Winchester Cathedral

I direct you to my latest post at My Uncle’s Letters from the War, wherein my uncle mentions a trip to Winchester and a visit to its cathedral.

Made me think of this song, in which hippies are nostalgic for the days of vaudeville. Rather like when we are nostalgic for hippies, though God knows why we would be. The 1960s, as my late brother used to say, have a lot for which to answer.

But this song is cute.

 

Bastille Day

I have visited France twice in the last year. Those visits came after an absence of 22 years on my part, my last visit having been in 1992, though I had lived, studied and worked in Paris for five years previously (i.e., 1986-1991). I always stayed abreast of French politics, though, and kept my language levels up, and stayed in touch with friends living in Paris and Lyon.

So what was the first thing that struck me in November, 2014, when I got off the plane at Orly? Well, given that I had been in Italy for a couple of months, it struck me that it seemed I had landed in a Protestant country where everyone was whispering and everything was super well-organized. Everything is also relative, of course. And once I adjusted from my “Italian voices/Italian ways” settings, what struck me was how incredibly popular Starbucks had become.

When the first Starbucks opened in France (in Paris) over a decade ago, the doomsayers were out en force, promising an early death. And while Starbucks follows a rocky economic path in Europe, what I saw in Paris indicated that at least with a youthful demographic, it is extremely popular. First of all, most all Starbucks in Paris are often, if not always, bustling…with younger people and yes, some foreigners. For us, there is that sense of familiarity and, of course, the free wifi. Free wifi is more common in France now, but still nothing like in North America.

The crowds (and at certain Starbucks I do mean crowds) of people I saw in Parisian Starbucks were mostly French young people — under 30-year-olds — and in the after-school hours, under 20-year-olds. I think younger French people like feeling cool, like the celebrities they see carrying Starbucks cups on TV and in movies. At some locations the lineups tried one’s patience.

And some locations were right on the much-vaunted Places – the parts of the city where four or five main streets meet and one can find restaurants on almost each corner. When I lived in Paris those spots were always taken by the classic French brasseries with their French awnings, their steak frites and their omelettes or Croque Monsieurs. Now one can get a pricey Starbucks coffee or pastry (as in North America, it ain’t cheap), slightly changed in flavour or name to accommodate the locals.

I may be reading too much into all of this, but I think it is positive and another indication that the French are becoming less parochial. I think it kind of goes hand in hand with something else I noticed both during my last two visits and also from watching a lot of French news in the past decade or so. What I noticed is this: far more integrated French people of Maghrebin background; integrated into jobs where one would not have seen them, say, 25 years ago. For example, news anchors. That might sound silly, but I remember when I came back to Canada in 1991 after five years in France, I found it odd to see so much diversity on news shows. Now one sees that in France.

In fact, when Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested in the States a few years ago, I made a point of watching French news and what was interesting to me was how many correspondents had Arab last names. It was a refreshing change. One also sees far more French people of North African/Arab/South Asian origin in politics and law, in academia and so forth. Far from being oppressed (as the apologists for the Charlie Hebdo massacre would have you believe), Muslims in France are at home.

I am not convinced Jews are, unfortunately, but that is for another post.

Oh, and on the matter of Starbucks in France, I just found this article.

Happy Bastille Day, French people!

“Wolf Hall” versus “A Man for all Seasons”

Or Thomas Cromwell versus Thomas More.

After having read — and enjoyed — the Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall books, I became insanely addicted to the Masterpiece Theatre adaptation of the same. It was almost a retro historical drama, like something one would have seen in the 1970s, which I think was very much its strength. A stranger-than-fiction plot, brilliantly staged, written and acted.

It’s a measure of the genius of Mark Rylance, the extraordinary actor (how have I never heard of or seen him before?) who brings self-serving machinator and yet strangely-likable lawyer/fixer/son-of-a-blacksmith Thomas Cromwell to full life, that by the end of the six hours I had a teeny crush on him. What a (not handsome) face! He can convey more with a slight smile/smirk, than one ever cares to know – as good as acting gets. His Cromwell is self-serving, yes, but also sympathetic, intelligent and possessed of some moral boundaries (though he pushes at those a bit).

And it’s a measure of Claire Foy’s talent that, after watching her turn as the mean-spirited Anne Boleyn for six weeks, your heart aches for her as she quiveringly prepares to be parted from her head.

And Damian Lewis as Henry VIII? He comes very close to usurping my previous favorite screen Henry VIII, Robert Shaw. I say “close” because his Henry is far more cruel than Shaw’s interpretation, so it’s hard to feel affection for him (as I did for Shaw’s Henry). Of course, the script played a part in that.

Which brings us to A Man for all Seasons. I have always loved this movie. But it’s interesting because in Wolf Hall, Thomas More is a preening, morally superior hypocrite, a man who tortures “heretics” (apparently enjoying it) and acts all snooty toward the Cromwells of the world, the sons of blacksmiths. It is hard to believe that the More of Wolf Hall believes that the devil deserves benefit of law, though at the end, when he is beheaded, one admires (as in A Man for all Seasons) his powerful faith and his unwillingness to deny it in order to save his earthly life.

And where Wolf Hall makes you care about Cromwell, the Leo McKern Cromwell of A Man for all Seasons is not someone for whom you develop any feeling. The character is not given the depth he is in Wolf Hall, which focusses on Cromwell’s private life (including much loss) and makes his ability to survive (up to a point) at a merciless royal court the centre of the tale.

So what can we learn from this?

That we should learn history from books, many books, and just enjoy movies and TV for what they are — movies and TV (nothing wrong with that, either). Speaking of, off to read this now.

Women’s World Cup

Although I have been watching some of the Women’s World Cup, I freely admit that it is not anywhere as interesting as the World Cup (i.e., the men’s tournament). I love soccer and even spent a tiny fortune a couple of years ago in Italy to attend a Serie A match.

But the women’s game is just, well, kind of boring. It isn’t that the Women’s World Cup athletes aren’t extraordinary and talented. Of course, they are. So what are the differences and why isn’t the women’s game as exciting? I think Duleep Allirajah sums up the matter here. I would agree with the reasons he gives for the discrepancies, though he leaves one out of the equation: for reasons on which I can’t quite put my finger, it is not nearly as much fun to make World War II jokes while watching the Women’s World Cup. For example, as I type this, I am watching the Germany-England third place match. And even though the English have a goalkeeper named Chamberlain, I can’t muster up a good Sudetenland joke!

Why is that?

In part, it may be that there were not female soldiers in combat during World War II. But maybe there are other reasons. I don’t know. Perhaps we don’t think of women as warriors (silly, as women can be far more vicious and petty fighters than men), or maybe it all comes down to the lack of physical power and speed in the women’s game, making it less likely to inspire a “panzer” joke. Whatever the reasons, it’s a crying shame, because the final tomorrow is a U.S.-Japan battle.

I’ll be watching, but I won’t be screaming “Tora, Tora, Tora!”

For Canada Day: the tale of the lady from Quebec who was really mean to me last year in Italy…

…for reasons I still don’t understand.

I always say that collectively, Quebec drives me bonkers, but individually I love the Quebecois. (I also used to say the exact reverse of Alberta, but now with Rachel Notley, not so sure, though she could go some way to winning me over if she would do something about the animal torture at the Calgary Stampede.) The Quebecois – I used to say — they are so warm and they’ve got all that joie de vivre and every other cliché one could spew. But I have found those clichés to be true. Or rather, I had found them to be true until last autumn, when I met the exception who proves the rule.

I was studying for a semester in Italy and one of my classmates was a French-Canadian lady from Montreal, probably in her later sixties. When our language teacher noted that we were both from Canada, French-Canadian lady immediately said (in Italian), “Yes, but we hate each other. We’re enemies.” Oh ha ha ha. I assumed she was kidding.

From her end, she apparently wasn’t. She spent most of the next three months needling me, heckling me (literally) when I spoke in, or in front of, the class, putting me down, correcting me, taking not-so-subtle cheap shots at me, explaining things to me that I already knew (things she would never have tried to explain to anyone else) as though I were some sort of hapless dolt, excluding me from get-togethers and so forth. Very, very, super odd.

One example: I had (stupidly and trustingly) confessed to her how difficult it is for me to speak in front of groups in any language, and that I was dreading giving a certain talk in front of our class in Italian. So when the day came that I gave the talk, what did she do? I wasn’t but half-way through my first sentence when she contradicted me at the top of her lungs, causing a gaggle of our Chinese and East-European classmates to giggle uncomfortably. I ignored it and kept on and I’m glad I did. But then she got up and gave her talk, starting by pointing in my direction and reminding everyone that, as far as she was concerned, I was totally wrong in what I had said. Again, I ignored it, because, well, I was brought up properly. (FYI, I was not wrong in what I had said, of that I am sure, but that is not even the point. I sat through many talks in my three months studying in Italy last year and listened to my classmates say things that were inaccurate, even breathtakingly stupid, but in a million years I would never have publicly contradicted or embarrassed them.)

Another example: our wonderful art history professoressa (seriously, this woman was a goddess of knowledge and calm) used to take us out once a week on walks through Perugia, discussing works of art and architecture both outdoors and indoors. One day, a rainy day, we were inside an art gallery and there happened to be a modern art exhibit. (With our prof, we were studying the Renaissance.) It was, literally, stuff like irons and aspirin bottles and cloned Mao portraits in different colours and garbage like that, all meant to be meaningful, I’m sure. Our prof (who by then I had impressed in class – she made that clear with her replies to me — on several occasions, not the least of which being when we discussed the Elgin Marbles and I didn’t spew the usual drivel) asked me what I thought about it all. I started by saying (in Italian) that modern art was not really my thing and that I found this particular stuff not that great and…Well, surprise, surprise, French-Canadian lady interrupted me (seriously, I was still talking!) and said, glaring at me, “I am an expert in modern art. This is my area of knowledge and interest. I understand it.” That seemed pretty odd to me since as far as I knew she was a retired employee of Bell Canada, but ok. She then blathered on, glaring in my direction, about folks who were too dumb to get the deep meaning in modern art.

There are many more examples I could give, but you get the picture.

So I finally let on that I was a bit bothered by her bullying, when on one occasion our language professor was asking for an English translation of a certain word, and I said what I thought the translation was (and I was right). French-Canadian lady, who was seated in front of me, turned around and said in the most smug, dismissive tone (with a little laugh and hand gesture included), “No, that isn’t even close.” Now, this incident happened after nearly three months of being picked on by her, and I had pretty much had it. I responded to her in an, er, emphatic tone, emphatic enough that the prof noticed and asked if there was a problem. “No,” I said, before getting up and leaving, though class was not quite over (did not want to scream in front of everyone).

Well, French-Canadian lady came to find me later and offered some non-apology apology and I accepted it, though I didn’t buy it for a second. Later, I vented to a classmate who offered his sympathies to me (he had noticed French-Canadian lady’s nastiness), and I mentioned that it was pretty rich for her to be correcting my English when she didn’t even speak English. He laughed and agreed and then I added that she didn’t speak French either, when you got right down to it, but rather Quebecois (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I am not usually mean, but I was ticked.

So the whole experience was very strange. I am old enough that I just use these things for my writing and also to try and learn from the wonderful tapestry that is our life on this planet with our fellow deeply-disappointing humans. But occasionally, when French-Canadian lady was really full-throttle picking on me, I wondered why. May she just hated English-Canadians; perhaps politics played a role. She friended me on Facebook early on in the semester (after saying we were enemies) and then abruptly said to me one day, “I see we don’t have the same political views.” Um, ok. I was all like, so what? Maybe to her it was a big deal.

It isn’t like I am young and cute anymore or anything, and there were plenty of young, cute chicks in our class that she was perfectly nice to, so it wasn’t that. Sometimes I asked myself if she were just insecure, but she seemed the opposite, rather an egomaniac. Although not a good singer, she never passed up on an opportunity to get up in front of the class and sing. Once she did a painful rendition of Les Gens de Mon Pays, for example, and though it was lousy, she clearly felt she deserved applause and thanks from the rest of us and overall, I kind of admired her obliviousness.

So how do things stand now? I mentioned she friended me on Facebook. Well, she has now unfriended me. I have no idea when she did that, because I don’t make a habit of checking people’s pages to see if we’re still “friends”. I noticed it recently because we were both tagged by a mutual friend.

So that is my tale of the French-Canadian lady who was mean to me for reasons I never quite “got”.

Happy Canada Day!

 

Love Among the Ruins and Barbarians at the Gates

I am very happy about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage. That said, had the decision gone the other way, it would only have been a matter of time before marriage equality became the reality in all 50 states. This is the way the free world goes as well it should. (And I remind you that I have been for gay marriage since ye olden tymes.) What I am not happy about is people acting as though the biggest threat out there were people in free countries who don’t support gay marriage. And I was disgusted yesterday at so many people mocking Justice Scalia’s and Justice Thomas’s dissenting opinions on the matter, rather than being grateful for a civilized, democratic process.

The real enemies to all of us are the people who carried out the attacks in France, Tunisia and Kuwait yesterday (and in so many other places on other days) and their supporters/apologists. And yesterday, I heard almost nothing about the attacks on North American news. Italian TV was a bit better, thankfully. But people in Toronto and Los Angeles and all parts between should have been making those attacks their top news story, Twitter post and Facebook item for discussion.

A column in the Wall Street Journal — from a supporter of marriage equality — sums it up better than I ever could.  Here’s a small section of it:

On my other computer screen, I looked at a photograph of five men in orange jumpsuits, their legs bound. They were trapped like dogs inside a metal cage and hanging above a pool of water. They were drawing their final breaths before their Islamic State captors lowered the cage into the pool and they drowned together.

What was that about human dignity?

The barbarians are at our gates. But inside our offices, schools, churches, synagogues and homes, we are posting photos of rainbows on Twitter. It’s easier to Photoshop images of Justice Scalia as Voldemort than it is to stare evil in the face.

You can’t get married if you’re dead.

Here is a link to the whole thing.