Wednesday will mark the one-year anniversary of my journey to Marseille, the one that I thought was going to end with me sleeping in a pile of fishing nets in Martigues, the one that had me begging sad student dorms to let me sleep there, the one, in short, that necessitated the creation of this blog. To commemorate this, I am going to honor one of the things that makes me wish I were still in France: silly yet beautiful interpretations of movies with an obsessive element of social commentary. THAT IS RIGHT DESIGN FETISH IS BACK! Continue Reading »
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Just a South-of-France update, for those of you who are interested in social justice and/or camping in the great outdoors for months on end with no toilets or running water.
The local administrative court in Marseille has just approved a decree authorizing the evacuation (read: expulsion) of a Roma encampment near the city’s Porte d’Aix, which you might remember as the sad southern cousin of the Arc de Triomphe. The neighborhood is at the edge of Marseille, near the highway that leads to Aix-en-Provence (Hence “The door of Aix”. They make so much sense, these Frenchmen.), and every day (well, four days a week) for seven months, when I returned to Marseille from Martigues or Aix-en-Provence, I would pass the tent city on the side of the road, frequently illuminated by bonfires and animated by children playing, surrounded by the most ordinary of life’s detritus: broken strollers, plastic bags, food scraps.
By most accounts, the place was disgusting, probably extremely unsanitary, and its residents would undoubtedly have benefitted from a better living situation. The problem is, however, that their current situation is being taken away from them, with no real alternatives being proposed. Several times since the beginning of the national campaign against the gypsies who are just bringin’ everybody down in France, humanitarian groups have spoken up to suggest Emergency Housing Centers and work programs for these immigrants, many of whom, as illegal immigrants, aren’t allowed to work in France, make their living on petty crimes and begging. But it is rare for such centers to materialize, as a well-publicized announcement in February to open an emergency center in April has failed to yield any tangible results in Marseille. And even when such centers do open, they are likely to close soon after due to lack of funding or general ineffectiveness.
The camp is periodically evacuated, but after several weeks or months, the debris reappears, the bonfire resumes, and it’s business as usual for its residents. By most indications, this expulsion does not appear to be any different, but the process grows tiring, and city leaders can only effectively express sympathy to the tent city inhabitants’ plight for so long. Marseille mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin, justifies the expulsion from a humanitarian perspective: “conditions of despicableness [I am dubious about this translation, WordReference], extreme precariousness, insecurity and wretchedness”. So sure, the living conditions are terrible, JC. Are you going to suggest long-term positive social change? Probably, right? This guy sounds legit.
“These people, there are too many of them, we wish they’d go somewhere else.” – Marseille mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin, five days earlier.
Yes, because of this encampment, the Porte d’Aix neighborhood by the Gare St. Charles has a distinctly shoddy feel. People living without water or toilets are risking their health, yes! They shouldn’t have to stay there! But forcing them out without offering up a viable Plan B is just dooming this population to repeat this same exact story time and time again in a kind of bizarro Whack-A-Mole situation. And full disclosure, I might not be as interested in this if I hadn’t witnessed the comings and goings of this particular camp for seven months. This is by far the most esoteric and self-serving post this blog has seen. Not sure why you’re still reading. But it gives me a good soapbox from which I can chastise this group of lawmakers for treating the symptoms, and not the causes of a population in crisis.
Obviously this is all indicative of a larger trend in France, as you may remember Sarkozy ranting against the damage Roma do to the fabric of society blah blah et cetera. But as much as news stories and blog posts and public forums are dedicated to the reasoning behind their expulsion, next to no one talks about the end result: where do these people go? When you’ve built a life, however modest, what must it feel like to be told that not just you but your entire ethnic group has to abandon it? It turns out, it’s all the more cruel when the French government has decided that their destination is going to be You-don’t-gotta-go-home-but-you-gotta-get-the-hell-up-out-of-here-istan.
The short of it: Jean-Louis Hecht a French baker, tired of drunk people around the Canal Saint-Martin knocking on his door looking for baguettes after the brasseries and bars had closed, installed a baguette vending machine outside his bakery that will deliver a baguette into the inebriated hands of anyone willing to cough up the slightly-expensive-for-a-baguette-but-if-you’re-paying-Paris-drink-prices-it’s-not-that-bad 1 euro.
I know what you’re thinking. Bread from a vending machine? Yuck. EXCEPT because it’s France they’ve got this covered. The machine stores pre-cuite/mostly pre-cooked baguettes, then when you slide in your magical 1e coin, IT HEATS IT UP AND DELIVERS IT TO YOU WARM AND CRUSTY AND DELICIOUS I PRESUME.
Previously, unless you were willing to stay out until the bakeries opened shop at 5am, your late-night food options were pretty much limited to stale épicerie bread that even your drunk palate tells you is disgusting.
On the other hand, this Jean-Louis Hecht fellow thinks this is going to do for bakeries what ATMs did for banks, which just seems false. The money you get out of an ATM is the same as the money you get from a teller, but even medium-grade baguette snobs such as myself will, if given the choice, pick a baguette fresh from the baker’s loving hands over soulless industrial bread cranked out like a Snickers bar or that hot dog vending machine that was in Lerner for like a month. But as I, like most people, generally become less discerning between the hours of 1 and 6 am, I say bring on the sketchy poorly lit ATM and the vending machine baguette! Talk about convenience!
If you’re interested, the vending machine in question is on Paris’ Avenue Mathurin-Moreau, in the 19th arrondissement, a mere stone’s throw away from the French Communist Party’s headquarters and the landfill-turned-park at Buttes Chaumont.
Seriously, if they expand this to crepes and/or waffles I might consider moving back to Paris.
I have been back in New York for a week now, working at a small private bank where for the moment I collate and staple, but where I will hopefully eventually work in business development with an international client base.
I am sitting at a desk, where I’ve been for the last 7 hours with few interruptions, with a can of Coke Zero and an empty Snickers wrapper on the table in front of me.
Hardly a healthy lifestyle, I think we can all agree, and I can already feel the heart disease setting in, as a tiny French voice whispers in my ear that I should be taking two-hour-long lunch breaks and shopping at the market unless I want to end up as an obese American.
But then, in the way that reading 131 news articles in a day from boredom tends to encourage, the Internet comforts me with this tidbit:
As the United States struggles to cope with obesity rates, France is often looked to as a counterexample. Yet obesity is on the rise there as well now, and though French culinary traditions are often credited with keeping people trim, some worry those eating habits are under assault.
The most interesting part about this article to me is how it doesn’t even try to argue that typically French eating habits aren’t fundamentally healthier than their American counterparts. Home-cooked meals = good. MacDo’s = bad. And the problem here is that the American culture of convenience is infringing upon France’s right to two-hour lunches.
As you can maybe tell, I am incredibly conflicted by this assumption. On the one hand, yes, moving away from the traditions of French gastronomie is proving detrimental to France’s collective waistline. But on the other, I find it lazy to blame this shift entirely on American influence. France is a strong nation with a strong national culture, and to say that individuals in France are the victims of a tyricannical American fast-food culture is ridiculous. France is the second-largest McDonald’s market, not because it was forced upon them, but because they like Big Macs just as much as anyone (perhaps even more so, because they’re willing to pay like $15 for a medium value meal).
Luckily, France is never going to be as fat as the US. Their appreciation for good ingredients and ceremony in their dinner routine is, at least in my experience, stronger than an urgent desire for convenience. And although the article points out that rural residents who drive everywhere are more likely to be obese, they are likely to walk more than their American counterparts. Unlike the suburban sprawl and SUV wastelands that I know all too well, even most small towns in France have a definable city center, where residents can and often do walk to get their daily baguette. But I digress.
The lesson, children, is that a balance between convenience and health is possible, both in France and America. A home-cooked meal is important, even when you’re all I LIVE IN NEW YORK I’M TOO BUSY, but Parisians aren’t going to start riding around on mobility scooters because of their lunchtime jambon-beurres. Everyone just needs to calm down. Jeez.
[“The French Are Getting Fatter, Too” via NPR]
My treatment of this blog over the last two months could be accurately categorized as abject neglect. Despite the egregious lack of conclusion to this saga, there must be something about being home, no longer living the adventure, that makes me feel sheepish and unjustified for writing a blog. Who wants to read this suburban Maryland girl’s blog?
But then I figured I owed it to you. Over the past 9 months, I have heard so many nice things from you guys that I deemed it utterly unfair to omit the final chapter.
It has been 45 days since I left Marseille. In the time since I have been rocketed back and forth between various levels of relief, culture shock, maladjustment and burritos. As previous posts pointed out, the first few months of my time in France were rough. I didn’t know very many people, and I spent most of my time in my chambrette watching endless episodes of Mad Men. I know what you’re thinking: “But Emily, Mad Men is an excellently written drama, and although it is occasionally heavy-handed in its attempt to draw distinctions between a romanticized bygone era and our own, it is overall a well-researched evaluation of mid-century American life and a totally respectable use of your time!” But it turns out that there was a whole city that I was sitting down and missing by thinking about my own bygone American era, spending hours on GChat and missing my friends instead of going out and making new ones.
Fast forward a bunch of months and I realized my error. It became a lot easier to make friends once the weather got nice, as people in Marseille become a lot less grumpy when the sun is shining. So I was able to meet incredibly interesting people from all over the world, slice my hand open at illicit streetside bonfires, and spend days on end lying in the sun and talking about the world over a bottle of rosé. The downside of this newfound wonderful life was, then, its short lifespan. Just when I began finding my place in Marseille, it was time to go, and although I wanted to go home and see my friends, I knew they’d probably still be there when I got back, though I didn’t know when I’d have another chance to be poor and free in the South of France. This crisis was evidenced in an earlier post as well, where I suggested that there was a concrete reason for me needing to leave France and return to real life.
That was maybe not true. There was no single thing that was drawing me inescapably back to the US. When people asked me what I was looking forward to, most of my replies were food (Chipotle, pad thai) and customer service (restaurants open for 4pm meals, pharmacies open on Sundays). But then I began to ask myself, “Who needs burritos when you can make all of your meals out of REAL butter and cheap produce? You crazy…” Hence a moment of panic. In which I was struck with the terrifying feeling that I was leaving the party early, going back to nothing in particular, and giving up my youth in the process.
Since I’ve gotten back, I’ve talked to fellow alumni of the program, who proclaimed themselves soo ready to come back to the States, and when I couldn’t identify with that, I began to fear that I’d made a mistake. Then I had to go to a doctor without insurance. Then I had to pay $15 for a bottle of olive oil. Then I couldn’t find a good crusty baguette. And on and on and I thought I was going to go crazy and I’d only been home for two weeks!
The good news? Even though I still don’t have a job, and I miss baguettes desperately, I am glad to be home. Sure, there are things about the States that I will never like (Tea Party politics, shitty bread), just like there are some things in France I will never be able to stand (banking, real estate). But then I realize that I am 21 years old, and if France and I are meant to be, then we will. My stock in Paris has gone significantly down since I realized how many amazing cities France has to offer where you get sneered at for having a slight American accent, but we’ll always be homies. Anyone’s who’s so much as talked to me, pretty much ever, will recognize that my obsession with French language and culture is important to me, to the point of being super annoying and talking about France all the time. And in that way, this is not the end of an era, but the beginning, I think. After six months in Paris, I was ready to rejoin the life that had continued without me in New York, but after seven months in Marseille, I know that I’m never really going to be done with France, nor is it going to be done with me.
And to that end, I will continue to post French-related items from time to time, providing scathing commentary where appropriate. My only regret is that I’m pretty sure it’s too late for me to make wildly inappropriate jokes about Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his upcoming role in Maid in Manhattan 2. Shucks.
You’ve already gotten a brief introduction to the small-town charm espoused (and subsequently marketed) in Aix-en-Provence. It is exactly what you’d expect a French town to be, with it’s narrow, winding streets, innumerable fountains and plethora of delicious-smelling bakeries. Which is precisely why the place is overrun with foreigners, come to experience a “quintessential France” while still being able to shop at American Apparel.
I take the bus to Aix every weekend to give conversation lessons at the English bookstore (generating a firmly negative income as I spend my class earnings immediately on books and scones), but I rarely visit Aix outside of the well-traveled route from the bus station to the bookstore and back. So recently, I decided it was high time to get around to that, and in a way that didn’t make me absolutely poor. It was a great success, a perfect way to spend a sunny spring day in Provence. And, in the spirit of my personal hero, I accomplished the whole day on less than 10€ (not including the copy of The Three Musketeers that I weakly bought at the bookstore). Continue Reading »