I posted earlier about the quakes and such going on here, and it occurred to me that I really need to put things in perspective. I was talking to a couple of classmates here in Italy who are from the Ukraine, and they basically said they felt safer taking their chances with quakes than going back home to deal with war. And then I remembered my uncle’s letter about nearly being killed in a buzz-bomb attack (two months before he was killed by a German shell). Please read that letter and spare a thought for those who serve and those who served. Remember all those young men and women.
Yes, I am close (anywhere from 55 to 100 km) to the epicentres of several “aftershocks” and/or quakes that have been happening here (central Italy). Yes, one can feel some of these events rather strongly. Yes, I am scared. However, all the locals seem convinced we aren’t in any danger here and that is what I choose to believe. (Positive thoughts, vibes and prayers are most welcome.)
Dear readers, I am away from my desk, so to speak. I have been remiss in posting, I realize. Hope to remedy that soon.
This picture is from a day I spent in Gubbio last year with a wonderful Vietnamese friend, at almost exactly this time. The entire city was a life-sized nativity scene. Remarkable.
Very busy these days, folks (understatement). So not able to post as much or about all the stuff I’d like. But I wanted to acknowledge the feast of San Francesco, the man who blessed the birdies and tamed the wolf. In honour, a piece I wrote a couple of years ago.
It makes me realize that I miss my kitties immensely, and that I still feel such guilt about their last days, particularly Pushkin’s.
These pics are from when I was in Italy, in April. I went to the Archeological Museum of Umbria, which is full of fascinating history and seemingly endless artifacts — Byzantine earrings and Roman tableware and even the remains of Etruscan aristocrats (in ash form). It was Easter Sunday so entry was free and I spent about four hours there. I didn’t take pics of the exhibits, though I think it was allowed, provided you used no flash. I just wanted to enjoy looking and not worry about capturing. That said, once I left, I — being me — found a cat to photograph, the “official” cat of the museum, it was explained to me. The very kind folks at the ticket booth gave kitty a home, food, veterinary care, and love. (I think she had recently had her spay, hence her shaved belly.)
And here is a hideous view from one of the museum’s upper-floor windows.
Umbria — so ugly!
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!
One of my favourite places in Italy is Gubbio, a small city near Assisi and Perugia. (St. Francis tamed a wolf there and said wolf is buried in a church there. Seriously.) It has a rickety old funicular thingy that will take you right up to its very top, on the tippity-top of a mountain, but it is also fun to simply walk up (as far as you can) and back down the city. I did that one day in December with a Vietnamese friend/classmate and I shot this picture quite haphazardly. My friend had walked ahead of me as I tied my shoelace, and when I looked up I snapped the shot. My main goal was to get a picture of the architecture but it came out better like this. All of this is to say that this photo won honourable mention in Accenti Magazine’s 2015 photography awards (Accent is an arty magazine out of Montreal). I would have preferred winning but I think I’m kind of like one of those TV characters — on the Waltons or Eight is Enough — who never wins anything, always just comes second and yet learns valuable lessons along the way. Ahem.