cool Canada

nova scotia beach

I rarely mention the merits of my home country on this blog, but The Guardian did such a fine job doing so I felt compelled to post the links here. Eastern Canada, called the Maritime provinces, is the Canadian equivalent of the New England states of Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, but on a smaller scale. With the Canadian dollar trading lower than the American dollar and the Euro (as I write this 1 USD = 1.28904 CAD and 1 EUR = 1.52507 CAD), Canada is indisputably a great vacation destination.

Start with this fashion-lover’s guide of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver then continue on to 12 knockout Nova Scotia tips, 10 best restaurants of Canada’s newest dining destination and lots more.

Enjoy my big, beautiful, hospitable country!

https://www.theguardian.com/discover-cool-canada/2017/nov/22/a-fashion-lovers-guide-to-canada

lobster

https://www.theguardian.com/discover-cool-canada/2017/sep/20/one-foodie-lots-of-great-seafood-john-quilter-tours-nova-scotia

https://www.theguardian.com/discover-cool-canada/2017/oct/02/the-delightful-dozen-12-knockout-nova-scotia-tips

house nova scotia

https://www.theguardian.com/discover-cool-canada/2017/sep/04/nova-scotia-is-canadas-newest-dining-destination-these-are-its-10-best-restaurants

 

sexism in Paris

Today, President Emmanuel Macron will deliver a televised speech to the nation to detail measures his government has taken to combat violence against women. All this, of course, has come in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein affair. And from pressure from French women who marched in the streets of Paris this week decrying “the vertiginous silence of our society” and “an intolerable collective denial.”

I would have marched with them, but then decided it was time for French women to do their own protesting. For too long now, I’ve watched the strident feminist voices of opposition coming across the Atlantic from North America, mainly the USA. It’s time now for French women to take to the streets and demand change themselves. They’ve been far too passive. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, there was no sisterhood in this country (and little dissent.) This resulted in aiding and abeting the deeply entrenched sexism here. 

Here’s an anecdote: it was 1999 and I was sick and tired of the sexist advertising campaigns in this country. There was one ad – plastered on the metro station walls all over the city – that particularly irked me. It showed a young woman, buck naked and covered in oil that made her skin glisten, crouched down, her feet in starting blocks, her bum in the air. I can’t remember what the ad was for (does it matter?) Fed up, I contacted the only feminist group that existed at that time, they called themselves Les Chiennes de Garde which is a play on words. It means “watchdogs”, but “chienne” also means “bitch”, as in a female dog.

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These are advertising campaigns displayed on huge posters in bus shelters and other places around the country. Up until a few years ago, nobody complained much. (This woman looks like a plastic mannequin.)

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Notice how the head is cropped, dehumanizing and objectifying the female body.

I introduced myself, saying I was from Canada and I was shocked not only by the sexist advertising, but the seeming absence of any feminist or protest group in France. The women from the Chiennes de Garde were extremely hostile and unwelcoming towards me. In the end, they instructed me to do the following – to go down into the Parisian subway stations at night, around 10 pm when there was less traffic, and plaster the offending posters with stickers that read “NON à l’utilisation du corps de la femme à des fins mercantiles!” (NO to the use of women’s bodies for commercial purposes!)

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“OK,” I said gamely, “How many will we be?”

“You’ll be alone,” was the answer. “Alone?” I replied, “I was hoping this would be a group action.” Apparently not. What happened to their slogan “mener une action collective“? (take collective action). I guess they had more important things to attend to. But I was not discouraged. Fine, I said to myself, I’ll tackle this thing single-handedly. And so I spent a few hours hand-writing with a magic marker ‘NON à l’utilisation du corps de la femme à des fins mercantiles’ onto a hundred stickers and out I went into the night, at around 10 pm.

And I did the action, alone and with no help from Les Chiennes de Garde or anyone else, riding the metro and getting out at the stations where I saw the offending poster and sticking my sticker onto it then waiting for the next train to get back on and continue riding the rails. Later I learned that it’s illegal to deface advertising posters (they hadn’t told me this.) I was also probably filmed by the subway station cameras, but no-one stopped me. The next morning I took the metro to work and in each station I saw my little stickers on the posters. I giggled inwardly and felt good.

Flash-forward to November 2017 and French women marching in the streets of Paris –

“President Macron!,” they exhorted, “You have the power to ensure that sexual violence stops.” They demanded a plan of action with concrete measures. The key words of the new governmental measures are “protection” and “punishment.” To protect women at home, in the streets and in the workplace, and to enforce disciplinary measures against their harassers. Let’s see if President Macron delivers.

harassment in the workplace and Margaret Atwood’s ‘Alias Grace’ on Netflix

First The Handmaid’s Tale, now Alias Grace, everyone’s talking about Margaret Atwood, Canada’s high priestess of fiction. Netflix has a new adaptation for us to binge on: Alias Grace. It’s based on Atwood’s 1996 novel.

Here in France, the title is “Captive”. I started watching it last weekend and I’m loving it. It’s well-timed because it resonates with current events.

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Please read this excellent article about Alias Grace and sexual harassment (and my personal contribution below.) The author is Lynn Stuart Parramore, a cultural theorist who studies the intersection between culture and economics. 

Sarah Polley’s “Alias Grace,” the new Netflix series based on Margaret Atwood’s riveting novel about an Irish-Canadian immigrant maid convicted of the murder of her employer and his lover, is a perfect fit for this Harvey Weinstein moment — a soul-wrenching story of what can happen to a female in the workplace where men wield the power.

Set in the mid-19th century in and around Toronto, Canada, the mini-series explores the horrendous cost to both individuals and to society when men demand sexual favors from women in their employ as casually as they order tea. Today, with the trapdoor blown off the dark cellar where women still sit and watch their contributions and careers dissolve as men treat them as objects, the most poignant takeaway from “Alias Grace” is how little has changed.

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What is the cost of talents wasted, output stymied, careers derailed? We don’t know the full answer, because up-to-date research on the economic impact of sexual harassment is scandalously lacking.

In “Alias Grace,”the teenaged Grace tries her best to learn the ropes: Never let your guard down. Try not to be noticed, especially by men of higher status. But it’s no use: over and over, she finds herself the object of the careless and often sadistic sexual attention of the men who control her livelihood. Each time she tries to better her circumstances, she is caught in an implacable machine of exploitation that threatens not only her employment, but her sanity and, ultimately, her freedom.

Surely we’re now beyond all that. Right? Wrong.

According to a survey conducted by Cosmopolitan magazine, one in three American women attests to sexual harassment on the job, in all sectors. Harassment impacts women economically. Women who have been harassed are far more likely to change jobs than those who didn’t. These shifts can upset a career trajectory. Researchers found that women, compared to men, experience far more serious effects from interruptions to their work path.

Comment from Juliet in Paris – Harassment has impacted me economically (not to mention emotionally) and has interrupted my career trajectory. Because of harassers, I have endured multiple stretches of unemployment during my working career. Here in France and over a period of twenty years, I have left five different companies due to harassment, bullying or “interference” from men. (One of my harassers, a senior Partner in a global law firm, was a woman.) Four of those companies were law firms, one was a renowned international news agency. In each case, I was either financially compensated (insufficiently) or tossed out into the street. My crime? I dared to stand up and talk back to my tormenter. And so I was the problem, not the one who had the power and was abusing it. I was called insubordinate. I remember looking the word up in the dictionary, just to double-check its meaning – defiant of authority; disobedient to orders. And I wondered, if I were a compliant or obedient person, how should I be expected to respond to a tormenter?

In each case, I found myself utterly alone. Not one single office colleague – who were themselves targets or witnesses of the harasser – nor the Human Resources departments who were 100% cognizant of the recurring problem – supported or defended me. They all turned their backs and closed their eyes. Enablers, all of them.

My friend Monique has been through exactly the same experiences. Today she happily runs her own B&B business; happy because she’s the boss and runs her own show.

Both of us (and a million other women) have taken an economic hit and endured financial and emotional strain due to unemployment caused by harassers. And the harassers who tormented me and Monique (and dozens of other women) … where are they today? Doing very well indeed. Still working, still raking in the big money. Utterly uncaring, unrepentant and unpunished for their actions.

Alias Grace gives us a penetrating artistic portrait of the harm caused by sexual harassers, even as the horror of the Weinstein allegations has issued a wake-up call.

Many women have suffered long-term career effects as they lowered their aspirations and narrowed their field of opportunity to avoid a repeat of the degrading experience. Those who stood up to hostile work environments, meanwhile, were often penalized with career stagnation and ostracization.

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flourless hazelnut brownies

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photo courtesy of Jonathan Melendez

Oh my. I’ve been drooling over these photos for weeks now. Entirely flourless, these brownies are made from ground hazelnuts, cocoa powder, bittersweet chocolate and other delicious things. I haven’t made them yet, but I will. The recipe calls for one cup of hazelnuts. I’m going to use a mix of almonds and hazelnuts. The recipe also calls for one and a half cups of granulated sugar (waaaay too much); I’m going to reduce that to three-quarters of a cup of raw cane sugar. I’m also going to replace the butter with coconut oil. We’ll see how that turns out. And with a big dollop of vanilla ice cream on top?

miam !!! (that’s French for yum.)

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photo courtesy of Jonathan Melendez

Here’s the recipe link; thank you Jonathan Melendez, your photos are terrific!

http://www.thecandidappetite.com/2016/03/18/gluten-free-hazelnut-brownies/

image of cake with moving sugar

the Merah affair

Here in France, we’ve been attentively following the “Merah affair” which has dominated media headlines for one month now. In a heightened state of tension, court proceedings opened October 1st and judgment will be passed on Thursday November 2nd. Life imprisonment is sought against Abdelkader Merah for “complicity” in the multiple murders perpetrated by his younger brother, Mohammed, in the March 2012 Toulouse killings.

A brief recap:

On March 19, 2012, 23-year old Mohammed Merah parked his scooter in front of the Jewish high school, Otzar Hatorah, located in a residential area of Toulouse. Armed with a Colt pistol and a mini Uzi-type gun, he opened fire on a group of people gathered in front of the establishment. He killed a teacher, Jonathan Sandler, and his two children, 5-year old Arieh and 3-year old Gabriel. Merah then entered the schoolyard and chased the daughter of the school’s principal around the yard before lodging a bullet in her temple. Myriam Monsonego, aged eight, was left dead on the ground. Four others were wounded. Merah then fled. That same afternoon Merah played football with friends before finishing the evening in a Toulouse nightclub.

The bodies of Jonathan Sandler, Arieh Sandler, Gabriel Sandler and Myriam Monsonego were flown to Israel on March 20, accompanied by French foreign minister Alain Juppé. They were buried at the Har HaMenuchot cemetary in Jerusalem.

Four days earlier, an off-duty paratrooper was shot dead by Merah, point-blank in the head, outside of Toulouse. A second attack by Merah killed two uniformed French soldiers and seriously injured another in a Montauban shopping centre. 

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Who was Mohammed Merah?

Born into an Algerian family in Toulouse, France in 1988, Merah had dual French and Algerian nationalities. He perpetrated the killings of seven people, including three Jewish children, in March 2012 in Toulouse. After a 30-hour siege at his Toulouse apartment, he was shot dead by France’s elite police anti-terrorist unit. He was 23 years old. 

If you talk to Franco-Arabo-Muslim teenagers today, living in French housing projects all over this country, many will tell you that Mohammed Merah is a hero and a martyr.

Why were the killings carried out on March 19th?

March 19 marks the end of the Algerian war. March 19, 1962. The Algerian War, also known as the Algerian War of Independence or the Algerian Revolution, was a war between France and the Algerian National Liberation Front from 1954 to 1962, which led to Algeria gaining its independence from France.

Who were his parents? What kind of family environment did he grow up in?

Merah’s father, Mohammed Ben-Allal Merah, was born in 1942 in Souagui, Algeria. He arrived in France in 1966. A worker at a metal foundry in France, he had already been divorced twice and fathered seven children when he met Zoulikha Aziri, the mother of Mohammed Merah. They met in the Algerian town of Beni Slimane. They married religiously in 1975 and then, in 1981, Zoulikha Aziri moved to France and settled in Toulouse.

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Zoulikha Aziri, the mother of Mohammed Merah

But the marriage fell apart. The couple divorced in 1993 and Mohammed Ben-Allal Merah was sentenced to five years in prison for cannabis trafficking by the Criminal Court of Toulouse. In 2001 he received nine additional months for bribery of witnesses. From 1999 to 2003 he was imprisoned. In 2004 he returned definitively to Algeria. He has since remarried twice.

In 2011, the mother, without a profession, unemployed, and living off social benefits, married Mohamed Essid, a Tunisian and father of the jihadist Sabri Essid, arrested in 2007 at an al-Qaeda safe house in Syria. At a family reunion held three days after Merah’s death, she said, “My son has put France on his knees. I am proud of what he accomplished.” (She and her family are the recipients of France’s generous housing, social and family allowances.) To this day, she is still a recipient.

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A proud mother.

What about the other family members?

The sister, Souad, disappeared with her four children, aged 9 months to 14 years, when she left for Syria in May 2014 to join her jihadist husband, Abdelwahed. Souad Merah had embarked on a flight to Turkey before travelling, with her four children, to Gazantiep, a border town with Syria.

 

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the hidden face of Souad, big sister of Mohammed. Also “proud proud proud” of her little brother’s actions

Comment from Juliet in Paris – this blog post is becoming longer than I had originally intended for the simple reason that I think it’s important to gain insight into the background and context of a radicalized, fundamentalist family. It should not be assumed that all Muslim Algerian families are like the Merah family. 

Souad was the first of the Merah family to have embraced Salafism in the early 2000s. Since 2008, and well before the attacks perpetrated by her brother, she had been under surveillance by the French Intelligence Agency. After leaving the father of her first two sons, an alcoholic who beat her and who was in and out of prison, she married Abdelwahed religiously in 2010.

In order to learn Arabic and the teachings of the Koran, Souad and her second husband moved to Cairo to begin a course in religious studies. The other brother of Souad, Abdelkader (now on trial for complicity in his younger brother’s assassinations), was already living there with his wife and children. They settled in the El Madina Nasr neighborhood and attended Al-Azhar Islamic University and Salafist schools in Cairo. “It was a magnificent period,” Souad said. “Egypt is a modern Muslim country perfect for Westerners. After school, we spent the afternoon in the air-conditioned malls, it was great.” After her religious conversion and back in France, Souad, now covered with a djelbab (a full veil), considered herself “respected.”

Comment from Juliet in Paris – for those who don’t know the meaning of the words “Salafism”, “Salafi”, “Salafist” or “Wahhabism”, please google them (and get with the program.) I’m sorry, but there’s no excuse today to be naïve and uninformed about the new threat / ideology of the 21st century which is Islamic extremism.

After her younger brother’s killings, she was placed in policy custody for apologie de terrorisme (glorification or justification of terrorism.) Caught on film, she can be heard saying “I am proud of my younger brother’s actions. Proud, proud, proud!!” In the end, Souad Merah admitted to having paid for Mohammed’s plane ticket to Damascus at the end of 2010. She also admitted encouraging him to go to Iraq, Pakistan and then Afghanistan to train with the Taliban. It was decided that she played a determining role in the indoctrination and radicalization of her little brother.

Where is Souad Merah today?

In Algeria. Her jihadist husband, returned to France from Syria, is in prison.

Abdelkader Merah

On trial since October 1st for “complicity in assassination in connection with a terrorist enterprise in the context of the Toulouse attacks”, the verdict will be pronounced tomorrow (Thursday November 2nd.)

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Abdelkader Merah is persuaded to have bought “his place in paradise.”

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, he said to the judge: “I am proud to be a Muslim. I am for an Islamic State with the establishment of a caliphate. What I’m living is to buy my place in paradise, so I will not change.” The judicial investigation shows that he indoctrinated his little brother and was in the shadow of his brother before and after each assassination.

And finally, the last and most surprising member of the Merah clan, the eldest brother, Abdelghani

The only member to publicly denounce the family’s Salafist convictions, Abdelghani is referred to as a “pig” and a “traitor” by his siblings. He wrote a book entitled My brother, the terrorist in which he blames himself for not being able to prevent his brother from committing the irreparable. “I decided to talk, once and for all, and to reveal the strong role my family has had in the Islamist drift of my brother Mohammed.”

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Abdelghani Merah

A principal witness in the court case, Abdelghani said this – “The main source of radicalism was my own family. The radicalization of my brothers, Abdelkader and Mohammed, as well as my sister Souad, is the result of the “fertile soil” spread by my parents. Our mother taught us, for example, that “Arabs are born to hate Jews.”

The children were educated “through the hatred of the Jew”. “Home life was a lot of violence, a lot of hate. It was a hotbed, an easy breeding ground conducive to becoming a jihadist or a hater.” he recalls. According to Abdelghani, his parents were members of the FIS (Front Islamique du Salut), an Islamic fundamentalist political party in Algeria, now dissolved. Financed by Saudi Wahhabists, its core objective was to establish an Islamic State ruled by Sharia law. 

Today, Thursday November 2, 2017, Abdelkader Merah was sentenced to 20 years behind bars.

Has justice been served? Seven innocent people are dead. Many French citizens want this family expelled from France. They’re still here, still living off of social benefits. People want to know how the family was able to pay the legal fees of Éric Dupond-Moretti, France’s most famous criminal defence lawyer.

There are Orthodox Salafist Muslims who clamor for an Islamic State and Sharia law. They respect the law of Allah and not that of the French state. And yet they’re happy to live like parasites off France’s generous welfare state. There’s something wrong with this system and it needs to be changed.

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