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.

 

Ceci n’est pas un char d’assaut.

bore hole digger

No, this is not a tank, though it looks a bit like a repurposed one. This machine digs the bore holes. To put it a little more Magritte-ly, this is a photo of a bore hole digger. It is part of my piddling anti-war protest. So, rant alert: get ready or move along, nothing to see here. I’ll cheer up tomorrow.
Last night at Cité de la Musique I heard Jordi Savall and his musicians perform the first in a series of concerts on the theme of War and Peace. Maybe the series should have been named the Art of War, Sun Tzu’s title perhaps more closely than Tolstoy’s describing the purpose. Savall performed a series of Baroque-era pieces, often excerpts from longer works, written as military music or to commemorate the beginning or end of a battle or war. He wove them together as if movements in a symphony, each prefaced by a narrator who gave a date and the purpose of the music. The overall effect was of endless war. Indeed, there were dozens of wars in Europe during the Baroque era.

The music was unfamiliar to me and mostly Spanish or Turkish in origin. Many, especially the earlier pieces, were written by the losers, as part of memorial services for the many who died during sieges. Others, such as the Janissary marches, were performed with the heroic emphasis downplayed. In keeping with this frankly sombre mood, Savall’s final piece commemorated the killing going on right now in Syria.

The other day I saw a news report on the IS push in Syria, along the Turkish border. I watched film of men who had herded their livestock to the border — IS was killing everything, so it was their only hope — only to have the Turkish army hold them there, with IS moving in from behind. I read that these men are Kurdish; I hope another story I read is not true, that Turkish officials hate the Kurds so much that they would love for someone else to kill them off, so they don’t have to deal with them. I hope the report is incorrect that many of the IS are simply mercenaries, happy to kill children and destroy farms and cities, anything for a little money.

So, to get to the point, where is that money coming from? It comes from the sale of oil, which is to say it comes from us. This endless war in the Middle East is motivated by greed and the desire for power, same as it ever was, but it can only be paid for if someone outside the conflict will buy what the warring parties sell. In this case, that’s oil and we’re buying.

I’m buying, too; what do you think fuels that bore hole digger? Even if I drove an electric car, which I don’t, somewhere in the supply chain would be a petroleum-based generator. But I am desperate to use less. So, while I talk about payback periods and building for the next century and all, the real reason for all this ecofriendliness is, I don’t like the sight of blood on my hands. Even though I know if I use less I just make it a little cheaper for the next guy to use more — thus netting zero effect on the environment and military budgets — I have to do this.

In one of my meditations I think about the earth supporting me. It has to do with relaxing, nothing more, but in this endeavor, the earth is literally supporting me. It’s all I have to work with. I am fortunate to have the land in the first place; here in Paris, this project would be possible only if the government decided to put a system into the Seine. That’s an idea for another post — or maybe a different blog.