux, Perigueux to Les Eyzies, Les Eyzies to Paris and Paris to Les Eyzies — all the French legs of our journey by train, where Sonia always brought us new friends.

There’s more to say but I’m finding it hard to deal with the ‘was.’

They say cats live nine lives. Sonia lived 15.

When Mesha died, Sonia cried and literally craned her neck looking for him at our flat in Paris on the rue de Paradis.

Hopey passed three months after Mesha.

Sonia is now back with Mesha and Hopey in Paradis.

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