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:
The backbone of France is arguably its strong culture of Associations. Yesterday I went to events organised by three: Domino, based in a large renovated farmhouse surrounded by 2 hectares calls itself a ‘humane, welcoming community’. Encouraging those seeking peace to their kitchen gardens, ceramics studio, theatre space and peaceful park they believe that ‘difference and fragility’ in some are ‘sources of enrichment’ for others.
Next, a meal in Rabastens organised by L’Antre Deux, a charity which helps asylum-seeking minors – mostly young African men who, to raise funds, had cooked a meal. The vegetarian option consisted of three deep-fried greasy balls of banana mixed with far too much flour, followed by a very watery bowl of ‘Dahl’ – basically just parsley floating in chicken stock.
And so on to a St Patrick’s night celebration organised by villagers hoping to start a community café. An elderly Scots couple (who spoke no – or haltering, scarcely audible French) were in charge of the Scottish country dancing. More dodgems colliding at the Fair than Gay Gordons or Strip the Willow, it was so much fun, high spirits, confusion and laughter filling the salle de spectacles in equal measure.
Exiled, Stefan Zweig wrote in The World of Yesterday (1942) ‘I have not felt that I entirely belong to myself any more…. I — the former cosmopolitan — keep feeling as if I had to offer special thanks for every breath of air that I take in a foreign country, thus depriving its own people of its benefit . . . On the day I lost my Austrian passport I discovered, at the age of fifty-eight, that when you lose your native land you are losing more than a patch of territory within set borders.’
The great upheaval of the 1930s that forced millions to become stateless refugees, is within living memory of several people I know. And is happening again. Hannah Arendt, knowing its emergence to be both existential and political, argued it required new forms of thinking and imagination – horrified humanitarianism would never be enough.
Arendt’s essay titles speak volumes: Active Patience (1941) and Guests from No-Man’s Land (1944). Of Hungarian origin, Arthur Koestler (author of Darkness at Noon, 1940) was imprisoned as an undesirable alien/illegal immigrant in both France and England during WW2. He titled his autobiographical account of being a refugee Scum of the Earth (1941).
Both Hannah Arendt and Dorothy Thompson understood the refugee crises of the 1930s to be not the cause, but a symptom of a nationalism that was ‘turning the world into a jungle.’ Refugees were ‘people forced to run away from one part of the jungle to another’ … an advancing crowd shouting a great warning:The jungle is growing up, and the jungle is on fire.’ (Lyndsey Stonebridge, Placeless People p 23)
It was truly heartwarming to see how welcoming and helpful people can be when dealing with Ukrainian refugees. May the bonhomie spread! The Ukrainian who’s been living here for a while and I didn’t get the answers (or help) we were hoping for, but the blow was softened by seeing people being genuinely, wonderfully friendly and kind.
Thirty years ago today I returned from my world tour and remember still the thrill of daffodils resplendent in Greenwich Park, of trees in bloom. Roll on three decades to the south of France, almond blossom, bees humming, a scorching hot afternoon which ended abruptly in dramatic black skies and spectacular electric storms.
Yesterday I saw a heron up close, today a herd of sheep suffering in the heat of an unseasonably hot day. Agitated shepherds drove them over a busy road, motorists impatient, me, enchanted. Beneath shaggy cream and brown coats were the most delicate legs and feet I’ve ever seen.
France hammered England 53-10 at Twickenham in the Six Nations rugby tournament on Saturday. Yes!
The late, truly great Japanese film director Akira Kurasawa said ‘I suppose all of my films have a common theme. If I think about it, though, the only theme I can think of is really a question: Why can’t people be happier together?’ A question that sums up too many of these posts.
Apparently it takes a football commentator to get people worked up about UK government policies and the BBC’s use of license payers’ fees. Sadly, no opposition party is having a similar effect. It should be easy to oust the Tories, given the way they behave – millions of tax payers’ money is spent on inquiry after inquiry after inquiry (Covid inquiry alone = £85M).
The row at the BBC is over its commitment to impartiality. Yet their Director-General was a member of – and stood at election for – the Conservative Party. The BBC’s multi-multi millionaire Chairman, a former banker with JP Morgan & Goldman Sachs secured a £800,000 loan for Boris Johnson and has donated over £400,000 to the Tory party. The idea of the BBC being impartial is farcical (see 2115).
At the start of the BBC’s recent World Cup coverage, Gary Lineker drew attention to the absence of human rights for migrant workers, women and gays in Qatar. A former Newsnight presenter says “Curious that [Lineker] was free to raise questions about Qatar’s human rights record – with the blessing of the BBC – over the World Cup, but cannot raise questions of human rights in this country if it involves criticism of government policy.”
The US government has published statistics on school shootings – 678 in the past two decades. 75 shootings in 2019-2020 led to injuries/death – a further 37 appear not to count, because they didn’t. At least during lockdowns American school children were at less risk of being shot while learning. Government data is broken down into six categories, including ‘accidental’ and ‘illegal’. ..
Far-right congresswoman Lauren Boebart – who grew up in Rifle, Colorado – dropped out of High School when she got pregnant aged 17 and is, at 36, about to become a grandmother. She posted a photo of her young smiling sons touting big rifles as they pose in front of the family’s Christmas tree. Multiple pregnancies, starting at a young age, weaponised children – isn’t that what white folk condemn in poorer countries?
The photo became a fad among Republicans, leading Alesandria Ocasio-Cortez to tweet Tell me again where Christ said “use the commemoration of my birth to flex violent weapons for personal political gain”? The professedly devout’s interpretation of religion can mystify: Iran’s islamic regime is currently poisoning schoolgirls who dare to question.
Congressman Thomas Massie (born in Huntingdon, West Virginia), posed for his Christmas photo sporting a semi-automatic, surrounded by six smiling members of his family, all of whom are carrying weapons that look like they could wipe out whole communities. His tweet read “Merry Christmas! ps. Santa, please bring ammo.” What’s next? handing out smallpox-infected blankets to people of colour… ? (Massie, incidentally, voted NOT to condemn China’s treatment of Uighars).