I was chatting in February with some French friends in Bucharest about the prospects of the presidential elections in France and the chances of Front Nationale and its Marine Le Pen to win. For sure after our American election fiasco I was more concerned than them while they were decrying the ascent of Macron and the sinking of Francois Fillon, who would have made a good president. My friends considered Macron a straw man created by rich nonagenarians, some of which similar with the ones watching Fox in the US, who says always what is delivered on the menu. However when I chatted with them recently, in spite of their repulsion they still had for him, the spectrum of electing Marine was for sure eclipsing their concern. Marine Le Pen was named in the US “The Trump woman” but the comparison does not make her justice, She may be filled up with the same hate and sidelined by the their elite as Trump is in the US, but she is not a fool. She is a seasoned politician with a pretty good sense of what should be done in France, unfortunately too much in Putin’s pocket, isolationist and with no sense of hope for the EU. But in the end the French, a better educated people than us, decided the right thing and elected not the fear monger but the other alternative, even if they disliked him. Simply because they did understand that fear is for the weak. At a party in New York in the night of the French election we were all French and celebrated. Vive la France!
Category Archives: France
“…All New York is a DADA and will not support a rival…” writes Man Ray to Tristan Tzara in 1920 at his request of promoting the movement over the Atlantic.
Tzara’s “Dadaglobe” project, a sort of art social media ahead of its time, not necessarily a brand new idea, never materialized to be published as planned because of financial considerations. But finally all the submitted works were brought in an exhibit at the MOMA celebrating more a group of people ahead of their time, the Paris avant-garde of the beginning of the 20th century. Also, 100 years latter New York is still a DADA.
After watching a play by Yasmina Reza, “Conversation after the funeral”, a friend gave me to read Reza’s book “Happy are happy”. I usually don’t read French contemporary literature so curiously I dived into it. Beautifully and playfully written the book dissects the relationships in the French society mainly through affairs happening in a somehow connected group of friends or social interactions. The stories connect each others through characters who are bored as hell in their marriage and trying a little bit of excitement, joyless most of the time, in their affairs. When I reached the middle of the book my library sent me an email that Houellebecq’ “Submission”, the French best seller published exactly in the day of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, was waiting for me so I started reading it and seamlessly from the past reading I dived in an even more intense description of sex and food on a background of total boredom experienced by the main character, the Sorbonne literature professor, Francois.
If you ask somebody what the novel “Submission” is about, most people would tell you that is about a time when a Muslim becomes French President and how the French society copes under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. Or at least this is what I used to hear about it. No matter that this story is there, the book uses it as a background to paint a fresco of the French conformism middle class, symptomatic for a bourgeois society bored as hell by lack of existential goals and mainly lack of aspirations. Written artfully and almost subliminally, Houellebecq comes obsessively upon the topics of the main character’s self center life, sex, done more like a social interaction, interlaced with gourmet trips with an occasional interest for weather and an escapism in his niche specialty of the French novelist Huysmans’ life, writings and his conversion to Catholicism. Huysmans’ pessimism and the disgust for modern life is mimicked by Houellebecq through his main character. The New York Times, in more than one piece, describes the novel as a satire, a thing that I found puzzling proving mainly an American misunderstanding of the French society countered in the article by the French novelist and editor Marc Weitzmann, who said: “It’s not reality; it’s the French view of reality….his (Houellebecq) real subject is how the French think.” The book was labeled as Islamophobic, an epithet agreed upon even by Houellebecq as long as it wants to describe the “fear of Islam”. But for sure it is not a “phobia of Islam”, especially in a country that adopted a very large segment of Muslim population. But the fear is easily understood, even if not by the current events directly, but by the entire history education taught in the European schools, especially of the Eastern Europe, countries that still take full credit as the Christianity saviors of Europe.
From an European perspective the French society as we know it is for sure closer as described in the book than the one described in the American papers. The remarkable mastery of Houellebecq is that the controversial political background is weaved majestically in the society fabric and the character’s possible evolution is of no surprise, the hypothetical end of the book being actually the most natural, following his behavior pattern. I finished the book pensively just to continue almost in the same bourgeois spirit, imbued by sex and food, Yasmina Reza’s making a sandwich of these two.
Friday night I felt devastated. I did not have any friends or relative among the numerous victims of the heinous Paris attack, not others who were around. All our Paris relatives were safe and never been even close that night to those locations but the sense of loss refused to leave me. It felt that the attack was against us, me and all my friends. And it was this way because I felt like all others who were there, at a concert or in a restaurant or on a stadium. Like many Parisians I felt that it could have been me on those sites. I grieved for the French with no candles and vigils.
But I can tell you that I was not surprised. For the last 25 years the reports coming from France were signaling a surge of violence and radicalization and a profound hate that a part of the Arabs living in the heart of the society had for the country itself. Aggression against people in subways and on the streets was entwined with rape of the women in a ritualistic process that meant to debase the society that accepted them as citizens. The politically correct politicians were quiet about this in spite that entire communities were attacked and lived in fear like in this article written recently in Vanity Fear. An extra vote was always more important for them than to stand for the security of the Republic and the safety of their constituents. Hollande was elected with the votes of an entire Place de la Bastille filled with maghrebian flags but with no French flag to be seen, that first I thought that were “Photoshopped” out of the picture. As a French national living abroad said to me: “France does not exist anymore in the cities”. The “cite”, nicknamed also “the other France” are focal points of crime, similar in a way with the American “projects”, where violence is rampart and police has a hard time to control (article). For years tens of riots were flaring in the “banlieues” and in some small township across France. Cars were burned, violence erupted, windows were smashed and police was attacked, in many neighborhoods not having access at all or being chased away by gang of Arab teenagers. The methods that police wanted to employ were blocked by politicians who were afraid that will be labeled as “American methods”, an epithet that for the French left is almost synonym with becoming a pariah in the political arena. Jean Francois Revel, an elite French intellectual and chief editor of the L’Express magazine wrote in his “Antiamericanism” book about all these phenomenons. Behind the scene France was ruled always by the left and its voice is very loud. And when it was not ruled politically by the left, to quote Revel, “the right was doing all they could to please the left”. The politically correctness that the left wing intellectuals imposed in France made everybody fear even to question the validity of the methods applied to contain this cancer. The only thing that was sanctioned was the unmitigated help offered to communities, any other attitude being labeled as racist. The possible refusal of a visa for groups of abusive immigrants was responded with demonstrations of the left. The schools, as well depicted in the film “The Class“, are places where political correctness rules and the education is sidelined if even possible to coexist with the the violence. Meanwhile in spite of the help the “marginalized” individuals refused to change. The current situation in France is the result of this mentality where the politically correctness rules, forcing the society to blame itself for the failure of these few. There are 6 millions Muslims in France, as far as I know and most of them are moderate and integrated in the society. There are 2000 French nationals that are known by the police that went to Syria to train and returned to France. In France they will use their training to teach others to become killers. Why are these people free and not in a jail or in a French Guantanamo? There are another almost 2000 radicalized Muslims whom police is trying very hard to follow and do surveillance on. A tiny fraction of the French Muslim community but a ballast for the society and a threat for its people. These backward people with their archaic form of religion hate France and the west and they do not belong there and should be expelled in a way or another from the society. The war Hollande declared should first started on these individuals and I hope that the extension of the three months emergency measures in the country would be used to do a spring cleaning of the French society.
In the Stanford White Townhouse on 5th Avenue/79th Street, in the building of the French Embassy Cultural Services, was opened in September a new bookstore. The place is called Albertine and it was inaugurated by the French Foreign Minister with French and English titles presented in a relaxed atmosphere closer to European style bookstore, more like a library than a competitive bookshop. Beside the books the location is hosting free cultural events with French and American authors. An extremely pleasant presence in the way fast paced landscape of New York City.
The next morning we enjoyed a breakfast on the terrace basking in the sun. We decided to stay a little longer, take a walk on the lake shore and we ended up on a hydrobike on the lake, on a calm morning. After, we packed and drove to the diocese’s church that is located on the hill, unfortunately close at that time.
We drove down into the city and after a little driving in circles in order to find the way out of the city, we headed toward Albertville road with the intention to drive to Chamonix. We drove the local road, through Megeve and St Gervais, where unfortunately I did not stop, and drove into Chamonix around 3pm. The town is overseen by Mont Blanc and its other surrounding peaks. The peaks were clear but Mont Blanc and its neighbor were covered in clouds. We spend about two hours in town, with lunch at a restaurant near the Monteverde train station, sweet tasty treats in town walking its main drag.
We left around 5pm and we drove back to Switzerland, at an apparently unattended border crossing, to Marigny and further on the highway to Brigg, on a road that we already drove toward Montreaux. The highway is not finished, so you switch from completed areas to 2 lane roads. Because we wanted to drive over the famous Furkapass we did not take Simplon, that would have shoot us into Italy and back to Switzerland in Lugano, but we continued toward Feisch. The afternoon storm were in full swing and besides a beautiful double rainbow, you could see complete darkness in its back. We entered this darkness where the rain never stopped all night and after several tries for hotel in various villages we ended up in Feitsch in a beautiful rented studio in Feischalp, where we had to wake up a dog in order to have somebody out to show us the room. They pointed us a close by restaurant in the camping with good food, actually more or less the same as we had before, same prices. On the menu I saw 0.5L of wine for Ch3.10 that I thought normal in Italy but here kind of low. I ordered it just to receive a tiny glass half of it full. When I asked they told me that is not 0.5L but 0.5dL a measure that I never heard before in a restaurant. The metric system to the maximum of use on the cheapo…..At the accommodations the studio was great but we had to do some corrida fight with some flies before going to bed.
The morning was glorious and after we had our breakfast in a small room/ “la cave” in the restaurant we paid for the hotel and dinner, we said good bye to our little village, its vineyards and tree orchards and left for Geneva.
We planned a half a day visit with no exact plans for the afternoon, pone option was to drive to Gruyeres and latter Bern and another to cross the border in France to Annecy.
We found parking on the streets of Geneva right near its famous “Jet d’Eau”. The promenade around the lake and the Rhone is really beautiful and its worth some time spent on it. Especially in good weather the views are great. We spent some time walking around the water. Besides the many tourists you see all over Switzerland you cannot miss the locals who are taking their time enjoying a good weather or lunch with a friend. It is something you rarely see in New York where everybody runs to work, everybody rushes and feel the lack of time in the air.
Also, here like in Lausanne you cannot stop noticing so many veiled women walking the street, always chaperoned by a man. Sometimes you may see a completely veiled older woman and several others from the family wearing only a chador. The number of Arabs you notice on the streets is surprising in all Swiss cities.
From the promenade we started to walk up to the old city. Geneva’s old city is way more interesting and alive than the one in Lausanne. A large area in town is pedestrian and this gives an intimacy to this quarter. We returned to the promenade to feed the meter and also to have a walk on the pier of the Jeu d’eau. The wind changed its direction and I got almost soaked by the jet that is impressive to be seen close-by. It was first used to release the pressure in the city’s water system but now it became a symbol of the city.
We walked back in the old town and went to the cathedral where I was able to climb the steps of the two towers and enjoy a great panorama of the city from its top.
Looking for directions to return to the lake, we got them from a guy on a bike, who literally started a very fast chute on steps, stairs, pedestrian area and the traffic that you were surprised that he could make it without hurting somebody else or himself. Eventually it will happen. The squares were full of people sitting in the cafes and enjoying a nice day.
We got to the car where I was also to make a phone call to the parents, a thing that did not work till than.
When we left we took a decision on the spot to cross into France and drive on a local road to Annecy. I read a while ago about this city and everything that I read is true. It was an excellent choice and I would highly recommend this place any time. The drive to Annecy from Geneva is just less than one hour and we got into the center city, parked and got a hotel from the information office. We walked in the city trying to find something closer, that was not a good move, and we went back to what was recommended by the office. After another change because the hotel was not exactly what we wanted we ended up in Marina Bay, where we got an attic room for around E110.
One thing you notice right away when you come from Switzerland even in a touristy place like Annecy. The hotel offer is way better than in Switzerland and the price range is lower. It does not cost less but you have way more options for a E100-150 hotels than to the upper range. In Switzerland the feeling is that you may find something in this range of prices but the number of hotels at this level are way limited, hoevere when you move up you have a greater choice.
The old city of Annecy is a jewel being crossed by canals connected by streets that cross buildings and connect in a charming maze. Lots of houses are old and renovated. Restaurants abound, the entire sides of the canals being filled with them.And they are full…We walked the streets of the old town, the promenade in front of the lake and we settled for a restaurant on the canal. The menu was way better and considerable less expensive than in Switzerland. In Switzerland you have boards in front of the restaurants advertising their ”specials”. I could not stop myself taking a picture of a board, that is typical pricewise, that was showing a Cesar Salad special for CH23!!! And this is the range in any restaurant for salads or starters. When you look into the main dishes the range is way in to CH 30-50/dish. The bottom line is that any relatively simple, basic dinner is around $100.
In Annecy the dinner was great, good wine and great atmosphere. We ended up the evening with more walks in the old town and elaborat ice creams eaten under the arches of a medieval building.