Les aventures de la Toussaint.

I spent the last week with Mom, roaming all over Paris and eastern France, helping to explain my lack of updates on here. Good food, great wine and a sustained opportunity to speak English were a boon to my spirits in this dreary autumn weather.

“Is it live, or is it Memorex?”

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Well, at least her (presumably) leg is o.k.

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If you don’t think this is funny, you can go to hell.

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La basilique du Sacré-Cœur, Montmartre.

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La cathédrale de Reims.

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La lumière.

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Beaune.
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Gettin’ seasonal.

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The great vines of Burgundy: almost exclusively Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

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Walk in the park.

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Rules the roost.

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Les Hospices de Beaune et son puits.

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Les Hospices. The tile roofing is unique to Bourgogne and is more than 500 years old.

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Maison Alex Gambal, a friend and excellent winemaker, Beaune.

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Alex’s cave.

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The great chouette de Dijon. She is purported to give you good luck as well as grant wishes.

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As usual, you can find more of my photos on flickr. Happy Halloween, everyone!

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Foggy morning, sunny day.

The sun has finally come out, turning the morning frost to a slow-rising cloud of fog. I missed the good stuff by about a minute, but I managed to snap a few shots while some vapor still lingered.

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We had a fire drill this morning while the ground was still crunchy with ice. Lame.

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The yellow in this is too damned cool.

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Welcome to winter, folks! It’s cold as hell! All my photos are available on Flickr.

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France runs out of gas.

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France is running out of gas. The two stations nearest me in my town have both put up signs like these (above) after a huge rush to fill up on Friday night killed supplies. The BBC also reports that Charles de Gaulle airport is running on its reserve tanks, as the main pipeline bringing oil to Paris has been all but shut down. The airport expects to make it through the weekend without any major interruption, but next week’s prospects remain cloudy as unions call for more strikes on the 19th.

Most refineries in the country have been shut down or are otherwise not producing at this time. Police have broken strikes and re-opened 3 blockaded depots, but it’s unlikely that the government will use the cops to break more strikes, considering the possibly violent consequences. This is not Standard Oil, after all.

As I’ve mentioned before, an increase in the retirement age (the reason behind this mess) may bring long-term economic benefits to the country. However, in a representative government, elected officials are expected to act in tune with the demands of their constituents. If France is going down in flames, it will be the people who decide how, not the political élite.

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“Strike it up.” Day two.

Strikes move into their second day in France, after a record setting 1.2-3.5 million people took to the streets yesterday in protest of Nicolas Sarkozy’s controversial retirement reform legislation. From high school teens to aging service workers and educators, the manifestations show a level of unity that we, Americans, have trouble understanding.

After several years of experience in social and environmental activism back home, I wonder why we aren’t able to mobilize around issues that seem just as pressing (if not more pressing) as a simple increase in the retirement age.

Tackling the global threat of catastrophic climate change immediately comes to mind.

It isn’t that Americans don’t care, we do, deeply, but maybe about too many things. With a population of over 300 million and a government founded on the liberal idea that everyone is entitled to self-realization, we seem to be lacking in a coherent national identity, something that Europeans have taken centuries to develop and redevelop. In fact, we take pride in the “melting pot,” citing it as a hallmark of our modern democracy.

Missing from The United States’ persona is that feeling of cohesion, identity and common good. Though not necessarily a bad thing, it does make mobilizing around issues as contentious as global warming a real challenge. The civil rights movement, while huge, still took considerable support at the federal level before really getting anywhere: forced integration of public schools and spaces, for example.

Geography also plays a significant role in our inability to stick together. The sheer size of the US, compared to France (about the same area as Texas), stifles progress at the federal level, as we struggle to represent varying interests from across a tremendous landmass. I can say that I identify well with my fellow Virginians, but calling myself an American based on a set of shared values has always been much more difficult for me.

Some people think that the tea party debunks this concept, but I’ve yet to see a solid strategy emerge from the group. Despite the name, we aren’t witnessing the rise of a new political force in the United States, only a loosely-held group of frustrated regular Joe’s with no real agenda and no real political implications after November. I’m looking forward to seeing elected tea partiers mesh back into the Republican fold once elections have come to an end. Much like progressives on the side of legislation designed to fight climate change, the efficacy will be lost upon entering our quagmire of a federal government.

The United States was founded on what were primarily economic ideals: private property, free markets and a general lack of government intervention in people’s business. What we lack, however, is the other side of the persona that most nation-states have, the sense of social unity and near-forced socialization of habits, beliefs, interactions and otherwise.

We consider this a point of pride, and as the “melting pot,” we should. However, our diversity of ideas will always serve as a significant barrier to moving forward on many major issues, and as undemocratic as it may sound, the federal government may have to take the reins on several major challenges as we move into the future. In the case of climate change, we may not have any other options.

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Man, I miss a good dryer.

About once a week, my bathroom becomes a clothesline.
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If you happen to be the proud owner of a dryer, count your stars. I can’t take a shower until all this junk dries (load 2 of 2).

More photos of Sainte-Menehould, Reims and Paris on flickr.

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“Clap your hands (if you’re workin’ too hard)”: la grève en France.

The Republic slows to an economic standstill today as hundreds of thousands of workers — Le Monde puts the figure at 230,000 in Paris alone — turn out for another of a series of strikes aimed at President Sarkozy’s controversial plan to raise France’s retirement age from 60 to 62, with full state benefits arriving at 67.

The strikes, spearheaded by labor unions like the nearly one-million-strong Confédération Générale du Travail (la CGT), affect nearly every lower and middle-class industry in the country, including rail, manufacturing, oil and energy, education and many, many others. My class day came and went unchanged, as most of our teachers came into work today, but every state employee enjoys the right to take leave in protest, and some did. With the frequency of strikes increasing as retirement reform moves through the national legislature, I expect that the profs will enjoy several more opportunities to have their voices heard en masse.


The rationale behind a strike of this magnitude might not mesh well with readers from outside l’héxagone; Americans, in particular, tend to prefer striking as an option of last resort, after exhausting every other legitimate avenue. The French tend to view the process of negotiating in reverse (from an American point of view), opting to strike as a show of force before sitting down at the bargaining table. The CGT has a long and successful tradition of securing and maintaining benefits for its workers, as well as dictating major policy through sheer numbers and intimidation. This strike is unique in that it may outlast the typical 24 hour period, meaning that Sarkozy could be dealing with a very real problem: the threat of long-term airport closures, stalling production and hiccups in mass transit (Al-Jazeera English). All this brouhaha may seem extreme in light of the actual issue at hand — a two year increase in the retirement age, but it is not without precedent, and it is certainly a hallmark of France’s representative democracy.

France is unique in that it has a long and colorful history of social activism by its lower class and student populations. One of the historical gems that helped to solidify my bond with this country centered around university and social reforms in May of 1968.

 

"Be young and shut up."

 

Students and workers across the country revolted against General Charles de Gaulle’s government, which they saw as a threat to popular sovereignty, rejecting the perceived benefits of economic liberalization and social conservatism advocated by de Gaulle’s administration. In a series of intense and sometimes violent clashes with the police and government officials, mai ’68 symbolized the dawn of a new social order in the republic based in the ideals of social liberalism, erasing the links between the state and its historically conservative Catholic sensibilities (More from Wikipedia). If modern France were to have a state religion, it would most closely resemble the cartesian concept of reason, supporting itself with rational choice and a near-technocratic understanding of how progress should be realized in the state. This isn’t to say that France does not retain several far-right, religiously grounded ideas, principally in its approach to muslim immigrants, but it is just as easy to frame that conflict in economic terms (I’ll touch on that one day when I have way more time.)

Today’s strikes carry on the French understanding that its government ought to hear from its people from time to time, and that to best breach the sound-proofed windows of the National Assembly and the President’s offices, the people must be loud, angry, and ready to take to the streets in the name of their beliefs. In my opinion, the striking tradition helps to make up for a democratic deficit within the government, a functionally closed door operation, run by a sort of political fraternity (nearly every French politician attends the same small group of exclusive, top-tier universities). In a state that enjoys some of the industrialized world’s highest political and civil liberties (see freedomhouse.org’s interactive map), the freedom to assemble in this way gives a voice to a significant part of the population that would otherwise go unheard.

It seems to me that the French people have an excellent grip on what it means to be a democratic republic, and have no intention of allowing their government to change what a large portion of the population believes to be a central part of their lives, an early retirement with a state pension. Whether or not this is beneficial, economically speaking, the striking tradition is certainly a democratic one.

 

"We are all the state."

 

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#1 concert priority in France.

This is Birdy Nam Nam, winning the DMC Technics 2002 World TEAM Championships. Bow down.

Too bad their only marked tour date, so far, is in Bordeaux, and way too far from me. Many, many thanks to Colin, who first tipped me off to these nutcases.

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