Dolores O’Riordan from The Cranberries, dead at 46

I was crushed to learn that Dolores O’Riordan had died suddenly in London today. I loved The Cranberries, an Irish band that took off in the 1990s and sold over 40 million records. Dolores was the lead singer. The group was Ireland’s biggest musical export since U2.

Despite their monumental success, they stayed grounded and close to their roots. I loved their attachment to Ireland and its people. I loved their humanity. I loved Dolores’ voice.

Here’s one of my favorite songs, Ode To My Family; a truly beautiful song, both vocally and visually –

Oprah Winfrey and Catherine Deneuve

hermes-flagship-store

Hermès flagship store located at 24 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris

In 2005, Oprah Winfrey was a complete unknown in France. So unknown, that while in Paris on a shopping spree she was refused entry into the luxury store, Hermès. That was unfortunate (for Hermès) because Madame Winfrey had some serious cash to splash.

“We are closing,” said a staff member. “You’ll have to come back tomorrow.” It was around 6:45 pm. (In all fairness, the Hermès shop closes at 6:30 pm.)

An article in The Washington Post reported that “Hermes staff members failed to recognize Winfrey, as she was not in full glamour makeup with her TV hair.” That, actually, is incorrect. Oprah’s TV show never existed in France. The French truly did not know who she was.

But that was then, and this is now!

After Winfrey’s rousing Golden Globes speech, Le Monde newspaper heralded her (almost) as the next Joan of Arc.

I like Whoopi Goldberg’s comment best (from The View): “There’s a conversation that’s happening in this country now that says it’s dangerous for men to sexually harass women. It is no longer the norm not to tell. Women are saying to other women “How ya doing? Do you need me to back you up? We will stand with you.” It’s on a small scale, but the point is that women now know that it’s OK to have each other’s back.”

I find this encouraging and heartening.

And wouldn’t you know that in the same Le Monde newspaper a day later, a defiant article signed by one hundred prominent French women – spearheaded by Catherine Deneuve – has denounced the Me Too movement.

These women claim to be defending sexual freedom, for which “the liberty to importune is essential”.  Importune? I had to look the word up in the dictionary. And then I looked at the original French version of the letter.

« Nous défendons une liberté d’importuner, indispensable à la liberté sexuelle »

“We defend the freedom to importune, which is essential to sexual freedom”

I struggled to understand.

Importune:

  1. To make an earnest request of (someone), especially insistently or repeat.
  2. To annoy; pester; bother.
  3. To plead or urge irksomely, often persistently.

 

“We believe that the freedom to say “no” to a sexual proposition cannot exist without the freedom to bother. And we consider that one must know how to respond to this freedom to bother in ways other than by closing ourselves off in the role of the prey.”

 

But why must men ‘bother’? Why must men pester? I find this paragraph absurd, as if men cannot control themselves and are genetically programmed to bother women. And why should the onus be on women to appropriately respond to the advances/urges/pestering of men? This absolves men of all responsibility. As another collective of (authentic) French feminists pointed out: the authors of the open letter are conflating what they consider harmless flirtatious advances with abuse. They’re confusing seduction with sexual assault (a criminal offence.) This idea, in 2018, is stupefying. Where do the authors of this open letter live? In a cave?

I interpret “freedom to bother” as men relinquishing responsibility for their impulses, and doing whatever they feel like doing. Mais, non! This is all the difference between a civilized society and an uncivilized one.

The letter goes on:

“This accelerated justice already has its victims, men prevented from practicing their profession as punishment, forced to resign, etc., while the only thing they did wrong was touching a knee, trying to steal a kiss, or speaking about ‘intimate’ things at a work dinner, or sending messages with sexual connotations to a woman whose feelings were not mutual,” they write.

Forced to resign. What the hundred Frenchwomen are defending are men who decide it’s open season on certain women in the workplace. (notice how they portray the offending male as the victim.) We go to our jobs to work and earn a salary, not to fight off the unwanted attentions from male colleagues and superiors. Oh, and another thing? Our bodies are not public property. We don’t want our knees touched, our faces kissed, or ‘intimate’ things of a sexual nature said or sent to us.

Pardon my puritanism.

Women who pay for the transgressions of men. And what about women who are forced to resign? Is this of lesser importance than a man losing his job? Deneuve and her privileged posse do not address this in their letter. They do not mention that women must often pay for the transgressions of men.

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. One in three American women attests to sexual harassment on the job, in all sectors.

In a November 2017 blog post I wrote this:

Comment from Juliet in Paris – Harassment has impacted me economically (not to mention emotionally) and 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. (Four of those companies were law firms, one was a renowned international news agency.)

Some women harassed or molested in the workplace have made this baffling comment: “I didn’t want to do or say anything that might lead to him losing his job.”

KNOW THIS: that man you’re talking about? He has no compunction about you losing your job. None whatsoever.

While I had to leave, lose all my benefits, and sign on to unemployment insurance, they continued to work, utterly uncaring, unrepentant and unpunished for their actions.

Deneuve and company, your open letter is the last gasp of a patriarchal, outmoded, archaic France – of which you are part – and thank god it’s being (slowly) swept away. Welcome to the 21st century.

“A new day is on the horizon.” said Oprah.

Hallelujah.

§§§

Since my arrival in this country over two decades ago, I have noticed (and complained about) the absence of French female solidarity which in turn aids and abets the deeply entrenched sexism here.

Here’s an article in yesterday’s The Guardian entitled, Madame Deneuve, whatever happened to female solidarity in France? In it, the author writes – There are occasions when it seems French women simply don’t get the notion of sisterhood or female solidarity.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/12/catherine-deneuve-france-feminism-female-solidarity

 

Paris opera house

img_7101

One year ago my employer treated us to an evening outing. We had such a good time, I’m reposting my account a year later.

Last night, my office colleagues and I were treated to an outing (by our employer): a guided tour of the Paris opera house (Opera Garnier, not Opera Bastille) with cocktail party and dinner to follow.

We were over one hundred, but broken up into small groups. While recounting stories and legends along the way, Delphine, our tour guide, shepherded my small group around the building. For tourists, this service is available to everyone and I highly recommend it. Above is the magnificient ceiling painted by Marc Chagall in 1964.

As I sat in the plush red velvet seat, my head craned upwards to gaze at the ceiling, I  thought to myself, I cannot imagine life without art and beauty in it.

img_7100img_7123img_7130img_7134

If anyone has watched the movie, The Phantom of the Opera (I don’t know which version, there were many), this is the box that was in the film.

img_7138img_7103

Here we are touring backstage (this was the most exciting part). We were surprised to learn that the floor slopes downwards.

img_7141img_7143img_7145

In this photo below you can see the vista of the avenue de l’Opéra from the window, Delphine telling us a story, and the bust of Charles Garnier, the architect who built “Le Palais Garnier” in 1874.

img_7137img_7133

After the two-hour tour, we all trooped down the avenue de l’Opéra in the cold clear night to Drouant where flutes of champagne, hors d’oeuvres and a sit-down meal awaited us. Every year the famous literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, takes place in this Michelin 3-star dining establishment.

Restaurant recommendation: looking for a superlative meal in an elegant restaurant in the center of Paris? Drouant. The champagne, wine and food that I consumed was of the highest quality.

Below are a few of my colleagues. Only one of them is French. I really like working in an international context and environment.

img_7161img_7155img_7153img_7149img_7160

So, guess what our employer has in store for us this year? A seminar on optimism. Huh? Whose idea was that?

new law in France for eleven vaccinations

In 2018, parents in France will be legally obliged to vaccinate their children born from January 1st, 2018 onwards. In the country of Louis Pasteur, 19th-century biologist and chemist, renowned for his discoveries of vaccination and pasteurization, the move follows a similar initiative in Italy, which recently banned non-vaccinated children from attending state (public) schools.

In addition, the World Health Organization has warned of a major measles outbreak spreading across Europe (despite the availability of a safe, effective vaccine.) 

A recent survey revealed that more than three out of ten French people don’t trust vaccines, with just 52 per cent of participants saying the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks. On a personal note, years ago I had a flu vaccination and it gave me the flu. I was in bed for three days. I haven’t had a flu vaccination since.

baby

Aïe !! (that’s ‘ouch’ in French). Why can’t they use patches instead of needles?

So what, exactly, are these eleven mandatory innoculations? Up until now, only three child vaccinations have been mandatory in France: polio, tetanus and diphtheria. Today, the current government has mandated eight others: whooping cough, mumps, measles, rubella (German measles), hepatitis B, haemophilus influenzae, pneumococcus and meningitis C.

What? No chicken pox? 

I had to look up “pneumococcus”. It’s the most common cause of bloodstream infections: pneumonia, meningitis, and middle ear infections in young children.

Eleven seems like a lot to administer to a small child under two years old. Concerned parents are asking – if all these are truly necessary, then why weren’t they made mandatory before? And why now? But the most flagrant question is this: who is profiting from these new vaccinations? Why, the big pharmaceutical companies, of course! SANOFI. ROCHE. PFIZER. NOVARTIS. MERCK. The Big Five.

According to the lobby of the French pharmaceutical industry, the vaccine market has become an important growth factor for laboratories, rising from 23.03 billion euros in 2012 to 42.3 billion euros in 2016.

Asked about this new government’s decision to make 11 compulsory vaccines for children, 50% of respondents said they were hostile, and 50% were in favor. First reason given: the alleged lobbying of laboratories. Second reason? Aluminium adjuvants in vaccines and their potential toxicity.

Petitions are circulating and concerned parents are demanding more transparency from the Ministry of Health. 

 

a woman should have …

akdas 245

Here’s me blogging in a cold apartment (photo taken by K.)

Remember when someone said, a long time ago, that we were heading towards a paperless society? A society in which paper communication (written documents, mail, letters, etc.) would be replaced by electronic communication and storage?

Paperless, my foot. I’m inundated by the stuff, and have spent an entire afternoon sorting through drawers, cupboards and boxes … all overflowing with paper. Actually, I’m searching for one specific document: a family tree that my uncle, now sadly deceased, sent me 15 years ago. I need it for my memoir and cannot find it. But I’ve found dozens of other things. Here’s one of them. I’ve always liked this text. I thought I’d share it with you.

A WOMAN SHOULD HAVE…..

….one old love she can imagine going back to….
…and one who reminds her how far she has come….
….enough money within her control to move out and rent a place of her own even if she never wants to or needs to….
….something perfect to wear if the employer or date of her dreams wants to see her in an hour….
….a youth she’s content to leave behind….
….a past juicy enough that she’s looking forward to retelling it in her old age….
….a set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill, and a black lace bra….
….one friend who always makes her laugh….and one who lets her cry….
…..a good piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in her family….
….eight matching plates, wine glasses with stems, and a recipe for a meal that will make her guests feel honoured….
….a feeling of control over her destiny.

EVERY WOMAN SHOULD KNOW….

….how to fall in love without losing herself…..
…..how to quit a job, break up with a lover, and confront a friend without ruining the friendship….
….when to try harder…..and when to walk away….
…..that she can’t change the length of her calves, the width of her hips, or the nature of her parents….
….that her childhood may not have been perfect….but its over….
….what she would and wouldn’t do for love or more….
….how to live alone….even if she doesn’t like it…..
…..whom she can trust, whom she can’t, and why she shouldn’t take it personally…..
…..where to go….be it to her best friend’s kitchen table….or a charming inn in the woods….when her soul needs soothing….
….what she can and can’t accomplish in a day….a month….a year.

I wish the best for you and your life.

Best wishes for a terrific New Year.

Amsterdam – Part I

IMG_3848IMG_3882

I really want to return to Amsterdam for a long weekend. I went there in December 2014 and had a marvellous time. Here’s the post from that trip –

I found Amsterdam to be a romantic city with its canals, old-fashioned street lamps, picturesque shops and cozy coffee houses. Night fell swiftly at 4:30 pm and the decorative lamps cast a golden glow over the canals and cobbled streets. It’s a compact, walkable city, however a word of warning – beware when crossing the street! Squadrons of cyclists advance at a fast clip. I nearly got myself run over more than once.

IMG_3870IMG_3873IMG_3936IMG_3933IMG_3850

Christmas wreaths hung in windows and adorned doors. As I walked along admiring them, I thought to myself – in France, they’d be stolen overnight, along with the bicycles.

There’s a sense of virtuousness about the Dutch which I find deeply appealing. They look virtuous as they cycle energetically along (whole families sometimes, the children in a little cart attached to the bicycle or riding on the crossbar), fresh-faced and smiling, their bodies lean and fit. They also employ a no-nonsense pragmatism in their politics. A progressive city, Amsterdam has the most liberal and tolerant policies with regards to prostitution and soft drugs. Prostitution is legalized. There’s a common sense to this. By working in a controlled environment, prostitutes are protected from violence and exploitation. As for health issues, they must undergo regular medical examinations to prevent the spread of STDs. This sounds safer and saner than what one sees in Paris – male and female prostitutes lurking behind trees in the Bois de Boulogne.

As for legalized hash and marijuana, the benefits are a safer product, elimination of dealers and illicit revenue going towards criminal organizations and drug cartels.

IMG_3869IMG_3923IMG_3957IMG_3847IMG_4042

As is the custom in all northern European countries, coffee and cake (koffie en gebak) is a morning and afternoon ritual in which to enjoy almond and butter cookies, apple turnovers, gingerbread, streusel, different cakes and fruit-filled pies. Coffee shops and tea salons abound.

IMG_3900IMG_3901IMG_3898IMG_3866

My hotel (link below) was perfectly located at number 15 Keizersgracht, a long road that runs parallel to a canal and winds around the city. A 10-minute walk from the train station, the hotel has soundproofed rooms equipped with comfortable beds and a deluxe espresso machine. Small shopping streets, lined on either side with boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants are just up the road. I was charmed the whole time I was there. (If you book your train tickets well in advance, you benefit from a considerable discount.)

Don’t expect sunny weather. Although fairly mild, it’s generally overcast during the winter months and even blustery as winds gust in from the North Sea.

IMG_3862IMG_3890IMG_3860

MORE TO COME – the canal houses, more photos, and the famous Rijksmuseum.

http://www.hotelsebastians.nl/en/

a different kind of Christmas Eve

sapin chez Rana

Last night I spent Christmas Eve in the north of France (in Lille) with an Iraqi family in their beautiful new home.

Majid is the brother of my French-Iraqi friend, Kaïss. Rana is Majid’s wife. They have four children. Seeking asylum from the never-ending violence in Iraq, Majid, Rana and their kids arrived in France – from Baghdad – in October 2014. For the first few months they camped out in Kaïss’s living room. They had sold all their earthly possessions and were living out of suitcases. In 2014 Baghdad was an extremely dangerous place to be (Iraq is still an extremely dangerous place to be.) The lives of Majid and his family were in danger. A civil servant, Majid had been the victim of ISIS car bombing attempts. Another brother, Issam, was the victim of an Al-Qaeda attack a few years earlier. On a Baghdad street, he was randomly shot in the spine. Today, a paraplegic, Issam is confined to a wheelchair.

Not one single Iraqi family has been spared the violence and destruction inflicted on their country.

So Majid and Rana sought asylum in France. It required much planning and paperwork. With their children, they arrived in Paris via Istanbul. Kaïss met them at the airport, drove them to Lille and welcomed them into his small home. Eventually the four kids, not speaking a word of French, were allowed to start school. Majid and Rana took advantage of the free French lessons given by the Town Hall (in every city in France, free French lessons are offered to new arrivals.)

They eventually found themselves a teeny-tiny apartment to rent. The apartment was damp, dark, and full of mice. In the winter, the back bedroom was so damp, cold and mouldy it was declared a health risk. The kids had to move out of the back bedroom into the front room where all six of them slept. There was insufficient heating. (In Baghdad they had left behind a very nice house with a garden.) They lived in that apartment for two years while waiting for the decision from OFPRA (Office Français de Protection des Réfugiés et Apatrides) – The French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons.

Majid and Rana were summoned to the OFPRA office (based in Paris) many times for in-depth interviews. Their dossier was being studied for eligibility to be awarded the right of asylum. Due to extremely high demand, it’s a very slow process.

During this time Majid was extremely unhappy. He wanted to return to Iraq. “I don’t even want to be here,” he would say. “I want to be at home in my house with my mother and brothers and sisters up the street.” He was angry, and rightfully so. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq – when the Bush Administration decided, illegally and illegitimately, to pulverise Baghdad and remove Saddam – Majid and Kaïss lost their father. Out of the 12,125 violent civilian deaths that occurred in 2003, their father was amongst the victims.

The total Iraqi violent death toll since the U.S.-led invasion is in excess of 1.2 million. This statistic is before ISIS.

The number of Iraqis approved to resettle in the United States is shamefully low.

In the meantime and back in Lille, Rana excelled at French lessons. An engineer by profession, she was not content to follow the free French lessons at the Town Hall (overcrowded classrooms, inadequate infrastructure and non-personalized instruction). She sought and found a better language school which offers smaller classes and personalized instruction. She purchased her own textbooks, studied very hard, and today her French is near-fluent (both written and spoken.) Last night I was looking at her notes. She was explaining to me a complicated rule about French grammar.

She’s eager to find work and start earning a salary, as is Majid. (In France, while your dossier is being examined by OFPRA, you are not allowed to work.)

Six months ago the family was admitted into Lille’s social housing program, into a spanking new building located on the north-west side of the city. It’s a beautiful top-floor apartment spread over two floors with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a large outdoor terrace overlooking the rooftops of that part of the city. One of the first things they bought was a barbecue for grilling lamb chops and kibbeh – minced meat ground with bulghur wheat and spices. Iraqis love all kinds of grilled meat (and fish).

The apartment gleams, and Rana has decorated it with tasteful furnishings and knick-knacks.

So last night we sat down to platters of rice, bulghur, roasted chicken, a chick pea and lamb dish, vegetables, salad, and a refreshing yogurt drink with mint in it.

table two Rana

me on the right, Rana in the middle, Kaiss’s wife on the left

dinner Rana

Majid foreground, his older brother Kaiss background

After dinner, we sat on the sofas drinking hot sugared tea served in small glasses. I admired the twinkling tree in the corner and said “It’s not often that you see a Christmas tree in a Muslim home. It’s nice.” Kaïss and his brother looked at one another and said, “Growing up in a tightknit mixed community in central Baghdad, we always shared some of the customs of the Christian Iraqis. They put up a tree, so we put up a tree.”

(Kaïss, Majid and Rana are Kurdish Iraqis.)

As I sat there sipping my tea I thought to myself, These brave resistant people – who have been through so much danger, heartache and horror – and it’s been relentless, just one conflict following the other – I wish for them, and all those like them, nothing but peace, a new life, a new hope and prosperity for the New Year (and all the future years to come) and a healing of their shattered, broken country.

P.S. Majid still hopes to one day return to his country and the family he left behind.