For whom the bell tolls


Renoir – Le Moulin de la Galette


Time flies. Soon after France lost the final of the European football Championship, it was National Day and the yearly enjoyment in the Tour de France with its drugged cyclists – as usual. It was a cold 14 July, with clouds and bitter wind but the military parade on the Champs Elysées went on as usual, followed by the same stilted interview of the President by carefully chosen journalists, and the French went on with their holiday life.

The days when France almost stops in her yearly summer siesta were beginning, although they have not the wholehearted and childish joyous unconsciousness of the 1960s and 1970s. At least, to compensate the ever growing “no more holidays at the seaside”, there is the barbecue and the plancha, the discount supermarkets where you can buy at reduced price meat, ready-made salads and  ice-creams, and goods you may turn into junk food.

After the barbecue, there is always the possibility of the local ball (perhaps) and the fireworks (surely). Then, refreshed by such festivities, the French retire for the night and for a well-earned sleep. Another Fête nationale of which the initial meaning has long been lost.

Corot – Fireworks

But it was not to be yesterday. At eleven o’clock at night, while the fireworks were in full swing in the whole country, a lorry made its way on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. It was another terrorist attack for all we know that left eighty-four dead (among them ten children and youths), two hundred and two people suffering from injuries (among whom fifty-two people in critical condition) Several were children and families as it was a popular and all-age attraction.

The country is shocked. The President went for another speech. Emergency state has been proclaimed for three more months. The lorry driver was killed by the police during the shooting following the attack, and then was said to be Tunisian with French roots. Condolences and sympathy come from around the Earth, expressed by Heads of States, friends or total strangers. Debates are flaming: should the French stop the arrival of migrants? Should migrants be called refugees? Should France expatriate all foreigners, following the example of some fanatic Brexit proponents (including in a rash moment the new, non-elected, Prime Minister). What about the gun control (and there, a look towards the USA)? Are the terrorists French and bred on French soil? Are all Muslims terrorists? Are all French racists?

More generally and to sum up all interrogations, is the country going to the dogs?

I have no answer. Nobody has any answer. We have no global view of the entire situation, which is worldwide, political, economic, perhaps religious (if religion is not used as a tool), long-standing, part of the fall of the colonial Empires, of the resurgence of tribal wars, of new wars created by greedy countries for economic reasons in the 1980s and 1990s, for pious reasons including Western ideas of democracy and Human Rights covering starker money-bound reasons in the 2000s. Public opinions are manipulated. The peoples are lied to. Extremes are rising up their ugly and venomous heads. Reason is forgotten. Law is violated. The people are pitted against each other.

Otto Dix – La Guerre

Slowly, very slowly, the tension is growing, and as a wheel that gets idler and rolls faster and faster, we are heading towards another world war. The demographic regulation needs it. The economic regulation needs it. The financial and industrial groups and individuals wish it.

On Sunday night, I was watching the Avignon Festival’s flagship show: “Les Damnés”, a play adapted from the film by Visconti, ‘The Damned”, about the rise of Nazism and Hitler with the complicity of the industrial and financial élite festering like a hotbed of vices. A modernist staging that might have shocked “gentle people” by its crudeness that never bordered coarseness, where the Comédie française found back its vocation of beacon of culture. There was a sound in it of what is happening now that tolled like a death knell.



Avignon 2016 – Les Damnés

July: The Little Family is back (for better or for worse)! Good news / bad news ?

Some news from The Little Family who is now firmly rooted in July, warmth, sunshine, early mornings (when possible), sometimes late nights if there is something from the summer music and theatre festivals on TV, fruits, vegetables like courgettesaubergines, tomatoes, peaches, apricots, nectarines, soon melons…

And soon the Great House Scouring Party on the 21st of July, the day Anne-Fleur celebrates her birthday. As you know she will be 57 and cannot remember it because she sees such discrepancy “between her age and what she feels inside” – so she told me.

Add to this the Fête nationale (we never call it Bastille Day in France) on the 14th, Anne-Fleur’s saint day on the 26th (Sainte Anne), and you may imagine what an eventful month we are living!

And we already went – no, this is not true – I went through three events this week: one good, one less good, and another that does not concern us/me directly, but that I wish to mention.


There has been a leak for months in the loo. It was nothing important, nevertheless the noise was irritating and we were wasting water. The plumber had been ready to intervene since February but the finance administrator had given no green light for laziness, carelessness, and slackness. In the end all these were remedied and the plumber came at the beginning of the week. It took him ten minutes and a piece of black plastic to mend the leak. He has been working for us for some time now as he is the famous boiler man as well. In fact, he is the boss of a little enterprise nearby; he comes from time to time to do an odd job and overlook what his employees have been doing.

So, this job done, he stayed for a few moments, on the little terrace of the kitchen, talking to me. And then came the genuine kind word that was THE revelation for me! “Do you remember the first time I went? You were really ill then. You looked… You looked… Well, you looked badly ill. Now, you look…” Trailing voice. I get an appraising glance. “You look normal.”

YES! For a non-professional like Dr Quack or social workers or, even, the Socializing/Shopping Lady, I look normal. I told this to a friend who said that there had never been a moment that I was not normal. If I was disabled, it was by illness, stress and strain. If I still was slightly disabled, it was as a consequence of the stress and strain. But at no time I was or am mentally handicapped or disabled.

Hooray! I am normal!


 BUT… Why is there always a “but”?

The Socializing/Shopping Lady is not as interested as she was before by The Little Family. She thinks that we are difficult patients. We do not want to “socialize”. We spend our time in books, classical music, magazines, quiet occupations that we may lead alone, and this is definitely not normal. We should be going out more. Why don’t I create some “social link” with The Girls going shopping with them? Why don’t we go to the gym together? Why don’t we have activities outside the house together?

I told her that we had always found our happiness in reading, writing, listening to music, not in moving much, and not in doing the activities offered by the associations of The Village. That we were Townees. That we liked quiet. And that, plainly speaking, I was very, very happy to be left in perfect solitude, three hours a week, at home, while she was taking The Girls shopping. She watched me with a look of incomprehension, commiseration, and disdain. I was saying that I could be happy without The Girls. This is heretic when you are a parent or a sibling of handicapped people. They must be the Light of your Life.

Therefore, she leaves us more and more into other hands: she is on holidays, she cannot come for such or such reasons, she is not available, etc. It seems that after some unpleasant fluctuations, we have a rather permanent Stand-In Lady who started this afternoon. As I did not know who and how she would be, I decided to go shopping with The Girls to test our Substitute Lady.

She was nice to The Girls, polite with me, and helped me, although she was clearly dejected not to  decide to which supermarket we were going, not to have to push the trolley (Anne-Fleur’s task), not to make the menus (I had made them and then the shopping list accordingly), not to choose what to buy (ditto the shopping list plus the calculator to keep an eye over the spending).

Coming back, while she was driving, she asked me: “But who is the mentally handicapped person? YOU are the one, aren’t you?” I was utterly dismayed.

Boom! Live with Down Syndrome people and YOU are the mentally handicapped one! Now I have to think very, very hard at what the plumber said. And I have to use the méthode Coué“Je suis normale, je suis normale, je suis normale…”

No, truly: I am laughing.


The third event happened on Thursday night.

There were semi-finals in the European Football Cup and France was playing Germany. France won the World Football Cup in 1998 with a team that was called “Black, Blanc, Beur“, which means that there were Black, of Arab origin, and White players. This had a very positive, if not lasting, effect on French society. We understood that we could be united, together, do something, and win. There was no question of skin colour or creed anymore. We were together.

Since then, there was the financial and economic crisis, the rise of the Extreme Right (Front National), the Arab Spring, DAESH, ISIS, Syria, Iraq, terrorism, attacks, racism again. Meanwhile the French team behaved like spoiled children, money came in, new generations came, and we did not even play one match in the World Cup on South Africa, on a whim. The French players went to the stadium but refused to get off the bus. We left the competition far, far before the semi-finals, at the very beginning of the competition! It has now taken years to build another team and we were not too sure of it!

Slowly, this year that France is host to the European Championship, the new French team went up, up up, match after match. Until we played Germany yesterday. It was in Marseilles, which is a difficult town with lots of problems with racism and violence. We were not too confident in a French victory and we were already congratulating ourselves that we had been so far!

And we won!

I am not much interested in sports, even less in football. The Girls do not understand the game. We watched a film against racism on another channel. When it was over, I turned to Channel 1 and we saw the French players being applauded and applauding the supporters in the stadium. I understood that we had won. It was confirmed: 2 for France and 0 for Germany. But what was beautiful was this new “Black, Blanc, Beur” team and the usually oh so racist public sharing a moment of collusion and of joy. Tomorrow – that is Saturday evening – France will play Portugal in the final. We may well lose. I hope not. It would be wonderful to live another complicity moment between the team and the country. This would soothe the rise of racism, the horror of the difference, the fear of the refugee, the idea of a Frexit. I long for another time like the one that followed the victory of 1998.

And I want to thank England. There were different teams representing the UK, England represented England. While the English were playing in Marseilles, and after, as they left the competition rather early, English supporters created and built a “synthetic” stadium in one of the multiracial, difficult, and violent suburbs of Marseilles. This will allow youths of different origins to come and play together.

The UK voted for Brexit. But who says that all British are racists? Thank you, England. Thank you, UK. This is the way we like you.

Ramblings about France and Britain from habits to literature via Brexit

I guess that for some of you the life of The Little Family, Anne-Fleur’s tears and my relations with Red Tape as a carer treated as a diary, have little or no interest. They are first written for another blog created to talk about these issues, and called “Lights and Shades”. However, readers are more used to “Sketches and Vignettes” and I have come to re-post the entries of “Lights and Shades” here, where they are read, get comments and support – two things of which we are in awful need.

But I understand that they go across regular reading of bookish ramblings, therefore here is one of these musings.


I was rather dejected the other day about the number of British writers I do not know or I know badly. Then the Brexit and the discussions around it before and after the referendum reminded me that I was French. I was reminded of that fact rather coarsely and crudely, sometimes with a spat of xenophobia and parochialism that I had never encountered although I had had a taste of it before.

My “real”(non virtual) English friends criticize our bread consumption but do not understand that there are days when we drink no tea at all and prefer strong Italian coffee. I have heard them laugh at the French more than once but they will not hear a word against British people. The French are plunged too much in administration, regulations and rules. The French are lazy. The French are drunkards. The French are messy. It is too hot in France. The French do not drive on the good side of the road. The French do not eat at the right hours. The French are unruly. The French are not fair players. The French politics are far from being democratic and they had Bastille Day and a revolution where they cut off everybody’s heads. The French did not have an Empire (I do not speak of the Napoleonic Empire: this was bad and a heresy) or if they had one, they did not know how to manage it. The French have no decent literature: they do not have Shakespeare. Why do the French want to speak French now that English is the global language? Instead, “we, in this country…” England, sweet England, Rule Britannia and God Save the Queen.

I agreed to all this, drank tea at ungodly hours for a French woman; ate weird things at weird hours; dutifully found that British fashion was the best; froze in British houses in Spring and even during Summer with a smile; waved to the Queen and the Royal Family; enjoyed the rain; enjoyed queuing in the rain; appreciated cricket; went to Anglican services, RSPB, RHS, and other Rs meetings where tea-urns were hissing and spitting; listened to and admired the supremacy of the Empire; vowed that without Britain, France would have been destroyed during the two last WWs because the French are poor soldiers; admitted that France should have been under the domination of England, then Great Britain and the United Kingdom instead of winning the One Hundred Years War and trying afterwards to keep her independence and even to shine under some rulers, etc.

But now I have decided to draw a line, at least, at writers, painters, musicians, artists.

France has a perfectly great literature with some geniuses. France has perfectly good painters, even geniuses. France has perfectly great musicians, even geniuses.

As to my reading British literature, I know at least as many writers as British citizens do, and probably more than many. I even know more obscure literati, literature movements and currents than the proverbial average man in the street.

And I know the same quantity of things about France and French things. At least.

So why should I complex?

End of complex.


Let’s ask the question the other way round. How many British people write their blogs in French, read in French, know French literature down to the equivalent of the poor D.S. Stevenson (I apologize to her fans and admirers) – and are not French Literature graduates or teachers/professors?

So why should I complex?

End of complex.


And, talking of poor D.S. Stevenson and revived British authors, why are they so present in the current British literary landscape? As are costume dramas with great success: think Downton Abbey, think Cranford, think Lark Rise to Candleford, think Jane Austen’s novels, think Poldark novels, think Charles Dickens’ novels, etc.

There are mostly no costume dramas in France. We are overwhelmed by US and British crime series, full of blood and violence; we have our own crime and detective series, more and more full of blood and violence; we have series with a social message – politically correct: gay and lesbian tolerance, pro-step-families, host families for children with various problems, pro-single-parent families, against racism, against anti-semitism, against anti-Muslims (before ISIS, DAESH, terrorist attacks – but they are recycled as examples of vivre ensemble / living together); we have series where we are challenged to beat our breasts for our faults before, during and after WWI and WWII and the Indochina War and the Algerian War and wars that came as consequences of decolonization – in fact, we are becoming champions of asking for mercy and asking for forgiveness; we have some so-called humorous and family series. But we have no costume dramas.

It seems that we are not raised to be proud of our country as the Britons are raised to be proud of theirs.

At the same time, we do not live in the past.

Our social structure has always been different from the British social structure. Before 1789, and before les Etats Généraux (not what is called elsewhere “the Bastille Day” – 14 juillet 1789), there were what were called three “States”: Aristocracy, Clergy, and Tiers Etat (what remained). We all know that the guillotine worked a lot throughout the Révolution, until 1794 and Robespierre’s death: that left a great void in the Aristocracy and the Clergy. But the Napoleonic period created a new aristocracy and so did all political regimes which succeeded in the 19th century – of course, they are too new to be the real aristocracy: what are two centuries and a half? A mere nothing. These people still smell of pushiness and upstart. We had to leave the system of “Etats” to adopt that of classes. But it came slowly. There was no pride in being in the bank or the trade. There were no great aristocratic landowners left. The Industrial Revolution came later than in the UK, among the convulsions of succeeding revolutions: 1815, 1830, 1848, 1851, 1871, 1875, all civil wars and international wars before the great trauma of WWI. The new élites were political, industrial, from the civil service and, later from “les Grandes Ecoles”. There is nothing there to make anyone dream.

Our Empire was different from that established by the UK. We needed soil to grow and to take off part of the burden of too much population in poor regions. We never created much counters for trade and ports where our navy could stop en route to further territories. We sent settlers who took the soil from their owners. We did not let our colonies stay countries but we mostly annexed them to France as part of France, making them “départements”. There always were frozen wars between indigenous peoples and settlers. And if the countries were annexed to France, the civil service and the civil servants were French of course.

These are two examples of the differences between the UK and France and perhaps the roots for the breast beating of the French. There is – excuse me to be so frank – no pride, no arrogance, and nowadays few regrets about our past. There is no regret for a lost Empire. There is no idyllic vision of a peaceful rural France, a pre-lapsarian France, a France where aristocrats were mooning between Paris and their country seat. Our only exaltation is that of Revolutions, perpetual search for freedom, the Republic, the surge of Labour, Socialists, the fights against the bourgeoisie. No hotbed for costume drama.

As there are few regrets for the past, there are few regrets for past writers who are considered as minor if they are not the monsters all know: Balzac, Stendhal, Hugo, Flaubert, Sand Zola, Maupassant, the little Réaliste and Naturaliste schools, Proust, Gide, Colette, Romain Rolland, Martin-du-Gard, Cocteau, Mauriac, Vian, Sartre… I am talking of novelists only here, not of poets; otherwise there would be Lamartine, Vigny, Musset, Hugo, Verlaine, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Aragon, Eluard, Prévert, Péguy… But who remembers today Maurois, Brasillac, Chardonne, Dorgelès, Bourget, Toulet, Morand… There is a line of political divide even among writers: some went too much in favour of conservatives. Their song of the French ground is now considered as the song of the Far Right, and this reminds us too much of Dreyfus, Collaboration, Vichy. Here we are again breast beating.

What about women in this list of writers? There is Simone de Beauvoir of whom I have not spoken. The others were authors for children and young ladies, like Charlotte M Yonge. Conservatism again. Then came the feminists. There are shelves of novels by feminist ladies that belonged to Mother. Are they any good? They were serving a cause and were relevant then. Today, they must go into limbo and wait for a possible revival. But it is too soon yet.


Going back to my initial question:

And, talking of poor D.S. Stevenson and revived British authors, why are they so present in the current British literary landscape? As are costume dramas with great success: think Downton Abbey, think Cranford, think Lark Rise to Candleford, think Jane Austen’s novels, think Poldark novels, think Charles Dickens’ novels, etc.

I can answer in linking this with the Brexit commotion. The British past has nothing to do with the French past. The French do not turn that much to their past: they are aware of its flaws and do not dream it as something to come back to. There is only the temptation of the Far Right, with which almost all countries in the West are flirting. This is a Western temptation of “what was before that might be restored”, a supposed greatness that never truly existed for all citizens of these countries. And, for me – but I am writing on my blog and therefore may say what I wish -, it is a danger.

Now, most of my friends are interested in the revival of British or American writers who have been forgotten or left aside. I do not want to hurt them (even more as I share their enthusiasm in the re-discovery of these authors) but looking back to give a second life to these writers does participate of the mourning of the past. I find it, when it becomes almost obsessive, rather unhealthy.

Unless it serves as a ground to build a future.

P.S. Of course, I count on my readers’ sense of humour: a lot of what is written here about non-French people (as well as things and issues) is done tongue in cheek


Diary (9) – Please, help!


I have Down Syndrome… What then?


Dear friends and readers,

Positive things first.

Your reading and writing comments or a “like” was a surprise for Dr Quack and the local Red Tape. As a consequence, a gardener has come twice and spent five hours and a half in the garden, pruning the demented wisteria, several offshoots of cherry trees, walnut trees, oak trees, making big piles of branches, and cutting part of the grass. A cleaning party is now decided for the 21 July – the whole day with three or four ladies and the gardener to move furniture and book boxes around.

Why is that the consequence of your action, will you ask? Because it is the first time they all here encounter an international public mobilization. You have a weight.

Thank you.

Thank you for your advice as well.

And where is The Little Family?

Anne-Fleur is sick at night. She is still scared to be torn from me. She stressed and strained. Every night she wakes up and is sick before she reaches the loo. She goes under the shower. I clean her. I clean the floor. I put her back to bed. I hug her. I rock her. I try to send her back to sleep, telling her that things will be well.

As to me, after asking various French organisations reputed to help handicapped persons and their families, I am back where I started.

No one has been able to tell me if “carers” existed in France. If they exist, which seems more and more dubious, do they receive a remuneration? This seems even more dubious. Should I have a “compensation” for taking care of Anne-Fleur? Who knows? No one. Each organisation tells me to ask the other. And they send me back where I started.

Meanwhile, I know now – and this was something that I was not intended to know: the person who said it was sorry to have done so -, I know that The Shopping Lady is paid €20,80 per hour to go shopping with Anne-Fleur. And she has told me she does not like it.

If I do a quick calculation, what might I earn? €20 x 8 hours (I will not count the night hours and the meal hours and part of the “being together” hours; I make it an ordinary working day). That makes €160. Shall I make a monthly estimate, taking out the weekends? Let’s say I work 20 days a month: €160 x 20 = €3.200.

This is not bad. Even with half the amount, I would be happy!

But this is a dream.

Even for my lawyer, this is no legal issue.

As to my being declared mentally handicapped, this something that is never ever talked about. Never ever mentioned. Therefore, it is never said whether Anne-Fleur would remain with me or not.

It seems that the handicapped persons like Anne-Fleur are dealt with by our society when they are children. Then, when they become legally adults (in France, when they are 18), they are declared mentally handicapped, given an allowance, put under guardianship, and, most of the time, steered towards a job, staying with their parents while these are able to take care of them. When the mentally handicapped person grows old, she quits her job and her aged parents (or these die), and she is steered again towards a paid family who will take her on board, or towards a specialised institution until his/her death. There seems to be no one from the family after the parents. Brotherly or sisterly care? A void.

What am I to do?

I will need you again. Please, show that you read this blog. Please, tweet it. Please, re-blog it. Please, put it on Facebook. Please, make it known on the social media. I do not want to lose Anne-Fleur and Anne-Fleur does not want to leave me. We want to stay “The Little Family”. So, please, SHOW YOU CARE. You may make the difference when I write to our MP, to the minister in charge of handicapped persons, and to the media.

Compared with the Brexit, with the wars, with the refugees, with elections, with democracy, with all the noise and the rush of the world, we are a wisp of straw, a mere nothing. However, the world, the countries, the nations, democracy – all this is made of wisps of straw, of mere nothings.

Please, help!