Two Frances

Most of us come to Paris for the beauty. We’ve heard many say it is the most beautiful city in the world. For those of us who love to flâner (walk with no purpose in mind), it is heaven. The rest of France connotes lavender, sunflowers, paté, little villages high on hillsides that have been there since the Romans attacked the Gauls and the advantage lay with whoever was highest. Though it didn’t work out well for the Gauls in the end.

But there is another France. One that is easy to ignore if you are a tourist. Ex-pats that live in the western suburbs and the lower numbered arrondissements can also turn a blind eye. It’s not difficult to do. Last Thursday, I went to see the French entry for best foreign film: Les Miserables directed by Ladj li. On Friday, it won the Cesar for best Film (the cesars are the french equivalent of the Oscars). This Les Miserables, which loosely takes it’s theme from Victor Huge, takes place in a suburb to the east of Paris. The only white person was a corrupt and brutal policeman. The film showed us two days in the lives of the police who drive the streets of the Banlieu, the blacks who live in hovels, and the Muslim Brotherhood who attract many of the young people to them. The film was a thriller paced so perfectly that I thought my heart would jump out of my body. Although I knew intellectually about many of these banlieus, it was a completely different experience seeing it visually.

On Tuesday of the week before, I went to the American Library to hear a journalist I admire speak about his book: Hate: The Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism in France. The author, Marc Weitzmann, won the American Library book award last November. I was present at the ceremony and was disappointed that he only spoke for ten minutes. I was anxious to hear more. It took him over five years to write this book and in that time, the terrorist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and the Bataclan theatre took place. Weitzmann told us that there are two or three incidents of hatred on Jews a day in France. As he talked, I thought ‘I don’t like the France he is telling us about.’

Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, was stabbed and her body was burned when her apartment was set on fire in what the French authorities said was an anti-Semitic crime. from the NYTImes

When I first moved to France, people would ask (they still do) why I’m choosing to live in France over the US. It is not an easy question to answer. Often I will throw in that the US had an election and it seemed smarter for me to stay here. Inevitably someone will say ‘well, what about French politics?’ And I, truthfully, can answer that I don’t know much thought I’m learning. My grasp of the french language that involves discussing politics, isn’t strong. Living in the part of Paris that I live in, I could probably spend the rest of my life here and never know much about the banlieu of Les Misérables and be shocked at the seemingly unconnected events of 2015. By going to hear Weitzmann, I’m no longer able to do that. He strongly believes that the extremist and hate-filled muslim brotherhood and the deep rooted French conservative far-right both have their roots in the same populism that is growing in Europe. It’s not the same ‘ism’ as in the States but it is far-right, it is a growing trend that is on the rise around the globe and supported by the US.

So I’ve found myself reflecting on my choice to live here. There is no doubt that the quality of my life is much higher here in France: I don’t need to own a car, I’m close to many cultural events–so many that I’m forced to choose on many an evening. But I can no longer tell people that it’s nicer here. So far, France doesn’t have a supremacist President but it’s not unthinkable any more. Weitzmann told us, in response to a question from the floor, that Norman Mailer predicted in the 1950s that by the end of the 20th century, insanity would be the norm. And so, two decades into the 21st century, political madness and lunacy clearly are the norm. When I or my friends remark “that is unbelievable,” we are confessing to being way out of step with what is considered normal today.

I think that I am rather normal when I say I want to be comfortable. Both the movie and the talk made me very uncomfortable. So much so, that I left both just before they finished. I like my rose-colored France. I want this country to be a better place than the US is today. I can’t really compare. It’s different but she shares the same extreme hatred and native terrorism that has been brewing in the US.

There is no way to end this post. I am staying in France. I love Paris, I love France. However, just as I had to strip away my naiveté of America, I’m now having to do that with my adopted country. I can choose to be educated or choose to keep my head in the sand. I don’t think there is a turning back at this point. French municipal elections are coming up very soon. Let’s see what the French have to say.

A bientôt,

Sara PS–there are spelling errors in the second paragraph. I know, you don’t have to tell me. But, for whatever reason, WordPress is not letting me do edits. I tried once and lost two paragraphs. So some things we just have to accept!

Happy New Year—-from Oakland, Ca.

In France, one has the entire month of January to send out New Year’s greetings.  Sending cards for the new year is popular, sending Christmas cards is not.

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So I’m wishing every one of you a wonderful 2017.  What I wish for us all is an ability to navigate our world, our politics (or their politics as the case may be) and to be the best citizen of this world that we can possibly muster without bringing in more anger, more hatred and bitterness than already exists.  It’s not a new concept but imagine if we did one good, kind deed a day and it spread like “The hundredth Monkey Phenomenon”.  Well, I’d like to imagine it!!!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundredth_monkey_effect

Yesterday, I got on a United flight to San Francisco to return to my California home for 4 months.  I was taken by surprise in mid-December when I was told that I needed hip replacement surgery.  Actually, I was given a choice.  It seems that doctors today cannot actually say “you must have…..” without fear of litigation.  One of my choices was surgery.  I went to all my friends who have had hip or knee replacement surgery and asked them one question: “In retrospect, if you had had the surgery done when you were first told that you might need it, would you have done it?”  Without exception, they all said yes.  When I was talking to the orthopedist and he was telling me the pros and cons of cortisone shots, I asked him straight out “is there any reason to delay it?”

The answer, not so surprisingly, was “No”

So I’m scheduled for surgery in mid-February.  The curious fact about me is that I have never been in a hospital since I was born.  My father used to joke “Sara, you were born in Garfield Hospital in Washington, D.C and they immediately tore it down”.  Yes, of course, I’ve been in many doctor’s offices and had two one-hour procedures (that I can remember) but to have a serious surgery and spend the night, that has been my sister’s realm.  And to say I’m a bit anxious would be an understatement.

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View from my bedroom window

Now, the window I get to look out of is my westward-looking windows here in Oakland.  I can see the San Francisco Bay, the Bay Bridge that spans from Oakland to downtown San Francisco (4 miles) and the Golden Gate bridge.  Many evenings, there is a sunset that cannot be rivaled.

California has been suffering a terrible drought for going on six years.  There has been rain, quite a bit of rain, in the last couple of weeks.  As my Uber drove me up my street from the San Francisco airport, the landscape looked strange.  It hit me that everything was Green.  Really Green!  And because it rained on and off yesterday evening, the green was sparkling like itty bitty diamonds jumping around on leaves, on new grass. Now sixteen hours later, it is pouring cats and dogs, as we like to say in English, or I’d go outside and inspect the gardens and see all the changes.

My cat, Bijou, stayed in Paris.  She is living with a friend who has a larger apartment than I did and also has children who love cats.  When I said good bye to her on Thursday evening, everyone had a bit of a hesitant smile.  Bijou was moving around carefully, looking around each corner before she let herself into a room.  W and E looked excited but not sure how to react to her.  I taught them to clap their hands very loudly when Bijou jumps up on a counter or somewhere she shouldn’t be. As if by direction, she immediately jumped up on a kitchen counter.  I clapped very loudly, she jumped down and scampered back to the laundry room which is her temporary quarters.  Then I left and felt my heart thudding with sadness.  It didn’t seem right to make her fly two long plane flights just because I have to have surgery.

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Bijou (photo by Fatiha Antar)

Banya, on the other hand, who grew up in Oakland and moved to Paris with me is in kitty heaven.  She was an indoor/outdoor cat, became an indoor cat in Paris and never seemed to adjust.  Now she is home after a long plane ride.  She must have known she was coming home because she stayed calm and hasn’t stopped purring.

 

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I wish I had a smart closing line like Garrison Keeler and could say “and that’s the news from Oakland where all …..”  If anyone can dream up a really punchy line for me to close with, there is a small Thank You coming your way.  Until then,

A bientôt,

Sara