22 November 2015

237. Wisdom

A whole year now since I posted anything on this blog!

Photo taken from Eilat in Israel in 1963. Aqaba in Jordan can be seen in the distance.

I am currently reading The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence in an attempt to view the background of the current hatred between East and West following the attacks on Paris lately. I borrowed the French version of the book written by Lawrence at the end of the First World War. It may sound odd but I am indeed finding the roots of the problem there.

In any case I greatly enjoy reading this French translation by Eric Chedaille, éditions Phébus 2009. It is fluid and elegant. I am sure that Lawrence would have liked it too!  The English original edition for the translation was as follows:

 T. E. Lawrence. 
Seven Pillars of Wisdom
The complete 1922 "Oxford" text
First published for general circulation by J. and N. Wilson
Fordingbridge, Hampshire, 2004
Project-managed by Book Production Consultants PLC, Cambridge

I find Lawrence full of philosophy and humor.  It also brings me back to my own time in the Middle East when I was 19 and 20. Talking about his ability to speak Arabic, Lawrence writes:

Book IV chapter XLIII

"Au cours de cette longue expédition, lui (Mohammed) et le chérif Nasir ne ménageraient pas leurs efforts pour améliorer mon arabe, me donnant tour à tour des leçons, l'un m'enseignant le parler coloré du désert, l'autre la langue classique de Médine. Parti d'une pratique hésitante des dialectes tribaux du moyen Euphrate (forme non impure), mon arabe était devenu difficilement localisable, un salmigondis, parlé sans peine, qui associait patois du Hedjaz et lyrisme des tribus du Nord, le tout émaillé de tournures littéraires syriennes et truffé d'expressions et vocables familiers empruntés au parler limpide du Nedjed. Cette aisance dans l'expression cachait une absence totale de grammaire qui faisait de mon propos une perpétuelle aventure pour ceux qui l'écoutaient. Les nouveaux venus me supposaient originaire de quelque région inconnue, dépotoir indifférencié des catégories grammaticales, des modes, temps, genres, nombres et cas de l'arabe."

°   °   °   °   °   °   °

I don't know if what I am going to write here proceeds from any wisdom, we'll see. I will tell of my own experience in the Middle East in the years 1963-66 when I was 19 and 20, memories that forbid me to hate Arabs. Or Jews.

I recall being welcome once under their tent in the hills of Galilee by a family of bedouins as if I had been sent by God himself. Sitting there with the smell of green coffee beans being roasted in a rusty frying pan over an open fire I enjoyed their hospitality with sheer wonder. In tiny cups I was offered this strong beverage with a taste of cardamon. Everyone laughed when having put my empty cup down the Arab hostess poured some more in it. I was explained in half arabic half hebrew that by putting your cup down you meant you wanted some more! To this day the smell or taste of cardamon recalls this happy moment in a bedouin's tent.

My first experience of the desert was a trip on board a big and heavy lorry traveling from Beer-Sheva to Eilat across the Neguev through the night, a warm night full of bright stars in an atmosphere of invisible people. The desert is full of invisible people, friends or foes, you don't know!

I lived and worked in a kibbutz, i.e. a collective farm, for a whole year. During the winter we worked under a shed sorting and packing flower bulbs. We were three at the job, an English guy, me and an Arab from the village across the road. The 'boss' was one of the kibbutz founders who had fled Austria in his teens during the second world war. We were all very good friends and worked well together.

Six months later I became the girlfriend of my Arab colleague. When I left the kibbutz to go and work in Eilat, the then pioneer little town facing Aqaba on the Red Sea, my Arab friend took the risk to travel across the desert to come and see me. As an Arab he needed a pass to travel as far as Beer-Sheba. After that he traveled by bus at his own risk. He could speak both Hebrew and Arabic and did not look any different. He made it there and back. Although later, not being jewish or arabic, I chose to leave the country and marry an Australian citizen, I still keep a warm memory of the way his family had welcome me in his village.

Now in 2015, half a century later, wisdom tells me at the back of my brain that these were beautiful people. We have walked a slow path of horrendous hatred, us in the West and them in the Middle East. Why? The reasons may be political or economical. But plain misunderstanding is more likely to be the cause.

As Thomas Edward Lawrence puts it, in the French translation I am reading:

book II chapter XXVI page 194

"Les Wahhabites, hérétiques musulmans fanatiques, avaient imposé leurs règles strictes à la paisible et civilisée al-Qasim. Dans cette ville, on ne pratiquait guère l'hospitalité du café, on priait et on jeûnait beaucoup; pas de tabac, pas de badinage avec les femmes, pas de vêtements de soie, d'ornements, de cordon d'or ou d'argent à son keffieh. Tout n'y était que piété ou puritanisme. Les hommes d'al-Qasim, des marchands qui alliaient goût de la vie et expérience du monde, trouvaient cela ennuyeux; leurs fils, moins patients, s'en allaient courir la fortune et les plaisirs."

26 December 2014


This is the injury I received last June when a German sheperd (not German and not a sheperd) bit me hard on my left ankle and a second time higher behind the knee. 

I was cycling to get back home at about 7.30pm in full daylight in June through the town of Argenton-sur-Creuse, France, to get to St Civran some 20km away. To avoid a heavy traffic road at that time of the day, I took a shortcut I knew through a residential area with little traffic. Wrong choice! To avoid cars I went through DOGS, each bungalow of that area inhabited by 3 dogs each, or just about.

At one stage after cycling some 50 meters past a long hedge, I suddenly saw the head of that dog biting hard into my flesh. I screamed, kicked him in the face, kept on going full speed as I felt in danger if I fell. The dog bit me a second time higher on my left leg and then disappeared. I was wearing long pants so that the first bite was direct into my flesh at ankle level but into the fabric of my pants for the second bite. I screamed at the top of my voice twice but I did not see anybody around. At this time of day people must have been in their houses having dinner. I did not see a soul about and kept cycling like mad, scared as I was that the dog was folowing me.

Checking my left leg now and then I saw that it was red with blood but that the blood was quickly coagulating, so I kept going.

13 January 2014

235. Transparency, honesty, privacy

Shrugging my shoulders at what I disapprove may not be the right attitude. Maybe I should keep writing here what I have in mind. For what purpose? I don't know. For the odd reader like me silently disagreeing.

Those three words in the title - transparency, honesty and privacy - are three different entities as three separate concepts. Yet in the air nowadays they tend to be used one for the other.

Privacy is now seen as a need for hiding, i.e. not hiding away from perving eyes and pathological curiosity, but hiding because you have something bad or evil to steal away from normal curiosity. The wrong doer has changed sides. The bad guy now is the one who wants to hide his private life, his private parts, his private family, his private time and space. Peevish perving curiosity is regarded as normal and healthy...

...because you have to be transparent to be honest. If you have something to hide you must be doing something wrong. It reminds me of something right now. As a young woman in Australia I remember being astonished at the explanation given to me as to why there was no lock on the inside of the toilet in the house. It was to prevent guys in there to masturbate as the door could be opened on them without warning. How clever! how wicked! No privacy thus ensures your honesty.

Transparent. This word started being used to mean the quality of an honest government. If the dealings between our various politicians were not transparent it meant they must be corrupt. Transparency is the opposite of corruption. Every dealing has to be shown in full light as if you could see through it. Again with the same idea that the good guy is the one who wants to see. But... sorry for being naive, but how do you conduct any kind of diplomacy or any war or any serious business for that matter without some amount of privacy?

The word honesty now appears to be meaning the see-through attitude of someone who has 'nothing to hide' and therefore does not need privacy. In the dictionary, however, it still means lack of deceit, a straightforward conduct, integrity, truthfulness and above all: freedom from deceit or fraud. It is linked to a code of religious conduct and thrives within a community showing trust all around.

Now TRUST is another story. But I won't go on!


12 January 2014


When the news came out in the media that the National Security Agency of the USA had been (and probably still is) tracking and spying on everyone of us in Europe, I was happily exchanging thoughts, facts and figures, and photos on FaceBook. When I realized that our European heads of States and ministers were spied on thoroughly as if they were the most dangerous enemies of the American people, I felt sick. As if I had been stabbed in the stomach.

The reaction of a lot of people was to play cool: "Come on, be realistic, spying is a sport, all nations do it"... No, no, not that type of 'spying'. Two things came to my mind, one, the famous book by G. Orwell, and two, a film I had seen in Germany of the way general surveillance was used on the people in East Germany during the communist regime there, called 'The life of others'.

On internet you get used to be tracked. I didn't like it at the beginning when I had to state everything all the time. But recently I started refusing to cooperate, for instance, when FaceBook kept asking me where I was working. As I was not filling in the information in my profile, they kept asking if I was, say, in the Navy like so-and-so of my friends. LOL. I'd be asked to tick their suggestion in a very heavy handed manner. What for? Why on earth does FB want to know where I work???!!!

But that is nothing. A couple of days ago as I was checking what was written on internet under my name, I found this joker having 'analyzed' my French blog and suggested that it may be connected with Hungary... ah ha! the French connection... ha ha ha! the clue was that my IP number was close to several Hungarian ones starting with 71... or 74... The guy doing that was definitely an amateur spy very much in the style of 'collaborators' here in France during the war.

I am positive. We should not let this pass as realistic run of the mill spying. What has been done is general surveillance just as it is done in a communist country. In the name of what? Safety, security, ...freedom???? It looks more like paranoia in a grand scale. Why is America so very scared? And armed to the teeth?

I am French with a dual cultural background. Americans are (were?) friends to me. I am in the habit of trusting my friends normally. But when they track, spy and operate a detailed surveillance as it has been reported, I call it a breach and I withdraw my trust.

10 January 2014

233. New Year 2014

To anyone reading this blog, friend or foe, I have to say thank you. Even though I haven't come up with new posts since my return to France from Ireland there are still people coming here to read my lines. Thanks.

It is strange how a certain way of life shuts you up. Nowadays I just shrug my shoulders and shut up being totally marginal and feeling completely unwelcome, unwanted and useless.

In the English customary habit I am going to write a newsletter of the main characteristics of my past year. The French don't do that. Family news remain more private perhaps and the Christmas mandatory correspondence does not happen. So here comes my 2013 newsletter.

In June a young woman Helper from Japan came to stay with me. She was very friendly and sweet and spoke enough French to converse. She was eager to help me in my garden in Chazelet but as she had no notion of gardening at all, I realized I would not be able to manage that garden for the year anyway. In a garden, there are definite things to do at a given time and if you don't do it in time you miss on it for that year! So I gave Chazelet up much to my despair... and to my garden neighbour's despair too so that she started planning and suggesting out loud what I should do in my own patch. That angered me further so that I shouted at her to mind her own 'onions' as the French expression goes. So that... we are not on talking terms any more!

What else has happened? My own retirement pension being very low... having spent most of my life looking for a job... I used to receive a basic extra pension from the State. But as you must reside in France to get it, it stopped in May because I was in Ireland... where I had gone to hopefully find a paid job, among other reasons. On my return to France I claimed the pension again but to this day to no avail. I have been sent several letters asking for proof of this or that as if I was a cheating slop... Getting depressed being of no use I decided not to open my mail any longer. Tending my grassy patch around my house in St Civran kept me busy anyway.

At the end of June a young Chinese woman from Taiwan arrived at my place as a Helper. Luckily she could speak English to me and Japanese to Ayumi and I could speak French to Ayumi and English to her. My intention and efforts to learn Chinese back in the 1990s never came to anything practical. Soon however I found I simply could not feed the two girls. I fell sick. They helped feeding me. And then they left.

In the hot and dry summer months I had my grand-daughter stay with me on and off. I love that. And then an Australian woman Helper came to stay a week and taught her to swim in a nearby lake. And then I drove her to her next Host in a haunted castle!

By the end of September I was getting fidgety and at a loss for new ideas of what to do with myself. I ended up staying at my son's in the prefecture city of my district. Staying in a properly heated apartment and eating regular meals was great. Talking to my son, a blessing. I also spent time walking around in town taking photos that I uploaded on my flickr photo account. However I realized that I had aged and felt tired when my grand-daughter and her half-brother came to stay. Screaming and fighting kids are not my cup of tea these days...

Now the new year has arrived and I have moved back to my house in St Civran. I have plans. Sure. And dreams, of course. But it seems that whatever I try to do is always doomed!... Let's see what 2014 has in stock for me!!!

Bonne Année 2014 anyway.