23 June 2011

213. My world

 My world, i.e. my place, my environment, my identity, who I am, where I live, my specific reality... To define my world quite specifically is my aim here to-day in this post.

It feels awkward. How do I start? Perhaps by describing my immediate environment. A HP computer set on a do-it-yourself blue desk, next to an old kitchen cupboard inherited from my father, where a home-made earthenware vinegar pot stands with a bottle of oil, a mustard jar and a homemade garlic container. This is situated just under the inside eaves of a loft, above a derelict old house built some 2 or 3 centuries ago. Swallows occupy the bottom part of this house where a not so famous rebel Christian reverend was born in 1860. I was born next door in 1944. Outside, complete silence. The village has 3 streets and the traffic is mainly of large farming machinery going past full blast at times.

I am French and I live in France. The point is that I spent many years of my life in various English speaking countries, mainly in the South Pacific, and therefore my French identity can appear somewhat blurred to some. But I was indeed brought up as a French kid in the 1950's in a well-to-do family of farmers, forresters and industry owners. My deep sitted manners come from that upbringing.

The basic essence of being French is:
1. to be an aesthete, i.e. a person who has a highly developed appreciation of beauty (Collins dictionary) and
2. an epicurean, i.e. a person devoted to sensual pleasures as per the philosophy of Epicurus.

It means in real life that I was taught to do nothing without making it look beautiful, e.g. setting the table with care and taste, wrapping my school books with care and taste, looking after myself and my belongings with care and taste. It means also that taking pleasure in eating or resting or listening to music or admiring a landscape was far from frowned upon but actually encouraged. Making the best of a pleasurable moment was not frowned upon. I came across puritanic ways much later in my twenties in foreign lands.

Why do I write all this actually?

Because I've had 3 different sets of visitors recently and 2 of them have been downright painful. In my 50 square meter loft I have my bed at one end and 2 bunk beds at the other end. When I have visitors we share the middle part with a table and kitchen facilities as well as the bathroom at my end of the loft. It is always hard to share one's abode with strangers. In one case it was really nice. In the two other instances it was unpleasant, awful and quite disturbing.

Strangely the nice instance was with a young woman who could have been my own daughter, not a native English speaker and not knowing much French but of a continental European nationality. We spent a month together in harmony, respecting each other's ways and curious of each other's national identities and cultures.

The two painful instances came from people of my own generation... of Anglo-saxon background. I am not writing this post to throw fuel on the ancient hatred between the French and the... Saxons! I just want to explain how I felt so very insulted by their lack of curiosity of my ways, in my own country in my own house. How can I be more precise without sounding nasty?

In my teens I used to spend my summer school holidays in the family of my German or English penfriend. It went without saying that in somebody else's house I was to behave with respect and humility. I had to learn anew how to behave at the table, ask about kitchen manners and so on. I would never have dreamed of taking over or demanding what I was used to. It was a great school of observation actually. When I arrived at my in-law's in Australia much later I found I had to adapt to yet another set of rules. In Australia in the 1960's other than British immigrants were not happily tolerated. The request to comply to their ways was very heavy. I did comply but it was a heavy twist on my personality and I ended up leaving the country in the end.

This experience makes me touchy to anybody entering 'my world' nowadays. I do expect anyone under my roof to be respectful of my ways and not take it for granted that I live like they do.

21 June 2011

212. FROM AMBOISE WITH LOVE

I say life is a string of Twenty Year beads!

You spend the first Twenty Years astonished and flabigasted at what happens to you. You spend the subsequent other Twenty Years reliving, remembering, re-enacting or reshuffling the first ones. Weird!

 When I was a child, in that rural part of middle France where I live at the moment, my grand-parents had the habit to take us kids 'for a drive' on Sundays. One of those memorable Sunday drives was the trip to Amboise. Alright: AMBOISE (pronounced am-bwahz). From those trips I have kept a special interest in our good king François the first (pronounced fran-swah premier).  He grew up there in the late 1400's and early 1500's and spent his first years as king in that same castle that I used to visit with my grandparents on a Sunday drive.

When I came back to France in the year 2000 I had to go and visit Amboise again... it sent me into a whirlwind of History research about king François and his family. At about the same time an old book found in an attic was given to me. It was about king François' defeat at the battle of Pavia and his years as prisoner of the king of Spain, Charles the 5th, emperor of the Holy Roman German empire. Yeah! I have since then read that book 3 times. Something was nagging me.

François grew up as a happy kid, loved dearly by his widowed mother and his elder sister Marguerite. It was at a time when the world was reshuffled, a bit like now actually. Books started being printed in numbers, other continents had just been found and the Christian religion was being reformed. The future looked promising. François became king at 19. His queen was 15. She bore 6 children before she died in her twenties. At the battle of Pavia, François was in his early thirties, he was a widower and father of a large family.

At the battle of Pavia in northern Italy he behaved as if he didn't care about losing his life. He was not killed but he was taken prisoner. And then his behaviour appears to us here in the 21st century as thoroughly un-responsible. He acted as if he thought that to be a royal prisoner at the court of  Spain was going to be a royal holiday...

We often read History as if it was a film for which we know the end. Sure, WE know what happened afterwards. But when THEY, these guys we read about, live it through, they have no idea of what comes next. However they have some knowledge of what happened before. Kings in particular have a good knowledge of the lives of their predecessors. They know their History!

So I thought: if François behaved the way he did, it is because he knew of a similar situation that happened before. I started looking back as he would have. François was born in 1494... he would have been told of what happened one century before him. In 1356 at the battle of Poitiers the French king, Jehan le Bon, was defeated and taken prisoner to London where he lived as 'guest hostage' at the court of Edward the 3rd. Ah ha!!! The defeated French king in the 1360's was treated by the English king as a royal cousin on holiday!!!! It was just a matter of getting a royal ransom from him. But otherwise he had a good time holding a court of his own, with visitors, food and entertainment. So that's it. That's most likely what François had in mind when he was defeated at Pavia. It went very differently for him, very differently.

But here I am... in the midst of a quest to know what actually happened in the 1360's at the court of Edward the 3rd in London. And of course when you start looking, you start finding!!! Another thread gets into this web of events, the fact that one of the sons of the French king, hostage in London, also lived at the court of Edward the 3rd. And this young guy is the very Duke of my cherished privince of Berry. Ah ha!!! What next?... Next is that this young duke of Berry hung around with Geoffrey Chaucer, yes, him in person.

Well, I don't know the end of the film at this stage. I'd love to take the time to really get into this research.

The château at Amboise

Frankie at Amboise in 2001
The Loire river at Amboise

13 June 2011

211. Angry and mad

  One other issue makes me mad, the way everything has taken a medical twist! You just can't say you like apples or stewed beef or whatever without someone correcting you to add it's good for your skin or your liver or some part of your medical self. I can't stand it! I simply cannot bare this narrowed vision of life.

Long before I studied anthropology at university, I had noticed that a given religious trait, when dropped as religious, is usually readapted as medical but not completely dropped at all. I'll explain.

When I lived in a kibbutz in Israel in the early 1960's, one day someone stopped me as I was reaching out for a yoghurt after I had eaten my beef stew. "Don't, you'll get a soar stomach!" was the warning. As I insisted to eat my yoghurt, I was severely warned of forthcoming medical problems. As a 'gentile' I had been raised with the habit of eating a yoghurt, or some cheese, after my meat dish and I could not see what the problem was. But then I learnt that in the Hebrew religion you cannot eat meat and milk products at the same time. It is a strong religious taboo. My kibbutz was not a religious kibbutz and its members would all have been atheists if you'd asked them. However they just could not eat a yoghurt after a meat dish. Their new explanation was that it was 'medically' unsafe.

I was young then, 19 to be exact, and it impressed me a lot. I made myself a mental rule that 'religious' slips into 'medical' when the religion fades out.

Here we go now years later the whole western world has dropped its religious believes and taboos and turned them into medical ones. It's amazing! I could have predicted it!!!

Actually when you look at it closer, in the stone ages the priest was also the doctor, I mean, the man who ruled the souls was the same one as the man who cured the bodies. The 'shaman' in many primitive societies is both the priest and the doctor. Even Jesus, when you think of it, is a healer as well as a preacher. The idea that religious belief and medical belief are separate entities is fairly new, really new...

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised then. But it makes me mad! I intensely dislike this whole medical approach to life. When you meet someone, after the usual weather chit-chat, you get the medical report, which parts of the body, which medicine, which doctor. And of course, the right diet for the right part of the body and so forth. Heeeelllpp!!!!!

7 June 2011

210. ANGER

 I'm coming out of hiding as my anger level has come to a dangerous boiling level! I spent all day yesterday wanting to bark at everything and everybody. There are a few good reasons why.

The feminist movement that started in good faith in the 1970's has slipped away on a tangent. There's no use hammering and stomping that women are equal to men. We are NOT equal to men and they are NOT equal to us. To start with, they don't have blood running down their legs for 10 days each and every month. They don't have problems with back ache bending down in their thirties carrying a baby in their bodies. They don't have pains to screaming point when giving birth. They don't have pain when making love. They just push their way in and then get up and have a smoke.

Allright I'll calm down. They are NOT equal to women and personnally I have no intention to become equal to them. Being a 'feminist' to me in the 1970's meant some hope to receive full respect, being treated as a fully fledged adult human being, as a complete person for what I am, just the way I am. Obviously this has not come to pass.

I'm angry because a man can still think he has a right on any woman's vagina. That a vagina bearer is there for his purpose, need and pleasure. That he can still, after assaulting a chamber maid, plead not guilty in court. I am refering to the highly publicised case running against the Frenchman who was head of the International Monetary Fund until recently. Maybe I should shut up just in case he was actually innocent of what has been alleged. But I can't because I heard on the radio what he said to the chamber maid he assaulted: "do you know who I am" (repeated 3 times)... as if his position of power on the political scene made any difference, as if it made a difference to the unwilling woman. And then, men are so quick to say that women are by nature venal, purchasable, corruptible. By nature. Ha ha ha ha ha!

254. END OF THIS BLOG

I started this blog in 2005 under a different name. When I deleted it at one stage its title was stolen, borrowed, hijacked by someone ...