The last surviving cast member of Casablanca has left us. Here she is in that wonderful scene:
Years ago, I lived in France on Boulevard Voltaire, not far from the Bataclan. I never went to the Bataclan because I was never groovy. I did go to see Etienne Daho at Bercy Stadium one time. My apartment was near Place Leon Blum, named after the French politician who, prior to World War II had been the Prime Minister of France and then during the war had been deported (he was Jewish) to Buchenwald and Dachau and Tyrol and then after the war became Prime Minister again. Seriously. Only in France. (I believe his brother died in Auschwitz.)
In 2005, on a trip to Israel, I visited a kibbutz named after Blum – Kfar Blum, it was called. I was with a group of journalists and I shocked them all by knowing who Blum was. I also shocked the lady from the kibbutz who was tasked with taking us around the place — she told me that no one other than French visitors ever knew who Leon Blum was. (I shocked her even more the next morning when I took a whole mess of fish from our breakfast buffet and fed it to Kfar Blum’s many stray cats.)
A few doors down from my apartment on Boulevard Voltaire there was a convenience store run by a Moroccan family. The father had come to France from North Africa but his sons were all born and raised Frenchmen. They were terribly nice and used to help us (my roommates and me) with our bags and suitcases and such when we returned home from trips. I remember that they loved wearing muscle shirts and showing off their good looks. (Why should youth not be so?) They were terribly sweet and I was grateful for their store because, at the time, it was very difficult to find a grocery store open after 7 p.m. in Paris (not the case now). So I had somewhere to go to buy bottles of wine and Lindt bars.
I keep thinking about that time in my life and about Mustapha Dupont, a Gilbert Becaud song from 1984. I moved to France in the late ‘80s and stayed there nearly five years; long a Becaud fan, I enjoyed that song and its idealism regarding French Muslims, an idealism which one could be forgiven for now considering rather quaint.
Some of the lyrics:
Il est né entre Constantine
C’est un bon Français
Comme toi et moi
Il a vu le jour entre Fez
Durand Mohamed Français cent pour cent
De A… à Z…
Son père est tombé en ’44
En plein mois d’août
Mamadou Abdou il est bien d’chez nous
Comme toi, comme nous
C’est ça la couleur d’ l’ équipe de France
Entre bleu d’outre-mer et d’ Provence
Tu prends un Lillois, Marseillais
Un Rital un peu polonais
C’est rouge orange, jaune, vert, bleu
If you don’t speak French, those lyrics talk about three French Muslims who are all ‘bon Francais’ (good Frenchmen), one of whose father died in World War II fighting (one presumes, given the date of the action and the point of the song) for France. The repeated lyric, at the end, is about the colours of “Team France.” Every colour, says Becaud. Team France is red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.
I bring this song up because I was at a dinner the other night where someone said that France was basically getting what it deserved – in regards terror attacks — for not having properly integrated Muslims. Um, wtf??? Apart from the victim-blaming of the comment, it simply isn’t true. While there is no question that European countries, in general, are not anywhere as good as we (meaning Canada and the United States) are at integration, the vast majority of French Muslims are just that, integrated and very well so. And while I have no doubt that many French Muslims have had to deal with stupid comments or other forms of ignorance, saying France is getting what it deserves is, well, stupid. As though a natural response to discrimination is to shoot up a restaurant, a magazine, a nightclub, a Kosher supermarket. Further, French Jews experience far more hate-based attacks than any other group (French Jews make up 1% of the population but are the victims of 51% of hate-based attacks in France) and I don’t seem them shooting up innocents.
In short, there is a deeper problem here, a sort of mass pathology, as Paul Berman wrote about so eloquently here.
A couple more useful links here and here, and my own observations when I returned to France in 2014 and 2015, regarding what I viewed as a clear improvement in just how well integrated the French Muslim population had become.
Of course, there are neighbourhoods that are a mess — Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 riots erupted, comes to mind. To some degree this is the result of a “hands-off” approach – a big mistake that comes from cultural relativism, moral equivalency, political correctness…and fear, I imagine. A bad idea by any other name is a bad idea. We in the West have become cowards (I blame Baby Boomers). We are unwilling to protect values that have been centuries in the making, values from which every group could benefit. This is currently playing out in Germany and other parts of Europe. When people won’t integrate or obey the law, there is nothing unreasonable or bigoted about jailing them or deporting them if they are not legal or talking honestly about the problem, rather than trying to hide it for fear of appearing intolerant. Islamism is not Islam and it shouldn’t be difficult to say as much.
I believe such an approach would make life better for those who want to assimilate (and by assimilate, I don’t mean giving up one’s religion or freedom of worship). There is also nothing unreasonable with making sure refugees/immigrants are carefully vetted.
I am an idealist. I see no reason that Becaud’s lyrics can’t reflect reality. And in many ways I think they do.
See here two pictures taken last March, when I was in Paris. The first is a plaque from inside the Grand Mosque of Paris, commemorating Muslim soldiers who died for France in World War II. The second is a plaque honouring a ‘spahi’ – regiments of the French army recruited primarily from the Maghred – who died during the liberation of Paris.
The attacks happened a year ago today, and people said, “oh well, this will change things. The West will wake up now.” And…nothing has really changed and we have yet to awaken.
Here is the piece I wrote about the attacks and all of the morons in denial who tried to mitigate what happened by crying “shades of grey.”
Andre Glucksmann died recently — his comments about the attacks in Paris would have been most welcome. Paul Berman eulogizes him here. One great thinker writing about another — you cannot go wrong.
There isn’t much to say about what happened Friday, only ten months after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. When the horrors began unfolding on Friday, I wondered how long it would take for the “but brigade” to start blathering. I knew they’d need a little more time to find a way to blame people who were simply out for dinner or at a concert or soccer match than they needed to blame cartoonists and writers, but I had faith that people that stupid would still find a way. And yes, the bleating about France’s foreign policy and all the usual drivel has begun. I am even related to someone who thinks this might have been a false flag operation — mind you, this is the same person who thinks 9-11 might have been one, and who has the usual attitudes about Jews…er, Israel.
It’s utterly awful. I will leave you with three links — first, the brilliant Niall Ferguson, whose message isn’t exactly full of promise, but whose message should be taken seriously (btw, this link appears to be behind a subscribers’ wall — see if you can find it elsewhere if you can’t get the whole thing here). I wonder if it is too late for the West. We have, in a way, allowed this to happen, as Ferguson points out in the afore-linked article and one does wonder how free societies can defend themselves against nihilism.
Second link is from the also brilliant Mark Steyn. I am not sure I agree with all of his conclusions, but he is spot-on that we need to target ideology and “the self-segregation” that goes on in our own countries. And I definitely agree when he suggests we “screw the candlelight vigil.”
Third link is from the not-brilliant me — my Charlie Hebdo piece from January, which tackles some of these issues.
And finally, I shall leave you, for now, with this very lovely version of L a Marseillaise.
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 red 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!
I am very proud of self, because I managed to do a nearly five-week trip in France and Italy with only a carry-on bag! It is what Rick Steves recommends, and he is right. It isn’t easy, of course, but once you’ve done it you realize it is the only way to travel.
That said, were I to return to Italy to study for a semester (a possibility in future) I would not be able to manage that. A carry-on bag for three months? I don’t think so. One would end up buying too much and then have to buy a bigger bag with which to return home.
Still, it is terrific to not have to wait at the luggage carousel, and not have to fear losing one’s luggage. Better Half had his bag lost on the trip back, though he did — thank goodness — get it returned six days later. I’ve had my luggage lost twice: once coming back to Canada from Turkey, once coming back from Israel. Both times I got the luggage back, but it taught me to pack light.
Or a wood pigeon. The bird in my previous post, that is (scroll down). I got two answers, one from someone who told me it was a wood pigeon, one who said it was a culver. I looked both up and they are the same bird, but “culver” kind of sounds better, though I have nothing against pigeons. I defend them all the time. (I took many pictures of pigeons in Italy and will post some of those photos later.) All I can say is, the birdie in question had a voice such as I have never heard come out of a street pigeon. But then, it was a French wood pigeon, so maybe that was a reflection of its attitude. At any rate, thanks very much to the two readers who sent in answers. I’m just amazed I have two readers. The internets are marvelous that way.
Don’t laugh if it’s a really dumb question, but what is this UFO? We saw him/her in Paris in late March, outside our little flat, flying about with a buddy. Very large, with a LOUD voice that it was using an awful lot. I’m sorry I couldn’t get a better picture, but it had lovely markings which you can sort of see here. So what birdie is this, dear readers? One of you must know.
I took this picture on Palm Sunday in Paris, a short walk from our little (borrowed) apartment. We had gone for a walk that day and noticed people carrying greenery everywhere — very lovely, though clearly, someone discarded or dropped theirs on the rain-soaked cobblestone. When I was a kid, Palm Sunday was something that made me envy my Catholic classmates. To me, it seemed very meaningful, remembering the crowds waving branches at Jesus when he entered Jerusalem.
We were reminded, by the way, that Notre Dame is an operating church, as we saw crowds even larger than usual leaving it that day, and leaving it with (not sure what kind of) leaves in their hands. I imagine that today, as well, it is packed to the rafters with tourists of all faiths, now all able to say they attended Easter Mass in such a famous place (though between you and me, I prefer Italian churches. Far more beautiful, both outside and inside).
Happy Easter and/or Passover, dear readers.