Falling in LOVE

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When it comes to sports, I am more of an athlete than a fan. Running, swimming, hiking, I want to be on the go! As a child, I learned to enjoying going to baseball games with my family and friends. In college, it was football games, rooting for the UCLA Bruins. Then I married a Montréal and discovered the accidental choreography of ice hockey. Living with Mr French, I started tramping out to the Stade de France in -0 weather to cheer on Les Bleus. Truth be told, I have loved every minute of it, but nothing has been quite as fun as last week’s visit to Roland Garros for the Women’s finals at the French Open.

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Screen shot 2014-06-10 at 5.06.56 PM Mr French and I were there as guests of a sponsor, so there was a delicious pleasure to walking up to a guard, giving our name and being invited in, without tickets in hand. We were early, but the grounds were already buzzing with true fans who were there to watch the seniors matches (remember McEnroe?) and the junior championship tournaments.

There is a booth, sponsored by Longines watches that lets people time their serves. Could they match the 200kmh of a male pro? Not many were up to the task, but a lot had fun trying. And, yipee for me, there is a tennis MUSEUM! Can you believe it? A museum at the arena? Not only that, but the collection is alot about fashion. The evolution of tennis shoes, the first sequined tennis outfit for an indoor match, and the history of the famous Lacoste logo. There was the beret of the Basque Bondissant, with air holes added for comfort, and a tin trophy made from scrap metal during the war.

There is also a more serious display dedicated to Roland Garros, a pioneer in aviation and valiant fighter during WWI. He was also a playboy, with a roll call of famous friends and a fascinating story. The final exhibit honors tennis during WWI, which began exactly 100 years ago.

Heading up to our seats, we were invited to touch the Susan Lenglen trophy that the Russian Maria Sharpova and the Romanian Selima Halep would be battling over in the afternoon heat. Our sponsor had invited guests from across the globe and it was a particular joy watching the match as cheers sounded out around us in Portuguese, Hebrew, Russian, Japanese and English. There wasn’t a lot of French to be heard, because they are a much more sedate crowd and were complete drowned out by my Spanish neighbors. At one point I turned to the elegantly discrete French woman next to me and apologized for having made her jump when I shout in disappointment over a fault.

“Non, its is not a problem. I find it, uhm…. amusing.”

Screen shot 2014-06-10 at 4.43.13 PMOur group was split evenly between those cheering for the prodigal Sharapova and the new comer Halep. It was an incredible afternoon, the second set going in to over time, and the entire match lasting more than 3 hours, bringing Sharapova to her knees when finally victorious, while Halep returned to her bench and composed herself under a towel.

Both women were extremely gracious during the awards ceremony, applauding each other’s efforts and skill and acting like the true sportswomen young girls can model themselves after. So now, I’m a tennis fan. Stay tuned for a visit to Wimbledon in the very near future…

Inspiration Thursday

DSCN0939Karen Samimi’s Thursday visit…

ADSCN0964rc de Triomphe

I’ve climbed the Arc de Triomphe (Arch of Triumph) several times since I’ve lived in Paris, with visiting family members. It happens to be a 20-minute walk from my apartment, and I’d been meaning to go back for awhile. I chose a cool, dry April afternoon, even though the skies were filled with both white and ominous-looking grey clouds. That didn’t matter though: the skyline appeared even more drDSCN0980amatic than if the sun had been shining brightly.

The Arc was constructed from 1806 and 1836 to glorify the armies of the French Republic and the Empire. The single arch is located in the middle of a square with 12 avenues radiating out from it, all of which are named after battles and famous people related to France’s military history. Originally named “The Star”, this square is now called Place Charles de Gaulle.

To reach the visitor’s entrance, take one of the short underground corridors leading from either the Champs-Elysées (near the Charles de Gaulle Etoile métro exit) or the Avenue de la Grande Armée.

The only elevator in the Arc is for employees and the handicapped, so visitors must walk up all 284 steps of the spiral staircase to visit the mezzanine at the top of the Arc. About half of the Arc is currently covered with scaffolding due to restoration work, but daily visits continue. A few steps below the mezzanine is the attic room displaying the history of the construction work and architectural models and sculptures.

DSCN0965Every evening at 6:30 pm, a ceremony for an unknown soldier at the flame of remembrance on the ground level within the Arc is conducted by one of France’s 900 veteran’s associations. The colorful ceremony may be watched either from the ground behind the crowd barriers or with a bird’s eye view via a horizontal video screen installed in the attic room.

The platform roof offers an impressive unobstructed view of the nearby Eiffel Tower and the rest of the Paris skyline and leafy avenues below. Large sculptures in high relief adorn the exterior walls of the Arc, and names of battles and generals are engraved on the inside walls.

Visitor information:
Open every day except January 1, May 1, May 8 (morning), July 14 (morning), November 11 (morning) and December 25
From April 1 to September 30: 10 am to 11 pm
From October 1 to March 31: 10 am to 10:30 pm
It takes about 1 hour for the visit, excluding the waiting line.
I found the line to be shorter after 4 pm on a regular weekday.
Last admission is 45 minutes before closing.

Métro lines 1,2, and 6 or RER A station Charles de Gaulle Etoile
Bus lines 22, 30, 31, 52, 73, 92 and Balabus

Entrance fees:

6 – 9.50 € for individuals
30 € for groups of 35 students maximum, including 2 adults
Free admission for:
Minors under 18 (family visit)
18-25 years old (for people under 26 years old who are citizens of one the 27 countries of EU or are non-European permanent residents of France)
Disabled visitors and their escorts
General public, on the first Sunday of each month from November 1 to March 31

Oscar Munoz

Oscar Munoz Jeu de Paume

Oscar at the vernissage

One of the frustrations of being a photographer is trying to convey movement in time. Videos do the trick, but lack the discipline you can only get from a still camera. Colombian photographer, Oscar Munoz faces this dilemma with mixed media; printing out still images on surprising materials, creating dynamic images that move the viewer. He is not a photographer. He calls himself a protographer.

Screen shot 2014-06-03 at 4.54.44 PMHis show, which opened today at the Jeu de Paume, begins with an aerial photo of his hometown, Cali, Columbia that is laid out on the floor, under broken safety glass that continues to break down as viewers enter the exhibition, unable to avoid walking on the art.

In Cali, in the 50’s and 60’s anonymous men would photograph people as they passed by, then develop the images, hoping to selling them to the subjects photographed, much like the photos that are sold when leaving roller coaster rides today. A light table in the corner displays a collection of the photos  that the artist had projected over a river in Cali.

It isScreen shot 2014-06-03 at 4.55.32 PM the introduction to another theme. Beyond movement, Mr Munoz’s work is awash in water. Water that cleanses, purifies, erases; his subjects shower, their images printed on hanging shower curtains. Fading images of the dead are projected onto shower floors, drains included.

Which brings us to the next theme. Death. Many, if not most of the photos used are of people who have passed. The anonymous photos from the 50’s and 60’s are just the beginning as the artist projects obituary photos from the newspaper into his ephemeral world.

Screen shot 2014-06-03 at 4.54.22 PMIn one room, a row of metal disks line the wall. Exhale your breath onto the disk and the silhouette of an obituary photos appears, then disappears before your eyes, only to reappear again with your very next breath.

A second light table reveals a collection of photos with sinks at either side of the work surface. The image of a hand reaches over the table, grabs a photos and rinses it in a sink, the chemicals washing away, the image disappearing and the now white paper returned to its place. Moments later, the hand returns, grabs the blank rectangle, places it in the second sink, the water returns an the image is washed back on to the paper. It is a mesmerizing moment and a great tribute to modern protography.

Garden party

Hotel de Matignon

That was what was going through my head, a elaborate garden party with elegantly clad madames and their equally chic monsieurs murmuring gaily over the clink of champagne glasses and bird song. In reality, we were just on a tour with a few hundred other very casually dressed Parisians, visiting the gardens at Matignon, the Prime Minister’s residence, which were open to the public this weekend for the Fête des Jardins.

photo 2The Fête is an annual event that encourages everyone in the country to get out and explore local gardens. In Paris it is a particular treat, as very few of us have gardens of our own. When the girls were little we’d take them to our secret garden, Square Catherine Labourré for planting workshops, bird house building and harvesting the potager (kitchen garden).

The girls are beyond that now, and I had forgotten about the Fête until we cycled by a small line outside a small open door in a very long, imposing wall. Mr French stopped pedaling and wanted to know what was going on.

photo 5The entrance to the Hôtel de Matignon is on the rue de Varenne, but the gardens end on the rue de Babylone, where I once lived, so I knew exactly what was on the other side of the door. We stopped in for a stroll and were enchanted by the gorgeous grounds. There were signs up all over the place, explaining quirky facts and interesting details. We learned about the dog cemetery from when this had been the Austrio-Hungarian embassy and the tradition of having each Prime Minister plant a tree on the grounds while in office. Past choices have included oaks, maples and Prime Minister Cresson’s ginko. Manuel Valles, the current Prime Minister will be planting his tree this fall, but has not yet selected a species. Looking like an abandoned war bunker, there was an old glacière, where ice was once stored for cool breaks on hot summer days.

photo 4There was a lot of staff around the place, too; police circulating on Segways to make sure everyone stayed off the lawn, gardeners answering questions and bee keepers introducing the monument’s most recent tenants.

The gardens are not particularly floral, but they a sumptuous place to stroll and dream of garden parties…

Inspiration Thursday

DSCN1221Every Thursday my friend, Karen Samimi visits an exhibition, museum or monument in Paris, researching the venue before she goes and taking photos as she visits. Sometimes I even get to tag along, and now, you can too, as she shares her visits on FindingNoon…

DSCN1228Maison de Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo was born in 1802 in Besonçon and lived in this 280 square meter Parisian apartment on the second floor of the Hôtel de Rohan-Guéménée, located on the Place Royale (now called Place des Vosges) from 1832 to 1848, before his exile to The Channel Islands. He was exiled for declaring Napoleon III a traitor to France. His Paris home is now a museum run by the City of Paris. I especially enjoyed viewing the numerous paintings of the important people in his life. The house also contains sculpture and furniture, books, manuscripts, drawings, photographs, and Chinese decorations from his mistress Juliette Drouet’s home on the island of Guernsey. The permanent collections can be viewed in approximately an hour. Also of particular note are the paintings, sculpture, and posters exhibited in the stairwells.

DSCN12436 place des Vosges, 4è

01 42 72 10 16

Métro: Bastille, Saint-Paul or Chemin-Vert

Bus: 20, 29, 69, 76, 96

Open Tuesdays to Sundays between 10 am and 6 pm, last admissions at 5:40 pm.
Closed on public holidays: January 1, Easter Sunday, May 1, May 8, Ascension
Thursday, July 14, August 15, November 1, November 11, and December 25.

DSCN1230The permanent collection is free to the public.
Audioguide rental is 5 euros.
Temporary exhibitions are between 5 and 7 euros.





all photos ©KarenSamimi2014


The dark areas voted for the FN.

Appropriately, they used a dark color to show where the FN came out ahead.

That was the cover of Le Figaro Sunday night. France has just survived a political earthquake. The cover of the British Guardian paper was very similar in talking about the UK. On Saturday, three Jews were killed outside the Jewish Museum in Brussels. On Sunday two young Jews were beaten up in a suburb of Paris. But that is not what has everyone so upset. What is upsetting this week is racism and intolerance and a much bigger scale; the catastrophic results of Sunday’s EU elections, when several anti-EU parties gained seats to represent their countries in the European parliament.

The results have left much of the continent feeling the earth move under our feet. Not only are these parties against the EU, but they are against immigration in general, immigration from Africa and Asia in particular. With guerilla fighting going on around the airport in the Ukraine, there is an unsettling feeling of 1939 in the air.

In France, the results are a disaster; 57% of us didn’t even care enough to get out and vote against these intolerant racists.

My excuse? Everyone in my neighborhood was going to vote like I would, so my vote wouldn’t count anyway. Horrible logic, and now I regret it because the Front National, France’s racist, far-right wing political party has won the biggest part of European parliamentary seats in France. My vote would not have changed the results, but it may have sent out a clear message that the French care who represents them at the EU.

The truth is, many of us feel there is no one to vote for. The Socialist party that is currently running the government is an unequivocal disaster. They are consciously killing the economy to the point that very few French see things getting better for their children and there is a massive brain drain to countries where hope is encouraged. Or at the very least, not discouraged.

The UMP is the more right wing of the two major parties but they lack courage to make the changes that would be necessary for France to grow economically, or the foresight to foster tolerance in society. Even if they’d be an improvement, they are so deep in scandal over the misuse of funds that they shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a federal budget.

There is a far-left political party, but communism didn’t work the first time around, and the French are not anxious to be the next guinea pigs. Which leaves the far-right Front National that is responsible for the recent seismic activity, winning more seats than any other party in France. The FN wants France to pull out of the EU and now they are representing us in its parliament. It boggles the mind. They are against immigration, would like a return to the franc and claim that the gas chambers in concentration camps didn’t necessarily exist. Their eleven mayors who were elected on the national level in April are doing really important things like outlawing hanging one’s laundry to dry out of one’s window, evicting human right’s associations and preventing the construction of a mosque. For the FN, France is a Catholic country, always has been, and really needs to be again. They are bad news and they are not alone.

UKIP, a similarly racist party excelled in the UK elections. It is a disaster with indifference among Europeans opening the door for intolerance. The crisis in the Ukraine, random violence against minorities and the current mood has some people very, very worried.



La Fête des Voisins

Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 12.51.17 PMMaman French gets very angry when served oatmeal. I learned this last Christmas vacation when I pulled an apple-pear crumble out of the oven and she went into conniptions over the oatmeal laced topping, spouting out expressions like “donkey feed” and “during the war”. This little tantrum popped into my head last Friday afternoon as I started scooping oatmeal-chocolate chip cookie dough onto baking sheets, making the cookies I’d be bringing to the convent next door for the Fêtes des Voisins. I was assuming that the nuns would be about her age and suddenly panicked that they may have the same aversion to oats.

Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 12.53.08 PM Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 12.52.42 PMMy assumptions were wrong. The nuns are of every age and from diverse backgrounds; there is a British nun and a sister from Rwanda. They greeted us warmly, showing us a buffet table set up in their cafeteria and invited us in to discover their tidy garden.

Before learning more about the Société des Auxiliatrices des âmes du Purgatoire, I was anxious to see inside the Neo-byzantine chapel I admire from my balcony every morning. Built in the 1870’s it is now a National Monument and the nuns gather here for mass every Thursday morning at 8:30, the harmonious singing of their prayers vibrating on the air to create a concert with the tap tap tapping of the keyboard in my living room. The church is a peaceful symphony of pale stone and gold studded mosaïcs, with a glass door that announces “Hope” to all who enter.

Marie-Françoise was the first nun to greet me outside and I immediately began peppering her with questions; What was their order? What did they do? What did she?

The Auxiliary Sisters of Purgatory were founded by Eugenie Smet in 1856. Today they are 540 nuns in over 20 countries practicing the Spiritual Exercises of the Jesuit leader, St Ignatius of Loyola. Among other activities, the nuns on our street teach catechism and run a hostel for religious scholars. They also use their hostel to welcome families who are in Paris to tend to their ill children at Necker, the Children’s Hospital that is just a block away.

Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 12.52.12 PMAs I got more personal Sister Marie-Françoise was very generous, sharing that she had been a teacher before entering the religious life. She is now retired, but works at a center near Montparnasse where homeless can get a fixed mailing address, spending a few hours each week signing people up and distributing mail. And she takes care of her one hundred and four year old mother. 104!

After our chat, we returned to our neighbors who were gathered around the table, sharing snacks and talking about life in the neighborhood. As we entered the hall, an elder nun pointed me out. “That’s her, that’s the American who made the cookies.” Was it praise or accusation? I held my breath a second as questions started coming my way about the spices I’d used, the cooking time and would I share the recipe. I blushed, I thanked them and the question turned to more important topics, like who owned the huge dog who never seemed to leave the balcony of the 4th floor. Wasn’t it sad the chocolate shop had left the neighborhood? Any sightings of our infamous neighbor, Gerard Depardieu recently?

We had a lovely evening meeting our neighbors. I befriended a Japanese journalist, got a list of some great new restaurants to try and have a date to hear the nuns sing in their chapel during mass a week from next Thursday.

La Fête des Voisins is so new that it doesn’t get a lot of press, but it is so successful it has now spread Europe-wide with cityhalls across the continent encouraging neighbors to get out and get to know one another. Its a lovely way to spend the evening. Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 12.51.30 PM


Ali Baba’s cavern…

Screen shot 2014-05-23 at 9.32.23 AMToday is the Fête des Voisins. Started in the 17th arrondisement in 1999, it is a day when neighbors are encourage to get out and get to know one another, with buildings hosting potluck cocktails in the evening. This year is the first year I have ever lived in a building the celebrates the fête. And since our building is also a convent, with a private chapel I have never visited I was VERY excited when the nuns invited us all to come celebrate on their side of the garden! VERY excited. SO excited that I decided I was going to bake an American treat to share with everyone. Cookies!!! Even if that meant I was going to have to cross town for American style flour (different grind, pore proteins, more gluten), which is how I found myself in the Marais yesterday morning, waiting for the American grocery store to open. I was umbrella-less, the rain pouring down in buckets 6 hours earlier than announced by the weather app.

Looking for shelter, I wandered into St Paul Village, a quaint warren of antique shops where I spotted a photography store that is always closed when I pass. This morning the lights were on and somebody looked to be home. That somebody was M Sylvain Calvier, a discrete gentleman who has a great eye and is clearly passionate about photos. Dozens of dust-proof boxes are stacked every which way, atop wooden cabinets with narrow drawers viewers can open to find stuffed full oScreen shot 2014-05-23 at 9.32.37 AMf 19th century snap shots. It is an absolute jumble that is a treasure trove of 19th and 20th century photography.

I asked if he had photos of artists in their ateliers. M Calvier came from behind his desk, weaving through stacks of stock, piles of art books, and random body parts with determination. He knew exactly what he was looking for, and where it in his messy tumble jumble of a bScreen shot 2014-05-23 at 9.33.07 AMoutique.

He pulled out a box, set it on another random stack and invited me to have a look. Twenty minutes later, I’d finished flipping through the images, looked up and  noticed a pattern; geometric spheres. Everywhere. In clay, glass and wood; lining bookshelves, wedged in between sculpture, taking pride of place in the back window sill. Doing some research this morning I read that rather poetically, M Calvier considers himself an “Eleveur des polyèdres”. In English, he raises polyhedrons, 3D forms of geometric shapes. The gentleman is obsessed with geometry in the world. Which may explain his keen eye for photography.The shapes are beautiful in their mathematical perfection, their purity inspiring a zen calm. A yin to the turbulent yang of his chaotic space. The church bell rang and it was time for me to head back out and buy my flour, but I can’t wait to lead Mr French into this marvelous little shop of delights and explore some more.

More on the Fête des voisins on Monday!!!

Des photographies… 13 rue St Paul, 4ème

more about his geometry Screen shot 2014-05-23 at 9.32.08 AM

Here’s to murder…


We toasted to murder over the pock-marked zinc counter top of the miniscule bar at the (exceptionally excellent) restaurant Le Pantruche in Pigalle. I was with NY Times best selling author Cara Black and we had just spent our morning visiting the neighborhood, discussing the most intriguing ways to kill someone. That is what Cara does for a living, she offs Parisians as they innocently go about their lives.

It makes for interesting conversation. When I read about about a murder in Père Lachaise cemetery, the first thing I want to do is send a text. Had she heard about the crime? Had she visited the scene? Has she ever killed anyone in a cemetery? As we visited Pigalle, Cara would burst out, “And this is where they shot her, bang, bang… she had to crouch down here…” She’d nonchalantly point out the spot where a murderer had hid his motorcycle, while I’d glance at the two Parisienne office workers taking a cigarette break just steps away. Could they understand us?

P1060168 In Paris, I am an intrepid explorer, refusing to take the same route home that I use to get to my destination. Cara is an adventurer, taking it several steps further as she does research for her murder mystery novels; opening building doors, entering private courtyards and ready to question everyone. I love exploring Paris with her aP1060181nd this visit was no exception as she showed me parts of the Nouvelle Athènes neighborhood I had never imagined.

We began the morning at the Braderie (jumble sale) of the Holy Trinity church. An hour before the doors opened there was already a line. The man in front of me was an art dealer, engrossed a trade magazine. The people behind us grew irate when Cara showed up, explaining there was no saving spots at a sale like this. It was clear that we were surrounded by people hoping to discover a discarded Renoir. When the doors opened they made a beeline to the housewares section and started turning over every vase, every piece of pottery looking for signatures. I didn’t hear in jubilant shouts, so I can only assume that they were as disappointed as Cara who did not find her dream leather jacket.

Out the door, into the sunlight we crossed the street to the rue de la Tour des Dames, which is when my private tour of Murder in Pigalle began. Somebody died here, another was shot there. I was fascinated by the story, but also the charming row of 19th century mansions, and tempted by the newly renovated Musée Gustav Moreau just around the corner.

Along the rather prestigious rue d’Aumale, Cara would push random buttons to private doors, entering enchanting courtyards and banale offices alike. Down the rue Taitbout to the private, yet open to the public, Square d’Orleans where a potential victim practices violin, I admire the jubilant fountain and imagine George Sand rushing down from the flat that was once hers, crossing the courtyard to find her lover next door, Chopin.

Aimee Leduc, the serie’s detective, heads to a park behind the Place St Georges, but we are there to admire the ancient lavoir where women once washed clothes. Cara brings me into the surprising Bibliothèque Chaptal with its ornate salon, and points out the George Sand infused Musée de la Vie Romantique before bringing me to the rue Ballou. An Art Nouveau façade announces the entrance of a bucolic neighborhood where Aimee headed to seek information on a possible victim. I just admired the Tivoli gardens.

Heading for lunch, Cara pointed out the apartment where the artist Vuillard once lived, over looking the park he painted in every light, through every season. There is the ornate casino where one of Aimee’s colleagues heads for clues, next to the ultra exclusive ave Frochot, where Jean Paul Gaultier is rumoured to live and where the gates are so intimidating, even the chief murderess herself, Cara Black dared not enter.

Here is a map of our adventure, if you’d like to follow in Aimee’s footsteps and discover Pigalle, well off the beaten path…


View Murder in Pigalle in a larger map

What did we do to deserve this?

Screen shot 2014-05-19 at 8.45.46 AMI didn’t write all last week because over the weekend I had had a very unpleasant, somewhat typical French experience that I needed to share. Having just written the Conasse article, I wasn’t sure how, without sounding totally down on the French. And then I saw the very popular, hysterically funny, incredibly brilliant film, Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au bon dieu?*, and I had my solution.

Last Saturday night Mr French and I were in Deauville enjoying a weekend by the sea. For dinner he had invited me to Augusto Chez Laurent (fantastic restaurant, by the way…), the lobster king. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a thing for lobster and in Greece, I discovered that a decadent plate of lobster may inspire total strangers to speak to you. Which is what happened during our dinner. Unfortunately, this stranger was a total jerk. Through the course of the evening he interrupted our meal several times, which is not typically French, at all. In fact, this never happens, which show just how inappropriate this guy was. He was trying to be friendly and make casual chitchat, clearly uninterested in a conversation with his wife. But his conversation was unbearable. Beyond insulting his wife and belittling Americans, he said something racist.

My face froze, I literally dropped my fork, lobster juice splashing over my very elegant bib. Mr French saw my hackles rise and caressed me under the table with his foot. I am not French, so intelligent insults come slowly to me and I was having a lovely evening I did not want to destroy with a fight with a man I was not going to educate. So I shut up. Which made me very angry with myself for the week to come. And left me thinking a lot about racism in France.

The French can be racist. So can Americans, and Asians, and every other population on earth. But living in liberal, politically correct San Francisco, it is not something I heard on a regular basis. In Paris, I hear it weekly. Sometimes, I will hear it coming from the mouths of guests in my own home. And it shocks me. Even more disconcerting, the National Socialist (yup, the origin of the word nazi) party is alive and well in France, a welcome part of the politically relevant Front National, that currently has several elected mayors in the country. There are people in France who are proud to declare their intolerance.

I’ve heard it on the bus, when a woman insulted the Chinese because my Asian friend was blocking her way. I’ve heard it at school meetings when teachers discuss the Portuguese students. I hear it on the news as city halls try to banish kosher/hallal options in school cafeterias, but defend serving fish on Friday for their Catholic students.

When I applied for French citizenship my (at the time) mother-in-law was missing some important documents related to her parents’ immigration from Turkey. “Oh, you people,” decried the exasperated clerk, speaking to me like I was an idiot “what is wrong with you? Those papers were im-por-tant, I can’t believe how many of you lost your papers!”. She had a point. “Us” people were extremely negligent with our paperwork back in the 40’s, ignorantly “loosing” government documents that marked “us” people as Jews. So short sighted to have save lives, not paperwork.

Sometimes I wonder if vocal racism isn’t a good thing. At least we know who the racists are. In the US, KKK members keep a low profile. You’d never know your mayor belonged to their club unless you were a member yourself. There may be actively racist senators in the US, and the voters would never know. In France, we know what we’re voting for.

While living here, I have seen that talking about it openly creates dialogue, which can lead to education and a new way of thinking. Mother French was genuinely sad for me when she learned that I hadn’t celebrated Christmas before meeting Mr French. Living in a remote part of France where everyone is just like her, it had never occurred to her that other cultures were quite happy with their own traditions and didn’t miss hers at all.

Which is what brings me to Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au bon dieu?. Clearly, a team of folk much more creative than myself, has been grappling with the same issue recently and they came up with a movie that treats the subject with great humour and intelligence. A bourgeois, Catholic family from the Loire has four gorgeous daughters. The first marries Rachid. A French, integrated Muslim with Algerian heritage. The second is wed to David, a Sephardic Jew and the third marries Chao Ling. Imagine the parents’ ecstasy when the youngest announces her engagement to a Catholic man. At last, there will be a church wedding! Only, guess what? Charles is not French. He’s African.

The jokes are about food, religion, culture, with one minority teasing another, or two ganging up against another. They all come off as funny without being insulting, a remarkably difficult balance. Mr French claims there was literally a laugh a minute. I was too busy laughing to take note. What I did notice was that we; the Jewish-Italian me and the very French Mr French, are the very incarnation of this movie, and life in France today, with everyone waking up to race relations and trying to understand what is means for the future of their children and their grandchildren. It is about the French realizing that not everyone is thrilled to have a French daughter-in-law, and that living together respectfully enriches us all. I don’t know how this film could ever come out in the US. It is anything but politically correct and the slang would be hard to interpret, as would the local stereotypes. But if it ever does come your way, I recommend you go. It is wonderful, enlightening and healing.

* What did we do to deserve this? but literally, What did we do to the good lord?

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