Globe Trotter: Valentine’s Day all over the World!

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Roses are red, love is in the air, it’s Valentine’s Day! And to celebrate this lovely – … – opportunity to spend time with those we cherish, Babel Tower Keepers invite you to join them on a cruise from Oceania to Africa, from South America to Europe, to discover what the 14th of February looks like in Australia, Benin, Costa Rica, Honduras and France!

 

th-2.jpegAUSTRALIA, by Siobhan Reardon

I’m sure people are expecting something extremely interesting when it comes to dating in Australia. Maybe riding to the location of the date on the back of a kangaroo? I’m sorry to say that this is not the case. When it comes to, pretty much everything, Australia mostly follows the rest of the world. 

As in other countries, when it comes to a heterosexual couple, the man is usually expected to pay for the date (however as society becomes more progressive I would say this is definitely changing). It’s also looked highly upon if he takes the woman to the date and, if this is the case, he is expected to drive her home as well. Other than these things, there isn’t really a special event or gesture that is made by either partner on a date in Australia. 

One thing that is different between dating in Australia and other countries is how dates are generally a lot more laid back and casual. I think people are a lot more open to group dates than in other parts of the world, say like the USA, most likely just to make people feel more at ease in a dating environment. Honestly, the dating scene is pretty relaxed in Australia and is primarily based on what makes the couple comfortable and happy, rather than conforming to a kind of idealised image of dating. It’s, honestly, pretty simple, I would say. 

 

th-4.jpegBENIN, by Iman Eyitayo

I’ve never celebrated Valentin’s day, since I grew up in a city where, I think, nobody cared. I only learnt about that celebration though TV and books, and how people would give their loved ones chocolate, roses, or other kinds of gifts or rituals. I’ve often wondered why was that, and I have a double theory : first, most Beninese do not spend money on « unnecessary things » (so most commercial celebrations are not a « thing » back there), and second, we do not publicly express love. It’s sort of taboo, I think. For instance, the first thing that shocked me when I arrived in France later on was people touching and hugging and kissing in public : this was impossible where I come from. However, since we are being influenced by Western culture, if you happen to be in Benin at this time of year, inviting your loved one to dinner would not considered a bad thing : food is the best celebration you can find in my country, so every occasion to do so is celebrated !

 

th-5.jpegCOSTA RICA, by Pablo Castro

I think of two major environments when I think of Costa Rican couples: a festive party scene and a calm nature one.

Festivals, communal activities and loud bars allow couples to enjoy music in large cheerful crowds. It goes without saying that dancing is a central part of most of these outings. At Las Fiestas, yearly carnivals that travel around towns, the dancefloor is invaded by couples of all ages, ranging from awkward teenagers to experienced 80-year-olds. It is common knowledge that dancing skills are necessary for anyone trying to charm a partner, be it at a bar or at a relative’s wedding. Bachata is known to be the most sensual of dances and if someone invites you to the dancefloor when it plays, you can tell what his or her intentions are!

People who are less interested in crowds, may look for some of the many scenes of picturesque landscapes or simply surround themselves with some of the rich biodiversity the country offers. With many people living close to beaches, mountains and even volcanoes a date can often be a hike, a picnic or a simple sunset-watching session.

If you ever date in Costa Rica, then, be ready for a routine of Salsa, Merengue, stargazing and sunrises.

 

th-1.jpegHONDURAS, by Ana Catalina Espinoza

The red roses, absurd overuse of cologne, the DIY cards, and who knows even mariachis could get into the equation. Valentine’s day is either a day many are waiting to ask a girl to be their girlfriend or the day to make a grandiose declaration of love to your ‘already’ girlfriend. Hondurans are mad romantics that will gift you 100 roses on your first month-versary. But they could also just forget you birthday… so don’t get too excited. Valentine’s day can get cheesy. Back in the day, serenades were a very popular form to demonstrate a boy’s love for a girl. A serenade consists of a group of singing mariachis, which are singers, guitar players, accordion players and some other instruments as well. The magic of the serenade is to have it delivered to your house, you open your window to one of the most romantic gestures ever to exist. (I must admit I am a sucker for romantic musical gestures) The mariachis usually sing songs about how beautiful a girl is or how the man behind the gesture is madly in love with the girl. Now, the usual starter pack for Hondurans lovers includes red roses, a love note, and grooming up in your best formal clothes.

 

th-3.jpegFRANCE, by Camille Ibos

No matter the country in which I was travelling, I’ve always been greeted by people referring to Paris, capital of France, as the town of Love with a capital L. My Australian host sister kept calling Paris ‘la ville de l’amour’, and a Romanian friend joked that one could not tight their shoelaces in Paris without being thought of being proposing to the person in front of them. Another friend from Romania didn’t remember anything else from his French classes than ‘Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?’, ‘Do you want to have sex with me?’. It’s true that in France, we take dating very seriously. It is common knowledge that the day after a first night together, the man of the couple ‘should’ buy a handful of croissants for his partner’s breakfast – which man should be in charge of the croissants in a gay couple, the story doesn’t say. In a country considering itself the ‘world center of gastronomy’, it’s no surprise that love and food often go hand in hand, and bringing breakfast to one’s partner is seen as a peak of cuteness and romanticism. For Valentine’s Day, it is a tradition to offer roses and a present, as well as to go to a fancy restaurant for dinner. Valentine’s Day being a huge thing in France, single friends often organize ‘alternative Valentine’s’ on that evening, and a harsh debate is still going on, on whether Valentine’s is nothing but a commercial celebration or is, on the other hand, a wonderful opportunity to celebrate love. Anyway, it’s at least an occasion to eat good food, and pâtisseries in Paris even offer to sell cakes two by two at this period of the year…

 

And you… how is it in your country? 🙂

OverSeas Swap #1: France & El Salvador

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Originally, all the concepts and names of Babel Tower articles’ topics – except for Thoughts, I hadn’t think of Thoughts – come from a 5-pages-document that I, Camille, Keeper of France, drafted on a chill summer evening in August 2017. A year after, all categories are now filled up with nice and diverse articles that were written on all four corners of the world – except for one: the OverSeas Swap.

The concept is simple: two Keepers, from two very different countries, send each other a parcel containing their culture epitomized in items. They are free to fill it up with whatever they want; the one and only mandatory element is their country’s flag. And for this very first – and hopefully not last – Over-Atlantic-Ocean Swap of the website, I had the honor to send a parcel to, and receive a parcel from, the wonderful Maria, Keeper of El Salvador, with whom I wrote this four-hands article, explaining our choices and our reactions!

 

WHAT CAMILLE SENT AND WHY

th.jpegThis swap was the first of the website, however it wasn’t the first for me. As a former ‘booktuber’ (I used to post videos about books on YouTube, and though we cannot call it a success, I was lucky enough to meet longtime friends thanks to it), I had already make a few. But this one had something particular, as I had one tremendous responsibility: that of making someone discover my country and culture… differently.

Indeed, Maria, my swapper, had already studied in France for a year when the idea came up. I thus decided to make her travel through France, and discover aspects of it she didn’t already know.

Therefore, I put in my parcels items coming from Lyon – the town I come from -, Paris, the French Riviera, the Southwest of France… I wanted to make her get a taste of the first things one can think of when hearing the word France. That could be ‘gastronomy’ (so I attached French syrup, as I have been told recently that this is a very French custom, a candy called pralines, some chocolate), the Eiffel Tower, the landscapes, beauty products such as expensive perfumes (which is the reason why, being an undergraduate student, I replaced it by relatively cheap soaps – I am sorry, Maria!), the European Union… I had a lot of fun walking in French ‘marchés’ and exploring little street shops or big malls during my summer holidays, trying to find the perfect symbols. Finally, I wrapped it up in the French three-colored flag. I had a hard time finding this one – after the Football World Cup, there was none remaining in the first three shops I went to. In the fourth one, three young sellers went to search for one into their reserve; five minutes later, delighted, they came to tell me there was one, only one remaining, and offered it to me. I felt so relieved – and they looked even happier when I told them their gift would travel to Latin America!

 

WHAT MARIA SENT AND WHY

El_Salvador_Flag12.jpgUnlike Camille, this is the first proper swap I’ve ever done with anyone else, but it’s not the first time I try to make sure I can show the beauty and talent of my country while giving someone a gift. Having lived abroad with my family before, we’ve always made sure to bring small artisan objects that we can give away to people we meet, and illustrate how wonderful our small nation can be.

El Salvador is known for its particular style of artisan crafts, much like many Latin American countries, so I decided it would be fitting to make a package full of these for Camille, someone who has never visited El Salvador (or Central America) before. Although we’re also known for our excellent food, there wasn’t anything I could include that would survive the journey back to France, so I’ll just owe Camille some home-made food!

In my package, I included a small notebook that was encased in a traditionally woven cover, with bright colors and symmetrical patterns, since I’ve known Camille to be an avid pen and paper writer. To compliment this notebook, I included a decorated pen: a normal pen that has been encased in clay to give it a brighter, different look, and with a small, clay torogoz – the national bird of El Salvador – resting on the end. The pen also had a small bamboo piece where the artisans can inscribe any message or words. Instead of opting for the traditional “El Salvador” inscription, I thought it would be nice to personalize it and have Camille’s name on it instead.

I also included a small magnet of a doll dressed in a traditional Salvadoran outfit, and a small purse that had been dyed in añil (indigo), which is a large part of national artisanry. Finally, I included a few objects (A key-holder box that can be hung, three small decorative boxes, and a bookmark) that had been decorated in the most recognizable art style of the country, inspired by our national artist Fernando Llort. The drawings are bright and colorful, and seem almost child-like in their beauty, and are a staple of Salvadoran culture. And, of course, I wrapped it all in a Salvadoran flag.

 

WHAT CAMILLE GOT

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I did not have any particular expectations or clichés on a parcel coming from El Salvador when I received it, nicely closed with some green starred tape. I knew from my Central American friends that I’d better not call this country South American, and I had a pleasant memories from a Central American meal that Maria had cook for me and a handful of friends. That was all and I was ready to be surprised!

The first thing I got was a pen, full of bright colors with a bird on top and my first name on it – which I found wonderful, knowing that there most probably aren’t a lot of ‘Camille’ in El Salvador. I then discovered a little wooden box, decorated with patterns of nature and houses, and that contained a smaller box, that itself contained a smaller box, which means that I spent my childhood with Russian dolls on my bookshelf without even knowing the very same concept was applied to Salvadorean boxes!

The more I would unwrap my parcel, the more crazier I understood Maria had been. The box and the pen we followed by a bookmark, a notebook, a purse, a little cloth doll and a wooden thing that I will call a hanging box. Most of them had in common bright colors, pink, red and green, and patterns representing multicolor birds and white and red houses.

As a big fan of traveling, whose room is filled with photos and souvenirs from Belgium, Honduras, Romania, Australia, Italy, New Zealand, America or Ireland, places where I have been or where friends have been kind enough to think of me, I always get emotional when I think of how far those items come from. Now I can only thank Maria for her generosity, for finding gifts that coherent with my tastes and for making me want to visit El Salvador as soon as I can!

 

WHAT MARIA GOT

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Having already spent a year living in France, and having already visited a few cities, I thought I had already seen quite a lot and not much was left. I didn’t realize how wrong I was until I got Camille’s parcel, which has only left me longing to visit every city in the country!

The first thing I noticed once I unwrapped the red, white, and blue flag was a postcard that depicted the beautiful city of Lyon, somewhere I have yet to visit (and now have more reason to want to go!). Right next to it, I found one of France’s most iconic landmarks: the Eiffel Tower, but in the very handy form of a toothbrush! Considering what else I found in my package I knew I was going to need it, since Camille had also included eucalyptus syrup that I could add to my water to give it some flavor, as well as what looked like hard candy (which I later found out to be praline). Both of these things became quite addicting to me once I tried them, not to mention the delicious 1€ chocolate coin included.

On the more decorative side of the package, I found a lovely little tray that was also from Lyon that depicted more famous aspects of the city, as well as a colorful package of artisan soap with very strong aromas that came all the way from Cote D’Azur. Their scent was also combined with that of a small bag of lavender, brought from Provence. They say that smell is one of the senses most linked to memory, and now I know that I will never forget the places all these things come from thanks to it. All the more reason for me to head out and see everything else that France has to offer!

 

You liked this article? Another one, on the second OverSeas Swap, between Ana Catalina, Keeper of Honduras, and Antony, Keeper of Chile, will be published very soon!

Globe Trotter: ‘Les Vendanges’, a Costa Rican’s Experience Picking Grapes

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En la vida hay que ser piso’e tierra. I have a number of quotes my mom used to tell me memorized; this is one of the simplest and one of my favorites. In life you have to be “piso de tierra”, which translates to “dirt floor”; in essence, it stresses the importance of a humble life. It means understanding that when stripped of riches, or wealth or power, we are simply beings that come from nature and from dirt, and that we are not superior to any of our fellow humans. It was through this desire to find humility and to challenge myself that I decided to participate in les vendanges, the annual grape harvest in Burgundy, France.

I had heard various things about les vendanges, from both media and people. My initial idea of it was that of a trans-generational activity with people from all ages working in vineyards, singing songs, making jokes and, later, eating, drinking and enjoying their time together. Evidently, I also knew it was hard work; after all it was still an agricultural job. This became more and more clear after I had signed up for it. When I began discussing my plans to participate with friends and acquaintances, many reacted the same way: “It’s really hard work”. All of a sudden, the tone from “great cultural experience” changed to “exhausting labor”. A friend from work even said her 26-year-old husband tried it and gave up after a day of work. The comments made me more apprehensive about participating but encouraged me, given that this only reinforced my original motivation of doing hard work. Thus, the night before my first day, I packed myself some lunch and made sure to have a decent night’s sleep.

The alarm went off at 5:45 in the morning. After making toast and preparing my bag I put on pants on top of my shorts and three layers on my upper body. I left my apartment, heading for the train station through the chilly, empty Dijon streets. The train sped through large fields and little towns as the sun woke, slowly covering all of the green vegetation in my eye reach. At 7h20 we arrived at my destination: Meursault. A small group got down with me and we all found a small bus the managers had sent for us. I immediately noticed that I was the youngest. When we got to the chateau, I found a group of three my age in the corner. Except for them, the managers and myself, I soon realized everyone in the room was an African immigrant, many of them were from The Democratic Republic of the Congo, I learned later. The reason this fact stood out to me was because it implied to me that employers were specifically looking for cheap labor. I briefly spoke to one of the managers who made me sign a few documents and, after having some coffee and biscuits, we headed off to the vineyards in three different trucks. One of the young guys invited me to join their truck, even if we hadn’t yet spoken. Feeling slightly out of place, with everyone knowing where to go, I followed him.

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The Work

Indeed, it was hard work. This was not obvious until later, however. The first day, because I did not know anyone, I put my headphones on and followed the limited instructions I had been given. Crouching, removing leaves to see the bunches of grapes better, cutting them with the pruning shears they had provided and putting them in my bucket. I would continue doing this and empty my bucket periodically when the Porteurs (carriers) came close to me. They had large buckets strapped to their backs and their job was to collect the bunches of grapes from the coupeurs (cutters), like myself, then to go dump them into the trucks. I later calculated that these men- they were exclusively male- were carrying between 30 and 40 kilos back and forth throughout the day; as much as my body hurt later that week, I still cannot imagine taking their position.

In the first three minutes of the job, I cut my finger with the shears. It burnt but was not bleeding too bad, so I decided to ignore it and continue. Other than this, the first two hours rushed by fairly swiftly; they were repetitive but painless, and they had given me plenty of time to listen to a podcast and music. It was surprising to see people stop so soon, but I followed without complaining. The managers arrived, brought out sandwiches, water and wine. I decided not to have the latter on my first day. We soon went back to the vineyards for another two hours. These were slightly more tiring, but still easily bearable. After the 30-minutes lunch break is when my legs and arms began feeling a bit tired, but I persisted as I had in other physical activities during my lifetime. It was in the last 2 hours that the amount of work I had been doing really began weighing on me. My legs felt sore, my lower back had an intense pain and my shoulders felt perpetually uncomfortable. I was very relieved when I heard our bosses yelling from the other side of the field to go back. After going to the chateau and changing, they dropped us off at the train station and I dozed off for the 40-minutes trip.

The following day, I woke up with pain all over my body. It was what I had expected all along, but my mental preparation did not lessen the pain in any way. I repeated my morning routine and savored every minute of the train ride, enjoying the stunning change of color scheme in the French countryside. I forced myself to continue my job despite the aching, and an hour into our arrival at the vineyards I no longer felt pain in a certain spot, just fatigue. By the end of the day, after hours of crouching, squatting, kneeling and sweating, the fatigue was truly getting the best of me. I had heard people often passed out while doing the job, because it’s often the first physical job they do. I thought of how back in Costa Rica I had helped in reforestation projects and a few building tasks, but how nothing compared to this. One of my bosses, knowing my origins, asked if I had ever picked coffee. I thought of how picking coffee was thought of as a very “lower class” job in my country, mainly done by Nicaraguan immigrants. This was an instant reflection of what the culture of the vendanges is slowly changing into. It certainly gave me something to think about while cutting the grapes. I should have at least tried picking coffee once, I kept thinking.

After getting home the second day, I cleaned my room, cooked dinner and then intended to take an hour-long nap at 8pm. My 9pm alarm did not wake me, and I slept 10 hours until 6am, only to wake up feeling even more sore than the previous morning. People had told me, and I knew it, just like with sports the third day was the worst, when you must bear the soreness of both the first and second day. I looked at my hands, scratched from reaching into vines all day, looked at my shoulders, burnt from late August’s sun, and smiled in pain, knowing that this was exactly what I had signed up for. The third day was by far the hardest, my legs hurt every squat and my back stung whenever I bowed down. And then the fourth day, I was ok. It was a very strange feeling where I was exhausted, but it didn’t bother me to continue working. At the end of every day I was ready to stop, hungry thirsty and sleepy, but not sore, not necessarily in pain.

In terms of work, I found precisely what I was looking for. Unfortunately, I had to start the harvest late because of my internship dates and could only do 6 days, yet these were enough to challenge me and satisfy my desire for self-achievement. Beyond that, I was satisfied in a philosophical aspect, as I had been working with nature and, in a way, doing exactly what my body was made to do: gather fruit. As you might expect, though, I doubt I would have been happy continuing for much longer and the experience also helped me appreciate office work and life as a student. That in itself is what made the experience so powerful as well: knowing I didn’t have to do this for the rest of my life and doing it next to people who were not fortunate enough to say the same with certainty. This work showed me what I could do in many ways, but it mainly taught me about what many people have to do; and in doing so it gave me great respect for all that part of the human community that allows the rest of us to have food on our tables at night.

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// 2 tips on picking grapes //

  • Try not to cut any grape in half. The juice will cover your sheers and your hands will become sticky, making it much more uncomfortable to continue the work. The longer you can continue with clean shears the best.
  • When you see several bunches bundled together, you can put your bucket on the bottom, move the leaves with one of your hands, cut with the other and let the fruit fall on its own.

World’s Next Door: Welcome to the International Folklore Festival of Montignac!

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I am seated on a ping pong table in a small lost village in the Southwest of France, my laptop on top of my knees. A few meters away from me, a band of happy dudes from Romania are playing music, drinking beer and enjoying themselves. Later in the evening, I will join them, and  then we will most probably be joined by other people from Spain, Brazil or Palestine. I feel so grateful for all these meetings right now.

I am currently at the international folklore festival of Montignac.

 

It all started when I was six. My France-trotters of parents had decided they wanted my brother and I to travel around the country and visit a different region every year. For our second regional trip, we went to the French Périgord, a delightedly green area in the Southwest, full of medieval castles, prehistoric caves and welcoming locals. But at the end of our stay, while we were supposed to leave and not come back, I told my parents – actually, I cried them a river – that this was my paradise on Earth, and that I was coming back no matter what.

 

To their credit, we did come back the year after. And the year after that, and so on. It has been more than twelve years now. I grew up with this certainty that no matter how bored and unhappy I would get during a full year at school, there would always be this parachute, those two weeks in earthly heaven that would make me forget everything but the very definition of happiness.

 

I was ready to welcome anything related to that place, to say the least. That is why two years after, when we discovered the international folklore festival of Montignac, a little town nearby, the dice had already been loaded so that I welcomed it with open arms. Quickly, this festival became such a tradition that I could not imagine missing it.

 

First, one needs to imagine what Montignac is. This small village in only inhabited by 3000 people, most of whom stopped working, which doesn’t stop it from being a dynamic place whose cultural offerings are much wider than in many other largest towns. Besides its pittoresque cuteness and awesome inhabitants, Montignac, ‘Monti’, has two richnesses: the cave of Lascaux, the most well-known prehistoric cave in the world, and its festival. Every summer, during a week, this place no one has ever heard about before turns itself into a center of the world. Every year, folklore groups from ten different countries come to town to demonstrate their arts, in a week full of talent, music, dancing, and multiculturalism. Around every two years, two people who met there get married, and the awesome president of the festival never stops reminding people that this event is about peace, sharing, and welcoming the ‘youth of the world’.

 

For years now, I have seen the festival as a tourist, stuck in a public like one another. Then, in 2015, I called its director to ask for an interview for the newspaper I was working for at the time. Not only did he say yes, but he also proposed me a spot as a journalist for the festival’s gazette. I haven’t left it ever since. For the first time, I spent a week interviewing people, getting closer to artists, musicians and dancers from countries I didn’t even know existed, and it was wonderful. I remember a lot of work and tears for that period, but it paved the way for what was to follow. I am writing the festival’s newspaper for the fourth year in a row, and this year, I also became a guide for a Romanian group.

 

Being a volunteer, I discovered that instead of one festival, there really were two: the official one, where a show would take place every evening on a stage and the groups would make shorter performances during the day; and the ‘off’ one, even better: parties at night, mixing up people from all the countries invited, meetings backstage, deep conversations, Facebook friend requests and a team that works together. Behind the artistic performance, this festival has a whole spirit and is all about the people themselves. The leader of the Romanian group told me yesterday that coming to France cost them a lot of money; ‘But the President of this festival is a very good friend of mine. When he asks us to come, we come’, he said plainly.

 

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// The Romanian group parading in the streets; here, on the bridge //

 

I have many wonderful and cherished memories from the ten years that I have spent looking forward to the festival every summer. I have lived things as extraordinary as learning a few moves of salsa by the Colombian World Champions. In 2014, I witnessed a Mongol singer interpreting, in French, the universally-known ‘La vie en rose’ by French artist Edith Piaf. He probably could not understand anything he was saying, but hearing this was wonderfully moving. I also still have melodies from the United States and Japanese taikos stuck in my head. I will never forget the image of these two musicians, from Spain and Scotland, symbolically swapping their pipes, and I receive regularly news from my Georgian, Ecuadorian or Irish friends, met at this festival.

 

To me, it has been nothing less than life-changing. When I was younger, I thought about working in astronomy or history, before eventually applying for a degree in international relations and social sciences. I cannot imagine myself in any other kind of studies now, and I owe it partly to the festival of Montignac. Wouldn’t it have shown me how much I valued multiculturalism, meeting people from the whole world, culture itself and traveling, I wouldn’t have been that sure of my choice.

 

There is something wonderful in the way that every year, this youth of the world gathers in this little village of 3000 inhabitants. They then leave with an image of France shaped by Montignac, as much as we stay with the idea they gave us of their country. However, when I talk about the festival around me, I can be sure I’ll always have a few negative reactions, of people telling me that we should let these traditions from another age die for good. In France especially, when one says ‘folklore’, one often thinks about old men and ladies in dusty traditional costumes, boring steps and music and lack of modernity. I would be glad to welcome those people at this festival. Most of the other countries have a completely different approach of folklore than us; many of the groups come from universities and have modernized their traditions while remaining faithful to their core. This leads to an explosive mix of energy and tribute to their culture that unites generations and links those people’s past to their present. For many of them, music and dancing are also a way to express themselves politically: recently, in Honduras, to protest against the regime’s policy, people filmed themselves dancing in the very particular Honduran way, so as to show that nothing could steal their joy and identity away from them; and this year, the festival welcomed a Palestinian group, whose opportunity it was to exist as a people, away from the conflicts that torn Middle East apart.

 

At the heart of the festival is a delightful paradox: by keeping alive those traditions that come from an age without any globalization, these artists pave the way for even more positive sharing with people from all over the world. I call it an open-minded nationalism, and every year reinforces the happiness and confidence towards the future that I feel thanks to it.

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// 1300 people are waiting for the final performance at the Terrasse de l’Amitié //

France: We Are the Champions, my Friends

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3:20 pm. We were wandering in the Old Harbour of Fréjus, a nice little town on the French Riviera. I had a French flag wrapped around my shoulders like a cloak and my brother was wearing a roaster-like hat. On our way to the one bar that finally let us in, we crossed the path of more French flags and supporters than I’ve ever seen, including a man whose hair was tied in blue-white-red. Most bars were closed by a big sign claiming they were fully booked; the World Cup final, for which the French team was considered a favorite, would start in a bit more than an hour.

 

That French people were hopeful is the least we could say. There were omens, you see. The one and only French victory in the Football World Cup had happened precisely 20 years ago; in 1998 and 2018 alike, Israel has won the Eurovision, we’ve been in the Group C, we were opposed to Croatia… We had to win. And added to this, our national team was  cute, enthusiasm-fostering, and formed by a balance of older experienced players and young wisps. So were the supporters: some of them had hardly ever known any other World Cup, some others had obviously lived the 1998 one, but all of them were screaming and waving flags all the same.

 

It’s 10 pm now, and I’m writing seated on my flat’s loggia. Right outside, a man has just plunged in the normally out-of-bounds-by-night residency’s swimming pool, crying that ‘On est les champions’, ‘We are the champions’. We can still hear the cars’ klaxons on the other side of the town, and memories of this afternoon keep flooding in.

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Not even the skin-burning sun of the South could have deterred the French fans to be there, gathered in the bars on that day. Of the two hours I spent seated in that bar, I’ll remember the Marseillaise that we sang altogether at the beginning of the game; the joy of the supporters, that would literally jump from their seats and yell at the screen every time a goal was scored or a foul committed to one of our players. Behind us, a painted man was howling in a megaphone, claiming that we were the French people and that we would win, enumerating the names of the players or singing parts of the national anthem.

 

1-0, 1-1, 2-1, 3-1, 4-1, 4-2. Every time we scored, we would see young men running to the bridge linking the two halves of the Old Harbour, climbing to its very top and jumping in the water, their fists raised and a French flag flying behind them like a superhero cloak. Five minutes before the Final whistle, someone in the bar stood up and cried, ‘In five minutes, we’re World Champions!’.

 

And indeed we were.

 

Next thing I knew, people were hugging people they didn’t know; my brother fell in my arms, yelling ‘We’re World Champions!’. Around us, everybody seemed exhausted as if they’d play the match themselves. Dozens of people were running to the bridge, clapping and singing the Marseillaise; the streets were now colored by blue, white and red smokes, and when people came back into the bar to watch the team being given awarded the FIFA World Cup, half of them were wet and happily wringing their clothes after jumping in the Mediterranean Sea fully dressed.

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When we came back in town, surrounded by the continuing sound of the klaxons, it was to see people half-seated out of their cars, giving high fives to every passer-by in the streets, waving French flags and still singing. Euphoria, that’s how we can call it, and the young boy that nearly ran into me yelling that we were World Champions could not deny that.

 

So now we won, the day after our National Day. On the eve of that victory, the French skies were illuminated by fireworks. But what is to be expected, now? This victory smells like a midsummer night’s dream. As the Captain Hugo Lloris, also gamekeeper, very beautifully stated, this team and their victory have united the French people in joy and happiness, and it’s like this that we love to see our country. Tonight, France was a nation like I hope it could always been: proud, with its head held high, and positive in the sense that our identity was not built on the rejection of others, but on something great that we have achieved. Not only them, the players on the ground, but us, the French nation, in the sense of a body of people that hold together and stay together.

 

Even though that evening also contained its share of evil (hundreds of cars caught fire and many women were sexually harassed in the crowds), I do expect positive effects of this victory on France. Economically at first; this day probably made many bars’ turnover skyrocket, and football clubs will probably welcome more newcomers than they’ve ever dreamed of. French football players will have a new reference and an enduring trust on this Golden generation. The feminine football World Cup, that is taking place in France in 2019, will also, as far as I can imagine, be much more followed than it could have been without this triumph.

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Deep inside myself, I hope that it will go beyond. I’m however afraid that in a week, these French flags that have flourished on the windows through the past weeks will disappear, even though there would be thousands of reasons to keep them, as there are thousands of reasons to be proud to be French. Here’s one: two weeks ago, I watched the France vs Argentina game surrounded by young people who’ve survived cancer. When time came to sing the Marseillaise, they stood up hand on the heart, and simply told me after that, by its universal social security that paid for everything to heal them, ‘France has saved their life’.

 

We could be even prouder if we now could see immigration as what brought us the player that scored our 4th goal in the final. Kylian Mbappé is the second player in history who ever scored a goal in a World Cup final before the age of 20; for weeks now people have been replacing the Fraternité in our motto by his name, to make it ‘Liberté Egalité Mbappé’ – and his Father is from Cameroon and his Mother from Algeria.
A few hours after this victory, that made France – and its President – smile broadly and yell of happiness, I can only hope that its effect will hold as long as possible. Now I can only thank – that’s gonna be terribly cheesy and non-original, I’m sorry – everyone who made this possible. Our wonderful team first, who two years after our country was deeply wounded by a terrorist attack on the National Day, embodied its beautiful values with a talent pushed to its unexpected. The Croatian team, too; we say, in France, that winning against no danger is triumphing with no glory; and even though I do not quite agree with the two goals you scored on that day, your game made us shiver and be proud of playing against such strong opponents. And eventually, in advance, I’ll say thanks to the French nation: our 23 players, their coaches and their staff have brought that Cup home, but the show must go one. It’s our role, now, to decide what we want to make of this victory.

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France: Vive la République, et Vive la France!

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It happened 229 years ago, at the early dawn of the first French revolution. On July 14th, 1789, the French people marched over to the Bastille, a prison that embodied the absolute authority of the King, overthrew its administration, and took hold of the weapons it contained. It was the very first time the people of Paris would get directly involved with the French revolution.

 

The 14th of July has since become our National Day. I usually spend it on holiday at the French Riviera, the Mediterranean coast in the Southeast of France. I have always associated that day to the sand cracking under my feet while I picnicking on the beach with my family. My brother and I would go swimming in the sea until we were freezing and then we would all go to the neighboring harbor to have ice cream. As the sun progressively disappeared, I would read under its declining light until my parents forbade me to go any further. We would make jealous remarks on how wonderful it would be to be on a boat instead of the crowded beach; and then, we would wait for the National Day fireworks, say that ‘They threw it later than last year’, that ‘It was one of the best ever, without doubt’, and then hurry up to the car to avoid getting stuck in the crowd.

It’s because of these kind of moments that I love my country.

 

I love France, because we have so many various landscapes. If each landscape corresponded to a planet as in Star Wars, a whole galaxy wouldn’t be enough to depict them all. From the heaven-like Riviera, in which the Sun has the scent of olive oil, lavender, and the sound of crickets; to the neighboring Camargue, with its deafening flamingos and its salt marshes. From the Northern Lille that looks like a colorful mash-up between Disneyland and St-Petersburg, to the greener-than-green Périgord in the Southwest, so full of forest that it looks black from above. We have a bit of England, Italy, Germany, Spain and so much more, as much as we have mountains and prairies, dynamic towns and deep countryside, rainforests and hot beaches.

 

I love France, because the country still wears the remains and the open wounds of its history. We still have the aqueducts and walls built by the Romans that invaded us, which stand firm and proud in the South, thousands of years after they they were erected. Castles from the Middle Ages or the Renaissance can still be spotted everywhere, each with its own glorious past, notorious characters and architectural originality. In France, men competed with nature to create the most beautiful wonders, and it sometimes did not even need to build to win the game. The beaches of Normandy, where Eisenhower’s troops landed to free the country in 1944; the maquis, where the French Resistance would hide during World War II; or the terribly sad Verdun in the East. All of them keep reminding us that our ancestors fought for the right reasons.

 

I love France, because I love the way it’s seen by foreigners. Travelling to the other side of the world, I have been told about this universal cliché of Marcel the mustached cyclist wearing his beret and carrying his baguette and croissant – which is both very French and ridiculously non-French at the same time, and a quite good depiction of my late Grandfather. I have been asked whether France was in Paris – ‘well, that’s not exactly true’ – and I have been mocked for my love relationship with cheese. Last, but certainly not least, I have almost fondly fainted in front of foreigners turning our Bonjour into a ‘Boonjouh’ – which is so inhumanely cute that I can hardly breathe thinking about it. I feel so honored whenever foreigners try and learn our beautiful headache of a language.

 

I love France, because of our gastronomy. French-gastronomically speaking, I am a living shame; I can’t help but declare my love for thai food and, even worse, I am a vegetarian and will make a face in front of a boeuf bourguignon or a blanquette de veau. However, I’m still the first one to very scientifically demonstrate that, since France is the world center of gastronomy, and Lyon is the French center of gastronomy, and the indoor supermarket Les Halles Paul Bocuse is the Lyonnese center of gastronomy, and having lived seventeen years right in front of the establishment, I am therefore the happy embodiment of French cooking. More seriously, and even aside of our typical and universally known dishes that boldly mix meat, vegetables and tasty sauce, our cheeses are a delight, our desserts are life-saviors, and a British journalist found exactly the right word saying that our croissants are nothing but ‘buttery pillows of perfection’.

 

I love France, because of the memories of our past and our art. There is a place in Paris that I love among all others, called the Panthéon. Great men and women are buried in this impressive building that always gives me strength, confidence and unlimited love for those who lived there before me. Recently, an incredible woman, whose name was Simone Veil, and her husband Antoine, joined the Panthéon as a show of gratitude for Simone for her involvement in the debut of the European Union, her contribution to the memories of the Shoah after she was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp, and her fight in favor of women’s rights and abortion. This country is also that of Victor Hugo, whose torrential writing style makes him our land’s most well-known Writer; of Edmond Rostand, whose character Cyrano de Begererac is a perfect embodiment of France; of Pasteur, who invented the vaccine…

 

I love France, because of Paris. Paris is a town like no other. It’s a whole. It’s not only because of the comforting light of the Eiffel tower that caresses one’s windows at night. Neither is it only because it’s impossible to get lost because one always has a famous monument to guide them back on path, such Montmartre, the Invalides, the Louvre or the Notre-Dame Cathedral. It can be because whenever one is randomly walking in the metro or in the streets, one can simply happen to find the Panthéon or remains of the Bastille by chance. Paris is the town of the unexpected and of the sweetness of life, that endured even when it was hit by one of the most devastating terrorist attacks of our time.

 

I love France, because I recently spent a weekend with young people who were sick with cancer and whose treatment was paid entirely by the social security, no matter their age or their social situation. My Grandfather – not the one that looked like Marcel the cyclist, the other one – was diagnosed with brain cancer when he was 65, and the State paid to ease his life and make it last in the best possible conditions, without even counting. These social benefits may cost a ‘crazy money’, Mr President; but last Saturday, as the sound of the Marseillaise played for a football match, all these people whose lives were saved thanks to it, got up and sang with their hands on the hearts, spontaneously declaring « J’aime mon pays » (I love my country), « Vive la France ». I sang with them.

 

I love France, because I was lucky enough to travel, and to see enough beauty and kindness in the countries I visited as to not compare them to mine. But every time I would go abroad, I would feel a peak of patriotism, far from any aggressive nationalism, and make myself my country’s ambassador, and hope I’d give enough of a positive snapshot of France to, one day, welcome home those people who welcomed me.

 

I love France, even though we did not welcome the 629 migrants saved by the Aquarius, even though we’re plagued by an enduring crisis and well-known for our strikes, even though we’re criticized for our ambiguity towards laicity and for the laws of our state of emergency; I love France, even though the memories of our past are far from being all glorious, and wars and colonization should not be forgotten.

 

I love France, because I have the right to point out what I think are its flaws without fearing anything. I love France, because those flaws do not make me want to leave but to try and change them a bit, at my level, because besides them, there’s everything else to love.


Vive la République, et vive la France!

 

Credits: An Adventurous World

World’s Next Door: This Is How Shrek and Harry Potter Taught Me English

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If I had to mention something I am certainly not talented at – aside from singing -, it would be languages. My country’s disastrous language education did not help. As my 11th grade German teacher explained quite concisely: « A French student is not taught German so that they learn to speak it ».

What is France’s problem with languages then? Is our broken English a product of our aversion to globalization? Is our German poor, because of an enduring ‘Germanophobia’ after two World Wars? Facts do not support either of these hypotheses. A Chinese friend recently told me, to my surprise, that she thought it was easier for her to learn English than it had been for me; because it was a completely new alphabet for her, there was no possibility of confusing English with her mother tongue. It is true that as French is a language that is both very close to and very far from English, it can indeed get confusing. English conjugations are a blessing compared to French ones (that certainly considerably enrich our language but could also be considered a crime against humanity). That being said, English words are stressed whereas French words aren’t. While it is true that English and French have many words in common, there are several “faux amis” such as ‘deception’ which in English means ‘dupery’ whereas the French ‘déception’ is to be understood as ‘disappointment’… that’s enough for anyone to get mad. And added to this, the natural French tendency to not dare to try, here is, Madam, Sir, the perfect cocktail for one not to improve.

Anyway. To me, the main reason for our love-hate relationship with languages, and particularly English, lies elsewhere. I hold school responsible for this. The French schooling system is known for its very academic, traditional, ‘you’re-gonna-learn-this-by-heart-and-not-think-about-it’ approach. Though it may be quite efficient for mathematics; it is an uphill battle when it comes to learning English. This explains why we end up with French Presidents who say « Sorry for the time » when apologizing for the weather, or « You can be, do what you want to do » in a supposedly inspirational speech.

Fortunately, I was lucky enough to study in a bilingual primary school, with a native English teacher who had a very personal way of teaching. Stephen initiated us very early to the sarcastic British sense of humor, a mix of pitiless French bashing and jokes that he would utter in complete deadpan, his eyes sparkling with joy and mirth. He taught us vocabulary by use of hand-made drawings, making us play rugby, and by giving us dozens of British songs to learn. Secondary school happily destroyed my level in English by its merciless French teaching method, but I thankfully retained the ability to sing ‘Message in a bottle’ (The Police), ‘White winter hymnal’ (Fleet foxes) and ‘What a wonderful world’ (Louis Armstrong) (those give you a very good insight in Stephen’s taste in music).

 

A few years later, after high school studies in a so-called ‘international section’, a two month-long exchange in Australia, and a year of university with all my classes in English: a friend from Honduras and I stopped to randomly talk to a woman who has asked us a question in the street. After a fifteen minute conversation, she asked us where we were from, and looked startled when I answered I was from Lyon, France – ‘You’re French? But you speak French with an accent!’

My first reaction was to laugh, astonished. And then I remembered that French people would now often start to speak English to me, ask me with genuine curiosity how long I have lived in Great Britain, or even have this flattering but surprising question ‘But are you sure you are from France? You have a British accent!’

For someone who was used to having a Frenchy-arguably-Australian-ish accent, this was a revolution. But after thinking about it, I started to realize that indeed – completely unconsciously, I was now speaking French with a bit of an accent on some words. So now that my level in French is even decreasing, that my level in English is certainly not perfect, and that after eight years of studying German, I am still not able to ask where the toilets are, I am the last person who should give advice on ‘how to learn a language and improve’. But considering that the situation would have been worse without those, I’m still gonna do it.

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First, learn some songs. Pick up one that you particularly like, print the lyrics, translate them yourself, and learn it, while you’re queuing at the supermarket, sitting in the bus or walking to school. After I left primary school, my Father would walk me every morning to secondary school; and every morning, we would rehearse English and German songs that I loved and that I would translate with him. Years after, even though my German is still as poor as a college student, I can sing Nena’s 99 Luftballons by heart. What is great with songs is that they endure. I would strongly advise you not to try Adele’s – no one sets fire to the rain or rolls in the deep in one’s everyday life -, but Abba’s are quite easy and catchy.

fundo de tela sherek.jpgSecond, watch movies. And put subtitles in the language that you’re trying to learn; if not, it won’t help. I would particularly recommend animated cartoons; their stories are easy to understand, so you can more focus on the language – plus, if you’re 30 years old without kids and your friends catch you watching Cinderella in secret, you can argue that it’s because you want to improve your English/German/Spanish/Khmer and show them my article as an excuse (do not say thanks, my pleasure). After years of watching cartoons and animated movies to improve my English, I can say that the best choice, without any doubt, is ‘Shrek’. First because it’s brilliant; the characters speak a very clear English, with different levels (Donkey’s accent is quite hard to get, Shrek is very understandable but quite familiar, the Queen speaks more formally); and it’s a clever criticism of authoritarianism, discriminations and sexism. It’s brilliant.

ZR3l1ez.jpgEventually, read books, and books that have been written in the language that you’d like to learn. The best choice you can make is to read books that you’ve already read many times. This way, you’ll already know the story and will be free to focus on the words, sentences and idioms. A few years ago, I decided to reread ‘Harry Potter’ by Joanne Rowling, in English this time, and wow – I couldn’t have taken a better decision. It helped me a lot, because the puns and writing make the book a thousand times better in English than it is in any other language, because it is catchy, entertaining and captivating, and because Rowling’s style is both very good and very pedagogical.

 

Here are three simple, fun, not time-consuming, and almost magic means of improving in any language you’d like to learn. They are way less expensive than travelling or going on exchange, and way easier than finding a native speaker to talk to – even though I strongly advise you to do that -, and they’ll make you want to improve. Because even if you’re the laziest person on Earth, you’ll want to finish this funny movie, to finish this fascinating book, to learn this moving song! Wanting to improve is probably the best thing that can happen to you.

 

That being said, it is now to be done. My plans for the Summer include using the Harry Potter Method to improve my Spanish and German and re-watching the whole Shrek series because let’s be honest, my English still sucks – and I also really want to watch Shrek.

Feel free to add, on Facebook or in the comments, your most useful tips and life hacks to learn a language, and good luck with that!

 

Credits: super kuka, Nightflights, and Harry Potter wallpapers on wallpapercave.

El Salvador’s Globetrotter: A Day in Disneyland Paris, France

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Whenever the word Disney comes up, I always feel a rush of nostalgia and happiness as I recall many movies and shows from my childhood and sing-alongs with my family and friends. And when I think of Disneyland, I always think of the words many have used to describe it before me: The Happiest Place on Earth. After having spent my entire first year of university in France without having visited Disneyland Paris, I knew it would be the perfect way to close this chapter and celebrate the end of a great year.

On Sunday, May 20th, I had the opportunity to visit Disneyland with a few friends. We decided we wanted to spend the entire day at the resort, visiting both Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park, so our day started early as we made our way to the train station at 8 a.m. We arrived at the park at 9:30 a.m., and decided to head to Disney Studios first, trying to beat the crowds for larger rides.

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Nothing felt better than rushing through a 5-minute wait line for the first ride we hit – the Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster. And then there was the ride itself – I’d forgotten just how much I enjoyed the thrill of being on a rollercoaster, especially one in the dark where you never knew what was coming.

It was only our first ride that allowed for a short waiting time, as the park had already begun to fill out by the time we headed to our next stop: the Tower of Terror. Waiting in line is not always a pleasant experience, but when you’re with friends the wait seems a lot shorter than it actually is. One of my favorite things about Disneyland is the way the waiting areas for rides are filled with thematic decoration that can be very detailed and makes the wait a whole lot more interesting. For the Tower of Terror, we noted how much work has to be put in to make a place look as old and abandoned as the hotel, while at the same time keeping it clean. The ride is probably one of my favorites, as I always enjoy the suspense of not knowing when you’re going to drop – the thrill it gives is indescribable.

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We then went on the Studio Tram Tour, where we got to see behind-the-scenes movie effects, and on the Ratatouille ride, before we decided to head over to Disneyland for the rest of the day.

As much as I enjoyed Disney Studios, there’s always something magical about walking into Disneyland and seeing Main Street lined with colorful buildings, all leading to the Sleeping Beauty Castle in the center of the park. I thought it was a nice variation in the castle, as opposed to having Cinderella’s castle, since it made Disneyland Paris stand out from its other sister parks.

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As soon as we arrived, we walked past the castle and headed straight to Hyperspace Mountain, a ride that we had been looking forward to during the entire day. As we had already reached 1 p.m., the park was significantly fuller and the line took longer, but with the constant changing of environments, time flew. The ride was breathtaking and made me feel as if my stomach was in my throat as it plummeted us into the darkness at high speeds. I enjoyed that thrill so much that I would love to go back just to go on it again.

Although I love Disneyland and the experience as a whole, next came what was possibly the most difficult adventure of the day: finding a place to get lunch. While Disneyland is definitely covered with places where one can find food at multiple stands scattered throughout the park, we decided we would cross the park to be closer to the next rides we wanted to hit. We also felt like we needed to find somewhere to sit for a while, considering how we had been going non-stop since our arrival. You always expect lines for rides to be quite long when you’re at Disneyland, but you can sometimes forget how long the lines for food indoors can get when it’s close to 2 p.m. and the sun is blazing with a great intensity. Despite the struggle that getting to the front of the line was, we managed to make our way and even found a table large enough for our group to sit at.

Once we renewed our energies we tried to get Fast Passes for any of the rides we still hadn’t been on and ended up at Indiana Jones and The Temple of Peril. After getting the passes we thought it would be a good idea to go for a slower ride since we had just eaten, so we made our way over to Pirates of the Caribbean for what was probably one of the longest lines we had been in so far. Still, I never cease to admire the dedication that Disney puts into decorating the waiting areas. This is something we discussed as we constantly walked into different areas and rooms, with the new environments making the wait seem shorter than it actually was.

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After the ride, we headed back to The Temple of Peril with our FastPass tickets and stopped for ice-cream before deciding to tackle what would be the longest wait of all: the line to ride Big Thunder Mountain. Ice-cream in hand, we made our way to the line and slowly edged along. Since we had been standing for the majority of the day, the line became a sort of game to try to find what spots we could sit on for a few seconds, since it wasn’t moving too quickly. Conversations among our group and taking pictures kept us entertained as we wove through the maze that was the line. Still, the wait felt worthwhile once we got on the rollercoaster and sped up and around the mountain.

By the time we were done, we realized we had to make our way back to the train station in order to make it back home on time. That didn’t stop us from grabbing dinner to-go at Five Guys, and eating that dinner on the RER as we headed back towards Gare de L’Est at 9:30 p.m.

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Overall, visiting Disneyland Paris was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my time in France and I would love to go back someday if only to visit some of the smaller and niche rides, since we did manage to hit most of the available major rides at both parks.

I’ll leave you off with some of my Disneyland Tips for anyone who plans on visiting anytime soon:

  • Check the weather and prepare accordingly: We were lucky to have a sunny day during our visit, but that also meant having to bring sunscreen in order to not end up red at the end of the day.
  • Bring lots of water and snacks: Waiting along in lines is more exhausting than it appears, and you can get pretty thirsty after a while, and despite how much food is available at the parks, it’s more wallet-friendly to pack a few snacks.
  • Arrive early to make the best of your day: It’s definitely possible to visit both parks in a single day if you’re on a time constraint, but you can only do so by getting there early so you can experience the full day.
  • Get a map: Though it might seem alright to wander around, our map was definitely helpful in finding the rides we wanted to go on from the start of the day and making our way through the park.
  • Enjoy yourselves!

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France: Elle s’appelait Joséphine Baker…

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Elle s’appelait Joséphine Baker, and I couldn’t say she was American, I couldn’t say she was French, I couldn’t say she was Black, a patriot, an artist, a singer, a dancer, a meneuse de revue, a World War II hero, a Civil Rights Movement activist, an actress, an icon, a feminist, a castle owner, a mother – because she was all these and much more than that.

Her story is that of a princess, gone from the black suburbs of Saint-Louis, Missouri, to the stages of Paris. She inspired while living and continues to inspire by her talent, her dedication and the multiple causes she defended until her very last day.

 

But let’s get back to the beginning. Not to hers, but to mine.

 

Ever since the age of 6, I’ve been spending one week every summer in the Périgord, southwest of France. When I was 5, my parents had decided that every year, they would take my brother and I to a different region of France. The first year, we went to Alsace, of which I can remember the colorful vineyards, traditional folklore clothes and tasty bretzels. The second year, we discovered the Périgord.

I don’t exactly know what made my parents decide that, from now on, we would go there every year. However, I vaguely remember my 6 year-old sef crying them a river and threatening them to flee their house and walk back there alone. I officially became the saddest little girl on Earth for the two weeks after we went back to Lyon – and more or less made them understand that I had found my paradise on Earth and would never feel at home anywhere else. So we renounced to this Tour de France – I’ll never feel grateful enough. Then, I stuck to my wall, in Lyon, a little calendar on which I would draw a cross every week that passed, and that would bring me closer to our reunion. Try to think about what you love the most on this planet. For me, it was that. The Périgord.

 

So, I was, to say the least, particularly predisposed to enjoy anything I would see, or visit there. In eleven years, you have plenty of time to discover new locations, but also to judge which of them you prefer. Among all those we saw- the Périgord pretty much contains as many castles as I have hair on my head. The Château des Milandes, Castle of the Milandes, quickly became one of my favorites. I knew that a Great Lady used to live there, that her name was Joséphine Baker and that she was American. I also knew that she used to dance in Paris’ cabarets with nothing on her but a belt made of bananas and that she adopted twelve children from many countries in the world. But, unlike many American celebrities who decided to live in Paris or on the French Riviera, she had chosen the Périgord and that was enough for me to adore her and to want to learn more.

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For years, I forgot about her. And then I saw her name on the cover of a book in my school’s library. A week ago, I went back there to borrow it and put it on my table, before going back to my political science study sessions. I resisted two minutes before putting my notes down and taking the book instead. I read it in one sitting and it was like a postponed love at first sight.

 

Freda Josephine McDonald was born in 1906 in Saint-Louis, Missouri, from a Mother who was a dancer and a Father who was a musician, that would soon leave the family. Her first years were plagued by misery. In a highly segregated America, this young Afro-american had to perform menial jobs very early to help the numerous children her Mother had with another man. This free spirit even left school at the age 14 to get married, but her very first husband and her quickly got separated. She then joined a band of street musicians to perform her true passion: dancing.

Freda Josephine is 16 when she leaves her second husband (Willie Baker, she always kept his name) to go to New York, her head full of dreams of Broadway. There, after many failures and refusals, she joins a theater whose band is entirely black, but soon leaves it to join another one… until her path crosses that of Caroline Dudley Reagan, wife of the American ambassador in Paris. It’s Reagan who, impressed by the talent of this black dancer that squints and gambols on stage, asks her to come to Paris with her.

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1925, Paris. It’s the opening of the Revue Nègre. On the stage of a cabaret, for Reagan’s very first show, here dances an astonishing black girl that challenges all the clichés. Naked at the exception of a belt made of false bananas, she embodies an actual revolution. She dances in the foolish, unleashed and almost dismembered way black Africans could be thought to dance, and she makes fun of these prejudices with a sense of humor and a talent that lets no one indifferent. It’s first a scandal, but it soon turns into a success. Advised by Pépito, her boyfriend of the time, Freda, who switches her name to Josephine, is adopted by Paris. She becomes meneuse de revue at one of the most famous Parisian cabarets, Les Folies Bergères. She then shoots a movie, opens a club: At Josephine’s, sings a tremendous hit: J’ai deux amours, in 1931, and embodies a new dance: the charleston. Unfortunately, her success does not seem to reach America. However, in 1937, she officially becomes French by marriage and a few years after, gives back to France everything she thinks France gave her.

At the outbreak of World War II, Josephine is indeed recruited to serve in the Resistance. For years, due to her incredible success, she gathers informations and spies on high authorities. Her scores are used to transmit discreetly capital data between the resistant networks. She joins the female Air Force and sings for wounded soldiers to encourage the progression of the Army of the ‘France libre’ led by de Gaulle. At the end of the war, she receives many medals and distinctions to thank her for her fight.

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At this point, we’re in 1945. Josephine is an internationally-known actress, singer and dancer (at least in the Mediterranean area) and she is a war hero. It would already be enough to fill up two lives – but she won’t stop there.

A few years ago, in 1941, she had contracted a very serious illness that eventually led to sterility. So, in 1947, when she married her last husband, Jo Bouillon, she decided to make one of her dreams become a reality and to gather a ‘tribu arc-en-ciel’, a ‘rainbow tribe’ of children from all countries and all colors of skin. In 1954, she adopts her first son, Akio, from Japan; he will be joined by Jano, Luis, Jari, Jean-Claude, Moïse, Brahim, Marianne, Koffi, Mara, Noël and Stellina, from Colombia, Algeria or France, among other countries.

But to host such a grande âme and such an original and tolerance-fostering family, nothing less than a castle was needed. And indeed, in 1947, Joséphine bought a huge XV century castle in Castelnaud-la-Chapelle, Périgord. It used to be called the Château des Mirandes, but her rolling American accent made it the Château des Milandes. The name has never left it since. Despite this new tie to France, Joséphine continued to travel. In 1963, indeed, she attended the March to Washington. Along with Martin Luther King, she delivered a speech as both an afro-american and the Mother of the ‘rainbow tribe’. Her most famous lines will probably remain the following: ‘My friends, I am not lying when I tell you that I went in King and Queens’ palaces, in presidential houses. And even more. But I couldn’t get in a hotel in America and have a cup of coffee. And that made me mad.’

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After all this, and after making her mother and family leave America to settle in France, she would have deserved the best. But in 1964, everything seemed to begin to fall into pieces. Broke due to her expensive lifestyle and the money she invested in the Milandes and single after her divorce in 1961, she had to face the risk of selling the castle in which her children were still living. Only the reaction of another French icon, Brigitte Bardot, who she didn’t even know but who called for a surge of solidarity towards her, saved her property over the Milandes. However, that was nothing but a respite. In 1968, the castle was eventually sold for 1/10th of its value. Joséphine was violently expelled.

So she went back on stage to earn money again. Her tremendous success reborn from its ashes, and she gained the protection of an actual princess, Grace Kelly of Monaco. But in 1975, the day after her last show, she was hospitalized because of a cerebral hemorrhage. She eventually died in Paris on April 12, 1975.

Terribly sad is the story of this princess, full of infinite talent and generosity, that shaped an epoch but died broke and sick. The tale of Joséphine Baker still remains, first and foremost, that of a woman who started from nothing to gain everything. She federated around her a formidable network of hope and solidarity and she fought for the world to become a better place. She was a free spirit who always managed to bounce back, and used up to her last spark of energy to keep the dream alive.

And the dream still is. The day you go visit the French Périgord – congratulations, it’ll be the best decision of your life -, do not forget to go see the Château des Milandes, to get a closer insight in what Joséphine’s life was. You’ll be able to admire her stunning cabaret dresses, as well as an impressive show with raptors – she used to love animals, and would even go on stage with a leopard (yeah, you read that well). You can also go watch the links below and discover her unique and mesmerizing style, her humor and her elegance on stage. You’ll see this way she had to amplify an American accent on some words before it completely disappeared on others. You can also read the fantastic comic ‘Joséphine Baker’ by Catel & Brocquet, or you can even do all of those! The most important thing is, that we keep the memories of this embodiment of talent, tolerance, combativity and dedication alive.

 

Joséphine Baker was a proof that not all heroes wear capes. Some of them even wear nothing but a belt of bananas.

 

Additional links:

‘J’ai deux amours’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRfrUdsL4Pk

‘La petite Tonkinoise’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGr3c1dCm74

Joséphine’s Charleston: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGr3c1dCm74

The Castle of the Milandes: http://www.milandes.com

 

// Credits // milandes.com, pinterest, france-amerique

France: An Answer to Mr Trump – that He’ll Probably Never Read

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A few days ago, on May the 4th (Star Wars day!), President Donald Trump delivered a speech in front of the National Rifle Association. He reaffirmed his support to their lobby – something we are quite used to, coming from him. What was different this time, however, was the way he also advised other countries, including mine, to renounce to their tough legislations against civil gun ownership.

Being Donald Trump, he decided to carry his message the right way – ‘right’, as in ‘efficient’, as in ‘shocking’, as in ‘most likely to upset a whole country, with a terrifying lack of respect and sympathy’. To tell France that it should allow civil gun ownership, Mr. Trump decided to talk about the terrorist attacks of November 13th 2015, that killed 130 people, and harmed more than 400, in Paris.

These attacks left the French population open-wounded. I’ll never forget this day. When I got up on November 14th, after oversleeping a bit, happy and safe in my bed, my parents told me that ‘There has been an attack’. I was expecting the worst, I read even worse than that. And throughout the whole day, I could do nothing else than exchange messages with friends – ‘Did you see what happened?’ ‘Yeah’ ‘Did you know anyone?’ – and that was all because we had no words. I was re-actualizing my actualities every two minutes, blenching every time there would be news. The count of the deaths seemed to never stop – it rose to 130 killed by half-a-dozen terrorists. Those were the most deadly attacks that ever targeted France – and what I feel is even worse, it that they attacked my country in the locations that make French people the proudest to be French, concert rooms, restaurants, little Parisian Cafés that are the strongest evidence of France’s sweetness of life, in which they introduced death.

On the Monday that followed that terrible weekend, I went back to my high school. Teachers were remaining silent. When it came to the official minute of silence – after we did many others the morning before, because no one felt like talking – people started crying. No one in my class knew any direct victim of this, nor did they know anyone who would have known a victim, but victims we all were, breathless at the thought of such an act of ideological cruelty. On that day, my Father came to me to tell me that we were at war and that he wanted to join the Army reserve. I do not know what shook we the most – to actually be ‘at war’ for the first time of my life, me, born as one of the first generations that never knew any war, either a World one, the Algerian one, the Cold one! Or that even though we were, bakeries were still opening at dawn with their buttery croissants, we could still see couples French-kissing in the streets, students were still having French fries between two classes and life, was more alive than it ever was before, even though we were, all, radically different inside.

And on May the 4th 2018, two years and 172 days after that, I heard the President of the US mimicking the terrorists that entered the Bataclan on this deadly night – Boom! Come over here! Boom!. When I heard this, I felt tears starting to sting my eyes, much more from anger than from sadness. How? How could he dare? And how could he continue, under the thunder of applause, to say that ‘if one employee had a gun, if one person in this room had been there with a gun, the terrorists would have fled or been shot’?

 

.

 

I know. I stopped breathing, too.

 

 

Dear Mr. Trump,

 

Let’s first assume that we could go back in time. Let’s assume that before November 13th, 2015, guns’ civil ownership has been authorized in France. Let’s assume that during this concert at the Bataclan, a person of good will actually had a gun – or maybe more than one. Let’s assume that the attack actually happened the way you described it, as if you were there. I have one question.

Would this person, would this civil gun owner, unsheathe his or her gun, and shoot? And if ever he or she did, would this be of any help? Would this person shoot, with the omnipresent fear of hurting an innocent in the chaos? Would this person shoot, most probably terrorized by this situation we are not trained to react to, would his arm stop shivering, and would the terrorists, dehumanized enough to commit such a crime that goes beyond words, ‘either flee or be shot’?

A few days after the attacks, I attended my weekly class of kravmaga. This martial art, developed by the Israeli army, is believed to be one of the most efficient in the world. On that evening, we spent two hours learning what to do with my instructor that used to teach soldiers and secret services. We tumbled on the floor, we rolled away, we learned how to make a gun pointed on our head deviate enough for us to fight back. And eventually, our teacher shot in the air with a fake gun loaded blank. Luckily enough, that’s the only gun I ever heard in my life – but as everyone in the room, I stood petrified for a second, because this noise is loud and mind-blowing enough for people to be muffled in a safe kravmaga gym – so what about a concert room, invaded by terrorists?

So would this person react? Would she shoot and would she reach her target? Or would she remain petrified as well, which is the reaction that most of us would probably have, that I would probably have, that you would most probably have?

But let’s assume, again, that this happened for once. That this hero saved the situation.

For one person that did so, and maybe prevented deaths by this action, how many other people would have died due to civil gun ownership? In France, 35 people died as a result of guns in 2011 and the very same year, they were 9,145 in the US. According to the Brady Campaign, there are 100,000 victims of gun violence every year in your country and since the beginning of 2018, there has been more than 1 shooting in a school every week.

Talking about this Brady Campaign, one sentence on their website particularly caught my attention: ‘our movie theaters, places of worship, schools, streets, and homes are not safe’. That is how French people felt, after terrorists attacked our nation and our people in a concert room, in a supermarket, in a school, in a newspaper’s building. What generalizing civil guns’ ownership would lead to, would be nothing else than fear, this fear that we already felt towards ISIS and that we would, here, feel towards our own peers.

Fear is part of our daily lives already. I fear, as a girl, when I need to walk back home alone by night – and this, despite years of experience in diverse martial arts that already make me safer than many other girls my age. But I don’t think that guns would provide better protection for me, just because, assuming that I knew how to use it and would indeed use it, I don’t think shooting people up is the solution. And, assuming I had access to a gun, I would be more than willing to renounce it, so all these other people in France, who would use it to kill and to harm, would not be able to access one either.

A few months ago,  on March the 23rd 2018, a one person saved a life during a terrorist attack. Arnaud Beltrame was a gendarme who took the place of a hostage and died the day after from his injuries. And, you know what? He had a gun. All his colleagues did. They did not shoot at first, both because of the hostages – of the innocent civilians in the Bataclan this night – and because of the rules of self-defense, I reckon. It also made me think about this young Afghan teenager, Aitzaz Hassan, who on January 6th, 2014, made himself explode with a terrorist to prevent him from destroying a school and killing  those inside. A bullet from a gun is not necessary to save a life, and allowing civil gun ownership in France would contribute to wreck our country’s peace and sweetness almost as surely as the actions of terrorists could have.

Could have, because they did not. They did not, because our people continued to fight, but differently. We decided to fight by educating, by denouncing those who would make amalgams, we decided to fight by living and making it a political mobilization against those who wanted to tear us apart. And before anything else, we fought by respecting and remembering the memories of our victims – instead of mimicking their last moments at the tribune of a congress on the guns that costed them their lives.

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// Credits // bfmtv