18 July 2013

231. The pillars of society


Yesterday (7 May) as I was writing a comment under someone's article posted on FaceBook, I had a strange idea, namely that society had pillars and that if you destroy these pillars, society falls down on your head!

The image that came to my mind was that of the Parthenon, the old temple of ancient Greece standing on the hill there in Athens. The pillars sustain the roof. There are pillars all around. Some pillars are more important than others to hold the roof. The pillars in the 4 corners are definitely the most important ones.

I don't know if these thoughts hold much truth in architecture and engineering laws but they are a metaphor for something I see happening in our society.

I visualized the slack attitude towards the holding of a balanced budget proceeding from the same way of thinking as the 'tolerance' for homosexuality... yes, it needs an explanation, wait, I'm trying.



When you are a child you learn slowly all the rules of the society you have been born in. It starts with small things like "don't pick your nose", "don't poke your finger at somebody", "close your mouth when you eat", "say hello to greet someone"... do's and don'ts for the peaceful sharing of life with others in society. Then you get the heavy stuff. "You can't buy that dress before you've saved enough money", "don't kiss your boyfriend in public", "don't use the name of God in vain", "replace what you've borrowed", "give that book back to your friend"...etc. You have to account as well for the unsaid, unspeakable rules which usually are the strongest of all. "You can't marry your father or your brother", "you can't play silly games with your best friend", "you can't steal", "you can't kill"... and other such like commandements.

Pillars... these commandements are pillars that form a ring around members of the same community to support some kind of roof under which we can shelter and grow. When this ring of pillars is respected by the great majority of members, you have a stable society. But rules are always challenged sooner or later in History. In our 'western' society the Second World War acted as a major earthquake, destroying or provoking those pillars to crack. I saw it happen throughout my life.



I'll now get back to the idea that the slack attitude towards the holding of a balanced budget proceeds from the same way of thinking as the 'tolerance' for homosexuality.

In the mad borrowing of funds without limitation or lack of discipline to pay them back, one major pillar has been cracked and even perhaps destroyed.

In the 'tolerance' of homosexual practice, another major pillar has been cracked and even perhaps destroyed.

I put tolerance in inverted comas because the definition of this word has grown to mean 'laisser-faire', i.e. a slack attitude very similar to that used for an unbalanced budget. I am not tolerant in that sense.


NB: This post was written on 8 May while I was still in Ireland. It is unfinished.

31 May 2013

My photos of IRELAND

Click here to see My photos of Ireland 2013

The photos I took during my 4 months stay in Ireland, from January to May 2013, can be seen in my flickr photo account in the set named 'IRELAND'  at the following web address:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/frankieduberry

9 May 2013

230. THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF EUROPE

I recently jumped on a FaceBook advertisement for the European Federalist Party...

How can I explain this hunger and thirst for such a thing to English speaking people who have no idea of what the European Union is about. They think it is a club, a kind of old boys get-together, to talk about budget and things.

How can I convey the urgency I am feeling about implementing a true Federation among the various States stuck loosely together in this Union since World War 2.

How can I describe this long life waiting for a definite step to unite countries like Germany and France, Poland, Italy, Sweden, Greece, Finland, Portugal, and all the others.

How should I write in a silly blog such geo-political expectancy coming from an ordinary grandmother doing her garden and baking cakes for her grandkids.

Don't know...

I'll start recapping on what I have already written on the subject.

In 2005 i.e. eight years ago, here's what I wrote on this blog but deleted since:


"On 6 June 1944 I was seventy three days old, two months and a bit.  I don’t remember anything about those days and yet, they pervade my whole life. 
The rural village in the middle of France where I came to life was under occupation.  Military occupation by Germany, a neighbour country.  Why?  Who knows.

What I know of it, is what I heard people say, what my parents and grand-parents mentioned in passing, and what I read, as if I hadn’t been there.  My own memory has not left anything printed for me to analyse later.  And yet, it feels as if I have a larger memory of it.  Probably what they call: collective memory, or, collective sub-conscience.


Three days after the landing of the Anglo-American armada in Normandy, German convoys were travelling in great numbers from the south of the country to the rescue of their troops in the north, using side roads to avoid bombings on the main highways.  Coming to the small provincial town near my native village, one group of German soldiers started behaving funny.  They stopped at the top of a street, entered each and every house and machine gunned everybody. 
As a school kid, every day,  I walked passed a monument with the names of those murdered on 9 June 1944.  The baker nearby was one eyed and was said to have survived the slaughter.  No one ever talked about it.  But it was a loud silence.
It took fifty or sixty years to come up in press.  The town apparently had been saved by the courage and sang-froid of a refugee from Alsace who being bilingual talked the Germans into an alternative action.



It took a whole year of fighting.  As a baby I didn’t know that.  Nowadays when I walk around the streets of Paris and other towns and cities, I find that year 1944 is mentioned on many walls in many streets on plaques like: “Here so-and-so aged twenty odd was killed fighting for the freedom of France”.  We all walk past them and pay no attention. 

After the long fighting the US army settled down in various places building complete towns.  That’s where I start to remember. 

When I was 10, the neighbours on one side and across the road from my place were American GI families.  I played with their kids of my own age talking ‘American’, and using their outlandish toys.  I recall one particular toy that I would have given my horse and my kingdom for.  It was a tricycle with 3 big wheels and a step between the back wheels for a ‘passenger’ to stand on.  And with this came a flat low trailer that you could hook on to carry pebbles and what not.  I never ceased to desire having such a toy.  So much so that many years later, let’s say twenty six, when I arrived as a post-graduate student in Michigan with my own youngster aged 3, the first thing I did was to get him one of those outlandish toy… You still can’t find them in France to-day and I am very worried about my grand-daughter not being able to play with one of those. 

The Chateauroux US air force base was the biggest in Europe, I’ve heard.  It gave us, the local natives, a sense of modernity as huge aeroplanes made a big bang over our houses and sometimes broke windows.  It was this new capacity of humans to travel faster than sound and it was happening here.

But even though we were allowed to ‘play with the Americans’, there was one thing my parents really frowned upon: their habit to ‘gaspiller’, waste, throw away anything all the time.  And the lack of discipline applied on their kids.  At first I was allowed to invite my little American friends from across the road.  They did all sorts of things we weren’t allowed like climb up the trees, throw arrows at tree trunks, use the garden tap to wet their faces or feet, walking bare foot, and more.  So as time went I was only allowed to go and play in their houses and I recall eating funny things and playing base ball with a funny big glove and a bat.  None of these experiences were ever mentioned back home at the dinner table.  We just had a good time and the American lady across the road was reported to be very nice.  Until one day when we fell all clothed in their rubber swimming pool and came back home soaked.  That was the end of my first hand experience with America.


The French 60 year olds and over voted ‘yes’ to the recent referendum on the European constitution.  The question was: do you approve of the treaty establishing the EU constitution.  And the 60 year olds said ‘yes’.  The newer generations, especially the brand new generation, said ‘no’.  Mm!  Are the old hats more adventurous then???

I’m 61, I voted ‘yes’ and speaking for myself I’ll try to figure out why. 



At the age of 10, in 1954, I knew a lot about the first world war.  My grandpa had been reported killed in action at a famous battle in Verdun, buried by a bombing.  But his mates had dug him out and taken him to the wrong infirmary and hospital so that he did turn up alive at the village one day for a convalescing holiday.  Once a year in the big family house on the farm my grandpa reunited with his old fighting mates and their then Lieutenant, turned General Maurice Carpentier since.  They told long tales about surviving horrid situations on the battle field.  My grandma knew the stories by heart, so she used to escape to the kitchen and leave the men in the dining room with a good coffee and liqueur. 

Sometimes I’d sit there with the men, pretending to be the wallpaper.  I knew about certain times called truce when the French soldiers and the German ones used to come near one another and exchange cigarettes or chocolate or bread.  They also passed letters through ‘the line’… I remember that word: ‘the line’, meaning the day-to-day border between France and Germany shifting as they fought for it on a daily basis.  They passed letters of people writing to their relatives living on the other side of ‘the line’.  Sometimes ‘the line’ was in the middle of a village, so you had to take great risks to get a letter sent to the other side of the village.  I grew up with these stories.  And later at school I learnt that 2 millions French young men gave their lives during that war, 1.6 million dead and buried, and the rest maimed for life.  My grandpa was happy to have survived with a piece of shrapnel in his liver for which he used to take medicine regularly.  He never complained about anything though.



The second world war, the one I was born in, was hardly mentioned but was ever present in everyone’s mind.  Grown ups often talked about the ‘debacle’ and about refugees.  A number of refugees had been hiding in the village.  And many years later my grandpa told me about a cache of weapons that he had held in a barn.  He hadn’t told his own kids about it obviously because my aunt the other day was terribly surprised when I said, as she was mentioning the barn: ‘you mean the one grandpa hid the weapons?’.  She looked at me strangely and I had to explain. 



In 1957, I was 13 and had already some working knowledge of the German language.  My parents decided to take us, my brother and me, to visit the place where grandpa had fought the war.  We travelled east in the black citroen and made it further as far as Switzerland and the black forest in Germany.  I was the official interpreter… especially when we met a German grandma holidaying with her grand-daughters of about the same age as me.  I remember very badly wanting to make ‘truce’ with them, exchange chocolate, letters, whatever.  No more of this fighting between us, please.  It seems the German grandmother had the same craving, as it was soon established that 1) we would correspond regularly 2) we would visit each other and 2 girls, me and Christiana, would exchange visits on the next holidays.   And so we did.  And so I learnt German with renewed efforts at school until the next holiday when I travelled all by myself to a place near Frankfurt and spent over a month in a German family.  That went on for a number of years.  My teenage years in the summers of the 50s and early 60s, I spent in Germany.


To me the making of Europe as a one and undivided entity uniting France and Germany and other neighbouring nations was sheer survival.  An English lady settled in France asked me recently, as she had seen on TV the French and German heads of state embracing fondly: ‘why is that France and Germany are such good friends?’… I heard myself reply: ‘Because if we aren’t best friends, we are best enemies’.


I’m finishing reading a book written by Jeremy Rifkin, called « The European Dream », published last year in America.  The three main sections are: New Lessons from the Old World, The Making of the Modern Age, and The Coming Global Era.  It is very informative about the American ways, mentality and politics.  It gave me an insight on how the USA view Europe… and this new creature called the European Union (EU). 

But it feels very remote from my feelings about it.

Sure, I voted ‘yes’ to the referendum asking us, the French, to ratify the so-called EU constitution, but my heart wasn’t in it.  So, for my own sake, I’d like to try and figure out what this European dream is for me.  My thoughts may or may not be ‘representative’, I don’t know.

First, I wouldn’t call it a ‘dream’, but a ‘vision’.  It is more visionary than wishing.  It isn’t childlike images about the future, but deadly serious reckoning. 

It started from a wild and loud cry of ‘no’ to any more wars between the German states and its neighbours.  I have heard other people of my generation say the same thing.  Last September I actually visited Robert Schuman’s house, now turned into a museum, near Metz in the east of France.  It was very clear that straight at the end of the war this was the very reason for all of his political decisions.  This guy was totally bilingual French and German.   His vision was for a Union of the European nations so that a future war between them would become obsolete.

As a teenager in the early 1960s, what then did I expect and long for?  …integration, yes, volunteer integration of the youths of those 4 or 6 nations called to pool their resources.  I expected physical mixing up of German, Italian and French kids, in all sorts of activities, going to school together, learning one another’s tongues, and sharing boyfriends.  I wanted to go to a ‘European’ school as a boarder in Luxembourg where subject matters were taught one day in French, and another day in German.  I expected to meet German and Italian kids in my school.  I hoped films on television would be sometimes in German, sometimes in Italian.  As I grew up and experienced life in Germany, I even expected goods from various European nations to appear en masse in the shops.  One article I really appreciated was the goose duvet covers that you couldn’t find in France…  In short I really and badly expected a quick and vast integration.



Nothing of the like happened.  Continental Europe remained locked tight, each nation within its own borders with its old habits.  Funny really.  And then I left.  When I was 19, after I had passed my matric exams, I took my (German) rucksack and embarked on a long trip.  My plan was to travel the world and then come back to go to university, one day perhaps.  I ended up living a very placid married life in the federal capital of Australia, with very remote connections indeed to the rest of the world.  As time went, and as I got older, I started getting fidgety thinking ‘they’ were building Europe out there without me.  I bucked and eventually came back to Europe, France, when I was 30 in 1974.  To my surprise ‘they’ hadn’t built Europe much at all.  People still said ‘abroad’ when they went to Italy or Belgium.  There was even less integration in schools or universities, and near to no mixed couples at all.  Instead there was a very numerous population of immigrants from other continents, and they were integrating.  

Eventually I returned to the other side of the world.  My vision of Europe hadn’t made any impact at all, I must have been too different.  I made a point to vote ‘yes’ to the treaty of Maastricht, thinking that was coming closer by a notch to my own vision of a united Europe with one single currency, but people in the streets still go abroad to Belgium and the weather forecast stops at the Rhine river.  Sure, there are a few other European articles to buy in the shops but nationals across borders do not intermarry. 

Getting old, I lose the impetus and I’m tired to feel so terrible ‘different’ with my funny ideas of an integrated western European union.  And then what?  Before I realised what was going on, I heard ‘we’ were 25… and a middle eastern country was coming in.  What’s this?  Who did that?  What?  When?  How?  The sense of having been flowed, badly had, overcame me. 

And then the cheek to ask if it was all right to ratify the constitution! 

I voted ‘yes’ on a rationale, out of faithfulness to my old ideas.  But, quite frankly, I am glad the majority of French voters said ‘no’.  I really don’t think there’s a point in putting this referendum to the French again in the hope that they might change their minds.  One thing, I will vote ‘no’ the second time around, for certain.

Something else.  During the campaign for the referendum I heard in total amazement that the authorities (say the political class and the media) were ‘surprised’ at the fact that copies of the so-called constitution got sold out in bookshops… They were ‘surprised’ that people at large took an interest in what they were going to vote for.  ‘Surprised’ that people wanted to know what sort of laws they were going to be ruled by.



For one, people didn’t turn up to vote in great numbers at previous EU elections because the gap is too big between the technocrats and grass roots.  Not because they don’t care.  I didn’t go and vote to elect my Member of European Parliament (MEP) last time around.  It would have been ludicrous.  Ridiculous.  I don’t know them, do they know me?

Two, when it comes to such a decision as a vote for a new constitution, who wants to sign a blank cheque?   People do care.

Three, if I get it right, the referendum was not asking the population if yes OR no, it was o.k. to ratify, but asking to say yes to big brother.  Just for show.  I’m only realising this last bit now since absolutely nothing has been prepared in case of a ‘no’.  Amazing.

I am a pro-EU, pro-liberal and pro-democrat.  My European Dream is so far removed from what is going on in the political spheres at the moment that I might just as well send a letter to Santa for next Christmas.

The whole show reminds me of a scene in “Mulan”, my favourite Walt Disney cartoon: the scene when a handsome general comes and sits under a nicely decorated field tent, explains his strategy with majesty pushing toy soldiers on a cardboard war theatre, and then is off on his white stallion with gusto… while outside the tent a mob of would-be soldiers carry on like idiots.  The gap is very wide between these two entities, the technocrat and grass roots.  We know the end of the story in the cartoon.  We don’t know with the EU…

STILL IN 2005  i.e. 8 YEARS AGO:

The British Prime Minister is now President of the EU for the next 6 months, i.e. until Christmas or so.  I was planning to send a letter to Santa about my wishes for the European Union, but then perhaps I’d better ask the British Prime Minister directly… Yes, please, Mr President of the EU, rid us of these ‘absurd regulations’, and please do not forget your promise for a ‘comprehensive impact assessment on business’ throughout EU nations, and please make it public, and also make sure the technocrats in Brussels become less interfering.

Below I quote an article published in the Guardian last May.



From Patrick Wintour, chief political Guardian correspondent, Friday May 27, 2005:

Quote: "Key British industries are in danger of being suffocated by "absurd regulations", many of them stemming from the European Union, the prime minister said yesterday.
In an unusually robust speech attacking the compensation culture, Mr Blair said regulation was undermining public sector initiative and loading massive unnecessary expenditure on the state.
His views annoyed trade union lawyers, who claimed he was attacking a myth. They said his stance was contradictory since it came from a government that was itself introducing a corporate manslaughter bill.
Mr Blair's speech in London will excite interest as a possible indicator of how he may react when the French deliver their expected rejection of the European treaty on Sunday. His remarks suggest he will be willing to tell Europe that it urgently needs to reform, and be less interfering, to win back public support.
He said: "About 50% of regulations with a significant impact on business now emanate from the EU and it often seems to want to regulate too heavily without sufficient cause.
"Europe has done itself more damage through what is perceived as unnecessary interference than all the pamphlets by Eurosceptics could ever do."
He promised that when Britain assumed the presidency of the EU in the second half of the year, he would push for a "comprehensive impact assessment" for all new EU legislation. He would also propose further simplifications of EU regulations.
Discussing the wider compensation culture in Britain he said: "We are in danger of having a wholly disproprortionate attitude to the risks we should expect to run as a normal part of life. It results in a plethora of rules, guidelines, responses to scandals of one nature or another that ends up having wholly perverse consequences."
He warned that unless something was done, Britain was in grave danger of blowing its chance as world leaders in biotechnology. Mr Blair was refering to GM foods, stem cell research and cloning.
Trade union lawyers Morrish and Co said the compensation culture was a myth.
"Fewer than one in four victims of workplace accidents make a claim for their injuries, and statistics from the last three years clearly show a downward trend." End of quote,
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005


AND IN 2009 I WROTE THIS:

In the long and painstaking making of the European Union for the last 60 years, we have now come to a dangerous point of no return. Either we go ahead and forward with it or we capsize and sink. That's how I feel. Being a passionate supporter of a federal European Union I started to worry seriously when I read the news recently.

From the EuObserver on line, I quote Elitsa Vucheva's article:

"Only a week ahead of a G20 summit in London where Europeans and Americans are to seek a common approach to exit the global financial crisis, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, whose country currently chairs the EU presidency, has described US economic recovery plans as a 'road to hell.' "

" 'We need to read the history books and the lessons of history and the biggest success of the [EU] is the refusal to go this way,' he added."

The Czech Prime Minister was talking to the MEPs (Member of European Parliament) gathered for a plenary session in Strasbourg last Wednesday, 25 March. It created a great stir. But... the Czech Prime Minister is Czech! He knows what he's talking about. Have we such a short memory? Have these offended MEPs never heard of the Czech uprisings?... uprisings in the plural, one against the Nazis in 1945 and one against the Soviets in 1968.

A reminder of 'recent' History:

Here I quote the wikipedia article on the Prague uprising in 1945:

"The Prague uprising (Czech: Pražské povstání) was an attempt by the Czech resistance to liberate the city of Prague from German occupation during World War II. Events began on May 5, 1945, in the last moments of the war in Europe. The uprising went on until May 8, 1945, ending in a ceasefire the day before the arrival of the Soviet Red Army and one day after the Victory in Europe Day."

"By the morning of May 6 (1945), over a thousand barricades were erected. Czech resistance troops had managed to seize half of the city before the Germans reacted in force. German garrisons throughout Prague were surrounded."

"With news that Americans were already in Pilsen, hopes were initially high about their tanks reaching Prague soon. But the insurgents were not aware of the demarcation line agreement between the Americans and the Soviets some 70 km west of Prague. The Czech radio appeals to the United States Army remained unanswered. Insurgents also did not know where the Red Army might be at the time and the German military pressure was increasing."

"On May 8 (1945), faced with no arriving allied help and the imminent destruction of the city, the insurgents were forced to negotiate, and accepted the German terms presented by General Rudolf Toussaint, the German Military Governor. It called for the immediate capitulation and unhindered passage of German forces, including civilians, through Prague. In return, Prague would not be destroyed. Although the compromise seemed to give the Germans most of what they wanted, the Czechs were confident that Germans would not have enough time to benefit from it."

"On May 9, 1945, the Soviet Red Army arrived in Prague. U.S. Army units had been closer to Prague than Soviets, and their reconnaissance units were already present in Prague suburbs when the uprising begun. However, the Americans did not help the Czech insurgents. Instead they overlooked the uprising, and all carnage that followed."

"American General George S. Patton was wanted and expected in Prague by everybody but the communists, yet he was not allowed to move, even when his reconnaissance units were reported a mere 20 km south of Prague."

... now we know why the Czech Prime Minister said that "The American president is not a messiah" to the MEPs in Strasbourg!

Twenty three years later, i.e. one generation later, the same again but this time against another totalitarian regime. Here I quote an article written in April last year by Jan Puhl in the Spiegel online:

"Alexander Dubcek was the hero of the so-called “Prague Spring,” the 1968 uprising crushed by the Soviets almost exactly four decades ago. Dubcek was a reformer who wanted to give communism a “human face” -- and he became a Czechoslovak icon as well as the hope of reformers in other socialist and communist countries. But Czechoslovakia’s experiment became its tragedy on the night of August 21, 1968, when the armies of fellow Warsaw Pact countries invaded. Students in Prague graffitied on a building wall, “Lenin, wake up, they’ve gone mad.” Images of desperate people standing up defenseless against the tanks drew worldwide attention and widespread sympathy for the rebellion of little Czechoslovakia against the huge Soviet Union."

And click here to see some photos of the 1968 Czech uprising. The Spiegel article goes on saying:  "And it was then, in the summer of 1968, 12 years after the Hungarian Revolution and seven years after a wall first divided Germany in two, that a powerful illusion died out -- the illusion that the communist system could gradually develop into a new kind of liberal democracy." (...)

"After the Prague Spring was crushed, Czechoslovakia fell silent. “The mental and moral devastation through the ‘normalization process’ was the worst, even worse than the invasion itself,” says Vojtech Mencl, charged with analyzing events between 1967 and 1970 by the new post-1989 democratic government. “Moral cowardice became a prerequisite for private life, politics was seen as dirty and dangerous.”
The result, he says, was that things stayed mostly calm in Prague, unlike in Budapest or Warsaw, all the way until November 1989. Czechoslovakia’s “Velvet Revolution” didn’t start until after the Berlin Wall was already open." (...)

"Czechs and Slovaks, in short, were tired of experiments. They wanted the freedom -- and especially the prosperity -- of the West as fast as possible. It was liberals like Václav Klaus, current president of the Czech Republic, who led the country in a new direction. Klaus didn’t believe in a moderate “third way,” in a synthesis of communism and capitalism as Dubcek had envisioned. “All third ways lead to the third world,” Klaus once said."

LET'S LISTEN TO THE CZECHS...  They come from afar. They know what they're talking about.
   

30 April 2013

229. The Vikings and Charlemagne

I had never made the connection. Strangely enough the advent of the Vikings and of Charlemagne had been put in separate files in my brain!

In the Wexford public library at the other end of my street where I've been spending my afternoons lately, I am learning about the History of Ireland in general and of Wexford in particular. Fascinating! Absolutely fascinating.

We learn at school in France that the Vikings came running to the northern coast of the French kingdom around the year 800. Under the impression that it was the only important thing they did I was very surprised to read that they actually raided the coast of Ireland in a much more drastic way.

In the book Exploring Ireland's Historical Towns, The History Press Ireland, 2010, Pat Dargan writes:

"The second phase in the development of Irish towns was undertaken by the Vikings, during the 9th century. At this period Ireland, in common with most of Western Europe, was subjected to a series of Viking raids. The first attack on the country took place in 798, when the monastery of Lambay Island, off the coast of Dublin, was sacked and destroyed. Thereafter, for the next 100 years or so, waves of similar attacks continued. Attracted by the wealth of the Irish monasteries, the Vikings arrived by sea, raided the monasteries and then disappeared back out to sea with their captured goods.

Towards the middle of the 9th century, the frequency of the Viking raids increased and, in about 841, the first permanent bases were set up in Annagasen in County Louth and in Dublin. These were 'longphorts', i.e. sheltered harbours that allowed the Vikings to over-winter in Ireland for the first time. Soon after, additional Viking posts were established around the Irish coast."

..."their captured goods". The Vikings were traders, international traders. That too was a surprise to me. I had been under the impression that they raided places for sport!

And then from another book, what do I read?

From Ireland's Other History by Hector McDonnell, The Lilliput Press, 2012, on page 157:

"The raiders returned each year, gradually moving inland, first to places near the sea like Derry, Bangor or Cork, then up rivers to Clonmacnoise, Devenish and Slane and finally to landlocked places like Armagh.

Ironically, much of the impetus came from Charlemagne's attempt to recreate the Roman Empire. His currency reform of 793-4 led to a big demand for gold and silver. As Islam now dominated the Middle East and the Mediterranean, Charlemagne looked north for precious metals and the Vikings became his suppliers."

..."Charlemagne looked north for precious metals and the Vikings became his suppliers". It makes sense.

Hector McDonnell goes on to say:

"They also wanted young females to sell to Islamic tribes on the Volga in exchange for Silk Route luxuries for Charlemagne's court."

This information we definitely do not learn at school. The Vikings were into trafficking humans, slaves and maidens, all over Europe. And of course ladies and gentlemen of Charlemagne's court did not ask where all the brilliant stuff came from. It did not say on the label: "stolen from Ireland"!!! And the young men and maidens thus sold into slavery could not appeal to anybody for justice. What a shamble!

228. IRISH ROADS

I had heard of Irish roads way back in the 1960s in Australia when someone with Irish background told me once in earnest that: "Irish roads were designed and made only by people coming out of a pub". This phrase used to make other people laugh but as a newcomer to Australia I did not see the joke.

In Ireland since January 2013 and driving around for four months now I start seeing the joke!

The latest motorways are fine, wide and with a flat tarmac, fairly straight, with spacious shoulders on the sides, and financed by the EU kitty for roads across Europe. The Irish country roads, however, have definitely been designed and made by people coming out of a pub, mainly... if not all. They are as sinuous as can be whether on hills or on the flat. They are as narrow as can be stuck between hedges of prickly bushes such as gorse, without any space for shoulders so that you just can't pull up on the side in emergency. I found I could not stop to take a photo. Very often as I was driving slower than the busy other drivers I wanted to pull up and let the faster traffic overtake. It took miles before I could vaguely pull up in front of a gate with a dangerous swerve.

Anyway at the public library recently I found the answer to this state of affairs. Apparently it has a very very old origin. A million years ago the island called Ireland now was totally covered with ice, much like Antarctica is now. Ice Age lasted for donkeys years until one day when it started melting away. It took a few thousand years to uncover this bit of territory and then, what did you find under the ice... sinuous roads. My word!

Quoted from: A History of Ireland in 250 Episodes, by Jonathan Bardon, Gill and Macmillan, 2008

p.1 "The ice sheets began to dissolve about 15,000 BC, and two thousand years later they had all but disappeared. (...) Meltwater flowing under the ice left behind sinuous ridges of gravels, known as eskers; often several miles long and up to twenty metres in height, these provided invaluable routeways later on across the boggy midlands."

Invaluable routeways across the boggy midlands. The inhabitants of Ireland have always traveled on sinuous, gravelous routeways across their country. Straight roads with broad shoulders is a stupid idea of the Romans.

And yes, there is another explanation. I found, reading the History of Plantagenet England by Michael Prestwich, that inhabitants of islands in general use the sea to go from one place to another on the coast of their island.

This is a very strange idea to a continental reader. From Normandy to Aquitaine, for instance, an islander's first thought is to sail around. For the French or any other continental thinking person you build a road and a good road too. I guess Irish people, like English people, have relied on sailing around rather than driving through.

It could also be the reason why, to this day, the roads are so badly maintained and cared for. When driving in the countryside or even in town you get the impression that towns and county councils administrations have no budget for road maintenance. The suspensions and the tyres of cars in this country must not last for very long.

22 April 2013

227. Lost Mail

Wexford, Ireland

 I have been living in Ireland for three months now and so far I have only liked and praised this country. Maybe it is time I allow myself to critisize a few things for good measure!

The first thing quite bewildering for a continental visitor is the lack of letterboxes on houses and flats. There is a slit in every front door but no letterbox as such, i.e. a hard metal box with a door and a key to that door and your name on the box.

As I occupy the second and top floor of a very old house, I first thought it was peculiar to my place. But when I asked at the Post Office about a parcel I was expecting and mentioned that unfortunately my place had no letterbox, the lady behind the counter assured me it was not special to my place. A slit in the front door of all houses, old town or new suburbs alike, was what there was for mail delivery. When I explained about letterboxes, she had doubt at their efficiency saying that then just anybody could get into them.

To add to that problem, as I share the house with three other tenants on ground floor and first floor, mail that is put through the slit in the front door falling to the ground is picked up by anyone in the house and placed anywhere. And as I did not want to bother anyone asking if they had seen the mail man with a parcel for me, I stood outside all morning one day waiting...

An old gentleman across the road came to tell me that if I had a parcel that would not fit through the slit in the door, I would be advised by a note telling me to go and pick it up at the special Post Office for Parcels. That's what happened eventually. I had to go and get my car parked way out of parking fees area, drive to an outside suburb, ask a few people where the Parcels Post Office was and finally enter a receptionist type of entrance where a man behind a small hole in the wall gave me my parcel after I produced identity papers. It was just an ordinary parcel with a book I had ordered on internet.

The second parcel I received was a present for my birthday sent from England. That time since everybody had seen me stand all morning for a parcel, probably feeling sorry for me, the tenant downstairs got the parcel direct from the mail man when he came and placed it at the top of the stairs in front of my door. That was great but not a regular procedure, of course.

My third parcel is now LOST... It has to be declared as LOST in order to have it replaced. When I left France I did not forget to take my camera with me but I omitted to take the lead and the charger for it. So, after taking plenty of photos when I first arrived it ran out of power and that was it, I could not make use of my camera any longer. After enquiring here and there and being referred somewhere else in vain I decided to ask my son to help. He has since ordered the said camera equipment from Amazon.uk which has sent the said lead and charger by post to my address here in Ireland. Well this time... standing outside the door for hours and/or smiling to the downstairs tenant has not helped in any way. I even drove to the Parcel Post Office out of town again to see if they had something for me. The man there did not dismiss me, he actually looked around on his shelves but then said that I had to have a slip.

Now a full 15 working days have elapsed since the parcel left the Amazon stores in UK. The correct procedure is to launched a LOST MAIL claim and have the articles sent again. Will I have the lead and charger for my camera before I leave Ireland, do you think?   

17 April 2013

226. LET US PRAY




A field of rape seeds in bloom in France

Since I arrived in Ireland last January I have been happily going to the Presbyterian church in Wexford town attending the Sunday morning service and a bible study on Tuesdays. Members of this congregation have been patient enough with my weird notions and tolerant of my dissidence as a Christian. I thank them for this, whole heartidly.

We pray together out loud, each one talking to God and bringing up any subject where God is needed for help. Praying, in my view, is an act of humility, you admit blankly that you need help because you can't deal with a problem by yourself. It is also an act of transcendance, you connect by thoughts with a supra entity out of this mortal world of ours.

But who is this supra entity? Who is God? We don't know. We don't even know if 'he' hears us. We try hard to listen to any sign of 'his' messages. With great difficulties we see signs of 'his' presence in our lives. We keep praying nonetheless.

So, let us pray. In the news we hear about a horrendous act of violence bringing death at a peaceful rally of marathon runners in Boston, USA. Sure, it is a political gesture on the part of those who thought out, organised and acted this evil deed. It is in fact a great act of hatred. You can't go and kill peaceful civilians with cold blood if you don't have feelings of hatred for them. Let us pray for these guys who are overwhelmed by hatred for other human beings and who spend their time and talents at killing and destroying. Let us pray for them so that they may turn their heads and their hearts around and see that we are all in the same boat, the rich, the poor, the young, the old, regardless of skin or eye colour or type of dress.

One thing I like to believe is that God is the same for all of us, for the whole of humanity, regardless of our earthly local identities. I also like to believe that 'he' is the principle of Good, the essence of Goodness, the initiator of Love. God is Love. 'He' wants us to love 'him' and above all 'he' loves us. Can these guys feel it? Or are they too deep into their hatred to feel any love for or from God? Let us pray for them, all of us, every day, until they feel this divine love coming to them.

10 April 2013

225. Tight budget, priorities and lucky strikes

Some say that money does not make you happy. From my experience the lack of money does not make you happy either!

I have lived on a tight budget all my life. Who doesn't?! But when I say 'tight budget' I mean not enough to eat AND do other things as well. It was eat OR do other things. Now that I am an old lady on a minimum old age pension my budget is 680€ gross per month. So I have to put my priorities in a strange order sometimes. Here in Ireland I can only use 550€ gross per month as I have kept my usual electricity and car insurance going at my place in France. Here I pay a rent of 300€ monthy. My monthly electricity bill is not regular but it comes to 40 or 50€ per month. Therefore I am left with 200€ for a whole month with food expenses, petrol for my car and entertainment... It is EITHER food OR petrol for my car OR entertainment. I am not even mentioning clothing. I have lived with one pair of pants for the whole winter. I might invest 10€ in a pair of jeans when the weather warms up.

Why do I publish this information all of a sudden?... because I am tired of hearing trendy French slogans such as "money makes you an idiot" or "the rich are filthy" or the like. In France it is politically correct to show a lack of interest in earning money. "Money is dirty" is another slogan. You are not supposed to wish to acquire any. You are not supposed to have any ambitions actually. Everyone should be on a minimum wage fixed by the State and paid by an 'employer' who is seen as evil anyway.


Here in Ireland it is different in many ways. You can have the ambition to earn a lot of money and enjoy it. But you can also live poorly and enjoy it... I mean, you can live with very little money and still enjoy your life because people are friendly with one another and everyone tries to make it easier for everyone else. Some food stuff is a lot cheaper, some other food stuff is a lot more expensive than in France. The range is wider. It is hard to give details. I'd have to keep my bills and make serious comparisons. What I am saying here is that I have found it easier to survive with very little money.

Entertainment is food for the soul in a way. Although there is plenty of it here in Wexford that I can't afford, I still find a way to enjoy some extra time outside sleeping and eating for survival. It was a matter of putting my priorities back to front but I did buy a ticket to attend a play at the opera house in March. This month I ventured to a pub to hear some music. It cost me less that 5€ for a beer sitting there for a couple of hours listening to a rock band and enjoying being with other people. In May I hope to go sailing one afternoon in a sailing club in Dublin. That would cost me 40€ plus the diesel at €5.55 for a litre to drive from Wexford to Dublin and back.

But something I had not counted on at all here in Ireland was becoming lucky!

I have an iPad kindly given by my son last Xmas and a friendly neighbour here is letting me share his internet connection by wifi. So I surf the net and connect with 'friends' on FaceBook and I read 'pages' and the like. I came across an offer for a fancy black chocolate Easter egg if you clicked 'like' and 'shared' a post on your timeline. I won the egg! A week later a similar offer was on for a hamper of milk products. I won the hamper!... I just can't believe it. It looks like I'll now have to include 'lucky strikes' in my budget.

28 March 2013

224. LESSON ZERO IN LANGUAGE STUDY

A language is a large set of sounds that are coded. Example: bitch, beach, batch, are coded, but butch and botch are not. If you utter the first three to English speakers they will react, hear your meaning and reply... by another set of coded sounds like: fake or fuck, but fick or feek or fack are not coded and therefore not used to exchange ideas in a conversation.

1. A language is a large set of sounds that are coded.

These coded sounds are to be really accurate to be recognised to have their code deciphered so to speak. Yes, SO to speak! The coded sound is similar to a note made on a violin. If it is not just quite accurate it sounds awful and misses its purpose of making sense to the listener. Example: if I say I have put a new shit on the bed, instead of a sheet... you are sure to get a loud laugh instead of a normal reaction.

2. The coded sounds are to be really accurate to be recognised.

In order to utter these coded sounds we all have the same instruments. I mean we the humans are equipped at birth with the exact same instruments.

3. All humans have and use the same instruments to hear and utter these coded sounds.

Like a walky-talky we produce sounds and we receive sounds.

To produce sounds we have vocal cords that vibrate with air expelled from our lungs. We use all the various things in our mouth such as: the back and the tip of the tongue, the palate, the upper and lower lips, the teeth, the nasal conducts.

To receive sounds we have two ears, one on each side of the head. Each ear is equipped with a drum with a very sensitive skin stretched across it.

4. We produce sounds and we receive sounds. We are a living walky-talky.


Usually after this intro students are bewildered. They had never noticed!

When you are a baby you get to hear the same sounds over and over. By a trial and error process you guess and get to associate a given sound with a meaning. It takes some years for a child to understand all the coded sounds spoken around and it takes even more years to be able to utter and speak them out correctly. The process uses miming, aping, and memorising.

Coded sounds in one given languagage get to hit your ear drums always at the same spot. They become familiar sounds. Your brain classifies those sounds at the speed of light, well..., and unfamiliar sounds get ejected. Or classified in the same spot as a familiar sound. Example: the English sound written 'th' is not heard for what it is by French speakers but identified and classified as a 'z' or 's', e.g. ze English sink zat ze French are crazy.

When you try to learn another langue, i.e. another set of coded sounds unfamiliar to you, you have to try and stop this automatic filing of new sounds into familiar old slots. You have to LISTEN first. Like a violin artist musician you have to tune your ear to a brand new sound when it hits your ear drum. Once you actually hear that sound for what it is you have to find out a way to produce it. Usually when asking a native speaker of any given language you do not get help as they don't have a clue. If you are lucky you might just come across someone who knows.

For example, when I was trying to learn the Fulah language in the 1970s I simply could not figure out how to utter the 'ddh' as in 'biddho' meaning 'child'...until one day when I met a tall Fulah student in Paris who explained that it was a glottal stop, stopping the air from coming out at the back of your throat between the two syllables.

In a way it is easier to learn a language that has not been written. You have to concentrate on the sounds alone. Reading a foreign language with your own idea of its pronunciation is very treacherous. And very wrong. Yet it is the usual way we are taught foreign languages at school.

                                                      === === === === === ===

With the egg and the chicken we often wonder and ponder what came first in the order of creation, the egg or the chicken. In the case of spoken or written language there is no pondering to do. The answer is straight forward: THE SPOKEN LANGUAGE CAME FIRST and by far, by millions of years. Mankind produced and exchanged sounds long before some original dude thought of writing them down.

Some decided to scribble signs representing sounds, that is our alphabet. Others decided to scribble signs representing the actual idea of what they were saying, that is the Chinese way of ideograms.

In the case of signs representing sounds, no one agreed on a standard of course! Between the Dutch, the French, the English and the Germans, a same and identical sound has 4 different ways of spelling. Example: the sound 'oo' as in fool in English is spelt 'oe' in Dutch, 'ou' in French and 'u' in German.

So good luck with your language study!

See this museum of languages in Paris if you pass by!

http://www.mundolingua.org/en/

This post was kindly prompted by reading The Chaos of Correct Pronunciation from the blog Bouquet of Sharpened Pencils that you can find here on the list of my blogger friends in the right hand margin. 

20 March 2013

223. Irish Pullovers

Pullovers, some say sweaters, cardigans, jumpers. I mean knitted garments. Knitwear.

In Ireland a very particular type of sweater has been traditionally knitted for years with white natural wool in intricated patterns and stitches. Those jumpers are known in the world wherever you find Irish settlers, mainly in the former British empire.

In the late 60s I arrived in Australia married to a young Australian whose grand-parents had emigrated from Ireland around the First World War. Wearing such a jumper for him was a statement of fond attachment to the culture of his forebears. He would not let me touch his Aran jumper. It was for him a semi-sacred article of his deep rooted identity.

In continental Europe, however, in France or Germany, this knitted white woollen sweater with intricate patterns does not mean anything. You may like the idea to wear one but it has no extra meaning and above all it does not indicate identity.

I love wearing my own knitted jumpers and I love nordic designs. In my three times twenty three years I have made quite a few pullovers and cardigans for myself and other people. Before Christmas last December, 2012, I started something of my own design. I called it the "shepherd's hood", using natural white and black wool from sheep of my area of France, or just a bit south of my area actually in the Limousin Region. As I had attended a needle tapestry course in Aubusson during the summer I had been made aware of a new trend in undyed wool for the sake of not polluting the ecosystems with chemical dyes. A wool mill www.fonty.fr  was selling pure white and pure brown wool direct from the fleece. I found the colours very attractive. I bought some from the retailer on line Laine-et-Tricot  and started knitting.

Life has surprises sometimes! In January I moved to Ireland taking my knitting with me of course. When I ran out of my Limousin natural wool, I started another "shepherd's hood" with local Aran wool in green and brownish colours. Eventually I got some more Limousin wool sent over and I kept knitting relentlessly.

Meanwhile, my brain cells kept working and my imagination went wild. I was in Ireland now and a major rugby match was going to be played in Dublin. What if all the supporters were wearing my "shepherd's hood" in their national colours or in their team's colours?! I would add little bells on the four corners of the hood and they could even make noise with their woollen hoods to support their team in the stadium. I went on knitting frantically... until one day when I searched on the internet for this famous knitwear manufacture of Irish sweaters. I needed to tell someone of my big idea. Moreover if it made sense commercially, the idea would have to be taken up by professionals.

So... one snowy morning, on 12 March 2013, I drove from Wexford to Monasterevin leaving at 7:30 and arriving at 9:30. The whole Irish landscape was covered in snow. It was somptuous! I met Lorraine and the boss of West End Knitwear  as arranged by mail and email. Their website www.arancrafts.com says Welcome to Arancrafts Ireland and has a taste of long tradition. I explained that my own father ran a factory and I was brought up with the painstaking work of a new 'collection' twice a year which involved the imagination of the whole family. I told the story of my encounter with Aran sweaters in Australia. And then I showed them my "shepherd's hood"... well! two halves of it, one half in natural black and white wool and another half in green and brown Aran wool.

I don't know what they really thought. They seemed interested in the way I made it, number of stitches, etc. But they went cold and dismissed me cooly.

A few days later I found on internet that the real Aran manufacture of traditional Irish sweaters is "Aran Sweater Market" in Golway. Their website  www.aransweatermarket.com  shows the same collection of knitted articles. So I don't know now! Have I made a mistake by going to Monasterevin? Are they related? Doing business together or being competitors?

In any case my "shepherd's hood" does not fit within the Irish tradition. It's a French idea! Who then would be interested to manufacture my "shepherd's hood" and market it in continental Europe? 

222. A PLAY AND A PARADE

Last week-end was quite something. St Patrick's Day was coming up and I was keen to live the event here in Ireland. The 17th March fell on a Sunday this year.

But four or five days prior to that, as I was walking down Main Street like a lot of  Wexford people do, I saw a banner stretched across the street with publicity for a play at the Opera House for Friday night, €15 last chance. The Opera House is a very modern building right in the middle of town on High Street. I live at the very end of High Street, so I detoured and bought myself a ticket. After all... the month of March is my birthday month if I need an excuse!

The play was called 'Out of Order', a "rollercoaster ride of side-splitting comedy" the brochure said, written by Richard Willey and played by the Bridge Drama theatre group. The Opera House here has a number of small theatre stages with different names. People say they are going to the 'something' theatre which led me to think that Wexford had many theatres. Everything is centralised at the Opera House which is used for opera only once a year in October. I am impressed that a small fishing town like Wexford has such a beautiful place for the performing arts. And it is booked out most of the time. The play I was going to see had been booked out for 3 days and they had added this performance to make everyone happy by putting a banner across the street. That last performance was booked out too!

I'd like to convey the atmosphere of the place. When I turned up around 10 to 8pm the room was already nearly full. You take a seat wherever you like, I was told. The rows of seats being steeply placed one above the other so that you have a view of the stage above someone's head, I did not mind sitting way up next to a lady who greeted me as if we were old friends. She knew about France, she said, she had been to Lourdes a number of times on the French fast train, the TGV.

Eventually when the room was overflowing with people hanging on the top side aisles the light was dimmed and we were plunged into the play. I did not know yet that I could laugh non-stop for an hour and then for another hour and still want more! The picture on the brochure had not attracted my attention: three people standing casually in front of a dead body on the floor. Another cynical thriller, I thought. Wrong! A comedy raising the act of telling lies to an art!

I learned that the Bridge Drama comedians were a local group from Castlebridge. They have their own FaceBook page and tour extensively in Ireland. Very professional. I also learned that the pocket theatre where we were sitting was called the Jerome Hynes after the man who died on stage there on the opening night of that theatre. I had been told that Ireland was a very special country. But there on Friday night I saw it and shared that lively imaginative and vibrant atmosphere.

And then on Sunday the parade!

I didn't know what to expect. Is it like for carnival, parading floats and painted dancers? my granddaughter had asked me on the phone. Or is it more like a military parade in the way of the French national day. I really did not know what to expect.

First of all it was cold with the northern biting wind blowing and I was freezing but I stayed on until the end.

Along the Quay on-lookers were standing three people deep along both sides of the street. At the beginning the bagpipers were marching with their banners, then several groups of Scouts in their uniforms followed by sports groups and martial arts associations. There were gaps between the groups and often they would stop and perform some dancing or pretend fighting. All sorts of groups paraded, even some representing shops in town, one selling spectacles, another selling cars and the local creamery parading with an old tractor and a make-up cow with one guy for the front legs and another for the back legs. One of the last groups was a float of the 'light opera' company advertising the coming show about witches.

The parade had a taste of homemade. It was neither a carnival nor a military parade. It was in the family register, look at the kids, aren't they beautiful, this is what we can do here, and bless them all. It took me by surprise. A bit disappointed perhaps but happy to have shared in a casual show of real life in Wexford. 

15 March 2013

221. Suicide, let's talk about it

When I arrived in Ireland in January I fell in love with the place and I decided to settle in Wexford. Everything looked happy and rosy. People walking along Main Street, the shops, the trawlers at the wharf, the new and modern opera house, the church steeples in every directions, even the rain I liked! Settling in has not been a problem. I was able to find accommodation and open a bank account, receive an electricity bill for proof of my residence here and join a prayer group in a Christian community. In short life seemed to me to be more than bearable here.

And what do I read on the FaceBook page of the Wexford Free Press? That the suicide rate in Ireland is high and that here in Wexford many jump from the long bridge to shorten their lives.

I learned a long time ago in my anthropology studies that the most important thing in any given human society is what you don't say. The job of an ethnologist is to find out the un-said, the un-speakable. This comes out as very true here to-day for me.

On the FaceBook page of the Wexford Free Press I found this call from the Wexford Marine Watch:          

"Saturday 16 March Wexford Main Street 11:00 till 4:00 Wexford Marine Watch volunteers will attempt to make a golden mile of coins starting at North Main Street and stretching to South Main Street. Please come along and put down your coin and help this worthy cause"

And on the Wexford Marine Watch website (www.wexfordmarinewatch.com) you can read this:

"WMW was established in January 2013 primarily to try and combat a long epidemic of suicides off Wexford Bridge - one of the longest bridges in Ireland today.
Most of these individuals are not recovered in time and get swept away by the very strong tidal flows in the Harbour. This can result in drawn-out lengthy searches for weeks, with no sign of closure for the families affected. It is distressing for the Community, the rescuers and the families involved."


Further on the FaceBook page of the Wexford Free Press again you can read:

"Cutting through the bullshit

Suicide. It's a dirty word for some and a tragic way out for others. Approximately one million people die from suicide each year and about 29 million more people try unsuccessfully.More people are taken by suicide than by accidents on the road. So why the hell don't we talk about it?"

Yes, let us talk about it.

An epidemic of suicide. Is suicide a viral disease? Some classify it as a mental disease. It has to be 'classified'. We are so hopeless in front of it. Most people living near or even with individuals in deep depression are taken by surprise when the case is diagnosed as suicidal. Not so much because it would be shameful for the 'patient' to mention it but because the suicidal condition is a secret to keep for further efficiency: if you tell you want to kill yourself, people will prevent you from doing it, so you won't be able to do it. There may be another reason for the secret: a depressed suicidal person craves for love and attention, they hope to the last minute that those around them will see them. But we live in a society where everyone is so occupied at his/her own success that you become blind to those 'beloved' ones by your side.

As an anthropologist I was trained to listen to people, write down every detail of a story even if it does not make sense and then analyse all this to draw some structured picture out if it. Maybe I can help with that.
 

11 March 2013

220. THE WEXFORD MERMAID Act 2

Act 1 of this silly play can be found in entry 216. I LOVE IT HERE

THE WEXFORD MERMAID, a play by Frankie Perussault

Act 2

Setting: The inside of a pub with small stained glass windows, entry on the right, a bar on the left with a couple of tall stools, empty and full glasses of guinness on various tables, small groups of extras mumbling as background sound, some background music.

At a table in the front of the stage: The Young man, the Businessman, the Musician

- Musician: This is a brilliant idea but how will your bridge hold on such a distance?

- Businessman: suspended, of course, latest technology.

- Musician: What? From a satellite?

- Businessman (laughing): No! Engineers jargon. You can't understand.

Musician plays a bit of a music phrase on his violin or flute.

- Young man: From Wexford to St Malo it will have to go over Lands End in Cornwall.

His sister the schoolgirl storms in from entry door on the right.

- Schoolgirl (mad): I've been looking for you all over the place. I've even asked your girlfriend if she knew where you were (gets cut off)

- Musician and Businessman (together): The mermaid?!

- Schoolgirl (shruggs her shoulders): Dad wants you to help him with the trailer. He's putting the boat out, he wants to go fishing to-morrow.

- Young man (standing up promptly): I'm coming, I'm coming!

Schoolgirl and Young man leave in a hurry by the entry door to the right.

- Musician: Over Lands End to St Malo? It sounds funny. Let's have a look.

- Businessman (while unfolding a large map): Quite handy actually, we will have an arch on land there between two suspended parts.

While, mumbling, they scrutinise the map, a troll comes in at the back pushing through a stainglass window. One of the pub patron helps him out and places him on a tall stool. The troll is served some drink and people slap him on the back jokingly. He leaves the way he came.

- Musician: Instead of suspended, why not have it floating? You know, like they do in the army to cross rivers.

- Businessman (beaming): Brillian, brilliant! I had not thought of that!

Musician plays a bit of a music phrase.

- Musician: Yes, but it won't work... (gets cut off)

Enters the Tall lady with long shiny dress shuffling her feet to the bar. Dead silence in the pub until she leaves with a beer can.

- Musician: It won't work, the shipping traffic through the Channel would have to be stopped...

- Businessman: ...or diverted to sail to the North Sea round the north of Scotland and Ireland. Brilliant! brilliant! Small fishing harbours will become great ports, a new Rotterdam or a new New York in Donegal...

- Musician: And with the North Pole melting away we'll have cruising ships going to Japan stopping over in Galway!(plays 2 or 3 chords on his violin or some trills on his flute)

Some loud car hooting and police sirens are heard outside. Everyone rushes to the door to see what it is. The Musician and the Businessman do too. Someone says it is the officials coming to plant the first stone for the bridge to France. They all go out pushing one another. The bar is empty and very quiet. A troll comes in throught the same window as before, opens a larger window to let the Young man come through too.
They go and sit at the table where the Businessman and the Young man were before, pushing the map aside.

- Troll: Do you believe in trolls?

- Young man (smiling softly): Do I believe in trolls?! Yes, of course I do, you are here talking to me.

- Troll: But I am only in your imagination. You can't prove I exist, you can't catch me!

Young man pretends to catch the troll and the troll pretends to escape.

- Young man: Now tell me in earnest, do You believe in mermaids?

The Troll is laughing to giggles for a while.

- Young man: What's so funny?

- Troll: You (pointing to Young man) are asking Me (pointing to himself) if I believe in mermaids!!! (dead serious) No, I don't.

- Young man: Why not?

- Troll: Because they are in your imagination. You can't catch one. Now tell me, do you believe in God?

- Young man: Ah! that is different!

- Troll: Different? You can't catch Him. He might be in your imagination.

- Young man: No, Troll, He is not in my imagination because there are effects of His presence. Just like the wind. You can't see it but you can see its effects.

- Troll: Effects of God? Like what?

- Young man: The world, the universe, us here talking... (gestures in large movement)
If God did not exist I would not be here alive thinking and talking to you of the existence of God.

- Troll: We could be talking of trolls, mermaids, unicorns, dragons or santa claus. Why is God different?

- Young man: I guess because God is about our sprirituality (looking lost), the way we can transcend our material selves... Dragons, unicorns and mermaids are about our capacity to dream and invent other worlds.

- Troll: Mmm... fiction and spirituality are... (gets cut off)

- Young man (suddenly): I'd better go now. Bye Troll!

The Troll runs to the window where he came in and leaves the same way without saying goodbye. The Young man leaves by the door.

                 
                CURTAIN DOWN

"Do you want more... still!"

219. What if...

Any religion is based on a myth. - Don't go, stay with me! I am not using the word in a derogatory sense but in its fondamental meaning which is a structured story regularly revitalised and enacted by rituals. -

We all know that little Jesus was born in a barn and placed in a manger, that three kings from afar guided by a star came to visit him and how he talked to the priests for his bar-mitzvah and how he divided his loaf of bread for his last supper with his mates and how he had to carry his own cross up the hill on Golgotha.

A myth somewhere along the line is based on a true story and by 'true story' I mean a fact which took place in History. It is the case with Jesus of Nazareth. He is a historical figure. He did exist.

During the past centuries since his historical existence, while some spent time and effort enhancing the myth by declaring him a god and his mother a virgin mother of god, others worked at finding out documents and archeological evidence of his life. The former tried to hinder the work of the latter. But in the end historical truth always wins over myth.

                  °°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°

So, what if... Jesus was just a man, a guy from Nazareth who lived under Roman occupation of his country. His old man, Joseph, married his mother when she was pregnant. Joseph was a mature man with a number of young children to look after when his first wife died. He badly needed another wife because with his activity of carpentry and wood merchant his business selling to the Roman army was flourishing. He promised a friend who had a young pregnant daughter that he would marry her. Joseph was of king David's descendance and as such had to register in Judah rather than in Galilee where he lived when the Roman administration did a census. From there before coming back to Nazareth they travelled to Egypt where Mary had relatives.

Little Jesus grew up as a spoiled brat. He was the benjamin and did have the attention of his old man and his mother perhaps more than the eldest children. In the story of the prodigal son he is actually talking about himself. As a young man in his twenties he received some money from Joseph and left to study with a sect in the desert on the other side of the Jordan river. There they asked him to be their leader but as he did not completely agree with their theories, he came home to Nazareth and to his old man.


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Christians have to face the fact that the myth will soon be erased by the facts of History. And then what? Will we stand up and cry? Hoping against all hopes that the clock can be turned back? The myth cannot hold any more. Nobody wants to hear it, no one wants to believe it. It does not make sense anymore. It is dead. Like the old Romans at the end of the empire, we are faced with the fact that our comfortable faith and religious practice are dead.   

My concern is about the void it creates.

"Man will not live of bread alone", it says somewhere in the scriptures. Can we re-invente a relationship with God? Without the dogma of the original sin, the curse, the guilt and the sacrifice to redeem humanity? Can we find inspiration in the life of Jesus the man, the great thinker and reformer? We will have to.


    

5 March 2013

216. MARX OR JESUS

These two guys have shaped the entire western world as we know it to-day.

We live by the teachings of one or the other. Each of their visions of the world is a well structured self sufficient system of ideas, i.e. an ideology explaining the world and giving directions for individual behaviour.

I am talking to myself here trying to sort out my own thoughts.

These two guys have a lot in common. They are both "children of Israel" having had a very similar kind of education, even at some 2000 years difference. They are both rebels having analysed the current digressions of the society they lived in: the sclerosis of rituals for Jesus, the extravagant exploitation of people by the industry for Marx. They both launched their respective vision of the world through circles of friends who then explained and added and passed it on.

They were both entirely convinced of 'messianic' times, a D-day in History when the known world stops and is replaced by what they have invented: the coming of God in glory and the resurrection of all, for Jesus, the special day of victory over the current social order, for Marx.

Yes but... their ideologies are in total opposition.

The one prones love of your neighbour, love of your ennemy, love of the stranger.
The other prones hatred of your superior in the social hierarchy, everlasting struggle against the leading class of bourgeois, whether they are good or bad, and all out destruction of all the religions.

Many of their teachings sound alike. With Jesus and his followers all humans are children of God and therefore brothers. This 'brotherhood' was extended by the first Christians to actually creating tight knit communities where everything was communal and shared. With Marx the workers have to unite to such a degree of communal sharing as to totally eradicate private property.

It is easy to fall in the pit of 'going marxist' for people who value the idea of brotherhood among folks of all nationalities. The blurred limits between the two ideologies can lead anyone to take the wrong turn.

I do not feel qualified here to expand on this subject. But I know for sure that between Marx or Jesus you have to make a choice.

When I came back to France in 1974 after having split from my Australian husband I lived in the city of Lyon and in 1976 I enrolled at the university there to study social anthropology or ethnology as you may call it too. The whole atmosphere of the campus was marxist. There were 'meetings' of lecturers or students alike. There was one woman lecturer who was actually running for some political mandate. The jargon in the lecture halls and on campus alike was marxist with lots of words unknown to me. Even lecturers that were known to be non-marxist felt the need to show they were in the know. You could talk about sex or class struggle at will. You could not talk of God or about any subject dealing with spirituality. The government at the time was not socialist. It regarded and dealt with university students as if they were the scum of society. I am talking of my own experience at the Lyon 2 university in the late 1970s. It could have been different elsewhere but I doubt it.

Slowly but surely this way of thinking pervaded the whole of society. The government became socialist in 1981 and then not only university students but school kids became marxists! I fled in 1988 when my son was 11 and ready to go to high school. I did not want him to be subjected to that ideology whereby the poor bugger is seen as good and a perpetual victim to the nasty guy, his employer who is the entreprising fellow exploiting him. This over simplification of the economic world we live in was to me a complete lie.  

I came back at the time of the first Golf war for a couple of years. I was a total stranger in my own country, did not adapt to it and again left to go and live in the Southern Hemisphere. When I returned yet again it was in May 2000 and this time back to my native village where I had fond memories of my grandparents and their way of life in a rural setting. I did not realise that by then even the villagers had become marxists. To-day in my area the Member of Parliament is a communist and several Mayors running towns and cities are socialists. The overwhelming ideology is marxist. The State is replacing God. The State protects and provides. The State takes care of its citizens from craddle to coffin. You have to 'declare' everything you want to do, pull down a garden shed, open up a roof window, and in certain areas you are being told what colour to paint your front door. Everything is either forbidden or obligatory... and talking about Jesus is absolutely out of the question.

I am not much of a religious person. I mean the rites and dogmas of any given religion don't appeal to me at all. What I must have in order to live to the full is an answer to my material and spiritual needs. So, an ideology organising my material needs and denying that I have spiritual needs does not do me at all. On the other hand an ideology that could satisfy my spiritual needs as well as organise my material life, yes, it would suit me fine.

The solutions that Marx gives to provide for our material needs do not allow for spirituality. Besides, we know it now, it does not bring any adequate solutions to the material needs of humans at all. The experiment in Marxist ruling in various countries of the world have all been grandiose failures.

I dream of a system of ideas which would not be a religion but which would bring some relief on both my material and spiritual needs. If only we could strip the vision that Jesus had on the world of its religious aspect, if only we could just study Jesus as a great thinker without his aura of miracles, resurrection, sacrifice and holy deeds, perhaps we would get a great vision to rule the nations of to-day.

217. Deliver us from evil

Friday night 1 March saw a special event take place at the church of St Iberius in Main Street, Wexford, Ireland. It was a service prepared by the Christian Women of the World Day Of Prayer Interdenominational, website: www[dot]wdopi[dot]org. The theme this year organized by the French group was: "I was a stranger and you welcomed me".

I had no idea of what it was when I was given the booklet and told I was going to be Woman number 5 on the roll of speakers in this service. We were only a handful of attendants from the Presbyterian church round the corner.

This service was prepared, acted and attended by women only, not that men were banned from it but they just did not turn up. The theme was, in my view, highly political and the leaflet I found plain propaganda. That's between you and me, of course. Otherwise I do agree that you must be kind to people in general, whether they are of your family, your street, your country or not.

However my interpretation of the story Jesus told about the good Samaritan would be that helping out a human being goes beyond and above any other consideration and that rites and rituals are in no way preceding the sympathy and compassion you should have for a suffering human person. It is, in my eyes, the basis for Humanism. I don't think Jesus had a view on Immigration policies here. Yet the booklet prepared by the Christian women of France sounded like a definite appeal to the French Ministry of Immigration!

Anyway... I was keen to be up to what was asked of me, delivering the text out loud at the right moment and not losing track. At one stage at every Christian service you get to mumble the prayer called 'Our Father'. Unfortunately by the time I turned the page of my booklet and realized what was happening, the prayer was well underway and I came in at the phrase: "Deliver us from evil" which I pronounced out loud. I hate mumbling prayers.

And I meant it: "Deliver us from evil"... any evil, all evil. I started thinking of a detail of my life that morning. Early before breakfast I received a text message on my phone telling me I was the winner (by decree I think!) of 2M pounds sterling. To claim it I had to send an email to 'winfree[at]aol(dot)com'. Great, I thought, I'll buy myself a second pair of pants and perhaps that renovated flat on the other side of the road! Of course, I didn't... send an email, but I walked to the shop that had sold me the telephone to report it. The young woman there said they get that sort of mail all the time, just delete it.

Just delete it. Well no, not 'just delete it', report it and make sure that this kind of evil is not reproduced on a daily basis to m'teen mobile phones until some poor bugger falls in the trap.

Evil has to be chased and tracked down. It is not simple misdemeanor. I really became familiar with it when I met someone who admitted taking pleasure at hurting people. This is the core of evil, taking pleasure at making someone suffer.

"Our Father, deliver us from evil". Jesus may have had his reasons to place this phrase in his recommended prayer.

1 March 2013

216. I LOVE IT HERE

I really love it here in Ireland.

People seem to have been brought up like I was! They are friendly and polite to anyone at all times, they find the good things in every bad situation and say thanks. For instance they never complain about the bad weather but they stop you in the street to mention the sunshine. In France, in comparison, people moan, complain and winge all day long. I am French though! What happened to my country? Has it slipped on a banana skin when I was not there? Or something?

I am glad to be here in Ireland. People talk to me, they don't bother about my age, they don't see my clothes before they see me. To-day for instance I was stopped by a young man as I was walking along Main Street. He wanted to tell me about Amnesty International. We talked and joked. And I went on my way. I was actually going to get some milk at the 'Supervalue' supermarket, some equivalent to the 'SuperU' in France. I got a loud good morning with a smile from the guy who was playing the trombone in the corner. He actually stopped playing to say hello to me. Sure, he would have liked me to throw a coin in his hat but not only. Irish people seem to enjoy one another's company just for the heck of it!... whereas in France it feels as if a cold civil war was on going all the time. At that supermarket the cashier woman or man talks to you as if you were of the family. When you stop somebody to ask for directions they usually go out of their way to help you.

As I said I love it here in Ireland.

In Wexford there is a brand new Opera House as well as an Arts Centre. These organisations have a FaceBook page and I found that they were looking for short plays for some competition. So I wrote this!

THE WEXFORD MERMAID by Frankie Perussault

Settings: A fishing port rather like Wexford
Backdrop: A quay with a big trawler moored alongside
Left wing: A fish-n-chips shop
Right wing: Tall houses painted blue, yellow, red like in Wexford
Characters:
- A young man
- His sister in school girl uniform
- A businessman from Dublin
- A tall lady with long hair and a long dress shiny like a fish
- Some trolls i.e. 7-8 year olds dressed as lepricorns dancing the jig
- Two musicians leading the trolls with trad music

    ACT 1
Young man and School girl talking while walking from right to left in middle of stage.

- Young man (all excited): Yes!... I'm telling you, they've fished a mermaid! Here in the bay not far from the bridge
- School girl: A what?!
- Young man: A mer-maid... (he makes the silhouette of a sexy girl with his hands)
- School girl: Brother, my brother!... Mermaids don't exist
- Young man: They do! I'm telling you they've fished one just here (he gestures towards the trawler)
From left to right i.e. in opposite direction and at front of stage partially hiding them a line of trolls two by two dance a jig across the stage following two musicians. The Young Man and his sister keep talking and gesturing but can't be heard. They all leave the stage.
Enter seemingly from the quay at the back a well dressed gentleman with all sorts of equipment. He starts measuring the height of buildings, the length of the quay, etc. He must make the public laugh just the way he carries on. As he wants to exit, he walks towards the public and nearly falls over in the pit, eventually leaves to the left wing.
Enter Young man and School girl again walking from left to right this time and at the front of stage with pack of fish-n-chips.
- School girl (carrying fish-n-chips and eating): A woman, a female, a lady cannot have a fish tail, she just can't! Below the waist a woman has a womb and somewhere between her legs a vulva, don't you know that, brother?
- Young man (dropping the fish he was eating): oops!... yes, well, yes but...
- School girl: A mermaid, alright then. Now I saw a man with the roots of a tree instead of legs, yeah, I'm telling you. He was very handsome too..
As the Young man bends down to pick up his fish, the Tall lady comes out of the fish shop, shuffles around and goes back in.
- Young man: See! You saw her! They fished a mermaid, it's no joke!
Meanwhile the Businessman enters from left front corner, gets to the centre and hails the Young man.
- Businessman: Hey! Young man! Would you help me? I need a technician (he gets tangled in his various equipment)
- Young man: Why not? Sure! What do want me to do?
School girl makes signs to signify that men are mad, shruggs her shoulders and leaves to the right.  
- Businessman: Would you hold this? (handing him some large piece of equipment)
- Young man (holding the piece): But what is it for? What are you doing actually?
- Businessman: We're building a bridge to France, from here you see (he gestures a point on the quay)
- Young man: A bridge to France?! (ha ha ha LOL)
- Businessman: The contract has been signed with my office, yes, I am pleased to say. The Irish and the French governments have agreed and the money will come from Luxembourg.
- Young man: From Luxembourg??? (laughing still)
- Businessman: Ah yeah, in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, they have no taxes, so they are very rich. They can pay for the bridge from here to France.
- Young man (getting serious): But where to in France?
- Businessman: Somewhere on the coast... St Malo perhaps... or La Rochelle
- Young man: La Rochelle??? (ha ha ha LOL)
- Businessman (serious): Or Marseille.
- Young man: ...but that's on the Med coast!!!
- Business man: Anyway that's not important. Our problem really is to know if we are building it for traffic driving on the left or on the right. My office has suggested to the respective governments that there could be a traffic change over in the middle of the bridge. And if...(being cut off)
- Young man: Alright alright then, let's start working.
The line of trolls two by two led by two musicians enter again from front right corner and dance a jig diagonally across stage to enter the fish shop on the other side. They get tangled in the middle of the stage by some measuring tape pulled across.Pantomime: trolls falling over, losing their hats, musicians missing a beat, etc. They all go in the fish shop and the music dies away. The two men keep talking but are not heard. When the music dies away they are heard again.
- Businessman: Who was the pretty girl you were talking to before?
- Young man: Pretty girl? pretty girl? You mean stubborn girl! She just won't admit they fished a mermaid this morning here in the bay.
- Businessman: Is she your girlfriend?
Meanwhile the trolls had come out of the fish shop two by two and they were all sitting down on the floor sharing their fish-n-chips. One of the musicians leaves the group and goes to talk with the Businessman and the Young man in the centre of stage.
- Musician: Did you say your girlfriend was a mermaid?
- Businessman (interested): His girlfriend is a mermaid?! Can we meet her? Where is she?
- Young man (most serious): OK, let's go, follow me.
The three men leave to the right wing.
The trolls stand up two by two and bring their trash to a public bin somewhere on stage. The bin overflows. Back in front of the fish shop the one remaining musician makes them in single file and they do a tour of the stage dancing and leaving to the right. When they are nearly all out of stage the Tall lady appears at the door of the fish shop again shuffling around and going back in.

     CURTAIN DOWN
"Do you want more?"

15 February 2013

215. A grass root Christian

This is what I call myself, a grass root Christian.

What I mean by this, is clear to me, but I ought to qualify it for my new friends here in Ireland with whom I attend biblical study at the Presbyterian church.

In chronological order: I went to a Catholic primary school. The Sisters in religious robes were very kind and taught us reading and writing as well as to pray God, thus making us understand that it goes together, i.e. being a clever human being refering to a superior benevolent being for help.

When I was 17 I walked to the Protestant pastor's house because I was in doubt. Did we need to believe that the mother of Jesus was a virgin to be called a Christian? I was given a bible and told to seek the answers to my questions in it. The pastor added, I recall this very precisely, that not all questions have answers anyway.

From then on I attended the Sunday service in a Protestant church whenever I could and wherever I was. I officially confirmed I was a Protestant of the French Reformed Church and much later I brought up my own son in that faith.

When I was 19 I went to Israel and lived there for a year, mainly in a kibbutz in Galilee. I had several reasons to do that. Being born at the end of WW2 and having been educated with the idea of 'reconciliation' with the German people, I had to know what Israel meant and how and why the Jewish people had been so treated. One other reason was to find out about this man Jesus from the town of Nazareth. I lived at the bottom of Mount Tabor, between Nazareth and Tiberias, exactly on Jesus' treading ground. There, it appeared to me that far too many tall tales had been put around the existence and teaching of this Jewish man called Jesus (pronouned Yeshou in Hebrew).

My new vision of the man Jesus never left me after that. I often tried to reconcile my own perception with various religious groups, like the Evangelists or other Gospel orientated people, but in the end I always came back to the idea that this man was a preacher with great insight indeed but he was no God and should not be worshipped as such. So, I found myself very uneasy, stuck between my deep conviction and the strong need to belong to a Christian congregation. This tearing apart still goes on. I choose here to-day to write it down so as not to be pretending when I find myself praying with other Christians.

A grass root Christian in my definition is someone (am I the only one?) who values the teachings of Jesus as a preacher. He started an ideology of freedom from the sclerosis of rituals, of love among men of any given ethnic identity, of care for spirituality in the midst our material needs. He put the deep meaning of things first and foremost far ahead of their formal existence, thus recalling and reminding people that is what is written in the Tanah, the old Testament, at almost every page. He started a movement, an ideology, that spread high and far through the centuries. In the process so much mythology was added to it that he would not recognise his own teachings if he happened to turn up one day in a church.

I call myself a grass root Christian but others might throw me out if I went on saying that there is no need for Jesus to have resurrected for us to value his teachings. To me it does not add any special validity. In fact it is the opposite. The supernatural quality of it distracts from the teachings. How can a semi-god born from a god and a virgin human lady, very much in the Greek tradition, have impact on what I live as a plain human being? How can someone teach me anything if he is likely to resurrect after his death, a totally impossible fact in our world as we know it?

Two thousand years have gone since the historical event of Jesus' life in Galilee. By the way, did you know he had an accent when he talked? He spoke with the Galilean accent... it is never mentioned but when Peter sitting outside the court was asked: aren't you with the guy on trial, you speak with a Galilean accent too? Peter, as we know, denied three times. At the trial, they were a bunch of Galileans in Jerusalem and could be identify as such from their accent!

I will not go on. My rendition of the scriptures is too far off. I want to remain friends with other Christians.

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 ...