Sunday, October 25, 2015

Martin Luther King Jr. In Paris

Nearly 50 years ago to this day, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was visiting Paris, raising awareness for the civil rights movement in the U.S.

He was already world-famous. A year before, on Oct. 14, 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for using nonviolent action to combat racial inequality.

And then in March of 1965, he participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches for voting rights. The peaceful marchers were met with a cruelty that many Americans across the country were able to view for the first time on television. Good came out of it: the landmark Voting Rights Act was passed just five months later.

So it was on Sunday, Oct. 24, 1965, that King preached at the American Church of Paris. The title of the sermon was “The New Jerusalem,” but nothing else is know about what he said in the pulpit. 

One can imagine that it was an early draft of his “I Have A Dream” speech. In the Bible, New Jerusalem is a place where “the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21).

The top thing on people's minds on that October day, however, was the Vietnam War. The preacher “encountered an intense debate about the America war in the former French colony. King conducted himself, reported the Paris press, with 'extreme discretion.'” (Richard Lentz, 1990) Only in 1967 did the preacher come out against the Vietnam War in an extremely controversial speech at the Riverside Church in New York.

In a sermon today at the American Church of Paris, commemorating King's speech, Rev. Dr. Luke A. Powery, Dean of Duke University Chapel, reminded us that we are not yet living in the New Jerusalem--naming the black victims of the recent shootings in the U.S.

For that to happen, Powery said we have to “Speak and declare, 'injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' Speak because someone has to declare, 'Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.' Speak and declare, 'Guns are not Gods!'”

No one knew exactly what King said in Paris that day, 50 years ago, but I imagine that it was very much something like that.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Madrid: Drink, Eat, and Be Merry

Did I mean to say "eat, drink, and be merry"? Not in the case of Madrid, where my husband and I took a short break last week. In Spain, the drinks come first. The rest falls naturally into place.

In one eatery that we lucked into, El Paladar 24, I spotted a man at a counter eating a bowl of potato soup. I asked the server, can I have that? Yes of course, she said, we bring you that for free if you order a drink! 

So we ordered our drinks, and out came the soup—and four spoons. You see, food is meant to be shared in Spain. I like this country! 

Spain was a surprise for me. How can the people seem so happy? In a country that has suffered so much, most recently from the financial crisis, with an unemployment rate about 20%?

I think part of the answer is that they are more than ready to go out for a drink—whether it's a coffee, a glass of wine, or a beer—with friends or family, and have a good time. Around a plate of inexpensive food. 

Let me share some of the ways that we had a great time:

Breakfast, for us between 10 and 11 a.m., was at Pannus, a chain of 24-hour bakeries with a bustling but cheery staff and more pastries than in Paris. And cheap! Get the whole wheat mini elephant ears, 5 for 1 1/5 euros.

Try lunch at the traditional but quirky Los Gatos, a recommendation from the Rick Steves guidebook, and where I'd recommend the tuna salad, which came on a big platter for the four of us to share. After a glass of wine, of course!

On a tip from a former food guide in Spain, we ate at Taberna del Chato, for a modern take on classic tapas. The melon-colored, lightly creamy gazpacho, topped with crisped bacon bits, was my favorite. 

We discovered the El Paladar 24 on our own, wanting to have a bite to eat before watching some flamenco dancing at the nearby Tablao La Quimera, an authentic and small place off the beaten path. The cover includes a drink. Thanks to my colleague Alicia for the tip!

Source: La Chocolatería San Ginés
One day we had such a big, late lunch we decided to skip dinner altogether. Instead, we finished the day with a hot mug of chocolate at the historic La Chocolatería San Ginés, another recommendation from Rick. The dark liquid chocolate has the density of pudding, just right for the dunking with freshly fried churros.

Another discovery, and an easy one if you're visiting the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, is its cafeteria, where for my last meal I finally had what is the national dish, Iberian ham, served with slices of bread topped with diced fresh tomato. My husband had a stunning pasta dish, a shrimp blue cheese carbonara made with inky black noodles.

The Spanish people are the closest I've come in Europe to the friendliness of the people in my home town of Pittsburgh, itself the home of many a saloon. But sorry, Pittsburgh. Madrid wins, tapas down, when it comes to the bar ... food!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Growing A Life In Paris

I get a kick out of meeting Americans and others who are moving to Paris. They are so excited about living the dream. But at the same time, they’re worried. What about health care? Where do I find Cheerios for my two-year-old? A school for my teen? How do I fill this hole in my life—no friends, family, or language?
Last weekend, I met about 150 transplants at a day-long orientation program called “Bloom Where You Are Planted,” now in its 45th year.
I saw myself in their faces. Nearly 18 year ago, I was newly married, following my spouse who had secured his dream job. It was a French honeymoon! We thought we would be here for just 18 months.
See original image
A still from the movie "An American in Paris" (1951)
Except this time, I was volunteering for the program instead of taking part. I was reminded that moving abroad is more than an airplane ticket and a temporary rental apartment. It’s about making a happy life for yourself.
And how to do that? The speakers at Bloom were long on advice—sometimes conflicting. “Don’t mingle with English speakers,” said Simone Zanoni, the Italian executive chef at the Trianon Restaurant at Versailles. He came to Paris barely speaking little French, and it took time for him to win acceptance and acclaim.
Another speaker Melissa Dalton-Bradford, author of “Global Mom,” embraced whatever was in her house or next door. She learned her foreign languages via the friends of her four children, and built her community around a massive dinner table!
As for myself? Immersion is great, if your spouse is French, you’re going to French university or diving into a Franco-French workplace. But, that wasn’t me.
As a “trailing spouse” to a American working in an international organization where English was the working language, I met amazing people from all over the world. Why avoid that? Love the one you’re with!
I didn’t have an opening into the French world until I started working—in an American multinational where the house language is “Franglais”! Here’s a typical conversation: “Tu vas à la huddle sur le way we work?”
After 18 years, my French is horrible (which is English for not too bad) but I am happy.
Happy to have so many American friends that have become family—gros bisous to Shellie, Karen, Helen and so many others!
Happy to belong to American and other Englishy groups for immigrants, exiles, escapees, whatever you call us. Merci beaucoup to Toastmasters, WICE, the American Church, AAWE, etc. where I have learned so much and have met so many amazing English-speaking transplants--and so many fantastic French people!
Call it Bloom Where You Are Planted!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Female French Resistance: Truth Or Fiction?

Simone Segouin, a woman combatant in the French Resistance, near Chartres, August 23, 1944.
The Nightingale,” by Kristin Hannah, is about how ordinary French women summoned up extraordinary courage during the German occupation of their country in WWII. I wasn't expecting much from this New York Times best-selling author, but about half-way into the novel, I was hooked. How could things become worse? They did.

The story is about how two rivalrous sisters of Carriveau, a fictional town somewhere in the Loire Valley, play out their roles during the war. Courageous Isabelle becomes a member of the resistance. She's a runner, leading fallen British aviators out of France across the Pyrenees mountains into Spain and out of danger. Her sister Vianne seems more like the typical woman of her time. A mother. A teacher. And dependent on her husband, who is forced to enlist and leave. We fear she will betray all and become a collaborator--in order to survive.

Through this book, I learned much about how women coped in wartime France, thanks to the author's research. Women queuing for hours to buy very little with their ration coupons. Wearing shoes with wooden soles when the leather ran out. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time when a bomb hit, or a when German soldier decided it was time to maintain order at a border crossing. Or being rounded up as a Jew, a spy, or for breaking curfew. It left me in tears.

In this book, you'll find only heroines, however, no female “collabos.” As if to say that all French women faced ambiguous situations where it may have “looked like” they helped the enemy in some small degree or other, but, in the end, they all slayed their occupiers. I'm not underestimating how difficult it must have been for French women to survive under occupation. But there were certainly other women, like Coco Chanel, who found it convenient and lucrative to become very close to the enemy (read Hal Vaughan’s “Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War”).

Ms. Hannah gives us the happy ending we all want. And the version of history that France desperately reaches for. In May 2015, France interred Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz and Germaine Tillion, two female heroes of the resistance in the Panthéon, the resting place of the nation’s great, in addition to two male members. It's no doubt that these women were brave. But was there a French Resistance, or more or less acts of resistance? The latest book about the WWII resistance, "Fighters in the Shadows," by Robert Gildea, sets out to answer that question.

(More resistance reading: “The Secret Ministry of AG. & Fish: My Life in Churchill's School for Spies,” by the British author Noreen Riols, who helped support French Resistance fighters.)