Karl Ove Knausgaard

Hello, friends. I have nothing much to report right now, so I’m going to reprint a favorite post from last year. January is slow, slow, slow (and gray, gray, gray) – although I am meeting up with friends tomorrow to view a calligraphy exhibition …

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Tonight I witnessed a blatant display of hero worship directed towards Norwegian literary sensation, Karl Ove Knausgaard. And I shamelessly admit that I was one of the disciples. Well, sort of. When I learned that he was giving a reading tonight at the English-language bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, I jumped on the metro and headed over. The crowd was large.

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The gatekeepers at the door (below) told me it was standing room only. Seeing as it was only 6:20 pm and Knausgard wouldn’t be appearing until 7, I chose to wait outside. I’m too restless to stand in a crowd for 40 minutes. I must say that the staff at Shakespeare and Company are very professional and courteous. It’s an old, atmospheric, cozy bookstore oozing with history … and books!  Everyone was reading, it was great to see.

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Chairs and an audio system had been set up outside.

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With 40 minutes to kill, I walked around the block and took some photographs. When I came back to the bookstore it was 7 pm. We waited and waited, and then at 7:20 pm I looked up and saw our literary hero standing at the window on the second floor. He was smoking and talking with someone. Knausgard is a chain-smoker and, evidently, not a punctual man. He seemed oblivious to the crowd below.

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He finally came down to begin reading from his newest, yet-to-be-published book. Here he is, blurry, in the background. The outdoor crowd sat motionless while listening to his voice over the speaker system.

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I felt like I had stumbled across a cult gathering or a group of followers devoted to a preacher, a prophet or spiritual leader. Or a Norse mythic hero.

Later, as I walked back to the metro station, I thought to myself – Geez, is it any wonder we need heros today more than ever?

I recommend these articles that I really enjoyed. They’re called Passage through America

the death of Mary Oliver

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? (M. Oliver)

It is a serious thing / just to be alive / on this fresh morning / in this broken world. (M. Oliver)

Do you love this world? Do you cherish your humble and silky life? Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath? (M. Oliver)

I was deeply saddened to read that Mary Oliver died today. Her poetry and way of looking at the world, especially at nature, uplifted and sustained me. (see New York Times obituary below). She was an American poet who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

Maybe death isn’t darkness, after all, but so much light wrapping itself around us. (M. Oliver)

A favorite poem entitled Wild Geese 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

President Macron’s letter to the people of France

The President of France has penned us a letter. We can be sure that his wife Brigitte, once a professor of French literature, approved the final draft.

In response to the riots and general upheaval of the last two months, Emmanuel Macron says he wants to transform the anger of the people into solutions. And so a new form of governance has emerged (so we’ve been told), a governance called “participatory democracy.” It’s an exercise that seeks to involve citizen participation.

The first step was to place a “cahier de doléances” (a register of grievances or a ‘complaints’ book’) in every single Town Hall around the country. Since December 8, people have been going to their local Town Hall to write their gripes into the book. Here’s a copy of one book from the town of Saint-Chély-d’Aubrac in the Aveyron region, population 550.

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“Everything increases except wages”, one person wrote. “With the cost of living constantly rising and the social minima permanently stagnating, it’s obvious that fewer and fewer people can live properly.”

Another person wrote this – “We need to spend money wisely, and the politicians must set an example. If I were young and healthy, I would have participated in the Yellow Vest demonstrations. I would have demanded a reduction in excessive state spending, a reduction in the excessive number of Senators, deputies and useless officials. I would have shouted against excessive state spending by the former presidents of the Republic (and their ministers.) This is especially why I would have liked to join the protest marches: to rail against those who create the misery of some in France.

Here’s the beginning of President Macron’s letter which I translated into English for you (I couldn’t resist inserting a few comments of my own. As you can imagine, the chattering classes in the media and on political talk shows have analyzed, criticized and decoded this letter to death) –

Dear Frenchwomen, dear Frenchmen, my dear compatriots,

In a period of questioning and uncertainty like the one we are going through, we must remember who we are.

France is not a country like the others. (it isn’t?)

The meaning of injustice is sharper than elsewhere. (it is?) The need for mutual aid and solidarity is stronger.

Here in France, those who work pay for the pensions of retirees. Here in France, a large number of citizens pay income tax, sometimes a lot, which reduces inequalities (but you gave a huge tax break to your rich friends … does that mean that inequalities have escalated?). Here, education, health, security, justice are accessible to all regardless of their situation and wealth. The vagaries of life, such as unemployment, can be overcome, thanks to the effort shared by all.

This is why France, of all nations, is one of the most fraternal and the most egalitarian. (Fraternal? Those recent riots with scenes of people getting their heads bashed in didn’t look too fraternal to me.)

It is also one of the freest, since everyone is protected in his rights and in his freedom of opinion, conscience, belief or philosophy. (I think that some Muslims who are banned from wearing certain Islamic clothing would disagree with you there, Mr. President. Oh, I see that you carefully omitted “freedom of religion”.)

And every citizen has the right to choose those who will bear his voice in the conduct of this country, in the drafting of its laws, in the major decisions to be taken. Everyone shares the fate of the others and everyone is called upon to decide the fate of all: it is all that, the French nation. How can we not feel pride in being French?

I know, of course, that some of us today are dissatisfied or angry. Because taxes are too high for them and public services too far away, because wages are too low for some to be able to live with dignity, and because of the fact that our country does not offer the same chances of succeeding based on the place or the family someone comes from. (And why is that?? So you’re admitting that a Mohammed from the burbs or Algeria doesn’t stand a chance.) All would like a more prosperous country and a more just society. (Isn’t that your job?)

This ambition, I share it. The society we want is a society in which to succeed one should not need relationships or fortune, but effort and work. In France, but also in Europe and in the world, not only a great anxiety, but also a great trouble has won the spirits (We have a lot of ‘trouble’, can you be more specific?). We must respond with clear ideas.

Taxes are at the heart of our national solidarity. Taxes finance our public services. They pay our teachers, firefighters, police, military, magistrates, nurses and all the public servants who work for you. But taxes, when too high, deprives our economy of resources that could be usefully invested in companies, thus creating jobs and growth. And it deprives workers of the fruit of their efforts.

This is why I proposed and I launch today a great national debate which will run until March 15th. In recent weeks, mayors have opened their town halls so that you can express your expectations. I have received the first feedback which I will take into account. We will now enter a larger phase and you will be able to participate in debates near your home or express yourself on the internet to put forward your proposals and your ideas. In France, overseas and with French residents abroad. In villages, towns, neighborhoods, on the initiative of mayors, elected officials, community leaders, or ordinary citizens … In parliamentary assemblies as regional or departmental.

Rahaf and Zineb need our help

When I read certain blogs written by Privileged Western White Women who complain a lot, and then read about the plight of a terrified Rahaf barricaded in a hotel room in Thailand, it is starkly clear that the problems of Rahaf, Zineb and PWWW are not quite the same. Frankly, I’m tired of listening to the PWWW (privileged white woman’s whine.)

Rahaf fled her family and Saudi Arabia. Thankfully, and largely due to social media supporters worldwide, she is now in a safe house under UN protection. She is seeking asylum in Australia, and Australia should help her. The fact is, there are thousands of women like Rahaf and it’s tragic. The full story is below and it’s chilling. Which brings to mind another woman I’ve been interested in lately, a journalist here in France. Her name is Zineb El Rhazoui. Known as the most threatened woman in France, she is also the country’s most protected citizen. Everywhere she goes (here in Paris), she is accompanied by a police escort. The French government is protecting her. Women like Rahaf and Zineb are very courageous, and I admire them.

Zineb was a Charlie Hebdo journalist. Yesterday, January 7, marked the four year anniversary of the day the two brothers, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, forced their way into the offices of the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo. To “avenge the Prophet Mohammed”, they gunned down 12 people. Zineb happened to be out of town that day. Since then, she is an ardent and vocal advocate for the right to publicly examine Islam more closely. Is Islam really a religion of peace and love? She dares to ask these questions. She has also publicly declared her atheism. Because she dares, and because she says she’s an atheist, she receives thousands of death threats from French and non-French Muslims. Which is why she has bodyguards.

As for Rahaf, she fears her family will kill her for renouncing Islam, a crime punishable by death under Saudi Arabia’s sharia law. UPDATE: She has been granted asylum in Canada.

Zineb and Rahaf’s dilemmas only highlight my privilege. How lucky I am to be a free and independent woman, born in Canada and living however, wherever, and with whomever I please! Personal choices, all. It is I who chooses how I live, not some cultural or societal or religious diktat. But really, when you think about it, it’s a roll of the dice. I could have been born an oppressed person in a freedom-less, tyrannical, misogynistic country. Luckily I wasn’t. And I treasure my luck every day.

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Zineb El Rhazoui, freedom-fighter

From Wikipedia

Zineb El Rhazoui was born in 1982 in Casablanca, Morocco to a French mother and a Moroccan father. She has dual French and Moroccan citizenship.

Growing up in Morocco, she routinely asked critical questions about the subordinate status of women under Islam. In secondary school, she made a point of wearing black nailpolish and low-cut blouses to school, where her teacher was a conservative man with a long beard. “As a woman in a male-dominated country, you sooner or later face a choice. You can comply, let yourself be cowed and shut up, or you can fight.”

Here’s the article in today’s The Guardian concerning Rahaf al-Qunun –

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/08/rahaf-al-qunun-saudi-woman-under-un-protection-as-australia-urges-asylum-claim

Update – granted asylum in Canada:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/11/canada-and-australia-in-talks-with-un-to-accept-saudi-asylum-seeker-rahaf-mohammed-al-qunun