According to Garrison Keillor “a postcard takes about fifty words gracefully, which is how to write one… fifty words is a strict form but if you write tiny and sneak over into the address side to squeeze in a hundred, the grace is gone and the result is not a poem but notes for a letter you don’t have time to write…” These are my Postcards from France:
A sunny Sunday in the English countryside. Roses pretty around quaint cottage doors; just the right kind of clouds in a perfect June sky; white sheep grazing on green slopes. Into this setting bring thirty Afghan refugees. I had to put on sunglasses to hide my tears as children stepped off the bus.
Four decades of collecting had transformed the kitchen into a place more often found in National Trust properties than people’s homes. At a racing green Aga refugee women in headscarves prepared an Afghan banquet – a welcome change to the chips and chicken nuggets served in their government-subsidised hotel, where the tap water is not drinkable. #refugees #welcomehere
Meanwhile the men sat drinking tea in a gorgeous converted barn and children ran in gardens rich in colour, navigating pets uncommon in their culture before finding contentment playing with clay in the potter’s studio. For seven happy hours they could forget the Taliban, earthquakes, oppression and conflict and enjoy the hospitality of remarkable hosts.
The actor asked to play Titania was indisposed so, at the eleventh hour, I stepped in to the role. Little Amal, the 3.5m puppet of a refugee child was visiting Stratford. Puck and a trio of wonderful musicians greeted her in a garden on the banks of the River Avon. I stood on a balcony of the theatre … “Hand in hand, with fairy grace / Will we sing and bless this place.”
For those who don’t know Little Amal (whose name means “hope”), she walked, aged 9, 7000kms from Syria to England, in search of her mother. The questions her creator Amir Nizar Zuabi and his team ask are, How would you like to welcome her? What would you learn from her and What will you teach her?
No one has the right to insist a woman bring a child into a world of climate change, terrible poverty and uncertainty, where one in five children are already growing up in conflict zones and in excess of 84 million people worldwide are displaced. Raising a child demands endless sacrifices of love, time, money, career. Even planned, adored children challenge and suffer – what hope have unwanted children of flourishing?
Media portrayal of women as actively wanting abortions squews the fact women – and children – are raped. Incest is a fact. Statistics and stories from around the world are horrific. Overturning Roe v. Wade is a catastrophe for human rights, turning the clock back on equality, medical progress, dignity and equality. As the past illustrates, the future looks utterly bleak.
In a country as rich as Britain it is truly shocking in 2022 to see a tramp, coat blackened with grim and grease, skin engrained with dirt, a person straight out of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), people sleeping in doorways, meet adults with few or no teeth.
Taking only side roads and back streets I walked for seven hours through a London that bears no resemblance to tourist brochures. East Street, Walworth, where, in 1889, Charlie Chaplin was born is still home to many frighteningly poor, disenfranchised people who clearly do not have access to so many things many of us take for granted.
Two very confused collared doves are sitting staring at a tree stump, wondering where their nest has gone. The neighbour came and cut down a 9m-high laurel tree because it was blocking his light. I feel almost as confused as the birds. And very exposed. The tree gave us privacy. (see postcard # 1904)
Marine Le Pen’s far-fight party is said to have borrowed millions from a Russian bank to finance previous election campaigns. In 2017, Le Pen met Putin and spoke of a new world order spear-headed by Le Pen, Putin and Trump. Neither this, nor the current devastation of Ukraine with its human rights abuses and crimes against not just humanity but the environment, have sufficiently deterred supporters in France where she is still a contender for the presidency. Voting takes place next Sunday.
Reading a New York Times theatre review I came across this story from the 1990s, when an East Coast Theatre was thinking of commissioning a piece exploring US influence on Palestine – “on thinking and consciousness and not in just a political way.” A Palestinian is riled: “Don’t get arrogant. It’s not a one-way relationship. Our land has produced the foundation blocks of Western civilization. The idea of one god was hatched in our neck of the woods.”
Any one who heard Fergal Keane’s reports from Rwanda, any one who read Season of Blood, would, I hope, be forever haunted by accounts of what happened in that country during the 100-day period in 1994 where c. a million people were mutilated, massacred, hacked to death. Before this sickest of deals, even a Tory MP said Priti Patel’s behaviour would be “a resigning matter under any normal administration”. Johnson’s is normal government. It plans to deport vulnerable people to a regime that persistently uses surveillance, intimidation and violence to suppress dissent.
The five greenest (most ecological towns) in France are, in first place, Angers then Nantes, Strasbourg, Lyon and Caen. There was only one Green Party candidate in the first round of the French Presidential elections. This is how he had fared: in Angers he got 8.32% of the votes, 9.98% in Nantes, 6.41% in Strasbourg, 4.6% in Lyon and 8% in Caen.
I haven’t thought of the Grand National in years, haven’t placed a bet in decades but when a friend told me she had a bet on Fiddler On The Roof I looked at the form and asked five different people to place a bet for me on Noble Yeats. Noble Yeats won at 50-1. Had those bets been placed, I would now be laughing.
In our town, Mélanchon was in first place with 2209 votes (27.63%). In the outlying villages and the region as a whole Le Pen was elected. Society is increasingly polarised. Radio France Inter aired the theory Zemmour was in fact Le Pen’s campaign manager – his extremist views making her views on immigration and Islam seem more electable.
From the New York Times 10 April 2022: The possibility of France lurching toward an anti-NATO, pro-Russia, xenophobic and nationalistic position in the event of a Le Pen victory constitutes a potential shock as great as the 2016 British vote for Brexit or the election the same year of Donald J. Trump as president in the United States.
I walked past the mairie on my way to market at 8am as cars pulled up and ancient couples got out to vote. There were fewer gendarmes policing today’s elections than oversaw those gathering two weeks ago to listen to poetry at a local primary school. Elderly voters tend to be Conservative, reactionary.