15 November 2012

La Ville-Lumière. Quoi de neuf?

I keep giving Paris another chance. And I remain unimpressed. I ask myself, when can I authoritatively pass judgement? It's Paris--it's supposed to be incredible. Instead, I rank it alongside Barcelona. Fascinating respective countries but lesser cities in which to explore their national vibrancy. What happened Paris? Where did we go wrong?

The people, white French and colored French, they're the locus of the problem. You French nation, you're hardly French--or at least in any definition of what it means to be French. You're populated by immigrants. Your French citizens have identities trumped by the color of their skin. Your French Arabs are labeled Arabs and French Africans are labeled African. In similar perception, although I'm American in America, in France I become Chinese.

Hey France, your imperial activities of the 19th century have demographically displaced your cultural leadership of the 18th century. While French culture of fashion, wine, cheese, art and je ne sais quoi manages to persist, it is no longer the foundation of national identity. Rather, it is a foundation you wish for. But demographics, cholericly visible, says otherwise.

So Paris, you are the center of the French world yet you have become diluted, overpowered, no longer French. If I want to discover the  18th century France, I must search in less international cities.

And then you, immigrant: friendly, periphery of French culture, in the surrounding suburbs. Tourists don't visit you; you may feel minimized. While we, Americans or other international tourists, may be less pointed in our ethnic labels, we are just as guilty as the French in considering you other than French.

Finally, Paris, your third population: namely the youth who flock from far away towns to your metropolis. It's impressive how quickly they become haughty. Yeah, I speak to you in English. Fine, castigate me. Now I speak to you in French and you address me in English, arguing I should have approached you in French. Hmm. Had I visited your hometown, you would have welcomed me as an uncommon tourist. Yet in Paris I'm persona non grata. You quickly developed rude habits. Impressive.

What is the Paris effect and the French effect, rendering otherwise amicable people monstrous? I've read broadly and deeply into your history. I have an impressive collection of names and dates that not only halt your must strident attacks against stupid American--in fact you retreat when you realize you can't stump me... But I digress. An exploration and study of your nation hints at a few conclusions. Your unfortunate retreats in 1871, 1914, 1940, which allowed foreign occupation of Paris, has left an indelible mark on your collective conscious. How could it not? As Americans we're pompous, no doubt a result of our success twice reversing the tide of German aggression. So what is the effect of military failure, the reverse of our turgid pride? You cling ever stronger to your golden age, squirming to preserve it. But no, you must evolve, move on. Had you twice triumphed in the 20th century you pride would have updated. You wouldn't need to overlook the last 150 years to demonstrate excellence. But you do, in a feat of clumsy legerdemain. Though no need! Exclaim your pride and and exhort your difficulties. Say, "Bonjour! This is me!"

If we consider the Dutch, they're a bit like you. They too had a golden age. But they no longer cling to that period of excellence. Admittedly, they had no Louis XIV, whom all of Europe looked to for cultural advice; but they did have grand colonies and famous artists before you later outshined them. The Dutch have moved on. They too acted and suffered ignominiously in 1914 and 1940. But they look forward, with the immigrant question central to their identity. Their culture of tolerance leads the world. They've updated themselves from their liberal, merchant and protestant past.

Though who am I to critique? You continue to draw more tourists than anywhere in the world. While the magic may be dead for me, it's clearly not over. Though a word of caution: you might be the Mona Lisa. Think, what was your first thought upon seeing her?

13 November 2012

I Love You

The prosecution of sexual dalliances in the US has taken on dumb proportions. So long as you can manage the professional duties in which you are entrusted, what you choose to do between the sheets is your fun. While morally there are a host of questions for anyone who engages in consensual sex beyond the bounds of an existing marriage or relationship, I don't concern myself with that. In fact I don't really care. To the cheaters out there, maybe an open relationship is more appropriate. Or maybe you ought to revitalize your sex life. Have your moral struggles with your own god.

But for the the public justice machine to encourage morality in the narrow area of some illicit fun that has no effect beyond those immediately concerned...come on. Senators, tap away in airport bathrooms and find sexual liberty. And Representatives, continue taking bulging underpants photos. I think we should encourage this behavior. And David and Paula, hope the sex rocked. Yeah it's wrong, you're married and not to the other. But that's your issue, not mine. Paula, while I think you eat too much meat who am I to legislate vegetarianism?

And for those complaining of moral decline, can we too discuss how libertine behavior may augment job performance? Schwarzenegger unswervingly served California. Clinton superbly executed his duties. And those steamy Europeans? Go Berlusconi! While you may have a mysterious rash, I doubt that spread to your economy causing its erratic behavior. And I liked your optimism while managing the crisis.

Let's look--this prosecution is bad for America: we're losing trusted officials to private transgressions. But they're our officials and what does it say about us if we tolerate abhorrent behavior? It says bad things, agreed. So let's denounce abhorrent behavior and stay true to the principles in which we entrust ourselves.

By the way, what's that principle? A promise is a promise?

30 July 2012

La Belle France

IN March a hiring manager from the Department of Justice phoned seeing if was interested in an investigative position with them. I mentioned I lived in France and that Boston was a bit far away for an interview. He remarked, “if only I could be paid to go interview you. French cheese, wine...if I were you I might never come back.”
Indeed, an allure like none other. French wine--instant class. French couture--instant sophistication. Following in the foot steps of Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Hemmingway, and T.S. Eliot I moved to France. Six months of language-study and I can only now begin to consider myself immersed in the culture.
There is perhaps no journey so cliched as this: American in France. And like so many Americans before me I came to discover the land of Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette, Voltaire, Rousseau, Monet, and Charles de Gaule. History, philosophes, artists. La haute culture. Fromage, joie de vie, creme brûlet. Oui, la haute culture.
The importance of French culture to America is undeniable. While linguistically English is more similar to German it is French which is easier to learn. Our language is replete with French influence. Résumé, à propros, quotidian. Or l let us discuss art: trompe l'oeil, oeuvre, maestro.
So in such a cliched journey what magic is there to discover? A huge slection of French wine for under $4 per bottle. I'm hardly drinking away the options. Cheese? I've never been a big fan of the strong stuff. But there is still much to discover in the famed French regional cuisine, organized by Appellation Origine Contrôlée. Piment from Espelette, Jambon from Bayonne, mild cheeses from the Basque countryside. Despite these many options, my diet has hardly changed. In California I buy a range of products from Trader Joe's and here I buy products from another grocery store. While I suplement my largly vegetarian diet with a range of local specialties, much is the same. Nevertheless, at least in my mind, I'm living French food culture.
On the otherhand, I'm yet to find the French couture in my Southwest cornerexcept for the John Galliano trousers I purchased for myself while living in New York. And my other favorite French designer Jean Paul Gaultier I'm yet to see anyone sporting. So I'm not in the fashion capital.
And the girls, while French, if viewed objectively, aren't anything particular. But they're French and I still can't deny them a certain mystique--even if I'm yet to find it.
So essentially I'm yet to find the French n'importa quoi. Despite this, the dreams lives on.
And while I overlook that, I have found an unpredicted friendliness. I have many friends, associates, and people who say bonjour to me. I've run a bit and won a few races. When I arrive at a competition there's non-stop greetings and kissing of people I may or not recognize. I lacked such celeberty status when I lived in Texas and won every race. Perhaps it's my Americanness here, being a foreigner that makes me more approachable. Yet I've only recently been able to hold a conversation. Though people for six months have chatted with me.
So as I depart France at the moment on my way to Spain and later the US, I find a moment (in a car-share!) to reflect. What is the essence of France, what is the allure? I realize while the allure grips my person and I plan to return in September, I'm still no closer to discovering the essence. Maybe it's only the fierce pride exhibited by the French. They're known for being jerks and there's truth to that. They're proud of their culture, their food, their language. And while it can be tiring at times there is an allure to someone who knows their identity and celebrates it. They have detractors but there is also respect. So France, while your boutique farming methods may be inefficient, your search for a famous contemporary French musician amusing (David Guetta is the best you've got, never heard of him) and your talk of how difficult French history is to master by virtue of being an older country, shortsighted, I still respect you. Indeed, you're formidable. À dieu mon ami. See you in September.