flag day

To honor and pay tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks that took place exactly two weeks ago tonight, the good citizens of France were invited to hang flags from their windows and balconies today. And if a flag wasn’t handy, well…use your imagination!

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blowback

I imagine myself leaving Europe and returning to Canada in the not too distant future. From my Paris perspective, I view my homeland as a safe haven, a country of peace and tolerance. I envisage myself living on one of those tranquil little islands off the coast of British Columbia, the Gulf Islands: Gabriola Island, perhaps, or Salt Spring. Seen through the lens of the half-dozen terrorist attacks that have occurred on French soil in 2015 alone, and the threats we are receiving for future attacks, I do not view my adopted country in the same light.

France has become a prime target for terrorists for a variety of reasons – (a) recent military intervention in Mali, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, (b) not-so-recent historical colonialism and crimes in North Africa (Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco), West and Equatorial Africa that have left deep and lingering grudges, (c) the ghettoization, marginalization and/or stigmatization of a percentage of French Muslims, not all, who in total represent 10% of the country’s population, (d) high unemployment in France, especially among young Muslim men who already feel excluded from society, (e) policies and cultural practices that are seen as anti-Muslim: those inflammatory Charlie Hebdo satirical cartoons, the niqab ban, Marine Le Pen and her far-right, xenophobic National Front party. And, yes, let’s admit it – an undeniable, ingrained racism in the DNA of a majority of white, Catholic French citizens, a racism that I have personally witnessed.

Vous récoltez ce que vous semez.  (You reap what you sow.)

And there are other factors that add fuel to the fire, namely the Schengen Agreement. Since the dismantling of European border controls in 1985, France is geographically vulnerable.  Antiterrorist organizations are woefully underfunded and overwhelmed.  Example – it was Morocco who alerted French authorities to the fact that the ringleader of the Paris attacks, Abelhamid Abaaoud, was hiding in a Parisian suburb, right under the noses of French intelligence agencies.

Criticism is mounting against French officials for not doing more to prevent last Friday’s multiple terrorist attacks

The general sentiment of Parisians today, aside from shock and grief, is one of anger.  “We thought we were protected,” is the general refrain. The tragic consequence of government laxism are the deaths of 131 innocents and over 300 wounded. 

In response to the carnage of Friday November 13, 2015, Manual Valls, French prime minister, announced that stricter anti-terror measures will be put into place. Will be put into place?? We thought that had already been done (after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015.)  Other factors are – 

  • Salafist non-French imams who are allowed to come into France and preach hate-filled invective to their congregations.  Not in ALL mosques, but in enough clandestine fringe mosques to radicalize disenfranchized young Muslim men;
  • Under-surveillance in French prisons, hotbeds of  Islamist indoctrination amongst inmates;
  • Under-surveillance of departing and returning French jihadists to and from Syria;
  • The continued financing of mosques by Saudi-Wahhabis, purveyors of a medieval form of radical ideology and terror (not only mosques in France, but in the U.K., the U.S.A., Canada and elsewhere.)

What makes our countries unsafe?  Our own (laxist or complicit) governments.

Blowback, backlash, vengeance, payback, retribution…call it what you want, the message is the same. There’s an expression in French – de payer leurs erreurs (to pay for their errors.) The problem is, it’s not the politicians who pay for their errors, it’s us, the honest tax-paying, law-abiding citizens.

I blame American, French and other Western politicians for the mess we find ourselves in. Their constant meddling and clumsy attempts at “nation building” which, in the end, result in “nation destroying”, just look at Iraq and Libya. Islamist terrorist forces of today are the direct results of Neoconservative Foreign Policy in the Middle East. Neoconservative ideology is wholly relevant to our current situation. In short, neocon warmongering threatens us, has threatened us already.

An example – Hillary Clinton, Sarkozy and Cameron in Libya in 2011. What was that all about? Under the pretext of “rescuing the Libyan people”, “promoting freedom and democracy”, and “aiding the Arab Spring uprising” that had occurred in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt, they had decided it was time for a regime change. Why oust Gaddafi? Because he was guilty of insubordination to US imperialism and its allies.  (And only a few years earlier, Gaddafi had contributed 50 million euros to Sarkozy’s election campaign. While visiting Paris, he was allowed to pitch his Bedouin tent in the Elysée backyard.)

Bombing Libya and toppling Gaddafi destabilized the entire region, just like it had in Iraq 8 years earlier when those same Western allies bombed Baghdad and then toppled Saddam. Today, Islamist militias terrorize Libya while hundreds of thousands of migrants, coming up from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, attempt to leave Tripoli for Europe.  In small boats.

Look how sheepish Sarko + Blair look in these photos. They should be in jail.

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Westerners can hold grudges too and here’s mine – the genesis of ISIS can be traced back to May 2003 when errand boy Paul Bremer, under orders from George W. Bush’s government, disbanded the entire Sunni-dominated Iraqi army. It was a move that put 250,000 young Iraqi men out of a job, out on the streets, angry, and armed—and guaranteed the violent chaos to come.

And if that wasn’t enough, senior members were then expelled from Saddam’s Ba’ath party. This utterly disastrous decision led many Sunni Iraqis to conclude that they had no hope of a prominent place in a future Iraq. 

Neoconservative foreign policy created the conditions for ISIS.

Why the meddling?  What right did Bush’s government have to even be in Iraq in the first place??  They had no right whatsoever.  They had illegally invaded Iraq.

Sunnis were the technocrats who populated the ministries and staffed the army — members of Iraq’s experienced middle class who would happily have supported new leadership, had they been offered a serious role. Instead, they felt banished, and by the end of 2003, an insurgency had taken hold.

This was intentional, of course. Don’t believe for a second that U.S. intelligence, along with American and British experts on Iraq (and let’s not forget Mossad), did not foresee the consequences of the above actions.

As for the members of this Neoconservative cabal, the vile and abhorrent “Dick and Don”, aka Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Karl Rove, Richard Perle, Tony Blair and others? None have been held accountable for their crimes, not a single one. Where are they today? Playing golf in the sun. Writing their memoirs. Peddling their stories on the speaking circuit. Raking in millions of dollars a year. It’s almost as if they’ve been rewarded for their sins. Where’s the justice in that?

a minute of silence

At precisely twelve noon, a silence descended upon the entire country as we honoured those killed by the depraved terrorists.  Buses and subway trains stopped, cars stopped, pedestrians stopped, machines stopped.  In the office where I work, we stood motionless in a group.

Léo Ferré – Friday November 13, 2015

Who wants to cry?

While washing the dishes earlier this evening with the radio on, this song came on. It’s called Avec le temps (With time), written and sung by Léo Ferré. It’s a French classic. Resting my dish mop on the counter, I turned up the volume then stood, transfixed, at the kitchen sink, listening intently. Halfway through I was weeping like a baby.  Honestly, I can’t think of a sadder song.

NEWS FLASH!! – Later, while sitting on my bed writing this post, scores of innocent people were being gunned down on the other side of Paris.  I had no idea until I turned on the TV (the loud and incessant sirens from police cars outside alerted me to the fact that something was amiss.) My tears, previously shed for Léo Ferré’s song, now fall for the victims and their families. Once again, the French capital is in the sights of terrorists.  A state of emergency has been declared in France and the borders are closed. We’re under siege.

Here are the lyrics with English translation below.  And the clip of Léo Ferré singing this sad song is at the bottom.

Avec le temps…
Avec le temps, va, tout s’en va
On oublie le visage et l’on oublie la voix
Le cœur, quand ça bat plus, c’est pas la peine d’aller
Chercher plus loin, faut laisser faire et c’est très bien

Avec le temps…
Avec le temps, va, tout s’en va
L’autre qu’on adorait, qu’on cherchait sous la pluie
L’autre qu’on devinait au détour d’un regard
Entre les mots, entre les lignes et sous le fard
D’un serment maquillé qui s’en va faire sa nuit
Avec le temps tout s’évanouit.

Avec le temps…
Avec le temps, va, tout s’en va
Même les plus chouettes souvenirs ça t’as une de ces gueules
À la galerie j’ farfouille dans les rayons d’ la mort
Le samedi soir quand la tendresse s’en va toute seule.

Avec le temps…
Avec le temps, va, tout s’en va
L’autre à qui l’on croyait pour un rhume, pour un rien
L’autre à qui l’on donnait du vent et des bijoux
Pour qui l’on eût vendu son âme pour quelques sous
Devant quoi l’on s’traînait comme traînent les chiens
Avec le temps, va, tout va bien.

Avec le temps…
Avec le temps, va, tout s’en va
On oublie les passions et l’on oublie les voix
Qui vous disaient tout bas les mots des pauvres gens
“Ne rentre pas trop tard, surtout ne prends pas froid….”

Avec le temps…
Avec le temps, va, tout s’en va
Et l’on se sent blanchi comme un cheval fourbu
Et l’on se sent glacé dans un lit de hasard
Et l’on se sent tout seul peut-être mais peinard
Et l’on se sent floué par les années perdues
Alors vraiment… avec le temps… on n’aime plus.

With time …
With time, everything goes
We forget the face and we forget the voice
And the heart, when it’s not beating anymore, there’s no need to go on
You need to let go, and that’s just fine.

With time everything vanishes
And the one who we loved, who we searched for in the rain
the one we recognized on the corner with just one look
between the words, between the lines, and under the make-up
with a made-up oath the night is going away.
With time, everything disappears.

With time everything goes away
the one in whom we believed for nothing and anything
the one to whom we gave the wind & jewels, for whom we would have sold our soul for pennies
the one for whom we suffered like a dog
with time everything disappears

With time everything goes away
we forget the passion and the voice too,
the voice which told you quietly
“Don’t come home too late, be careful not to catch cold…”

With time everything goes away
and we feel tired as a worn-out horse
and we feel frozen like when in a stranger’s bed
and we feel lonely perhaps, but at peace
and we feel blurred by the lost years
Then really…with time…we love no more.

Remembrance Day – November 11 – French amnesia

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To honor the veterans who fought for France in the wars, today is a statutory holiday in France. Small French flags, attached to city buses, flutter in the breeze. Large French flags, lining both sides of the Champs Elysées, snap in the chill November air. And the question I ask every year is the same….where are the British flags?  The American flags? The Canadian flags?

Because as far as World War II are concerned, I think that French memories need refreshing. To honor the Allied forces – those who died on the D-Day landing beaches and those who liberated Paris from four years of Nazi occupation – I’d like to see British and American and Canadian flags flapping in the breeze alongside the French ones every year on November 11 on the Champs Elysées.

I think I’m going to have to have a word with the French flag department.

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A brief recap. On June 6, 1944, better known as the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, American, British and Canadian forces landed on the beaches of Normandy. Two months later and with the aid of the U.S. 4th Infantry Divisionthe French 2nd Armored Division entered Paris. On August 26th, 1944, General Charles de Gaulle led a celebratory march down the Champs d’Elysees. He then delivered his famous speech at City Hall that attributed the liberation of Paris entirely to the French.

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“Paris!” he declared, “An outraged Paris! A broken Paris! A martyred Paris! But…a liberated Paris!  Liberated by itself, liberated by its people with the help of the armies of France, with the support and the help of all of France, of the fighting France, of the only France, the real France, the eternal France!”

Huh?

Within 24 hours Charles de Gaulle had conveniently forgotten who had done what. I suppose he figured that since he was orating in French, none of the Allies would understand. (It’s also true that he was treated despicably by Roosevelt and Churchill, so the speech was no doubt his commuppance.) And today, of course, the myth of la grandeur de la France just gets bigger. While aggrandizing the valour of Charles de Gaulle to monumental proportions, they’ve downplayed the role of the Allies to the point of erasure. Ah well, every country needs its hero.

I strongly recommend that visitors to France go to Normandy to view the Allied war cemeteries.  I went years ago.   It’s a deeply moving experience.  In fact, I should return for a new visit because the subject would make an excellent blog post.  Do they transport busloads of French teenagers to visit the Normandy war cemeteries as part of the school History curriculum?  No, they don’t.  Instead, they glorify General de Gaulle and the Resistance movement which, according to historian Robert Paxton, was only 2% of the French population. Ah well, every country needs its myth.

Years ago, I drove with friends to Vierville-sur-Mer. We stayed at the Hotel Casino located on the shores of Omaha Beach. The D-Day museum is there. Nearby are the impressive and well-tended American, British and Canadian cemeteries. Worth visiting! Take your handkerchiefs because the inscriptions on the modest gravestones (primarily in the British cemetaries where the gravestones are made from English limestone) will make you weep. The next day we moved on to Bayeux, a jewel of a town. I must say that Normandy, aside from its tragic history, is a lovely region, one of my most favorite of France.

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For info, the British war cemetery in the town of Bayeux records around 4,648 burials, the largest known British war cemetery. The other two cemeteries are the Canadian soldiers’ cemetery in Cinthaux and the cemetery in Ranville. Ranville is known to be the first French village to be liberated from German occupation during the Second World War.

A quick history lesson of the Normandy beaches (“We shall fight on the beaches …” Winston Churchill, June 4, 1940) – The Allied invasion of Normandy, code-named Operation Neptune, was the first stage of the larger Operation Overlord, intended to liberate Western Europe after nearly four years of German occupation. The start of Operation Neptune, known a D-Day, was made on June 6, 1944.  More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft carried 160,000 Allied troops across the English Channel to a 50-mile stretch of Normandy beaches, code-named Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah. The first air attack was launched under a nearly full moon shortly after midnight. The British and Canadian forces were successful in seizing Gold, Juno and Sword beaches, as were the Americans at Utah beach. However, at Omaha beach, where the German defense was strongest, American forces suffered heavy losses. Air assaults missed their mark and landing crafts were unable reached the intended destinations near the beach, leaving invading soldiers with little protection.Though they suffered an estimated 2,500 casualties, the Americans were able to establish themselves on Omaha beach by the end of the day. In all, more than 100,000 Allied troops had reached Normandy, forcing German forces inland and opening a new theater of war in Western Europe.

The Sierra Club

EXPLORE, ENJOY, AND PROTECT THE PLANET

If I lived in the States, I’d be a member of the Sierra Club.

For those not familiar with this important environmental organization, here’s a brief Wiki description – The Sierra Club was founded on May 28, 1892, in San Francisco, California by the Scottish-American preservationist, John Muir, who became its first president.

Traditionally associated with the progressive movement, the club was one of the first large-scale environmental preservation organizations in the world, and currently engages in lobbying politicians to promote green policies. Recent focuses of the club include promoting green energy, mitigating global warming, and opposing coal. (Thank you, President Obama, for rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project!)  (That was definitely a step in the right direction.)

In addition to political advocacy, the Sierra Club organizes outdoor recreation activities that includes wilderness courses, hikes, rock climbs, and alpine expeditions.

There are some hiking expeditions in Hawaii that appeal to me, I’ve always wanted to visit Hawaii.  Not to laze around a beach but to explore rain forests, volcanos and nature preserves.  Check out their website for really interesting group hiking, cycling, and exploring expeditions all over the world. (link below) 

As you know, the Climate Change Conference is taking place here in Paris at the end of this month.  Below you’ll find the link to the Sierra Club’s #ActInParis campaign.  This campaign aims to bring awareness to the Paris negotiations and support climate action at all levels — from local to national to international.

JOIN THE MOVEMENT!

http://sierraclub.org/paris

http://sierraclub.org/

The King is dead, long live the King!

LE ROI EST MORT, VIVE LE ROI !

To mark the occasion of the death, 300 years ago, of one of France’s greatest Kings, Louis XIV, a.k.a. The Sun King, the Palace of Versailles is dedicating an exhibition to him that is simply called The King is dead!  Or rather, Le Roi est mort !

The Chateau of Versailles is the finest achievement of the Sun King’s reign.

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Below is the dazzling Hall of Mirrors. And below that the Orangerie, one of the grand gardens of Europe.  The last time I visited the Chateau of Versailles was with my mother and a family friend, Alan Birch, in the early 1990s.  I think it’s time for a renewed visit.

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The exhibition – the first on the subject – will look back on the details of the death, autopsy and funeral of Louis XIV and situate them in the funeral context of European sovereigns from the Renaissance period to the Enlightenment.

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The exhibition will also bring together works of art and historical documents of major importance from the largest French and foreign collections, including ceremonial portraits, funeral statues and effigies, gravestones, the manuscript for the account of the autopsy of the king, coins from the Saint-Denis Treasury, gold medals, emblems and ornaments, and furniture of funeral liturgy. Some of the pieces on display have never been exhibited in public.

Louis XIV

Louis XIV (1638-1715), the son of Louis XIII and Anne of Austria, was one of France’s most important monarchs. He ruled from 1643 to 1715 and was known as the Sun King. His childhood was marked by the political troubles of the Fronde, so throughout his reign he sought to maintain the unity of the kingdom at all cost, crushing any moves the aristocracy made to obtain extra power. In 1660 he married Maria Theresa of Austria. In 1661, after the death of Cardinal Mazarin, finally free of his influence, Louis XIV wielded absolute power, but was shrewd enough to surround himself with devoted and talented ministers such as Colbert, Louvois, and Vauban.

The King is dead!
From 27th October 2015 to 21st February 2016

Château de Versailles, located 20 km southwest of Paris in the town of Versailles.
Open daily, except Monday, from 9h to 17h30.affiche

For those who like to read historical royal biographies….this book, written by the superb historian and biographer Antonia Fraser, author of Marie Antoinette, “sheds welcome light on the galaxy of influential women who orbited the dazzling Sun King.” (Publishers Weekly)   This is the sort of book I’d like to read on a long plane trip.

“All the scandal and brilliance and bling of Louis and his ladies is shown in context – social, dynastic, political, religious – but depicted so deftly and vividly that you’re there. This is an intriguing insight into the shifting roles of aristocratic women in 17th-century France.” (Ian Ramsey,Tatler)

book antonia fraser on the sun king

a Sunday stroll along the boulevard de Courcelles

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You wouldn’t have believed the weather in Paris today.  It was a perfect Indian summer’s day.  18°C, brilliant sunshine and an azure sky. Impossible to stay indoors. I headed over to the Parc Monceau and the boulevard de Courcelles, two of my favourite haunts bordering the 8th and 17th arrondissements.

IMG_5337IMG_5356If I could afford it, I’d live in this neighbourhood, I’ve always liked it.  I was lucky enough to work in this district for two years throughout 2011 to 2012.IMG_5362IMG_5363IMG_5352

Insider shopping tip. This small independent boutique called Cairns Donna has clothes to die for, most of them from Italy.  55 bd Courcelles, metro Courcelles.  Heading to my most favourite park in Paris, the Parc Monceau, I figured that by 5 pm the place would be emptying of people.  Wrong!   It was packed.

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I enjoyed the crowded park as much as I could then made my way to the beautiful boulevard Malesherbes and crossed it, stopping off at my favourite flower shop on the corner, Monceau Fleurs. The boulevard Malesherbes is, in my opinion, far more stylish and appealing than the Champs-Elysées. It starts off at the gorgeous place Saint Augustin and ascends upwards to the boulevard de Courcelles.  The air is somewhat rarified up here.  The entire district is off the tourist grid and very interesting.  I know, because for two years I explored every street, square, backstreet and cranny on my lunch hours.  How lucky I was to be able to visit a small museum during my lunch hour!  Here’s the Nissim de Camondo Museum (a sumptuous private house) at 63 rue de Monceau and the Cernuschi Asian art museum at 7 avenue Vélasquez (links below.)  And if anyone has read and enjoyed that fascinating book entitled The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, his family house is located at 81 rue de Monceau.  Here below is the boulevard Malesherbes approaching the boulevard de Courcelles.  To explore this area, take the metro to Courcelles, Monceau or Villiers stations and walk around.

IMG_5390IMG_5391IMG_5397IMG_5395This cozy tea salon, run by a Japanese couple, serves delicious cakes and hot chocolate.  It’s directly across the road from Villiers metro station.IMG_5394IMG_5403Don’t forget to visit the popular food market street, rue de Lévis, near Villiers metro station.IMG_5417IMG_5418

http://www.lesartsdecoratifs.fr/en/museums/musee-nissim-de-camondo

http://www.cernuschi.paris.fr/en/museum/location/opening-hours/admission