Thursday, January 29, 2009

Une grève, sans l'ironie

So the French got all worked up today about mass transportation strikes. Turned out to be much-a-do about nothing. I got around fine on the metro all day.

While many took to the streets to protest the Sarkozy administration, it occurred to me that in the United States, a true left does not exist. In France, the socialist and anti-capitalist parties actually have traction. Last night, myself and a group of students got to watch the French TV show Ce Soir ou Jamais (Tonight or Never) live from the France3 studios. The show consisted of 4 French pseudo-intellectuals debating the merits of capitalism for 45 minutes. One of the goateed and tweeded gentlemen actually said the main problem facing France today was capitalism (most assuredly not unresolved racial problems, an aging population, and the 35 hour work week).

So many, fearing for their job security as Sarkozy attempts to unbind the hands of employers, decided to not work to protest the fact that one day they may not be able to work. I don't see why they are afraid of unemployment in France since the unemployed get discounted movie tickets (seriously, they do). But despite their best efforts the strike wasn't a big success and hopefully Sarkozy can continue to bring his economic reforms along.

To an outsider like myself, it all seemed a bit absurb, but it did afford me a free day to explore Paris. Took a morning run through the 15th and 16th arrondisements up along the Seine and spent the afternoon in Odéon, seeing Vicky Cristina Barcelona in the afternoon. An amusing and inquisitive film following the tortured romantic lives of many beautiful people (Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz, and Rebecca Hall). Hard not to enjoy watching the three of them on screen. Had a pint or two of Guinness before heading home for dinner.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Nous n'oublions pas, Nous n'oublierons jamais

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

When visiting the American Cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mer in Normandy this weekend, I was reminded of the poem "In Flanders Fields" by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. A Canadian doctor who served at the Battle of Ypres in 1915, his words resounded in my head after seeing the beautiful wildflowers, purple and pink and red, growing next to rows on rows of white marble crosses commemorating the 9,387 American men and women who lost their lives on the beaches of Normandy in the summer of 1944. The Cemetery and beaches are frighteningly beautiful. Green grass grows where artillery shells blasted holes into the earth and barbed wire fences overlook the blue waters of the English Channel even on a cold, rainy January day.

To stand in such a beautiful place with 10,000 bodies under your feet, your only response can be silence. Unfortunately, this mood was broken by chimes sounding "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." The song, too forceful in its patriotism, too strong in its glorification of "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori."

As a French memorial on the site says, "We do not Forget, We will never Forget," but what are we remembering? We must remember their sacrifice. We must remember the innocent lives saved and the courage of American soldiers in the face of adversity, but to glorify their death in song, to sing "glory, glory hallelujah" and forget that these men and women had wives, sisters, brothers, mothers, and fathers is to forget the suffering and loss of the entire war. Is is to misremember why we fought. Why Americans died on the beaches of Normandy. That thousands of kids grew up without fathers. We must ensure those children know that their fathers died not in the glorious fight for liberty, but so they could grow up and not have to fight. The 9,387 dead were forced to miss baseball games and graduations, baptisms and weddings. Their sacrifice was huge and cannot happen again.

We do not forget and we will never forget, but let us remember what we fought for in World War II and also what we lost. We can say they fought for our freedom, but we cannot glorify them beyond recognition. They were human in life and are human in death.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Dark Was The Night

New song by The National available here:

It is good (but I think everything they put out is good so listen for yourself).

The song is being released as part of a 31 track compilation, Dark Was the Night, featuring some great artists (Spoon, Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire, Bon Iver just to name a few). All proceeds are being donated to the Red Hot Organization, fighting HIV and AIDS.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Great Expectations

It doesn't take much to convince a group of American students to crowd into any bar in Paris (Happy Hour goes til 10), but, around 6 pm on Tuesday night, we all gathered with common purpose: to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama. While much has been said over the past two days about the millions who filled the Mall from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, I'd like to give a few moments time to the investiture and its reception here in Paris.

Aside from the one Indian flower peddler who disliked Obama, favoring John Kerry (where has he been the last 4 years?), when anyone recognized me or my friends as Americans, their lips instantly formed the "O" of Obama with a smile. As the pictures show, Obama faces absurd expectations at home and abroad. And after the high fives and pleasantries end, the conversations inevitably shift to the challenges facing the United States and the Obama administration over the next four years. While we Americans abroad no longer have to endure the Bush test (You're American? You don't support Bush, right?), can Obama bring balance to a world seeking it? In his own words, "We are ready to lead once more," but we must ensure that this leadership is tempered with humility. We must navigate the shifting currents of a global economy in disarray and two failing wars, all under the specter of a faceless enemy, without compromising our ideals or excluding the rest of the world from the process.

I am hopeful we can, though il a beaucoup de pain sur la planche. With the task set before us, we can for the time being say Vive Obama with pride in him and our country.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

First Day

The sights and smells and sounds of the city can be overwhelming if you try to pay attention to them all at the same time. I found
myself wandering the streets of my new home in Paris' 15th arrondisement trying to pick out each individual smell on my first damp day in January with limited success.

After spotting the Eiffel Tower in the skyline, I started walking to it, diverting course to visit my friend Napoleon at Les Invalides and then ducking along the Seine past the Musée D'Orsay and into St. Germain Des Pres, sighting Les Deux Magots, spot of my first meal in France some 11 years or so ago (and the hang out of Picasso and other luminary figures I don't need to reel off now).

Getting home, I tried to stay awake as long as I could, but my eyes succumbed to sleep at 8:30.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris

I'm throwing my arms around Paris because only stone and steel accept my love.

Poor Moz. Will someone please give him some love?

Four days until I can throw my arms around Paris. Anyone have any advice for the traveler to-be?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Why I Follow Soccer

I didn’t follow soccer growing up. Like most other kids from the Washington, D.C. area in the 1990s, I lived and died for the Baltimore Orioles and Cal Ripken, Jr. My godmother took me to see him break Lou Gehrig’s streak of consecutive games played. I will always remember the number: 2,131. We got back from Baltimore very late and my mother let me sleep in and miss school the next morning, knowing that this game was more important than a morning of arithmetic. When D.C. United came along in 1996, I remember hearing on the playground that they’d won the inaugural championship, but I only truly watched the sports my father followed: American football, basketball, and baseball. I would steal the sports page from him every morning and we’d commiserate about being Redskins fans as Gus Ferotte slammed his head into a wall. Soccer remained an integral part of my life as I played the game for my school, but I quit club soccer as I got older to focus on school and academics.

It wasn’t until I graduated from high school and had entered college that I began to miss the ebb and flow of the beautiful game. So one summer day I convinced a friend to come along to a D.C. United game at RFK Stadium. We sat on the quiet side of RFK (if you’ve seen D.C. United play at home, you know what side I’m talking about) and while we witnessed a 2-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo, I couldn’t shake the bouncing stands on the other side of the stadium. Clad in black, the Barra Brava and the Screaming Eagles drummed and sang and raised hell for 90 minutes. I knew I belonged over there.

My first game amongst the Barra Brava and the Screaming Eagles, a 4-2 drubbing of the New York Redbulls (featuring a tremendous hat-trick from Ben Olsen) left me hooked and wanting more. As much as I love the team, I fell more in love with the fans and the game itself. In the Barra, you are transported outside of RFK, into the rhythms and songs of a Boca-River derby and into the camaraderie of the Anfield kop. You join the world’s game at RFK, but you get to remain in the United States. While some of my friends enjoy watching the English Premier League and the Champions League, they tell me to forget about MLS and its “inferior” level of play. And of course they are right. I can’t stand here and claim that the Columbus Crew stand a chance contending for the EPL crown against Chelsea and Liverpool. But that’s not what I want now. I want to smell the smoke bombs of the Barra Brava and taste the beer raining on my face when Jaime Moreno scores and know that it’s the same game, the same ball, the same pitch, in the same town where I was raised. I watch games in far-away European stadiums, but it’s the soccer of Washington, D.C that I truly love. Sure I’d prefer a single table and a larger salary cap in MLS (two things I hope will happen soon), but I’ll take the bearded Benny Olsen over that pretty boy Cristiano Ronaldo any day.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Moveable Feast

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

I just started to reread A Moveable Feast and I find myself hanging on every word, hoping that each sentence will unlock a secret of Paris. Not that the Paris of today is Hemingway's Paris, but the city still seems to hold a certain fascination and allure for Americans. The allure drew me to Paris as well, to both learn and learn from the city.

I know the Paris of Hemingway has long since disappeared. No longer can one find men fishing along the banks of the Seine or order a dozen portugaise oysters and a carafe of dry white wine and stay within a student's budget. I cannot try to live Hemingway's life (for I do not go for him), but hopefully he can give me a few pointers before I get there.

Hemingway spent 6 years in Paris; I have six months. Best get a move on.