the beauty of bilingualism

A week ago, an article entitled The Beauty of Being Bilingual appeared in The New York Times. It was written by Peruvian-American writer, Natalia Sylvester. As a bilingual person myself, the topic interested me. I read the article carefully, then read it again, not entirely sure what message the author was attempting to convey.

I’m most thankful that I can speak Spanish because it has allowed me to help others,” Ms. Sylvester writes. AndI used to think that being bilingual is what made me a writer, but more and more I see it’s deeper than that. It’s the constant act of interpreting.”

I became bilingual for economic survival. I moved to France not knowing a soul, and my priorities were clear: find an apartment, find a job, perfect my French. How else would I integrate, communicate, participate, get myself hired and fit in?

There’s a danger of speaking only one language, a foreign one, in a host country: it ghettoizes you. I didn’t want to be an outsider looking in. To move to France – or any foreign country for that matter – and not learn the lingua franca seems inconceivable to me. Being bilingual allows you to view the world through a wider lens. One day I will retire and – who knows? – move to Italy, Spain or Portugal. At which point I’ll learn Italian, Spanish or Portuguese.

The benefit of bilingualism is to not only open doors, but the mind. I’ve been told that it improves memory, helps you process information better, and ameliorates multi-tasking skills. It’s definitely a strength, and synonymous with enrichment: new words, new knowledge, new shapes and sounds coming out of your mouth and vocal organs. What a pleasure to read Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal in French. Or Le Monde, ELLE magazine, Courrier International, or any other French-language publication. What a pleasure to listen to the radio and television, follow current events, debates and discussions – and have opinions! – on all manner of things. Sometimes I’ll read an article in a French newspaper, then read an article in an English-language paper on exactly the same topic, and the viewpoints are completely different. Interesting! This shows the link between language, culture, mentality and POV (point of view.)

In less than a month, I have my interview at the Préfecture de Police to obtain French citizenship. How would that interview be conducted if I didn’t speak French? I can’t imagine a candidate showing up with an interpreter. I’m expected to provide answers (in fluent French) to a host of questions ranging from politics, literature, geography, history, laïcité (secularism) to regional cuisine. I’ve already memorized the names of France’s five main rivers (the Loire, the Seine, the Rhône, the Garonne and the Rhine), the meaning of Liberté Egalité Fraternité, the words to the national anthem, and a hundred other things. Should my interviewer ask if there’s one thing that I particularly like about France, I’ll reply, “La langue française!” (the French language.)

Femicide, a culture of domestic violence in France (and around the world)


Last night I stayed up till midnight preparing this blog post and researching the 105th case of femicide this year in France. Today at lunch, I learned that in the space of twelve hours that number had jumped to 107.

October update: that number is now 116.

Her name was Audrey, she was 27 years old, and she’s the 107th victim of femicide since the beginning of this year in France. She was an intern in pediatrics, she wanted to become a generalist, but her ambition (and her life) was snuffed out when her ex inflicted 14 stab wounds to her chest and abdomen.

The 106th femicide victim was a 53 year old woman who lived in eastern France. Her name has been withheld.

Two days ago, on Monday September 16, 2019 in the city of Le Havre, a 27-year old woman was stabbed to death by her husband – in front of their three children aged 2, 4 and 6, in the middle of a street at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Her name was Johanna. He was of Malian descent. What will become of those children? They’ll be traumatized for life.

In August, Johanna had filed a complaint against her husband. A few months earlier she had tried to escape him by jumping through the window of his first-floor apartment. He was taken into custody and then released, without being convicted. The couple had been separated since July. Johanna lived in a shelter for battered women (I’m assuming with the three kids). He kept coming round to the shelter and to the children’s school, threatening them.

“Why didn’t anyone do anything?” the citizens of Le Havre are asking. Neither the police nor the judicial system reacted. Johanna had undertaken all the steps to get away from this violent man.

In 2018, the Ministry of the Interior identified 121 femicides in France.

Femicide: the act of killing a woman, as by a domestic partner or a member of a criminal enterprise.

Femicide: a gender-based hate crime, broadly defined as “the intentional killing of females because they are females.”

Céline, Sarah, Clothilde, Eliane, Hélène, Denise, Ophélie, Martine are the names of some of the other women murdered by their current or former partners this year. There’s no law condemning femicide in France.

In many cases, the killing of a woman here is called – are you ready for this? – un crime passionnel (a crime of passion) – thereby letting the man off the hook.

Femen group protesting in Paris. Is anyone listening?

Here’s another scandalous fact: in France they refer to murders, rapes and femicides as “Faits Divers” which translated into English is “Miscellaneous Facts.” I wish they’d change that. In fact, I wish they’d change a lot of things here. Not that it’s any better in other First World countries: a recent report by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability revealed that there were 106 victims of femicide in 2018 in Canada.

Contrary to women in America who are killed with a gun, the victims in France are generally knifed, strangled, run over with a car, smothered, beaten to death or burned.

Without a doubt, there’s a big problem with the French Police. They refuse to listen to victims when they come forward. Or worse, they make inappropriate remarks, or blame the victim for what happened. “We need to systematically educate police on how to respond to domestic violence,” an activist said.

At a rally last month, actress Muriel Robin said “These women were not sufficiently protected,” and she questioned President Emmanuel Macron“You spoke of a national cause. What are you waiting for? What is a woman’s life worth to you? We’re waiting for an answer.”

Read the article below recounting how President Emmanuel Macron visited a hotline center in Paris exactly two weeks ago. He sat with a trained operator and listened in on a particularly disturbing telephone conversation, witnessing first-hand the problem with the French Police. Honestly? Had it been me, or rather, had I been him, I would’ve grabbed the phone out of the operator’s hand and shouted into it: This is the President of France speaking! I command you to bouge ton cul and accompany this woman to her home!

But he said and did nothing. Combatting femicide is not a priority in patriarchal France, or anywhere else.

dog-friendly pubs, vineyards and wine-tasting, romantic getaways, solo holidays and much more!

breton house

Sawday’s is my number one favorite website and travel company. Looking for something special and out-of-the-ordinary? France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Great Britain: for people who love special.


Here’s their website:

And here’s what I received in my InBox today:

This month’s Wanderlist is best enjoyed with a glass of something chilled, as we bring you 30 places where you can enjoy wonderful wine experiences. From fully immersing yourself by staying on a vineyard to simply setting up camp in wine country, these places will make sure your glass is more than half full.

Sample homemade wines in an elegant château by the Cher, unwind in a wine-themed stylish suite in Spain’s La Rioja or visit the South Downs from a B&B in a lush Sussex vineyard with views of the sea.

See you out there!

The Sawday's Team


Gail’s artisan bakery and Local Hero diner in Fulham

porridge and flat white coffee at Gail’s

Run, don’t walk, to Gail’s artisan bakery, there are many dotted around the city, some take-out, others sit-down. Never have I tasted such scrumptious baked goods; not even in Paris. I visit the one on Fulham Road in south-west London. Thirteen years ago I lived and worked in London for a year. It was wonderful. A girlfriend of mine named Maya rented out her house to me; she was in Kenya for a year and didn’t want to leave the house empty. So we agreed on a “prix d’ami“, a friendly rate, and I paid her a modicum rent of only £300. a month (for an entire house in fashionable Fulham, unheard of!) I signed on with a temp agency and had interesting short, medium and long-term temp jobs working mainly in law firms in central London and The City. I also enrolled in an evening photography course at Central Saint Martins, the arts and design college. Back then, it was located on Charing Cross Road in central London.

Nights, after my course at around 10 pm, I’d jump onto the number 14 bus and climb the stairs to the top deck. From my front seat up top, London by night would unfold before my dazzled eyes: Piccadilly Circus, Hyde Park Corner, South Kensington, the Brompton Cemetary, the FFC (Fulham Football Club) and all along the very long Fulham Road. Those were happy times. Unfortunately, Maya died young of lung cancer in 2011, just after selling her house on Munster Road for nearly one million pounds. Her Polish parents, after emigrating to England in the early 1950s, had scraped their money together and purchased that house for a thousand pounds.

Over a decade later, I still visit that area because I have happy memories of the place (mingled with sad memories because Maya is no longer around.) If you walk or take the bus to the very end of Fulham Road and head towards Putney Bridge, there’s a beautiful sprawling park called Bishop’s Park. It has large old trees, a beautiful church called All Saints’ Church, and a lovely rose garden. Running alongside the River Thames is a riverside walk that I did often on Sundays. I loved it there.

Here’s Gail’s located at number 341 Fulham Road. I had porridge served with date molasses and a “flat white” coffee. Yummy-yum!

Now, if you can believe it, there’s an even yummier place further down the road, much further, you’ll need to jump on the bus to get there. Located at 640 Fulham Road, it’s called LOCAL HERO.

I had this memorable breakfast which I’m going to re-create this weekend: smoked salmon and smashed avocado on lightly toasted Danish rye and topped with rocket (arugula), sun-dried tomatoes, lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil (not sure what the seeds were.) All of the ingredients are high quality, and with two cups of “flat white” coffee, the meal was divine.


It’s a small local place, and the best reason to go there is because it’s INDEPENDENT and not part of a chain. Sit inside, out front, or out back where there’s a really nice terrace.

In Paris, you just don’t find this sort of inventive food, or at least, I’ve never seen it.

Across the road is an independent bookshop called Nomad Books.



Here’s a charming and very English B&B in the Fulham area, located just down the road from where I lived, and near the river:


Chelsea Bridge and the Battersea Power Station

On a hot Tuesday evening, I walked from Sloane Square down Chelsea Bridge Road to the south bank of the River Thames. Here are photos of Chelsea Bridge taken at precisely 7:10 pm. A cool breeze was blowing, it was rush hour, and cyclists and joggers were barrelling past me.

Does anyone recognize these factory chimneys?

Pink Floyd’s iconic album cover, Animals, released in 1977, featured London’s Battersea Power Station. Here’s the story –

Photographs for the cover of Pink Floyd’s Animals album were taken in early December 1976. For the photo shoot, an inflatable pink pig, made by the Zeppelin company, was tethered to one of the southern chimneys. However the pig broke free of its moorings and rose into the flight path of London Heathrow Airport to the astonishment of pilots in approaching planes. The runaway pig was tracked by police helicopters before coming to ground in Kent. Whether the pig escaped, or was released on purpose to increase publicity, is not known. Animals was officially launched at an event at Battersea Power Station in January 1977.

So what has become of the Power Station? That’s one of the reasons I went to have a look. After languishing for over three decades and eventually falling into ruin, it passed through the hands of half a dozen bidders and buyers with redevelopment plans, all of them ambitious, expensive and then abandoned. Today it is owned by a consortium of Malaysian investors who plan to develop the site to include 250 residential units, bars, restaurants, office space, shops and entertainment spaces.

Situated on the south bank of the River Thames, in Nine Elms, Battersea, an inner-city district of South West London, the building comprises Battersea A Power Station, built in the 1930s, and Battersea B Power Station, in the 1950s. They were built to a near-identical design, providing the four-chimney structure. The station is one of the world’s largest brick buildings and notable for its original, lavish Art Deco interior fittings and decor. The structure remained largely unused for more than 30 years after its closure; in 2008 its condition was described as “very bad” by English Heritage which included it in its Heritage at Risk register.

Photo by David Samuel
Photo by Gaetan Lee

MORE TO COME! Click on LONDON up top.

leafy London, heatwave

Arriving in London from Paris, the visitor will notice how leafy and verdant the city is. Bloomsbury is my favorite district, a leafy enclave in the middle of the city and only a 20-minute walk from St. Pancras train station. For the first four days, from Saturday to the following Tuesday, there was an unexpected heatwave.

On the Sunday I met my childhood friends, Kathy and Claire (and Claire’s husband), at The Foundling Museum, the UK’s first children’s charity and London’s first home for abandoned children established in 1739.

Afterwards, we headed to Lamb’s Conduit Street, in the heart of Bloomsbury, to a pub called The Lamb.

Lamb’s Conduit Street – Such a lovely, leafy street lined with interesting shops and eating and drinking places. Just a few streets over, at 48 Doughty Street, is the Charles Dickens museum. Worth a visit. Just down from Charles Dicken’s house, at 11A Northington Street, is a posh pub called The Lady Ottoline. The upstairs restaurant serves modern British cuisine.

Later, on that warm late-summer Sunday evening, me and my camera wandered the streets of Bloomsbury near my lodgings.

See these iron stumps on the wall? They were once wrought iron railings, but during World War II they were cut down to help the war effort (recycled iron for munitions.) All over Britain the stumps of removed railings can still be seen.
View from my bedroom window.