Saturday, January 1, 2022

And then there (was) Max

I suppose every village has its share of eccentrics, and Quinson is no different. We have a few lost-looking souls who seem to get through their days stumbling about in an alcoholic haze, non-French-speaking residents who show up at the local grocery from time to time… and then there's Max. Max lives across the street from us in what appears to be a one-room studio apartment, if one can call it that. It's not clear that there is running water in his place — I mean, I think there must be a toilet, but I'm not sure there is a kitchen sink. And Max goes daily to his favorite watering hole — and this is meant literally — to some spring with a spigot on the other end of town, nearly out of town, to bring back jugs of water that he believes is more healthy and pure than other water available in the village.

I wrote the above back in December of 2012. Since that time, Max has died — specifically, in late spring 2019 at age 83.

And I wrote the previous two sentences exactly a year ago. “Minou”— the semi-feral cat whom Max fed and allowed into his tiny apartment during cold weather (at least when she was cold enough to want to be indoors)—is still alive, still fed by a variety of villagers in a variety of places, including in the “remise” next door to our little remise up the street. I don’t see her that often these days, nor do I hear much in the way of cat fights on the street, so I assume that she’s found more comfortable places to hang out. I did see her fairly frequently on top of our remise roof (but under the shade of the neighbor’s intensively overgrown rose bush) during the warm months this past late spring, which behavior I can only imagine continued during the summer. (For our part, we spent all of the summer and into fall in the USA, thoroughly enjoying being around a very limited number of other people after more than a year of strict no contact with anyone because of Covid-19.)

Ah, Covid (and Happy 2022 to us all, right?). Even though I’ve worked remotely for much of my post-French educational career, doing so under these conditions, where there’s really no choice, has quite a different feeling to it, and not a particularly positive one at that. However, while I miss the occasional on-site work assignments (having discovered that yes, I like working around other people), what I miss most are … well, I miss Berlin. I miss playing snooker there, I miss the restaurants and specialty grocery stores, I miss the ambience, the language, and I miss the choir— specifically, the Berliner Konzert Chor (BKC), whose Zoom rehearsals I have faithfully attended even from afar off (read: USA). Choral singing has been hit particularly hard by this damned virus, and even when (if? please, God, “when”) things can return to a semblance of normality in this regard, it’s not clear how many such choirs will be able to recover.

Even for the long-established and relatively well-funded BKC, not only is virtual attendance way down (many male voices being conspicuously absent), but even the restricted in-person attendance represents at the very best, maybe 45% of normal cohort size—and again, the already undersized men’s sections are still way below normal (at least so far as the Zoom camera has permitted visual confirmation). For the Grenoble choirs I sang with, Anne has managed to keep things going with Méli-Meylan (now Arcanum), perhaps in part by combining its efforts with those of the University of Grenoble choirs, which she also conducts. (I regret I could not go up to Grenoble at the beginning of December to attend the dress rehearsals for the Mozart and Michael Haydn Requiems, but it simply wasn’t worth the risk.) 

For all that Arcanum and other choirs survive, it seems highly likely to me that the only choir my former friend Marine was still conducting at the time I left Grenoble, Choral’In, will not come back. For one thing, it was a CE (“comité d'entreprise”) activity at Hewlitt-Packard, and a lot of HP employees, including Choral’In singers, are likely to continue to work from home even when no longer required to do so (as in this moment when the omicron variant is raging). And that makes it highly improbable that the CE will fund it going forward, though I hope I’m wrong about all this.

Choirs and Covid are quite a ways away from the late Max, whom I suspect would be among the all-too-many unvaxxed folks in these parts, though I can imagine he would wear a mask (which to me fits well with his personality). Another of his peculiarities worth mentioning is that he very rarely went in and out of his little studio via the door, preferring instead to climb through his street-facing window. Why this would be, I do not know, but he continued doing so pretty much up until the week he died. He hadn’t been doing all that well for a while — not since being left on the side of the road by a hit-and-run driver some months before. (One of the perils of fetching water from afar, I guess.) I witnessed his asking another neighbor to drive him to the hospital in Manosque (I think, though he may have gone first to the frankly pathetic clinic in Riez), where he died a couple of days later. 

I’d known that Max had first worked with his father and then continued to run the long-defunct gas station / little automotive shop not far from the village church (and whose antique gas pump was still a feature when we first moved here), but I learned a bit more from his eulogy about this never-married, not-quite-solitary soul, and one comment I heard repeatedly was how very opinionated he was. I never knew him well enough to engage, and part of that may have simply been the linguistic/cultural gulf (both real and imagined) that has colored a lot of my interactions here in France. Max and I would always say hello and he always remembered to ask about Youngest, whom he knew from her Olive Tree International days. 

Since Max’s death, two other Quinsonnaises of note to me have died—Annie Lartigaut, a talented artist from whose daughter I bought some paintings, sketchbooks, and art supplies, and who had the coolest art studio in the area, housed in a turret across from the church; and another woman whom I wish I had tried harder to get to know better — Hélène Bottet (pronounced “beauté”— “beauty” in French, appropriately enough). Hélène was well into her 90s and so very fragile when last we saw her a few months before she died—skin so thin as to be translucent, reliant on a full-time nurse for pretty much everything, but still quite intact mentally. (Note to self: Also Sabine, Nellie)

Not long after we began living in the center of the village, Hélène invited Mr Mo and me to her place for tea, and she told us about her father’s having hobnobbed with some of the pre-war jazz greats. Her house on Place de la Paix (what we saw of it) was filled with interesting art and mementos. The house still looks lived in (shutters are open and all). Her alcoholic and abusive son—and I say this knowledgeably—could scarcely wait for her to die, and barring that, was pressuring her to move into a rest home, wanting to get his hands on whatever he could of her estate even while she was alive. One warm evening I was passing Hélène’s place; the windows were open and I could hear the son’s absolutely vile invective directed at his mother. It was so awful and so upsetting that I ended up asking the president of the village social club what I could do about it, what could be done about it. She knew the sad story and suggested that I call the mayor, who as mayor has constabulary powers — in short, he’s the lone cop here. So I did.

“Bref,” there was nothing Monsieur le Maire could do about the son’s abusive behavior (which he knew all about, as it had been going on for many years), because his mother would not press charges, would not protect herself. The best he could do (and hopefully did do, though a huge and hopeless sigh accompanied his words) was to talk to the son yet again.

At least Hélène’s granddaughter seemed like a good soul. Mr Mo and I were too late for the funeral but went up to the cemetery to see where Hélène’s remains had been laid (more like… inserted horizontally into a crypt), and then went back to the church. The granddaughter was there and we told her about her grandmother’s kindness, and expressed the hope that Hélène had written down at least some of her life story. Alas, this does not seem to be the case. Yet another set of stories lost, all the more so when those who knew her also pass on.

Finally, given how long it’s been since I last published any writing at all, I want to close by mentioning that my dad died the end of August 2020, not of Covid, but of congestive heart failure. He was mentally intact right up until the end and when I’d said goodbye to him in mid-March 2020 — heading off to the Las Vegas airport to catch the last flight to Frankfurt before the borders closed — I knew I wasn’t going to see him again. The last three or so months of his life were pretty unpleasant for him and those around him, and my siblings all took turns helping Mom take care of keeping him cleaned up and so on. I couldn’t go to the funeral, but at Mom’s request wrote his eulogy and recorded it for the funeral. 

Mr Mo and I have also sat shiva with our dear friends who in 2020 lost their oldest daughter early on during the pandemic, and then their son-in-law to cancer early in 2021. I hope not to be forced to remain at a such a distance should Covid or other causes wreak havoc in the lives of other loved ones. So yes, here’s hoping that the latest variant peaks quickly and is not followed by yet another so that 2022 will end up resembling more 2019 than 2020/21. (Let’s not get into politics and climate and all just yet. Sigh.)




Saturday, August 14, 2021

Repopulating mofembot from past posts

Last year the web hosting service I had used for years — hosting had been part and parcel of the fee for my domain name, which I still pay for — stopped hosting, and I ended up downloading everything I'd published and moving over to blogger. The downloads were all in a plain text format with… unfortunate markup additions, and it has taken a while to clean everything. I am republishing everything worth republishing here, and will change the date stamps to match the original publication dates.

***

Having now started going through these old posts, I realize that many of them are definitely products of their time period, particularly the political posts from 2008 and 2009, so it’s not clear to me that they’re worth posting again now that GW Bush and Barack Obama belong to the past. I'll have to think on all this further.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

My life in the photo booth

We became French citizens last year, Mr Mo, Youngest, and I, and last week we were summoned to the naturalization office at our Préfecture in Upper Provence to receive our certificats de naturalisation. This was something of a non-event, as it turned out: for the 1.5-hour drive to our departmental seat, thought I, our Youngest ended up missing a half-day of school? Mr Mo or I could have turned in our residency cards and dealt with getting our temporary citizen ID cards, and so on.

(After we received the summons, I had, in fact, phoned Madame Naturalization Office and asked if one of us could come on behalf of all of us, but she seemed shocked at the notion: Mais non, c'est la remise du décret—"No, this is the handing over of the decree [of naturalization]." I would rather that Youngest have missed school this coming week, when Mr Mo and I will go back up to the Préfecture for the Official Semi-Annual Reception to Welcome New Citizens, with Monsieur le Préfet himself in attendance, and our mayor from our tiny village, for that matter, but [a] Youngest says she's not interested, and [b] she cannot afford to miss more school for any reason at this point.)

Well. Anyway. So up to the departmental seat we went, and with us we took not just our residency cards, but also an entire envelope full of ID photos, some from The Dawn of Time (in other words, from when we first arrived in France more than eight years ago). The summons had said for each of us to bring an ID photo. Not knowing precisely why yet another photo was needed, Youngest insisted that she hated the latest round of ID photos (the ones we'd turned in with our request for citizenship... and quite honestly, I thought Youngest's photo was cool: she looks a lot like Amélie Nothomb in it—but I digress), and so we would need to make a stop at a photo booth conveniently located at a local hypermarché to get new ones. Which we did. (Or tried to: Youngest got hers, but Mr Mo's never came out of the machine; he was reimbursed. Given Mr Mo's difficulties, I didn't try.)

Youngest ended up using an even older photo for her temporary ID card, as did both Mr Mo and I. (Oh younger self, how I miss thee.) And we waited around as Mme Naturalization shuffled papers and folders and then finally, tah-dah, gave us our official copies of the decrees. "This is the only original you will ever receive," she cautioned each of us. "If you lose it, you can never, ever get another. It is the only proof you have that you are a French citizen." (Given where these papers are sitting currently, a house fire would be very sad if what she said is true.)

But back to the photos. In America, the only official photos I have ever had to deal with were for (a) driver's licenses (with the photo most conveniently taken right there by the clerk at the Dept/Registry of Motor Vehicles) and (b) passports. The passport photos were as much of a nuisance to deal with in the U.S. as the photos we've had to provide here in France (well, OK, more of a nuisance: U.S. photo booths do not produce legally-usable photos, so we had to go to a real photographer and pay real photographer prices), but here is la vraie différence: the French have required us to submit about 10 times (or more) as many photos as we ever had to do in the States.

Now, I'll grant you that some of the photos we've submitted would have had to have been submitted even had we still been living in the States: the Chinese and Russians would have required photos for us to get our tourist visas, for example, and it just so happens that we lived in France when we decided to travel to these visa-requiring countries.

But all those other photos. Hmm. Unlike the DMV/RMV in CA, PA, and MA, the prospective Legal Driver here in France has to provide ID photos: they are not shot on-site and instantly incorporated into some national French database of drivers. And I've had to provide one or two photos when I got my new carte vitale (French healthcare card; the old ones are photo-free).

Convenient enough in the bigger towns and cities, says I, are the photo booths of France: they all provide cheap and legal-size ID photos (although one may still have one's photo disqualified if, God forbid, one wants to look pleasant instead of slack-faced morose; what the hell is it with the authorities—American as well as French— that everyone has to look like sh*t and entirely unlike themselves in photos meant to be used for years?—but I digress). It is possible to find photo booths at most (larger) supermarkets and often at train stations.

But it is not so easy to deal with photos in tiny towns. Our village has no photo booth (though I think I'll suggest that the Musée de la Préhistoire install one; tourists can have the option of creating photo-postcards of themselves with a mammoth or something, and why not?). Anyway, the closest approximation of a photo booth that I know of is 20 km away, and it is not a booth, but a lady with a high-end "instamatic" digital camera who has a corner on the Official ID Photo market. But God forbid her little bookstore/tabac/gift shop be closed; I don't know what one does to deal with ID photos in that case.

I have had ID photos taken in this lady's shop. She keeps a special little white sheet tacked up in a corner of her store to serve as the backdrop for these official photos. I honestly can't even remember why I had to have new photos — maybe for my replacement driver's license or my carte vitale or maybe even for my Russian visa or... who knows.

Now, I complain about the plethora of photos Mr Mo and I have had to supply for various official reasons, but honest to God, our numbers totally pale in comparison to the number of photos Youngest has had to supply — and nearly always for Mysterious School Purposes. One thing we learned right away was to always, always get the "two sheets of photos for only 50% more!" deal offered at nearly all booths: no matter what French school requirements might officially say, four photos were never enough. Five photos usually were sufficient for Youngest; and two photos (out of the four on a photo booth sheet) have usually been sufficient for me and Mr Mo. Which explains why we have multi-generational (as it were), outdated ID photos spilling out of a thoroughly inadequate envelope from which we chose old photos to use on our temporary ID papers, ... and about which I felt just a tiny bit embarrassed as Mme Naturalization looked on, clearly amused.

ADDENDUM: Mr Mo reminds me that when we apply for our French passports sometime this week (or shortly thereafter), we will not have to supply photos at all (unless we want to). France is now very 21st century: we will end up with biometric scans that we can use for our passport photos. Cool. Of course, even though our Town Hall is where one normally applies for passports, our town, our mairie is too small to have biometric scanning equipment, so it's off to the “neighboring” town we must go (whether we bring our own photos or not).

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Thoughts on Cleaving

[Yeah, yeah, I should introduce this new blog and why it's different from www.mofembot.com, etc., etc. But that's not what I feel like writing about at the moment.]

I just finished Julie Powell's Cleaving (a Christmas present), and I hereby give it... well. I want to say "a mixed review," but that's not quite it. I had avoided buying it myself (having had the chance back in early summer, a copy having sat right there in front of me in Book in Bar, the English-language bookstore in Aix-en-Provence) — mostly because I had already heard rumors: Ms Powell was writing a sort of confessional about an affair she'd had. —And, as it all turns out (spoiler alert, sort of), my take at the end of the book is that at that point she kind of sort of wished that there were still something going on between her and the mysterious "D."

Hm. Having read some entries in her most recent blog iteration ("What Could Happen?"), my revised sense of things is that perhaps when she was done penning* Cleaving, she could still see herself as renewing the affair, but interspersed among the book signing dates and wry observations about the cities she's visited on tour, her blog entries conveyed to me a real sense of how intensely interested she was/is in keeping her marriage intact. And how — how grateful she was/is that she is still together with Eric.

I have not thought enough about the meat obsession and its metaphorical relationship to her obsession with "D." I found her descriptions of learning to become a butcher interesting, but at first I didn't know what to make of the book's organization: the fact that "apprentice" is very long, "journeyman" is about half that length, and "master?" is all of a few pages.

I did appreciate right from the start, however, the double meaning of "cleaving": in butchery, it is the act of division and separation; in marriage, it is the exact opposite: a man and a woman should "cleave together, forsaking all others."†

It still bothers me to know so much about Ms Powell's private life. The naked honesty or — what, the display? — with the occasional recipe thrown in as —what, garnish? That was just stranger than strange. I found myself cringing at the thought of what her husband's reaction to all the laying bare must have been. Or might still be.

(I have been guilty, if such is the word, of being "too open" about some kinds of things — Mr Mo having chided me for revealing to members of the American School community the fact that I was battling a cat-caused flea infestation in our former rental house in La Tronche, for example, but I just don't think I could ever, or would ever want to publish anything about my sex life, marital relations, and such. Perhaps that's just my mormon upbringing —okay, no "perhaps" about that — but while my, um, spoken expression has become salty outside of Delicate Mostly Family Company, not only do I not see see ladening my writing with that kind of language, I just cannot at this point in my life find myself devoting time to my Thoughts on Masturbation or whatever. Not even anonymously — not even under a different pseudonym. Holy crap, no. No way.)

Somehow I don't see Amy Adams as Julie Powell in this sequel (of sorts) to Julie & Julia. (I can't think of who Meryl Streep would play, for that matter.) Ms Powell conveyed very vividly the lost and tormented soul that she seemed to have been for most of the "apprentice" period, and I am willing to think that she is genuinely more at peace on a personal and relational level now as she continues in her "master?" period. At least I hope so. I don't think I want to read something quite like this again, well-written though it was.

As ever, I reserve the right to change my mind.

_________________

*Such a quaint term in the age of the blogosphere.

†As I suspected, the roots are different, per the Collins English Dictionary:

cleave1

vb cleaves, cleaving ; cleft, cleaved, clove ; cleft, cleaved, cloven
1. to split or cause to split, esp along a natural weakness
2. (tr) to make by or as if by cutting to cleave a path
3. (when intr, foll by through) to penetrate or traverse
[Old English clēofan; related to Old Norse kljūfa, Old High German klioban, Latin glūbere to peel]
cleavable adj
cleavability n

cleave2
vb
(intr; foll by to) to cling or adhere
[Old English cleofian; related to Old High German klebēn to stick]

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Twenty years on: The fall of the Wall

 Monday, November 9th will mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Twenty years. I remember when it happened, I remember what an astonishing, unexpected, earth-shaking and totally miraculous event it was. And twenty years is a long time ago.

We were in a very different place then than we are now — not just geographically, either. Mr Mo and I were both still active Mormons, clinging to the comfort that discovering Sunstone and Dialogue and lds.net and mormon-l and so on had brought us. There was still hope in liberal circles for significant changes with regard to women’s place in the church, among many other things.

And we still felt stirred by the possibility of modern revelation, of “the stone cut without hands” filling the earth. So when the Berlin Wall came down, we saw it as a fulfillment of a never-quite-officially-articulated (or at least not ratified) prophecy about God moving in mysterious ways to allow the gospel to be preached “to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.” The church sent missionaries into all areas behind the former Iron Curtain as quickly as it could (only to find, not too far down the line, that the Orthodox church was not especially welcoming)….

Um.

So the stone rolls forward a bit more slowly these days, helped along by an above-average birthrate, but impeded by attrition cutting into the true number of converts. Given recent events — the mormon church placing itself squarely yet again on the wrong side of both history and overarching moral justice with respect to gay marriage (just as it fought against the ERA and civil rights for blacks in the U.S.)… well.

It has been at least 14 years since I last considered myself an active member (it’s been longer for Mr Mo). CA Prop H8 (and most recently Maine Prop 1) is pushing me much closer to making my disaffection both complete and official. Quite honestly, one of the only things keeping me from sending in an official letter of resignation is that then Salt Lake would know where we are. (They seem to have lost track with our latest move.) That said, I am somewhat, but only slightly less concerned about parental feelings in this matter: still, it was a genuine shock to see at least two siblings’ names on the list of big donors to Prop H8 (and I suspect the 3rd active sibling contributed, though not enough to make the list); it was a shock to see a cousin’s name on the list; it was a shock to see the names of at least two other old friends (the saddest one being that of the sister of a fine young man who committed suicide because he was gay).

I think of my friend Steve (not his real name) and his partner of 20+ years. —No, let me correct that: I think of Steve and his now-husband (his California marriage having been upheld), and I keep waiting for a cogent response to the question of how their marriage in any way, shape, or form devalues or damages or threatens my marriage or anyone else’s. I find the church’s willingness to shake down its members for cash and time to destroy what Steve and his husband have despicable, the moreso because of its bankrolling of fear tactics and reliance on flat-out falsehoods to do so. The homophobes at the top of the hierarchical heap have dialed back even the slight bit of rhetorical progress the church had made some years back re: homosexuality not being a choice, as Bruce Hafen’s recent crap-science talk (posted on the church’s official website) makes all too clear. (While I prefer fingering Darth Packer as the instigator of all of this, Monson seems still functional enough to blame as well. The bigger disappointment here is Dallin Oaks, Jeff Holland … they, at least, should know better.)

I don’t have much in common with the politics of the current church, and see little hope for significant change along those lines. Too many US active mormons (such as my parents) are outright teabaggers or strong sympathizers, filled with fear and in some cases hatred of President Obama, of Democrats, of access to health care for everyone, and (ironically and painfully enough) of the rule of Constitutional law. Too many think W and Cheney were right to approve of torturing detainees (never mind that the vast majority were innocent and never charged with anything) — and this despite both U.S. and international law (and never mind that torture does not work). And far too many are blown about by every teabaggy, conspiracist email that circulates, convinced that these are The Last Days.

(I have postulated before that getting caught up in this sort of Last Days excitement helps people feel more important — adds some zing to their otherwise mundane lives. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, were the consequences of their ignorance — their sheer lack of logic, discernment, and critical thinking skills — so grave.)

—But I digress. (This post, it seems, is one long series of digressions.) What I am coming around to saying in my circuitous way here is that my personal wall is coming down. Can resigning be more wrenching than choosing to no longer pay tithing to the church (following the “September Six” debacle)? than ceasing to wear temple garments? For me, personally, no— and yet I think — no, I know my parents would be crushed were I to resign, and were they to find out about it: formalizing my disaffection would be a real blow. Further, were I to do this (having read plenty of messages — not directed at me, btw — encouraging people to “teach mormons/catholics” a lesson)… I know very well that my parents would not learn any positive lessons at all from such an action. I wouldn’t be shaking them up to such a degree as to make them reexamine their commitment to the church. Instead, they would (continue to) hold me up as an example of “intellectual pride,” of where too much education, too much exposure to the world leads the unwary (and ultimately, the “non-valiant”). They would be in mourning over their lost child for the rest of their days.

The same is true for my active siblings. “I’m quitting because you paid good money that could have been spent helping the poor on denying equal rights to gay people”… Yes. But they were “following the prophet.” Making a financial sacrifice to “save marriage” because their church leaders told them to. If I still had “the Spirit,” I would have done the same thing. It is only my pride and hard-heartedness that has led me down this path away from celestial heights.

Still. My wall is crumbling like that in Berlin 20 years back. How long will it take for it to fall away entirely? (“Falling away” being synonymous with apostasy.) I would prefer to wait until my parents have passed on, but we are a long-lived family. My head says, “Tear down this wall!”, but my heart is not yet fully reconciled to the damage it would do to my already too-tenuous relationships with my parents and siblings.

A place and time very far removed from where I was 20 years ago, indeed.

Addendum, January 1, 2022: Mr Mo and I resigned our membership in November 2015 in response to the church’s hideous policy of refusing to baptize gay people’s children unless the children denounced their parents’ marriage/relationship. While the church walked that one back, it was too late and was most assuredly a bridge much too far for us.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I’ve been a French citizen since October 22, 2009!

 …And I only found out about it this past Monday, November 2nd, after our letter carrier came by with the mail.

When I saw the three envelopes from the French Ministry of the Interior (one addressed to me, one to Mr Mo, and the third to Youngest), I have to say that I steeled myself against a refusal: surely we were being informed that, sorry, there was something wrong with the (mountains of) papers you submitted, so you can’t become French, try again.

Mr Mo heard my whoops and hollers as I tore open my envelope and saw these words: J’ai le plaisir de vous faire savoir que vous êtes Française depuis le 22 octobre 2009. — “It is my pleasure to inform you that as of October 22, 2009, you are a French citizen.”

Mr Mo guessed what had produced my unusual cries even before I got up the stairs with the letters.

Well then, hot damn — dual nationality. The news reduced our Youngest to tears of joy and more than one skype-based panegyric (if such a thing can be thus described). And I, too, have felt misty-eyed off and on since receipt of my letter. (I’ve been too busy with work up until now to say anything.) My French friends have been congratulatory, and it is possible that we will be honored at a village ceremony (which will have to wait until December at the earliest, given our schedules; but I rather suspect this may be put off until all of our official papers are ready — see below).

Yes, the advantages of French citizenship are manifold: we can grow old(er) and retire here without worry, if that is what we choose to do; we can legally work anywhere in the European Union without difficulty; and Youngest can go to university here without it costing a fortune. But I have also been reflecting on the responsibilities that come with having requested and been granted French citizenship, and these go rather beyond simply being able to vote in the next election.

The same letter that conveyed the Ministry official’s pleasure at informing me of my French naturalization also informed me that it will take about six months before all of our French documents will be ready; among these are our French birth certificates (!), identity papers, a letter from Monsieur le Président de la République, and a booklet (I assume it will be a booklet) explaining about how the French government is organized, our rights and duties, and so on.

With respect to this last — the booklet — I expect to read it more than once so that I will thoroughly understand what is expected of me, and what I can expect from the country we have called home for the past eight years.

I doubt very much that I would ever run for office on any level. And while I will most certainly vote, having now seen a glimpse of the unseemly side of even our local political landscape here in tiny Quinson, it’s not clear to me how actively involved I want to be in terms of joining a particular party. We’ll see. But I have an interest in certain French and European issues, as does Mr Mo, not the least of which has to do with the ghastly “Hadopi” law. We now have the right to make our voices heard now as citizens of the European Union as well as of la belle France.

And I’m still having a hard time believing that we actually managed to be accorded French citizenship. It will probably be easier to believe after we have all of our papers in hand, including a French EU passport to add to our American passport.

Youpie!


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Thoughts on D-Day, 65 years later

President Barack Obama in Normandy today paid eloquent tribute to the many who sacrificed so much to liberate Europe from the grip of the Nazis so long ago. President Nicolas Sarkozy, Prince Charles, PM Gordon Brown, and German Chancellor (“Kanzlerin”) Angela Merkel were also in attendance.

The “greatest generation” is dying; the youngest vets are now in their 80s. Poignantly, one very ill veteran made the trip to Normandy and died in his sleep last night after visiting the graves of his buddies in one of the huge American cemeteries near Caen; President Obama acknowledged his passing in today’s address.

It was a quiet day here in Aix-en-Provence. In between spasms of work, I am in the midst of reading Paroles du Jour J—“Words from D-Day,” a collection of first-person accounts and letters and diary entries from French, U.S., British, Canadian, and… German soldiers.

The cover photo is of a young Canadian man, Robert Boulanger, the youngest in his company, just barely turned 18, who had joined the expeditionary forces against his parents’ wishes. He was shot in the head as he hit the beach during the Allies’ disastrous attempt to return to the continent at Dieppe in August 1942. (Nearly 60% of the 6000+ Allied soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured during this raid, which occurred while the Nazis were at the height of their strength.) Robert’s last letter was an apology to his parents for causing them such grief by enlisting. Utterly heartbreaking.

Several other entries were written by young (oh, so very, very young in too many instances!)—by young men in transit from England to one of the bloody beachheads on D-Day, and… who were killed before the ink had dried, so it seemed.

The entries from the German soldiers were enlightening: they were so very afraid of the invasion to come: they knew they had no more air defenses. One such soldier who manned a machine gun at Omaha Beach wrote of his astonishment — he and his company very efficiently mowed down wave after wave of allied soldiers coming ashore, and yet — still they came! And more of them! He and his comrades couldn’t believe it. He was finally wounded and sent to the back of the line.

The casualty count for Le Débarquement (as D-Day is referred to in France — “the disembarkment”) was… oh mon Dieu, staggeringly high. As were so many battles in WWII: the daily count in some cases far surpasses our total casualty count for Iraq and Afghanistan combined. We civilians born after simply have no grasp of unimaginable scale of the carnage, the devastation, the horror.

So many casualties occurred because of error—in part due to lack of technology. I think of how many lives would have been spared had GPS been invented: so many of the parachutists (for example) were dropped in the wrong places behind enemy lines, simply because the instruments were too imprecise. These brave men were cut off from support and supply lines and huge numbers among them were killed or captured.

The French looked forward to D-Day with impatience, and when it arrived, they both cheered and went into mourning: yet another hideous war to be fought on their already blood-soaked land. The book has civilian accounts of the endless bombing and shelling, of homes destroyed, neighbors and family killed, of the stench of death. A 14-year-old French boy wrote in his journal of coming across the bodies of American soldiers, some crushed by Nazi tanks.

Last month I read Le Cahier Rouge du Maquis — “The Maquis’ Red Notebook,” the diary of “Lieutenant Vallier,” the nom de guerre of one Gleb Sivirine, a remarkable hero of the Resistance who operated in the Haut Var just across the Verdon River from where we live. D-Day for Provence was August 15, 1944 — the Allies’ southern landing was awaited with acute impatience and distress in a part of France that had suffered huge deprivations and starvation and oppression. In the days just before the June 6th D-Day, French Resistance units here in Provence were finally allowed to go into full battle mode to distract the Germans and deplete their ammunition and supplies. (By this point, the German occupation policy was to kill 100 civilians for every German soldier killed by the Resistance: the reprisals were ruthless, yet the Resistance still had overwhelming popular support.)

Would to god that we would actually LEARN something from these tragic wars.

On a family note: My father is nearly 81. He joined the navy the instant he graduated from high school, but by then the war in Europe was over. He was shipped to California to prepare to get sent to the Pacific theatre, but it was over before he could be assigned to a ship (he never served aboard anything, as it turned out). He spent his time in the service doing clerical work. I honor him for his willingness to go: he never saw combat, but as with millions of other young men and many women, he was willing to do his duty.

Addendum to the “family note,” 14 August 2021: Well… the patriotic account above isn’t exactly accurate, which I can say with some authority, having been editing my dad’s autobiography off and on for the past two years or so. My dad did try to join the army right out of high school, but was rejected because he had too much albumin in his urine (a lingering aftereffect of a serious kidney infection he’d had as a preteen). The following year, long after Japan had surrendered, my dad joined the navy by having some other young man pee for him. At that point, however, Dad’s motives were rather more self-interested than patriotic: he was absolutely desperate to be able to take advantage of the G.I. Bill, without which he would not have been able to afford college, get a super deal on a home loan, etc. I was surprised and quite frankly a bit disappointed by this revelation, but as someone who directly benefited from my father being able to be covered by the G.I. Bill, I suppose I am not really in a position to judge or complain too much.