Cold Comfort

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My plan was to buy some time for Stuart, who is doing some last-minute work on the first floor. I want to show you those rooms after a little more furniture goes in and a few more pictures are up. So I was going to write a little post about something I found when I was unpacking, this can of refried beans. I was delighted. Then I was amused that someone who moved to a new continent because she decided she didn’t want to live without the restraint, refinement and sheer quality of, say, Dammann teas or Descamps bedlinens, should be so happy to discover this gem of Mexican peasant cooking, hidden deep inside a “kitchen” box. And, well, my ethnic heritage is English, Irish and German. I could write a whole treatise on the influence of German polkas on Norteño music; that doesn’t make me Hispanic. So how is it that canned refried beans make my short list of comfort food?

I was wondering how to treat all this. Amusement, for sure, but then what? Irony? Some sort of “Family of Man” homily? Hard to say, so I put it all down and picked up the NY Times article on the disintegration of the Middle East. Yikes. Really, who cares about the beans? How are we going to deal with the people who are here now, just trying to get away from that mess? They don’t care where their food comes from. They are just hungry.

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These are not refugees. These are men working in Istanbul, loading a truck. I didn’t want to get into the whole artists’ rights thing, nor did I want to pirate an image, so I am showing you one of my own shots.

To be honest, visually there is not much difference, unless you go for one of those pictures of 50 people in a 10-person raft. People who have just arrived look middle-class. They and their clothes are still pretty clean, often pretty Western. Their kids carry teddy bears. In short, they could be us. The difference is that they are running for their lives and we are not.

So I thought about that a while. I have a small apartment attached to my house, fixed up just because it was there. Why not move someone in? A little Googling turned up French politicians urging citizens to take in refugee families. But, you know, they are politicians, going for that feelgood statement. Was there an announcement of a program? Any way at all that this might be made to happen? No there was not.

I started to wonder about the wisdom of stranding a Muslim family in the middle of the Vendee countryside, an area where the Republicains only narrowly beat out the Front National, where you see “Europe Blanche” spraypainted on public property — and not painted out. More Googling, which turned up a public statement that says sure we want to welcome them, but not for long. Vendée Solidaire, indeed.

I have no clue how this is going to play out. I searched further and found a couple of NGOs that might possibly be looking to house people. Of course there was a refugee music festival, doubtless featuring performers who have been in France for decades if not their whole lives. My hunch is that I am writing about a generous impulse that will go nowhere. We shall see. If there is any movement at all, I will let you know.

 

In France, anyone can be an artist. Even me.

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Now of course I am not in favor of vandalism. Surely no one reading this blog, you classy and tasteful readers, you, would vandalize anything, leaving little bits of glass all over the bus stop. Certainly not. That said, it looks pretty cool, doesn’t it? Like that Fiat is just so peppy that it burst right through its little glazed cage? So what’s the story? Artistic statement — in which case Fiat owes somebody a lunch — or smartass thug who got lucky?

I think, best case, it’s a smartass art fart, not yet mature enough to realize that all the world is not his studio. I’m showing my age, aren’t I?

Seeing this poster got me thinking about something I like so much about living in France. People here value the life of the mind, to an extent and depth that we just don’t, in the States. David Lebovitz wrote once about having trouble with some bureaucratic nonsense at his bank, the usual “we’re not sure you’re legitimate” thing. The trouble vanished when, one day, he happened to walk in with a couple of his books in his bag. Almost in frustration he showed them to the banker saying, in essence, look, this is what I do. As it turned out, that melted the final resistance to whatever it was. There were no problems after that. You see, the banker realized that David was an artist. Well, okay, and a wildly successful published author, but he had had the numbers all along. This was something else.

I regularly have similar experiences, though to be sure with much less justification. A while ago I had cards printed with a few of my photos. I hand them out in preference to constantly repeating and spelling every last detail of my contact information. The cards started as a whim, a project for late one night when I couldn’t sleep. They have turned out to have a significant effect on my dealings with people here. It doesn’t matter, who, really, my vet, salespeople, could be anyone, they stop and really study the photo. Then they often say oh, you’re an artist. It goes from there. They could say most anything after that. What those cards stop cold is any question of why I am in France or why in the world would I be fixing up that house. Suddenly it all makes sense to them. Of course an artist would come to France. Of course she would put massive time and energy into creating a personalized environment, away from the distractions of the city. An artist needs a suitable atelier. So just like that, they start to see things my way.

After nearly a decade of coming here for much of the year and another year of living here — I am just about to renew my residence permit — I still feel like I just arrived. Thus I have no explanation or theory for this. I just know that I have this experience pretty regularly. I like it. I want to find out more about it.