Charlie Hebdo context explained

Posted in La France at 19:37

A journalist with Le Monde and 2015 Nieman Fellow, Nabil Wakim recently wrote The Charlie Hebdo Shootings Explained to my American Friends. Don’t be turned away by the title if you’re not American – it’s well worth reading, even for French people (I count myself among them).

I’ve summarized his questions and responses, so you get an idea of what’s inside – it is a longer read, but very much worth it if you’d like to understand related issues in France.

1. Was Charlie Hebdo as popular as The Daily Show?

[…] What is Charlie Hebdo? Try to think of this weekly newspaper as a mix between South Park, Mad Magazine and The Daily Show, but with a very left-wing and anti-capitalist component. […]

2. Is Charlie Hebdo racist?

[…] It is fair to say some of Charlie’s writers and cartoonists have been obsessed with Islam since the publication of the Muhammad cartoons. Former Charlie cartoonists and writers said they were uncomfortable with the publication focusing so much on Islam. [However …] Charlie Hebdo has been struggling for years against racism, against the far-right National Front and the paper has stood alongside anti-racist organizations, social justice activists and undocumented immigrants. […]

3. Who were these Charlie guys?

[…] some of the writers and cartoonists were VERY famous in France… for other reasons. […]

4. What is Free Speech in France?

As Jon Stewart put it in The Daily Show, Free speech in France doesn’t look like free speech to a lot of Americans. I know it’s not easy to understand: Free Speech is free speech and that’s it, right? Well, no. Free speech in the U.S. is as much the product of American history as the French “Liberté d’expression” is the product of French history.

Some things are forbidden in France. […]

5. What is this French thing called Laïcité?

A lot has been said in the U.S. since the Charlie attacks about freedom of speech and freedom of religion (just an example here). The difficult thing about it: it’s hard to understand the French context without explaining the word “Laïcité”

There is no English equivalent to “Laïcité”. It’s the word we use to describe the separation between religion and state in France. It is REALLY different than in the US. […]

6. Who are the “French Jihadists”?

[…] All these guys have something else in common: they know very small [sic] about Islam or the Muslim world. They create their own version of religion in their homes or their cells, watching videos on YouTube.

They don’t necessarily come from very religious families, and they are not involved in their local religious community: there are living a personal adventure. […]

7. Is there a “Muslim community” in France?

There are between 5 and 6 million of Muslims in France. Ten percent think of themselves as a “mosque goer” on a weekly basis. But they don’t form a consistent community.

It is important to understand that Muslims in France are immigrants or sons of immigrants coming from different parts of the Muslim world: Algeria, Turkey, Mali, the Comoros, etc.

They bring with them different forms of Islam, coming from different school of thoughts and traditions. […]

Tags for this entry:

Compassionate equality

Posted in Journal, La France at 13:55

I continue to be left speechless – exceptions made only for my closest friends. Today I discovered this article by Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, an interfaith magazine, which shows genuine eloquence. It is heartening that there are such courageous, empathetic, egalitarian people in the world.

Favorite quotes:

As Tikkun editor-at-large Peter Gabel has pointed out, there is no recognition in the media of the dehumanizing way that so much of the media deals with whoever is the perceived threatening “other” of the day. That media was outraged at the attempt by some North Korean allied group to scare people away from watching a movie ridiculing and then planning to assassinate the current (immoral) ruler of Korea, never wondering how we’d respond if a similar movie had been made ridiculing and planning the assassination of an American president. Similarly, the media has refused to even consider what it would mean to a French Muslim, living among Muslims who are economically marginalized and portrayed as nothing but terrorists, their religious garb banned in public, their religion demeaned, to encounter a humor magazine that ridiculed the one thing that gives them some sense of community and higher purpose, namely Mohammed and the religion he founded.

To even raise this kind of question is to open oneself up to charges of not caring about the murdered or making excuses for the murderers. But neither charge is accurate. I fear those fundamentalist extremists just as much as I fear the Jewish extremists who have threatened my life and the Christian extremists who are now exercising power over the U.S. Congress. Every form of violence outrages and sickens me.

Yet the violence is an inevitable consequence of a world which systematically dehumanizes so many people who are made to feel powerless and despairing and deeply depressed about the possibility of finding the milk of human kindness anywhere. The representation of evil dominates the media, and becomes the justification for our own evil acts. And that evil is made possible because so many among us avert our eyes and shut our ears to the cries of the oppressed.

[A few paragraphs with excellent examples and analysis removed merely for the sake of space here; read Lerner’s full post]

“And shouldn’t free speech and individual human liberties be our highest value? This value that is put into danger if you ask for some kind of responsibility from comedians.” Two responses: 1. No, individual human liberties is not our highest value. Our highest value is treating human beings with love, kindness, generosity, respect and see them as embodiments of the holy, and treating the earth as sacred. Individual liberty is a strategy to promote this highest value, but when that liberty gets abused (as for example in demeaning women, African Americans, gays in public discourse) we often insist that the articulators of racism, sexism and homophobia be publicly humiliated (not shut down, but using our free speech to vigorously challenge theirs). 2. Free speech is not defeated when we use it to try to marginalize hateful or demeaning speech. So let’s call demeaning speech, including demeaning humor, what it really is – an assault on the dignity of human beings.

None of this is reason to stop mourning the horrific murders in Paris or to excuse it in any way. But it is reason to wonder why the media can never tell a more nuanced story of what is happening our world.

Tags for this entry: , ,


Posted in La France at 19:44

One of my favorite quotes came in real-time over a decade ago, from then-president Jacques Chirac: “Face à l’intolérance et à la haine, il n’y a pas de transaction possible, pas de compromission possible, pas de débat possible.” (“Confronted with intolerance and hatred, no deal is possible, no compromise possible, no debate possible.”) While I can’t easily find confirmation online, I am relatively certain, due to repeating it many times over the years after I heard it, that he also said, “je ne tolérerai pas l’intolérance” – “I will not tolerate intolerance.”

Charlie Hebdo has long been a bastion of irreverent, piercing tolerance of all but intolerance. The New Yorker has an excellent article, for English-speaking readers, on today’s terribly sad attack.

No matter which other name a person may give their beliefs, intolerance is intolerance; hatred is hatred. As the rector of La Grande Mosquée de Paris (which I visited a week ago) said in response to today: “We are horrified. […] Our community is stunned by what just happened. It’s a whole section of our democracy that is seriously affected.”

Diversity and difference are what make humanity so rich and wonderful. Intolerance and hatred would have us forget that. Let us remember.

Tags for this entry: ,

And now for 2015

Posted in Biographical, Journal at 14:02

Tuareg woman's veil key

“Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?”quote by Rumi

At the end of 2013, I knew that 2014 would necessarily be a year in which my life would turn upside down; however, I could never guess the extent to which that would be true. What may seem like an organic process seen from the outside, was in reality a series of sequential surprises that, with hindsight, each seem to have prepared the way for the next, so that I gladly accepted them. Had you told me in January of this year that I would sell my Nice apartment and take the cats to live and work in Paris, I would have laughed and said “no way,” for several reasons. Gradually, each of those reasons showed to be lesser than the fulfillment that progressively grew as I settled here. “Upside down” has indeed shown itself to be “right-side up.”

Now for this year’s installment of the meme I’ve done for five years: at the end of 2009, the end of 2010, the end of 2011, the very start of 2013 for 2012, and the end of 2013.

1. What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?
Whew! Where to start? Lived in Paris, took the cats on the TGV, put my apartment on the market, ate work lunches in restaurants, dismantled my bike to haul it from Nice to Paris, negotiated a job transfer, walked to work, visited the Louvre more than once in the same year…

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
In 2013 my resolution was to “act from a place of inner peace,” which I decided to continue for 2014, as well as riding my bike. I did my level best to find that inner peace through all the changes in 2014, which is how it all managed to work out in the end. On the other hand, I didn’t ride my bike as much as I wanted, but that’s mainly because I was instead walking around Paris.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Not in 2014.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Several people I didn’t know as well passed away.
Edited to add, once I remembered: actually, my “French grandfather,” who I’d known since 1997, passed away in November. It was of natural causes and quite peaceful. He was a wonderful man: clarinetist in the Lyon national orchestra, owner of a printing house, well-read, profoundly humanist, and member of the French Resistance in Lyon during WWII. We often talked about literature, jazz, and classical music.

5. What countries did you visit?
France? :)

6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?
The only thing missing from 2014 was stability, but what I was able to do this year laid the foundations for it. I’m sure 2015 will bear the fruits of 2014, and am very happy to be able to say that.

7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Goodness, the entire year. It was a turning point on every level.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Last year I said “progress on the job, which, reaching ten years in 2014, I could probably start calling ‘career’.” This year I can confirm that: it is indeed a career, and one that’s become genuinely fulfilling. With it, I’ve been able to widen my horizons, and am deeply grateful for the opportunities.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Allowing myself to get too stressed out at times.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
None in 2014, apart from a couple weeks of voicelessness during the March peak in pollution.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Shared experiences :)

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Friends'; the kind people I’ve worked with.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Repeating from last year: xenophobia and racism. It was even worse this year. Last year I wrote “there’s always some here and there, but for whatever reason, [2013] seemed quite pronounced.” Well, 2014 unfortunately added to that. Thankfully, though, I was with people who could talk and laugh about it.

14. Where did most of your money go?
OMG. Everywhere except my bank account. Mortgage and rent (two apartments!), travel, clothes (it’s colder in Paris than Nice), shoes, food.

15. What did you get really, really excited about?

16. What song will always remind you of 2014?
A colleague-friend introduced me to Jacques Dutronc, who I’d known-without-knowing. This classic of his sums up my year well:

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? Very much happier.
b) thinner or thicker? Thinner, from all the walking.
c) richer or poorer? Richer, for which I’m grateful in the still-sputtering economy.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Cycling, hiking, sewing.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Walking around Paris.

21. Did you fall in love in 2014?
No comment.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
I don’t have a TV, but usually I watch series – this year I didn’t have the time.

23. What was the best book you read?
“Kafka on the Shore” by Haruki Murakami.

24. What was your greatest musical discovery?
As mentioned earlier, Jacques Dutronc.

25. What did you want and get?
A promising future.

26. What did you want and not get?
My stinking bathroom renovation in Nice.

27. What was your favorite film of this year?
Qu’Allah bénisse la France“, a luminous, humanist film that reminds you cinema is an art form.

28. What did you do on your birthday?

29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
2014 could hardly have been more satisfying.

30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?
Sleek and colorful.

31. What kept you sane?
As last year, friends and creativity, Kanoko and Susu (my cats).

32. What political issue stirred you the most?
Equality and tolerance.

33. Who did you miss?
Faraway friends

34. Who was the best new person you met?
Still no comment.

35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014:
As long as cats have a perch, their toys, and love, they’ll be fine with a move.

36. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

Tags for this entry: ,

Ca fait un bail

Posted in Journal, Paris, Photography at 20:42

Church of Saint Ouen

As the year comes to a close, so does my consulting contract for the GDF Suez project I’ve been on. I work for a French IT consultancy, so this sort of change is part and parcel of our careers. One of our sales engineers has already found a potential new mission for me; I’m looking forward to learning more about it and meeting people at the client. One of the reasons I enjoy working for clients is that you get to move around, meet new people, and always learn something new.

2014 has been a year of major transitions for me! In the past few months, my transfer to our Paris offices has been signed, my Nice apartment has been put on the market, most of my things have been moved to Paris, and I’ve made new friends and earned new responsibilities. Paris genuinely feels like home now.

Which is the main reason I haven’t posted here in so long! My life has been filled with experiences, leaving little time to write or even take photos. My Instagram feed has been my main outlet; it’s a lot easier to carry a smartphone around Paris and upload vignettes on the go, than it is to take photos with my Nikon, put them on my PC, edit them, upload them, write a blog post – you get the drift. Now that my part on the big project at GDF has finished, however, life should afford more time, and I hope to use it to post more often here.

Coming soon, in any case, my traditional New Year’s retrospective meme!

Tags for this entry:

A quick update

Posted in Biographical, Paris at 22:08

Apologies for the months without new posts! As you may have guessed, life has been full of activity.

My position in Paris has continued to go well, and a transfer within my consulting company is now being finalized. I’ll be moving from our Sophia Antipolis business unit on the Riviera to one of our Paris BUs. Transfers are handled nicely in our company: employment contracts remain the same, meaning you keep your seniority and everything that goes along with that. You merely change location and, naturally, management.

As a result, I’m going to put up for sale my apartment in Nice. (If by chance anyone’s interested, do feel free to contact me: fraise at fraise dot net.) My upcoming weekends are going to be a flurry of packing, real estate agent visits, and bringing up as many full suitcases by TGV as my arms can handle.

The cats and I were back in Nice for a week and a half at the start of September. They were delighted to doze and play on the patio again, but to my surprise and relief, they were even happier to be back in the Paris apartment and check out their favorite balcony views from the feline-pleasing seventh storey (eighth by US standards). C’est officiel : ce sont des chats parisiens.

As for me – I’m really happy. Paris has proven to be more fulfilling than I had imagined it would. Although I am a bit sad to leave behind my lovely apartment in Nice, I’m looking forward to continuing to build my new life à la capitale. Once the move is done and my Nice apartment is sold, I’ll finally have weekends free to better enjoy all that Paris has to offer.

Tags for this entry: ,

Abbatiale Saint-Ouen

Posted in La France, Photography, Travel at 23:14

Church of Saint Ouen

Of the multitude of Gothic churches I’ve visited in France, none has impressed me as profoundly as l’Abbatiale Saint-Ouen, known as the Church of Saint Ouen in English. If you’re wondering how to pronounce it, it’s roughly like our Owen and Ewen, which is for good reason, as they’re from the same root. Saint Audoin (Ouen) lived in the seventh century, and eventually became bishop in Rouen. After his death and burial at the original church, built in 553, the building took on his name. Three centuries later, this abbey was sacked by Vikings, which happened relatively often in Normandy. Indeed, in 911, one invader traded peace for a guarantee of his protection of Normandy… against other Viking warriors. He was named King Rollo. One thousand years after Rollo’s victory, Denmark gifted a replica of Harald Bluetooth’s runestone to the city of Rouen, where it still stands in front of the modern abbey.

Church of Saint Ouen, west rose window

Another church began construction in 1062, and was consecrated in 1126. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by fire in 1248. Today’s abbatiale construction began in 1318, and the last side, the west, was finished in the 19th century. The photo above is of a smaller rose window on this western side – you can see definite Celtic influence.

In addition to the flamboyant exterior – which is indeed mainly Gothic Flamboyant – the church’s stained glass windows are among its most unique sights.

Church of Saint Ouen, stained glass
Church of Saint Ouen, stained glass

If you’d like to see more pictures of the church, there are over a dozen in my photoset of Rouen. Our next entry on the Norman city will be about more down-to-earth buildings, namely the wonderful maisons à colombages, or woodframe homes.

Tags for this entry: , , , ,

La Cathédrale de Rouen

Posted in La France, Photography, Travel at 22:41

Rouen Cathedral towers

France still holds mysteries, even after nearly two decades living here. Last week I picked Rouen for a day trip, as the SNCF was offering a Saturday special to the Norman city from Paris. While I’ve been to Brittany and Paris, I had never before visited Normandy between them. My twelve hours spent in Rouen were so rich, I’ll be doing a series of posts on the city and its history.

This first entry is dedicated to an edifice that embodies Rouennais history from the twelfth century to our own: la Cathédrale de Rouen. The photo above shows the Tour Saint-Romain on the left, one of the first examples of Gothic architecture in history, and the first part of the cathedral to be built. On the right is the more modern Tour de Beurre, built in the 16th century, a late example of Gothic Flamboyant architecture.

Gothic architecture originated in France, and was in fact first named “French work”, Opus Francigenum. The term we use today was pejorative then: Goths were destructive vandals, and the new-fangled French handiwork was seen as a modern travesty, with Greek- and Roman-inspired Classical architecture held as the ideal against which it was judged. Even Molière, who lived in the seventeenth century, well after Gothic architecture had been established, had words to say about it:

« Tout s’y voyant tiré d’un vaste fonds d’esprit,
Assaisonné du sel de nos grâces antiques,
Et non du fade goût des ornements gothiques,
Ces monstres odieux des siècles ignorants,
Que de la barbarie ont produit les torrents… »

Translation (which can never equal the original):
All had been drawn from a rich reservoir of great thought,
Seasoned with the spice of Ancient graces,
Certainly not the blandness of Gothic ornament,
Such odious monsters borne of ignorant times,
Barbarism alone could produced by such torrents…

As for we contemporary visitors, if we exclaim “oh my God!” or “goodness gracious!” when approaching the legions of gargoyles, sculpted saints, ornate spires, and stained glass windows, all set on massive stonework, we unknowingly keep alive one of the style’s key purposes – which was to inspire awe for God and the Church.

Darkness, Rouen Cathedral

Skipping ahead another few centuries, seventy years ago this May, Rouen Cathedral lost many of her colorful windows, all of her chapels on the south side, and bells in the Saint-Romain tower, which went up in flames. The year was 1944, and Rouen was being bombarded during la Semaine Rouge, “Red Week”, by British and American Allied forces. In Rouen alone, 400 people were killed, many of them drowned after having taken refuge in cathedral cellars, unable to escape them after the bombardment.

Allied forces bombed nearly 1600 cities and towns in occupied France. In Rouen, the purpose was to destroy bridges and railways, although the cathedral is near neither and was surrounded by homes, which were razed. Understandably, the subject is complex and does not lend itself to facile conclusions. Unfortunately, there is almost nothing available to read on either Rouen or the more widespread bombardments in English. Indeed, as you can see in the Wikipedia article linked for la Semaine Rouge, there is not a single translation into any other language. For a nuanced analysis of it, I highly recommend this 2012 PDF from the Canadian Centre for Military and Strategic Analysis: ROUEN: La Semaine Rouge, by Stephen Bourque.

While many are familiar with the Normandy Invasion, few American, Canadian or British citizens know about the massive air campaign waged against their occupied ally. This offensive lasted four long years and targeted most of France’s population centers and infrastructure. By the time the war was over, the Allied air forces killed as many French as the Germans killed British civilians during the “blitz” and vengeance weapon assaults […] The greater French narrative is extremely complex and begins with Germany’s invasion in 1940 and the resulting occupation.

Rouen Cathedral continues to be restored today, its façade getting more work done, as well repairs to still-damaged structural elements. Another church targeted during la Semaine Rouge was also recently restored: l’église Saint-Maclou. Here you see its freshly-cleaned Gothic Flamboyant entrance framed by wood homes typical of Normandy.

Eglise de Saint Maclou

In the next post of this series on Rouen, we’ll look at the Saint-Ouen Abbey, festooned with gargoyles, light filtering through a veritable tapestry of stained glass windows, and containing one of the largest Gothic organs in France.

Tags for this entry: , ,

Weather War! Paris vs. Eugene

Posted in Paris at 12:04

Anna 1994 - Eugene

Taken in Eugene on a sunny August day by a friend’s mother in 1994, the photo above shows your author twenty years younger, and just a couple months before she began writing her first online journal.

While the blue sky looks almost Mediterranean, Eugene (Oregon) weather is actually more similar to la météo parisienne. The first few months in Paris, I was surprised at how well I adapted to Paris’ grey skies and drizzles, sleets, downpours, and scattered showers. Until I realized that the familiarity was because it reminded me of my first home.

Without further ado, Eugenian weather vs. Parisian weather!

Year-round precipitation: 1171mm vs.637mm – Eugene wins by 534mm!
Average precipitation days in a year: 143 vs. 111 – Eugene wins with a full month more of rain!
Average high in July: 27.9C vs. 25.2C – Another clear win for Eugene!
Average low in December: 1.2C vs. 3.4C – Yes, Eugene is more wintry than Paris.

As you can see, while Parisians are all too happy to be vocal about their rain and grey, in fact, Eugene soundly trounces their complaints. Eugene also manages to be warmer in summer and colder in winter! And there is no métro to escape it.

In summary, the world is a land of contrasts.
(Note that I’m among people in Paris who complain about its weather – this is not a serious post!)

Tags for this entry: , , ,

Paris from the sky

Posted in La France, Paris, Photography at 21:40

View of Paris looking east from La Défense

Life has been quite the adventure lately! I’m working on one of those “fast-paced” projects you often hear about, and have had a promotion to management. It’s been wonderfully exciting, but has left me with less time to write.

Today I got to take an elevator up to the 21st floor of GDF Suez’s T1 tower at La Défense, and couldn’t resist taking a photo of the view. For this Oregonian who had never dreamt of seeing Paris from on high, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Hopefully there will be plural opportunities and this one will become “first” as opposed to “once”, but if experience has taught me one thing, it’s that you never know.

A few weeks ago I took the direct train from La Défense to Versailles; only 4 euros for a round trip, and the train takes 15 minutes to get there. I took just over a dozen photos on the beautiful Sunday I visited. Like for the Louvre, there is an Amis de Versailles program/subscription that lets you visit the castle, gardens, and Trianons any time you want, for a full year. I’ll definitely be making the most of that one soon!

Flowers in front of Versailles

Tags for this entry: , ,